Bruins get a grasp of realignment


Bruins get a grasp of realignment

PITTSBURGH The Bruins had to have the new NHL realignment plan explained to them a couple of times in the afterglow of a meaningful victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Andrew Ference and Shawn Thornton both had surprised looks on their faces when they learned that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers will be joining them in the Snowbird Conference when things finally shake out.

Thats the most meaningful change for the Bruins. Rumors about previous plans had both the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins joining the Northeast Division for an incredibly tough super-conference, but instead both the Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets remained in the Western Conferences.

The Bruins will play their current Northeast Division opponents plus Tampa and Florida six times per season, and then will battle with those teams through the first two rounds of the playoffs each season. It conjures up images of the bloody old Adams Division battles featuring the Bruins and heated rivalries with the Nordiques and Canadiens among others.

The hope is the new alignment will rekindle many of those rivalries just as the Bruins and Habs have maintained theirs through seemingly annual meetings in the postseason.

The realignment plan was overwhelmingly approved by the NHL Board of Governors on Monday night during their Pebble Beach meetings, but may not take effect next season as the NHLPA also needs to weigh in on the configuration.

But the changes still held interest for the curious Bruins players. Gregory Campbell played five seasons for the Florida Panthers before landing in Boston, and he said the move could open an entirely new competitive door for the hockey teams remaining in the Sunshine Belt.

I guess it's more travel. One of the things that was nice about coming from Florida to Boston was that the travel was so good, said Campbell. Most teams are within an hour plane ride of us, but its something that were all going to have to adjust to. Those are good and talented young teams being added to our division. Theyre up and coming, so theyll be good in the future.

So itll make things more difficult, but I also think its good for hockey. When you play in Florida you dont really have the rivalries. Theyll see firsthand the rivalries in our division, and I think we have some of the best rivalries in the league. Those arent huge hockey markets in Florida, so the change to play against bigger hockey markets on a more regular basis is a good thing for the league.

There are still some kinks to be ironed out with the realignment plan rolled out quickly by the NHL, but it seems there are few that had issues with the way things were handled by the powers that be. Classic rivalries are kept together, the Red Wings have an easier travel schedule and the Winnipeg Jets will be located in a more geographically logical place once things get started.

Morning skate: Devils win NHL Draft Lottery


Morning skate: Devils win NHL Draft Lottery

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading while continuing to marvel at the strength and character of Isaiah Thomas. 

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has Barry Trotz and the Washington Capitals doing major damage control after going down 0-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in their series. 

*Dion Phaneuf is finding exactly what he needed with the Ottawa Senators and is going past where he’d been before in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

*The New Jersey Devils won the NHL Draft Lottery, and will get the No. 1 overall pick in this summer’s draft with a team badly in need of some star power. 

*On the other hand, the Colorado Avalanche were the big losers dropping all the way to the fourth overall pick after being a dumpster fire all season. I guess there is some hockey justice left in the world. 

*Larry Brooks says that the word on the street is that the Lightning are going to shop Jonathan Drouin this summer for a stud top-4 D-man. They should be getting the pick of the litter by making the skilled forward available. 

*Ron MacLean and Don Cherry talk Big, Bad Oilers and the decline of Corey Perry during Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada. 

*For something completely different: Manny Ramirez hitting home runs in Taiwan is a beauty and a joy forever

Bruins will add assistant coach, tap Bradley to run draft board

Bruins will add assistant coach, tap Bradley to run draft board

While the Bruins technically operated, and operated well, short one coach once assistant coach Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien behind the Boston bench, that’s not expected to continue for the upcoming season.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed this week that the B’s will be retaining the current assistant coach group of Joe Sacco, Jay Pandolfo and Bob Essensa to work under Cassidy as full-time head coach, and that they’ll be looking to add one more person to his staff.

“I think our staff did a very good job jumping in and picking up, because we didn’t add to it at the time [of Cassidy’s promotion] when we subtracted from the group. It will stay as is,” said Sweeney. “We will also be looking to add to it to complement that group. Bruce and I have already spoken briefly about it, but we haven’t identified yet and we’ve already received some people that would have some interest. We’ll pursue that accordingly.”

Sacco handled the defensemen and the penalty kill in the final few months of the season, and Pandolfo worked with the forwards in his very first season as an NHL assistant coach following a stint in player development. Essensa, of course, worked with the goaltenders and as the “eye in the sky” from the press box once Pandolfo moved to the bench following the coaching change. So the natural assumption would be that the Bruins would hire another former defenseman to work with the D-men given the backgrounds of Sacco and Pandolfo as forwards.

“We haven’t gotten too far out in front of it. But, Joe Sacco moved from the front of the bench to the D, and did a terrific job [while playing a] big part of the penalty kill all year. Jay [Pandolfo] came down from the press box, worked with the forwards, which he had worked with all year. But now he’s in the heat of the battle. They were terrific. We were a true staff,” said Cassidy. “Goalie Bob [Essensa] became a little bit more of an eye in the sky for us up there. We had Kim [Brandvold], who was our skating coach, helped a lot with the practices, with the pace we were trying to establish. I can’t thank them enough.

“Going forward, we’re going to meet and decide what’s the best fit for us [as an assistant hire]. Obviously those two have a forward background, I have a defense background, so maybe that’s an area we have to look at, what’s the best complement. But we’d be getting ahead of ourselves if I said today that we’re pinpointing an exact thing. We’ve got to look at it and say, ‘OK, who’s the best fit. What makes us the most successful?’ We’ll go from there with the candidates we get.”

The situation automatically leads one to wonder if P-Bruins head coach Kevin Dean would be a possible candidate as a longtime Cassidy assistant at the AHL level, or if Dean wants to continue on his track as a head coach. If not Dean then perhaps Providence Bruins assistant coach and former Bruins D-man Jay Leach might also be a strong candidate after his first season working with the young P-Bruins at the AHL level.

While it’s clear the Bruins still have some discussions before potentially making a move on hiring an NHL assistant for Cassidy’s staff, they have made a determination about their scouting staff. The B’s never replaced the head of amateur scouting position when Keith Gretzky was hired as an assistant general manager with the Edmonton Oilers, and it will instead be Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley that will run Boston’s draft board in June.

“Scotty Bradley has stepped back into that role, which he’s very comfortable doing. He holds the title of Assistant General Manager and he’ll oversee the draft. We’re very comfortable with the people he’s worked with in recent years that have been a big, big part of our recent drafts. Our meetings went well,” said Sweeney. “They were just at the U-18s and had other subsequent meetings, so there will be some banter in the upcoming [scouting] meetings, in terms of where we end up finalizing our list. Scotty will oversee that.”

It’s not exactly foreign territory for Bradley, who previously held the head scouting position with the Black and Gold and played an instrumental role in drafting players like Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. But there’s also some question as to how big a role Gretzky played in drafting the massive wave of talented prospects now pushing their way through Boston’s system, and how much his presence will be missed at NHL Draft weekend moving forward.