Haggerty: The Rask Era is underway in Boston

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Haggerty: The Rask Era is underway in Boston

NEW YORK -- The third period of Wednesday nights highly entertaining4-3 loss in overtime to the New York Rangers was the night that Tuukka Raskofficially laid claim to being the Boston Bruins No. 1 goaltender. He made some big saves at the end to help us get one point,said Claude Julien. Hes been really good. If anybody had doubts about Tuukka,hopefully theyve been erased by now because hes been solid in every game thathes played.Forget about the four goals allowed during the game. Thefirst two were all credited to the pure skill of the Brad RichardsRickNashMarian Gaborik combination and a defensive breakdown between DougieHamilton and Andrew Ference. The third was a rebound goal after the Bruinsfourth line failed to clear the puck out of the zone with heavy traffic bearingon Bostonsfifth and sixth defensemen. The overtime goal was another Bruins defensemen turnover byFerence when he couldnt handle a bouncing puck near the blueline, and Gaborikwas given a straight line breakaway chance to win the game. It was a creditthat Rask even somehow got his blocker on the first attempt, but then couldntrecover when the Slovakian scorer swatted the puck out of the air for thegame-winning strike. He scored a couple of goals like that today, said Rask. Hesgot a quick snap-shot so I closed my five-hole and then he bats it out of theair. Thats why he scored 50 goals or something last year.Every point will be critical in the 48-game shortened NHLregular season, and it was Rasks efforts alone in the final minutes anintense, playoff-style battle that helped preserve a single point by pushing toovertime. The Rangers poured it on with 11 shots in the third period thatdialed the pressure on the Bostongoalie, and Rask made his best 1-2 combination saves of the year in the finalminute of regulation. Nash fired a wrister from the right face-off circle thathandcuffed Rask, but he was able to push the puck away from the crease. Gaborikwas waiting, coiled and ready to pounce on the rebound. The Rangers forwarddidnt get great wood on the puck, but managed enough to push it back towardthe goal line as Rask was pushing from left post back to the right. He somehow managed to smother the puck underneath him justas he had done in the first period when Nash and Gaborik tried to push him andthe puck past the goal line and protect the tie after Nathan Horton hadsummoned up a clutch goal in the final six minutes of regulation. Looch was playing defense there and Nash shot low blocker.I reacted that to that and I knew Gaborik was there, said Rask. I juststarted making snow angels at that point.The four goals allowed and the 29 saves dont seem like aparticularly great night for Rask, but theyre misleading when one considersthe way Gaborik, Richards and Nash were buzzing around all evening. The pressure was high on Rask to backstop a defense thatmade its share of mistakes in the game, and he was up to the task. Not only that, but Rask made the important save whenovertime was hanging in the balance. Hockey experts from here to Thunder Bay will tell youthats the most important thing on the goaltenders job description. Or as formerBruins head coach Mike Sullivan always -- and we do mean always -- said makingthe critical save at the critical juncture in the game.We had a expletive start, said Rask. They came out hardand we were sloppy. We just couldnt match it early, but showed something incoming back.Critics will say that he should have stoned Gaborik on bothshots again in overtime, but there are only so many free chances at the net youcan give a perennial 40-goal scorer before hes going to break through. Things have gone almost perfectly for Rask in his firstthree games of a season where hes proving some things to himself and to hisorganization. The young Bs netminder outplayed reigning Vezina Trophy winnerHenrik Lundqvist in their first showdown last week in Boston. Rask never blinked in a shootout winover the Winnipeg Jets where the offense never gave him any room to breathwhile flubbing far too many Grade A scoring chances. On Wednesday night Rask kept the Bruins in a game where theywere outclassed in the first 20 minutes in a hostile hockey setting where theother team was on a mission to show they werent nearly as crappy as theirwinless record suggested. Rask has got a 1.95 goals against average and a .926 savepercentage that everybody agrees will make the Black and Gold a Stanley Cupfavorite if he can simply maintain what hes doing now for the next 5-6 months.Theres no pressure on Tuukka. We know what hes capableof doing, said Julien. All we have to do is the job in front of him and thejob that everybody else is capable of doing. The pressure you want him to puton himself is positive pressure, and to say Hey, Im No. 1 and Im a goodgoaltender. Thats what you want.All that positive pressure and error-free puck-stopping isalso making everybody forget about Tim Thomas through the first few weeks ofthe season. Salvaging a point against a frenzied Rangers club stands as anothergiant statement that the Tuukka Rask Era has officially begun between the pipesin Boston.

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

When the hockey world grew tired of shootouts, the league took something of a half measure. Rather than eliminate the shootout, the league moved overtime from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3. It worked; games that were tied at the end of regulation were more likely to end in the five-minute OT period than before, thus reducing the frequency of shootouts. 

Now, the NHL is dealing with its latest cumbersome gameplay issue: the offsides challenge. A half-measure isn’t as desirable in this case. No more half measures, Walter. 

The offsides challenge was introduced with good intentions, but it’s simply too easy to abuse. And really, when the option is there with only a timeout at risk, why wouldn’t a coach roll the dice that maybe a guy was offsides entering the zone 29 seconds before the goal was scored? 

The option needs to be taken away. Rely on blueline cameras and automatically look at anything close on a goal that’s scored off the rush. It would take two seconds and would save the refs from another Matt Duchene incident while saving the viewer a lot of time. Let anything else go the way of the dry scrape. 

