Boston Bruins

Haggerty: Trumpeting Bruins defense as team's 'strength' might be a tad premature

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Haggerty: Trumpeting Bruins defense as team's 'strength' might be a tad premature

It’s a slow period for hockey right now, so the NHL Network is doing a tremendously solid thing by recapping each of the 31 teams' situations after the expansion, draft and free agency periods altered many rosters.

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This week, the NHL Network turned its TV eyes to the Bruins and pointed to their right-shot heavy stable of defensemen as the clear strength of the team. That perception is quite the 180-degree turn from just a couple of years ago when the B’s were bereft of top-four defensemen on the back end after shipping out Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton.

This was further compounded by No. 1 defenseman Zdeno Chara approaching 40, and, while effective, clearly not the same workhorse he was when the B’s won the Cup six years ago. Even last spring, the overall organizational depth for defensemen was compromised when Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and Brandon Carlo were all lost to injuries and the B’s couldn’t overcome losing three of their top-four guys against a pretty formidable Ottawa bunch.

Now, it appears people are getting much more excited about the incumbent Bruins group of D-men.

The NHL Network crew referenced Boston’s surplus of right-shot defensemen and surmised the Bruins could even make a move or two before the start of the season, given the never-ending search many NHL GMs have for good right-side D.

That concept isn’t foreign given the longstanding speculation that Carlo could be moved to Colorado for fast-skating, offense-making Matt Duchene. Still, it’s clear the pendulum has swung far to the other side now with the B’s defensive group being trumpeted as “the strength of the team” and speculation there that they sacrifice a loss or two to their ranks.   

“They’re certainly dealing from a position of strength at a position that everybody covets,” said former NHL goaltender and current NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes. “Their drafting overall has been good and their development model [has been solid].”

That’s certainly something Bruins fans will love to hear and any reason for them to be able to thump their chest is a welcomed one. I can almost see the "Wolf of Wall Street"-style celebration on Causeway Street as we speak.  

But that kind of pronouncement also might be getting a little too far out ahead of where the Bruins actually sit. Two or three years from now there’s a clear, easily seen path to where the B’s could be one of the best defensive corps in the NHL. All of the young drafted, developed D-men play into that scenario all the way down to Jakub Zboril, Ryan Lindgren, Jeremy Lauzon and Urho Vaakanainen.

Still, it might be a tad premature to tout Boston’s defense as its biggest roster strength.

After all, Chara is pushing 40 and will be much better-served if the Bruins can treat him more like a No. 3 or No. 4 shutdown defensemen playing just 20 minutes a night. Anybody who watched the playoffs saw Chara wear down quickly under the unavoidable workload against the Senators once Krug, McQuaid and Carlo went down. That will be a situation that continues to worsen if he’s asked to do too much as one of the oldest players in the league.

Then there’s Carlo, 20, and Charlie McAvoy, 19, who will both be expected to play top-four roles this season. Their talent is obvious and McAvoy, in particular, has all of the goods to be a dominant No. 1 defenseman within the next couple of seasons. Those two should lock up the right side of Boston’s defensemen depth chart for the next 10 years if everything goes according to plan.  

But there are going to be ups and downs with young players thrust into top-four roles with that kind of inexperience. Last season pointed to that kind of inconsistency for Carlo throughout his rookie year. To expect something dissimilar from McAvoy this season is unrealistic and simply just a part of the D-man apprenticeship program in the NHL.  

It will be a couple more seasons before Carlo or McAvoy are steady, consistent NHL veterans capable of shouldering a heavy workload without the occasional novice hiccup.

The Bruins also weren’t able to lock down a left-shot defenseman for their top-four in the opening of NHL free agency, so it looks like either Torey Krug or Kevan Miller is going to start the season partnered up with McAvoy. Clearly, Krug has been excellent for the Bruins while willing himself from undrafted find into an undersized top-four defenseman. Last season, he topped 50 points for the first time in his career.

Kevan Miller was good enough last season for the Bruins to protect him over Colin Miller in the Vegas expansion draft and he certainly brings value as a big, strong, hard-hitting defenseman who is better offensively than you think. But he’ll be asked to play on his left “off” side if he plays top-four minutes as a veteran on-ice tutor of sorts for McAvoy, which will take Miller a bit out of his comfort zone.

Krug and Miller have their strengths and weaknesses as possible top-four solutions and the bottom line is that the Bruins could do better in finding a partner for McAvoy. In an ideal world for the B’s, Krug and Miller would be your bottom pairing where the matchups could hide some of their limitations while maximizing their strengths.

