Haggerty: Bruins trying to maintain optimism despite 'grim' outlook


Haggerty: Bruins trying to maintain optimism despite 'grim' outlook

LOWELL It wasnt quite doomsday for the Bruins players taking part in Wednesday nights Milan Lucic Rock and Jock softball game at LeLacheur Park, butthey knew that things have started to get snippy in the NHL's CBA negotiations.

At the end of the day, of course, theyre hockey players and they simply just want to play hockey.

That desire becomes a little more acute when its a prideful team like the Bruins that surprisingly got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs last year by the Washington Capitals.

Were going to stick together no matter what and eventually a deal is going to get done, said Bs defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who sounded the most optimistic tone. Well all be back in Boston and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. Because we all want to get back on the ice and play.

But the two sides are a meaningful gulf apart according NHLPA Exec Director Donald Fehr after both the NHL and NHLPA have made offers that were completely independent of each other, and the news doesnt seem to be getting any better.

One NHL agent told CSNNE.com that he was advising his clients that the league probably wont be getting underway until around Christmas, and to start to make other arrangements if it gets better before it gets worse.

I dont think were going to be playing anytime soon, said the agent. My best case is Christmas. It looks grim right now. Bettman is overreaching. He had a chance to get the players believing he wanted a partnership. Instead he wants a return to feudalism.

Those are strong words, and they dont paint an optimistic picture for the NHL. Hockey sources around the industry have routinely indicated to CSNNE.com that the regular season isnt expected to start until Thanksgiving at the earliest, and the Winter Classic on New Years Day as the drop-dead latest.

So everybody seems to agree that NHL hockey pucks will be dropped this season, but it could be awhile.

In fact Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman cancelled an afternoon negotiation meeting on Wednesday in the wake of recent talks. They were expected to reconvene on Thursday in Toronto.
Players have been taking note of the tenor of conversations.

Draconian is the way the NHLs offer has been described, and the adjective fits: NHL players forced to play 10 years before they reach free agency, an abolition of salary arbitration, contract limits of five years and a drop in the players share of Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) from its current 57 percent level all the way down to 43 percent.

The initial offer from the NHLPA has an economic system heavy on revenue sharing allowing the have and have not NHL franchises all becoming economically viable in a hockey business thats never been better.

"Obviously hearing about how the meetings went on Wednesday, it didnt seem like they went that smoothly. It obviously seems like that gulf is still there between the two sides," said Milan Lucic, who said he plans on attending some of the bargaining sessions in person once he returns from his wedding in the Bahamas this week.

"As a union you can see how much weve come together by looking at how many players have shown up for meetings and negotiation sessions. You can see how into it we are. Theres nothing more we want than for hockey to start, and thats why were as involved as we are in everything."

Thats perhaps the single biggest difference between this CBA negotiation and the one that led to the year-long lockout in 2004-05. Of course, the business of NHL hockey is much more robust with a record-high of 3.2 billion in revenues coming in last season. But the NHLPA is also stronger than its ever been. Under Fehr theyve brought all members together into a tightly formed bond, and theyve got the full, undivided support of the games best players.

It was no accident that both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were on hand when the NHLPA made their first proposal last week, and the players all stressed how universally supported Fehr is among the rank-and-file union membership.

We believe in him 100 percent, said one Bs player. We all know that weve got the exact right person at the right time heading the union, and that hes going to get us the best deal possible. Its fascinating just listening to him on conference calls talking about the business of hockey, and our future in the game.

His range of knowledge on all of the issues is really impressive, and hes got us as solidly together on this as Ive ever seen the membership since I got into the league.

So the players have dug into their position and it seems that Bettman and the penny-wise NHL owners are equally positioned in their trench. The NHL Commissioner told reporters that the two sides are far apart when the players made their proposal, and theyll remain that way until both sides start making concessions.

The players have already done that by agreeing to drop their percentage of HRR to roughly a 5050 split in the next three years of a CBA agreement, but the league hasnt budged from its unreasonable first proposal.

That probably wont happen by Sept. 15, and it probably wont happen until the NHL starts missing regular season games. But the hope is that the league will eventually embrace the revenue-sharing plan that successful franchises like Montreal, Boston, Chicago, New York and Toronto are currently blanching at.

Thats when fans and players will get what they want, and theyll get their hockey back.

Rask ends injury absence, returns to Bruins practice

Rask ends injury absence, returns to Bruins practice

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins welcomed back Tuukka Rask to the Warrior Ice Arena practice sheet on Friday morning after he took more than a week off the ice after re-aggravating his lower body injury in last week’s win over the Devils. 

Rask took part in 3-on-3 battle drills for a large chunk of the practice while backups Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban, both still with the team, practiced at the other end of the ice for most of the session. 