There’s the temptation to instead tweak -- maybe make offsides challengeable if the entry in question occurs within however many seconds -- but that would just mean more time would be wasted seeing if a play was even challengeable. 

It was proposed at the GM meetings in Chicago that if a coach loses an offsides challenge, his team will be assessed a two-minute penalty. That sounds great as a deterrent, but it won’t stop instances of the needless why-the-hell-not challenge. Late in games, coaches might be just as likely to take their chances in a tie game or a one-goal game. That goal allowed could likely be the deciding tally, so if they’re likely to lose anyway, some coaches might still go for the time-wasting Hail Mary. 

And of course, the loser there is the person hoping to catch their train out of North Station in time, or the person who might doze off during the stupid challenge, wake up four hours later on their couch and develop back issues over time. That was a friend, not me. 

Colin Campbell said at the GM meetings in Chicago ahead of the draft that the league is trying to "temper" the negative reaction the offside challenge has received from players and fans. 

There’s really only way to do that, and that’s to get rid of it.

See you in a year when we’re going through the same thing with goalie interference. 

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

CHICAGO – With the 2017 NHL Draft officially wrapped up and the proverbial eve of NHL free agency upon us, there wasn’t anything to get particularly alarmed or excited about when it comes to the Bruins actions over the last few days.

The Bruins lost a potential-filled defenseman that might never actually realize any of it in Colin Miller, and they followed up the expansion draft subtraction with an average draft class where they addressed defense, goaltending and their depth up front. But at the same time, it didn’t really feel like the Bruins got anybody in the draft that they were particularly bowled over by, and the B’s lost a potential trade chip once they’d used their 18th overall pick in the first round to select smooth-skating defenseman Urho Vaakenainen.

MORE: NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

The sense at this address, though not confirmed by anybody inside either organization, is that the Bruins weren’t willing to trade a first-round pick as part of a package for Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, and would have preferred Jonas Brodin if they were going to give up that kind of asset. Don Sweeney confirmed that Boston’s first-round pick was in play, but stressed it was for “target specific” players that the Bruins coveted.

A deal was never worked out for one of those “target specific” players, so the Bruins continue to move on and hope that something breaks over the next few weeks.

“I was on record saying we’d be offering our first-round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to do it, so we went ahead with our own pick. I was target specific on a few players and there were other considerations being discussed.

“It’s an area we’d like to address and help our team currently. I’m not going to stop exploring areas where we can improve our club. It’s hard to tell [which way trade talks will go]. Maybe people will feel that picks from next year’s draft will be even better, or they like that pool of prospects a little bit better. It’s hard to tell [where trade discussions will go], to be perfectly honest.”

At least the Bruins were right on time with picking a Finnish player in the first round as a record six players from Finland were nabbed in the first round of the draft, and one would hope that means all will benefit from the hockey talent streaming out of that Scandinavian country right now. It will take years to determine how Vaakenainen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and the other members of the 2017 draft class ultimately pan out, but it sure doesn’t feel like the same outpouring of talent as in 2015 when Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jake DeBrusk and the rest of the Bruins draft picks officially entered the Black and Gold system.

B’s assistant GM Scott Bradley admitted as much when discussing the entire draft class on Saturday afternoon at the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins got good value, addressed organizational needs and felt good about the players they picked in each and every spot, but there isn’t going to be a Charlie McAvoy or David Pastrnak coming out of a really “meh” group of draft-eligible hockey players.

“Our first rounder is somebody we’re excited about. His skating is close to what we call a ‘5’ in our system. He’s a left-shot. You compare his skating to [Paul] Coffey at times, really mobile and transition defenseman,” said Bradley, who hadn’t run a draft board for the Bruins in roughly ten years while Wayne Smith and Keith Gretzky had been in charge of the Black and Gold’s scouting operations. “I think we addressed a lot of our needs. It wasn’t sexy, but I think we did well in addressing a lot of the organization’s needs.”  

So with the amateur draft and the expansion draft both in the rearview mirror, the Bruins must move on in the roster-building process while still facing a pair of big needs in top-6 left wing and top-4 left side defenseman. They may be able to nail down one of those needs by swinging a trade with their list of available assets including Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes, Jakub Zboril, Adam McQuaid and next year’s first-round pick.

A deal that would send a Spooner-led package elsewhere might be enough to land the big, skilled, young winger that the Bruins are currently in the market for, and provide top-6 insurance in case DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork all aren’t quite ready for full-time duty skating, passing and finishing off plays with David Krejci.

It might be that the Bruins have to begin thinking about free agency as a viable place if they want to land a solid, top-4 D-man for the next handful of years to pair with Charlie McAvoy. Karl Alzner headlines a list of players that would be a good fit for the Black and Gold, but they would absolutely have to overpay for a 28-year-old UFA that’s averaged 20:13 of ice time per game over the course of his 591 career games with the Washington Capitals. More affordable would be a young, free agent defenseman like Dmitry Kulikov, who is still extremely young as he comes off a rough year with the Buffalo Sabres after getting traded there from Florida. Or other potentially available left-shot free agent defenseman like Brendan Smith or Ron Hainsey could be stop-gap answers for the Bruins until the next crop of D-men in Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Vaakenainen, and others, are ready to step up just like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy did last season.

The bottom line is that the Bruins did perfectly fine over draft weekend with no true idea until a few years have passed for these teenage prospects, but they need to aim higher than “perfectly fine” with their offseason if they want to be any better at the NHL level next season. A big move or two will be needed from the Bruins front office if the B’s are going to make the jump that everybody wants to see from them over the next couple of seasons.