Bruins' McQuaid is a presence on the blue line

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Bruins' McQuaid is a presence on the blue line

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

WILMINGTON, Mass. It raised an eyebrow or two when Adam McQuaid was signed by the Bruins to a two-year deal over the summer, while veteran defenseman Mark Stuart McQuaids closest match on the Boston rosterin terms of style, strengths and weaknesses was given only a one-year contractas he approached unrestricted free agency.

Its not quite as surprising now that the Bs are more than 50 games into the season. McQuaid has supplanted Stuart in the Boston lineup as the stay-at-home, physical blueliner ready to drop the gloves.

The 24-year-old gave some indications he might be ready for regular duty as a bottom-pairing defensemen last season. He filled in when Stuart suffered a couple of injuries last yearand immediately made an impression while throwing down with Raitis Ivanans in one of his first games against the Los Angeles Kings.

It was clear the Bs coaching staff had confidence in McQuaid heading into this season, and the young blueliner blossomed when he got regular playing time after Stuart suffered a broken right hand.

Stuart, recovered from his hand injury, has been a healthy scratch in the last seven games and is on the trading block as other teams around the league are putting up their bids for the blue-collar defenseman. It's no fault of Stuart's as he's been a good soldier about the entire situation true to his personality and leadership qualities, but it appears that the rugged Stuart will become another victim of the salary cap era.

The reason that has all happened for the Bruins: McQuaid has proven he belongs among the Bs top-six defensemen and has become an effective blueliner on a multitudeof different fronts for the Bruins. The Prince Edward Island native has a goal and seven assists in 40 games with the Bruins along with a plus-21, and has gained confidence in his offensive game as he continues to willinglydrop gloves withall opponents both big and small.

McQuaids easygoing nature and mop of curly hair underneath his hockeyhelmet might have fooled some into underestimating his toughness and thedevastating power of hisright hand punch, but his teammates have certainly noticed.

He has the ability to turn it up pretty good, said Andrew Ference. Its interesting because hes pretty cool and calm on the exterior, but he throws a really mean punch. Its funny to see him snap sometimes because he doesnt hold anything back when he gets in his fights. There are a few guys that have found that out the hard way.

McQuaids first goal of the season was a good indicator of where his confidence level is offensively as well. The 6-foot-5, 209-pounder didnt hesitate in the high slot when Nathan Horton got the puck to him.

It was in that sequence that we were going back and forth in the game, so it felt really good, said McQuaid. The first one always feels really good.

McQuaid simply fired the puck to the top corner, finally getting his first goal of the season and showing an above-average shooting ability that should come into play more often.

A bogus goalie interference call last week on Blake Wheeler in an earlier game wiped out what should have been his first score. But the Bs defenseman also showed some good shooting instincts in that sequence when he pulled back a shot destined to be blocked, moved to better shooting position and fired on the net. Whether the goal counted or not was immaterial in the long run as the play showed McQuaid has elevated to a different offensive plane this season as an everyday blueliner.

Hes ready to pinch and scrap to keep pucks in the attack zone, and getting a little less predictable and safe with his puck choices after settling for plenty of soft servevanilla last season.

It seems like things are coming along and Im getting more confidence with the puck. Im especially getting more confidence that the forwards are going to cover for me if I jump in on the play, and thats really opened things up, said McQuaid. I may have been . . . maybe playing too simple at times last year and a good part of this year. The game is still built on making the simple plays, but there are definitely times when you can be too simple.

Im just trying to make a play if I see something.

McQuaids shot from the point area is deceptively good, and he skates well enough for a big man to get the puck up the ice a pair of modest skills that will never make him Paul Coffey, but will keep him employed in the league as long as he has them in tandem with the physicality.

The one thing we knew about McQuaid is that he was a pretty steady defensive defenseman, said coach Claude Julien. But he continues to move the puck better every day he plays and every game he plays. Hes got the confidence now where hes a lot more than a defensive defenseman.

I dont think hes ever going to get away from his role, which is as a defensive defenseman with a really good physical edge to his game. But what hes done is added those other parts to it that make him even better.

Its all about comfort and the feeling that he belongs in the NHL, and McQuaid has become effectively safe on both counts while realizing his dream of becoming an everyday defenseman while also acknowledgingit can be taken away at any time.

It sounds like McQuaid has his head on straight, and could be in Boston for a good, long time.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Zdeno Chara interested in summer contract extension: 'Of course I would be'

Zdeno Chara interested in summer contract extension: 'Of course I would be'

BRIGHTON, Mass – At 40 years old and entering the final year of his contract with the Bruins, one might expect that Zdeno Chara was hoping to finish things up strong next season and ride off into the Boston sunset as a future Hall of Fame shutdown defenseman. 

One would be totally wrong, however. 

