Haggerty: Bruins know November is key

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Haggerty: Bruins know November is key

WILMINGTON Gregory Campbell and presumably the rest of his Bruins teammates are happy that the month of October is finally over.

Its a long season, however, we see how short it all becomes. Its amazing how important each game is and how difficult it is to climb back in the standings, said Campbell. Fortunately for us October is over, and we can close the door and move on from it.

The Bruins limped out to a 3-7 start in the defense of their Stanley Cup, and have been the poster-children for inconsistency and out-of-control emotion after perfectly walking the fine line last season. Its been well documented that the Bruins are saddled in last place in the Eastern Conference and are among the bottom of the Eastern Conference teams with a minus-3 goal differential -- a far cry from last seasons 5-on-5 dominance throughout the league.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli indicated last week he was working the phones for potential trades, and admitted those conversations kicked up in frequency and intensity as he watched his teams game go south. But hes not ready to bust up a Stanley Cup winning team with a seismic trade of a key player, and is in many ways stuck in the same post-Cup limbo the players keep trying to break through.

Add to that a lack of NHL teams willing to significantly alter their roster less than a month into the season, and the Bruins look to bring the same cast of characters into November with at least a few more weeks to turn things around. The Bruins are well aware of the league stats facing them as they already sit six points outside of the top eight East teams rounded out by the Sabres and Lightning.

The Bruins have 10 games leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, and recent NHL history has shown that teams in the top eight in either conference have a 77.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. Those outside of the top eight have only a 22.5 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, and teams more than two or three points outside of the top eight are usually too far back in the standings.

Six of those 10 games leading up to Thanksgiving are against Northeast Division foes, and the improvement across the board in Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto is another season-long challenge for a Bruins team searching for a foothold.

Ten games in we should be getting back to form and feeling good about ourselves, said Milan Lucic. There shouldnt be any excuses at this point in the season. We have to take it upon ourselves to figure it out.

Lucic is aware of all the statistics, and he doesnt want the Bruins to follow in the unfortunate path of last years New Jersey Devils team. The Devils couldnt get untracked early in the season under a new coaching staff, but caught fire in the second half once they made a coaching change. Jersey made the coaching change once their record sat at an NHL-worst 9-22-2, and the Bruins are still another disastrous month away from suffering the same fate.

Its difficult to see the Bruins floundering that badly with a healthy team that was good enough to win the Cup, but Milan Lucic is still determined to help the Bruins avoid a similar fate. Nobody inside the Bs dressing room wants the Black and Gold to turn into a Stanley Cup cautionary tale.

There is adversity you have to face throughout the season, and for us thats obviously right now, said Lucic. Weve got to figure it out quickly. I know its only been 10 games, but how many teams have had starts like this and theyve never been able to recover.

Look at Jersey last year, who finished off as the best team after January and they werent able to recover for a playoff spot. You can reflect on this and see what happens down the road, but we need to do everything we can to get out of this hole as quickly as possible. Were going to have to do this as a team and a group effort. Its the only way we can do this together.

The Bruins are saying all of the right things, and they have right examples at the ready for bad starts gone very wrong in the NHL. But the path to getting back into the playoff picture this month is paved with a string of wins, and that upward conference movement begins with a chance against an Ottawa team thats won six games in a row headed into Tuesday nights must have at the Garden.

Miller 'blessed for the opportunity' to remain with Bruins

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Miller 'blessed for the opportunity' to remain with Bruins

To the surprise of pretty much nobody, Kevan Miller was ecstatic with the four year, $10 million contract extension handed to him by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday afternoon. The 28-year-old is a hard-hitting, big and strong defenseman in the Bruins mold, and has proven he can be a bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL over the last three seasons of steady improvement.

So Miller was happy to keep things going with the Bruins and spend his prime years playing for the only NHL organization he’s known since signing as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Vermont.

“I’d like to start off by saying thank you to the Jacobs family, Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, and the rest of the Bruins organization. I’m truly blessed for this opportunity and I’m very thankful. I’d like to also say thank you to my family, my friends – they’ve all helped me get to this point,” said Miller, who would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1. “Boston is a great city to play in, and we have the best fans in the NHL. I’m very thankful to them as well.

“I love playing here; it’s an honor to put that jersey on before every game. I feel my style of play fits in well here. I’m really looking forward to helping this [Bruins] team get back into the playoffs and reach our ultimate goal, and win a Stanley Cup.”

On the plus side of the ledger, Miller skated in a career-high 71 games last season and established career highs in goals (five), assists (13), points (18) and penalty minutes (53) while posting the second-best plus/minus rating on the team with a plus-15. Miller topped 19 minutes of ice time per game and played top pairing D-man minutes with Zdeno Chara for much of the season without another viable candidate able to step up into that spot.

On the minus side, Miller has had shoulder problems and concussion issues in his recent past while missing healthy portions of time in just about every season of his pro hockey career. He will be overpaid at $2.5 million per season if he turns into nothing more than a 5-6 defenseman for the Bruins, and it’s hard to imagine Miller ever truly flourishing as a top-4 defenseman given the body of work over the last two seasons.

Nevertheless, Miller hopes to keep improving at an NHL age (28) where you are pretty much a finished product on the ice.

“Everyone’s always trying to improve their game. As you can see, the NHL is changing every year, whether it gets faster here or there. But the game changes a lot and you have to be able to go along with that, and change your game in different ways,” said Miller. “I’m going to stay true to how I play, but I think there are areas where I can improve on, that I will improve on. I’m looking forward to it.”

Given the relatively rich contract that Miller will enjoy over the next four seasons, the Bruins are banking on the 6-foot-2, 210-pound defenseman improving as he goes in Boston as well. 

Bruins sign Kevan Miller to four-year, $10 million deal

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Bruins sign Kevan Miller to four-year, $10 million deal

BOSTON -- The Bruins locked up a piece to a blue line that was godawful last season in announcing they’d signed Kevan Miller to a four-year, $10 million contract.

They also retained one of their own young restricted free agents, center Seth Griffith, by reaching agreement on a one-year, two-way deal with an NHL value of $625,000 per season.

Miller, 28, played in a career-high 71 games last season -- his third with the Bruins -- and established career highs in goals (5), assists (13), points (18) and penalty minutes (53). He also posted the second-best plus/minus rating on the team (plus-15) and generally seemed to be playing his best hockey down the stretch.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Miller was also forced into playing 19:04 of ice time per night while oftentimes serving as a top-pair D-man alongside Zdeno Chara. That resulted in a high number of mistakes and turnovers at critical times against the opposition’s best offensive players.

The rugged, hardnosed Miller obviously isn’t going to be judged solely by the numbers. He's also evaluated by the big hits, blocked shots and air of intimidation in the defensive zone. That said, a four-year contract is a bit of a head-scratcher, given that Miller wasn’t expected to command that kind of deal as an unrestricted free agent on the open market.

That four-year deal, which carries a yearly cap hit of $2.5 million, would also seem to hint at the impending exodus of Adam McQuaid or Dennis Seidenberg, or both, given the number of limited stay-at-home defensemen on the roster now making decent NHL money.  

The bottom line: Miller’s contract will be a good one if he can settle into a steady, top-four role. But it will be another overpay if he winds up being the bottom-pairing D-man many see him as at the NHL level.

Griffith had 24 goals and 53 assists for 77 points in 57 games for the Providence Bruins last season, and also had an assist in four games for Boston. He'll get another chance this year to compete for one of the winger jobs at the NHL level with plenty of competition.