That leaves Adam McQuaid and Paul Postma as the two remaining defensemen on the Bruins' NHL depth chart. They're players who'll give you everything they’ve got with good size and limited offensive ability. If we’re being honest, though, the Bruins would be best served if one of these two was the spare No. 7 defenseman and the other replaced by a better left-shot player that could log top-four minutes.

So, has the Bruins defensemen group vaulted ahead of the Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand combo as the clear strength of the team? No, they have not at this point. The defense is one player short and probably at least two years of development shy of being able to truly be the strength of the B's once they're likely again to be in the Stanley Cup contender conversation. That’s why the Bruins shouldn’t be dealing any of their young D-men and instead would be best served simply watching things develop naturally the next couple of years while building the right way.
 

Marchand stepping up his twitter game to hilarious effect

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Marchand stepping up his twitter game to hilarious effect

BOSTON – It was probably only a matter of time before it happened, but it looks like Boston’s favorite Little Ball of Hate is stepping up his game on social media.

Brad Marchand is known as much for his rabble-rousing and trash-talking on the ice as he is for massive offensive production while serving as Boston’s top scorer in each of the last few seasons. So Marchand has the perfect mixture of good humor and clout as a star NHL player, and that usually combines for a pretty powerful voice on Twitter.

Marchand has been noticeably more active on Twitter in recent days with a wide-ranging group of tweets, and the big winner is the hockey fan that gets a little more exposure to some classic Nose Face Killah wit. Some of the tweets have been as a Bruins team leader where he’s praising the talented young crop of B’s prospects that he’s watching during training camp:

Some have been about chirping the NHL for their decision to skip the Olympics this winter where Marchand most certainly would have been primed for a chance at a Gold Medal:

Some have been engaging with “fans” and dropping classic pop culture references from children’s books while showing the nasty edge that routinely drives opponents up a wall:

The Charlotte’s Web reference is a devastating classic from Marchand, a noted longtime fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sometimes it’s just telling a quick story in a tweet that gives you an inside look at the kind of chirping that goes on when Marchand is on the ice:

A social media platform like Twitter was made for a personality like Marchand, and a stepped-up presence is good for him and good for hockey fans. So why all of a sudden is No. 63 tweeting with greater frequency over the last few days?

It sounds like it’s a combination of training camp boredom and a genuine interest in amplifying his voice on all manner of subjects.

“I’ve just been kind of lying around with nothing to do and I jumped on [twitter]…thought it was kind of funny,” said Marchand. “I thought I’d get a little more involved. I don’t know if I’m going to have enough time to do it every day, but it’s fun.”

As fun as it’s been for Marchand, it’s no doubt even more fun for the fans that might get a chance to interact with him even if it’s as the unwitting foil for one of his well-placed chirps. 

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Cassidy: Khudobin 'has a leg up' on backup competition in Bruins camp

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Cassidy: Khudobin 'has a leg up' on backup competition in Bruins camp

BOSTON – Fresh off a strong performance allowing just a single goal on 31 shots in his preseason debut, Tuukka Rask looked close to the top of his game and exactly where he needs to be with the regular season a couple of weeks away. Nearly as important as Rask’s state as the regular season nears, the Bruins coaching staff has been keeping a keen eye through camp on the all-important backup goaltender position as well. 

It’s important that the Bruins have a quality backup goalie in place as they hope to start Rask in just 55-60 games this season, and manage the slender puck-stopper in a way where they can get the best out of him from beginning to end. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy indicated Anton Khudobin has the inside track on the backup job after finding his groove in the second half of last season, and it would appear he’s well on his way to retaining his job with a Malcolm Subban/Zane McIntyre tandem in Providence.

“Tuukka looks good, and looks good in practice and healthy. So that’s reassuring,” said Cassidy. “[Anton Khudobin] I thought played very well in his game. He had the one unfortunate goal, but I thought he was rock-solid the rest of the game. He’s in very good shape and he’s practiced well, so he’s got a leg up on the other [goalies] based on his experience.

“We know that going in, but he’s going to get pushed. Zane [McIntyre] was good in a game, and Malcolm let in a couple where he could have been more aggressive. But it was a first game, so right now they all look good. That’s a good problem to have if they all push each other, but to get direct to the point Anton has done nothing to lose that backup spot.”

At this point, it would likely be McIntyre rather than Subban that would challenge for the NHL backup job if Khudobin did stumble at all in training camp or early in the regular season as he did last year. There will be no backup controversy, however, if the 31-year-old plays like he did in stopping 20-of-22 shots in Tuesday night’s win vs. the Red Wings or as he did going 6-1-0 with a .922 save percentage after the All-Star break last season.  

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