Chara finished off a very strong season for the Bruins as their de facto No. 1 defenseman and averaged a whopping 28:46 of ice time during Boston’s six games of playoff hockey. It wasn’t by design, obviously, as Chara was pushed into some games where he went over 30 minutes of ice time due to the blue line injuries and overtimes, and it wasn’t always perfect as evidenced by Chara’s minus-3 rating in the series and his disastrous delay of game penalty at the end of a Game 2 loss in Ottawa. 

But by and large it was an excellent season for Chara as a shutdown D-man paired with Brandon Carlo where his leadership benefited the 20-year-old rookie, and Carlo’s mobility and puck-moving helped bring out the best in Chara’s game as well. The 10 goals and 29 points and plus-18 in 75 games while averaging 23:20 of ice time was a strong showing for the Bruins captain, and undoubtedly encouraged Chara that the end is not near for his career. 

With that in mind, Chara said during Tuesday’s breakup day that he welcomed a discussion about a contract extension with the Bruins following July 1 as he hopes to continue playing beyond next season. 

“Of course I would,” said Chara, when asked if he’d be interested in an extension this summer. “It’s something where I want to continue to play, and I take a lot of pride in my offseason training and being ready for every season. It’s probably something that management has to think about and make a decision about, but I’ve said many times that I would like to play beyond this contract. 

“I want to still be very effective and still get better and improving while maintaining my game, and adding to my game. It’s a game that’s going extremely fast as we go forward with a lot of skill assets. You have to be able to make those adjustments, and that’s a focus for me going into every season so I can be an effective player.”

Clearly it would need to be under optimal conditions for the Bruins to extend Chara at this point in his career, but a short term contract that pays the aging D-man something in the neighborhood of next season’s cap hit ($4 million) would be palatable for a player that’s easily still a top-4 defenseman in the twilight of his career. 

There just shouldn’t be any expectation he’s going to get additional term or be anywhere close to his salary total for this season that was in the $7 million range, and instead it will be a potential contract extension that reflects Chara’s value to the Bruins even if Mother Nature is starting to slow him down a little bit. 

Chara’s skating game certainly has slowed for a 6-foot-9 defenseman that never counted skating as a real strength, and you don’t ever see him wind up and blast away full strength with that 108-mph slap shot that was featured in so many All-Star Game Skills Competitions over the years. But he can also still be a shutdown guy, a dominant penalty killer and an intimidating presence in the defensive zone that causes every offensive player to take pause when he’s out there. 

Even if Chara eventually becomes a middle-pairing defenseman over the course of the next couple of seasons, the Bruins could still use his presence on and off-the-ice as a defensive stopper and a mentor to all the young D-men in the organization. So it may be that the Bruins are just as interested as their 40-year-old captain in extending things another year or two with so much roster turnover toward youth expected on the B’s back end over the next few seasons.  

Brandon Carlo 'frustrated' that concussion caused him to miss playoffs

Brandon Carlo 'frustrated' that concussion caused him to miss playoffs

BRIGHTON, Mass – It wasn’t Brandon Carlo’s first concussion that he suffered at the end of the regular season after getting clobbered on a hit from behind by Alex Ovechkin, but it was the worst one that the 20-year-old had ever experienced as a hockey player.

Carlo said he was getting closer to returning to the lineup when the Bruins dropped Game 6 to the Ottawa Senators in overtime last weekend, and that he was pretty much out of the woods with the symptoms. Instead, the 6-foot-5 rookie defenseman was relegated to missing the entire Stanley Cup playoff experience after playing in all 82 regular season games as a first year player, and will be asking “What If?” along with the rest of a Bruins roster that never got to compete in the postseason with their full complement of players.

“It was pretty frustrating. You go through all 82 games and you build toward the playoffs, and that was a big thing for us. There was a lot of attention around trying to get back into the playoffs, and I just wanted to be a part of it. Watching was a different perspective for me, and a little frustrating,” said Carlo. “But at the same time, you try to take something positive out of every situation, and seeing the guys come out for the first playoff game at home sent chills up and down my body. Those are the scenarios I hope to be in as a player, and hopefully going forward I can be in those positions.

“I think I would have been able to come back pretty soon [after Game 6] honestly. I was getting past all these symptoms, and once I would have gotten past some of the conditioning hopefully I would have been back in the lineup.”

Certainly the Bruins missed Carlo in the postseason after he finished with six goals and 16 points along with a plus-9 while averaging 20:49 of ice time per game. The absence of both Carlo and Adam McQuaid on the penalty kill turned Boston from the NHL’s No. 1 ranked PK unit to one that allowed six power play goals (five technically, but the Game 2 game-winner was mere seconds after a Sens PP had expired), and against Ottawa’s 1-3-1 trap they certainly could have used another player in Carlo that can fairly adeptly move the puck up the ice. 

Instead the 20-year-old will head back to Colorado for the summer to train and prepare for his second NHL season after a super-solid rookie campaign, and hope that he can remain healthy next time around in the postseason after going through the entire regular season without incident until getting clocked by Ovechkin in game No. 82.