It remains to be seen if Rask can go against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, while troubled early in the season by the reported hamstring/groin issues, but the Finnish netminder was clearly practicing like he was going to play in Motown. 

It’s just as clear they desperately need him back given the shaky state of their defense after allowing a ghoulish 11 goals in their past two losses to the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers. 

David Backes was still missing from the practice ice while recovering from his elbow procedure, so Claude Julien was again mixing and matching the lines amid a three-game losing streak. 

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from practice: 









Liles-C. Miller







Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

So, what do the Bruins do now amidst a three-game tailspin that could easily devolve into a six- or seven-game losing stretch if they’re not too careful?

The goaltending has been predictably porous with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin out of commission with injuries. The Black and Gold allowed 11 goals in the past two games despite Zane McIntyre battling in tough conditions at Madison Square Garden. The bottom line is McIntyre and Malcolm Subban don’t look ready for NHL prime time and there are legitimate questions as to whether Subban ever will become an NHL goalie.

Beyond that, the Bruins defense has been downright atrocious just as the goaltending situation has deteriorated. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug have struggled individually and as a pairing that the B’s coaching staff had hoped would complement Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo in Boston’s top-four. McQuaid is a minus-3 in his first two games back from an upper body injury and Krug is a minus-4 with a surprising zero points in his first seven games this season.

In fact, every Bruins defenseman not named Chara or Carlo is a combined minus-16 on the season and, of that group, only currently-in-the-AHL rookie Rob O’Gara has a positive plus/minus for the season. Both the defensive zone coverage and the compromised ability to break the puck out of their own end have been problematic and Boston’s opponents have enjoyed way too easy of a time getting into the slot area for juicy scoring chances.

In other words, the defense looks very much like last season for the Bruins with – surprise, surprise – nearly the same cast of characters returning from that subpar crew.

Then there’s the forward group, which has enjoyed great production from David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand in the early going and from David Backes before his elbow injury that was at least partially caused by the hard miles the 32-year-old brawny center has logged over the years. 

Patrice Bergeron has just one point in four games since returning from a lower body injury and opposing defenses in recent games have been able to key on that top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak while mostly neutralizing them. 

That’s because the other Bruins forward lines are doing nothing offensively from a production or puck possession standpoint. Sure, Austin Czarnik had his first NHL goal Wednesday night against the Rangers and Dominic Moore has a couple of goals for a fourth line that’s been decent for Boston this season.

But David Krejci has no goals and three points in seven games with a minus-4 rating while looking slow and tentative coming back from hip surgery, Ryan Spooner is off to a slow start bouncing between wing and center and the third line winger combo of Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have zero points and a ghastly combined minus-14 rating on the season.

So, basically the Black and Gold have nothing to hang their hat on with the goaltending, the defensemen and the forwards all working at far less than full capacity right now, and that’s making them hockey road kill for opponents. To make matters worse, the Bruins find themselves in the middle of a six-game stretch where they’re playing quality teams that made the playoffs last season, and can expose all of their weak spots.

A prolonged losing streak could knock the Bruins far out of the playoff picture over the next few weeks and leave them more than a handful of points out of the postseason cut by Thanksgiving. Once that happens, the odds would be against the Bruins turning things around and there would zero margin of error for a team that needs leeway based on the glaring roster weaknesses.

So, what are the Bruins to do right now?

There’s not much they can do aside from simply play better, hope that Backes and Rask can return rather quickly and avoid buckling and quitting in games like they did against the Wild and Rangers over the past few days. The Bruins will try to ramp Rask up potentially for this weekend against the Red Wings in Detroit and perhaps that will be enough time for his reported hamstring and groin issues to have healed up.

But if not, the Bruins will need to look on the goaltending market for possible answers rather than asking rookie goalies to thrive behind a struggling, substandard defensive group. Ondrej Pavelec out in Winnipeg would be too expensive in terms of cap hit and there may not be a chance to snag Mike Condon on waivers from Pittsburgh as the Penguins look like they want to hold onto the Massachusetts native with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury also in the fold.

That leaves the Bruins with a number of retread goalie options like Kari Ramo, Kevin Poulin, Ray Emery, Dan Ellis and Yann Danis, who might have to become a reality if Rask suffers a dreaded setback in the coming days. Bringing in a veteran goalie with NHL experience certainly makes some sense on paper if things are left to Subban and McIntyre, but the bottom line is that Boston will continue to resemble an imploding hockey club until some of their other deep-seated issues are fully addressed.

Gerry Cheevers isn’t walking through that door anytime soon, and if he did, he’d smartly walk back out rather than get hung out to dry by a Bruins team that’s playing embarrassingly poorly in front of a couple of young goalies that need their best.