Whitfield doing well in 'Crash Davis' role with P-Bruins

907483.jpg

Whitfield doing well in 'Crash Davis' role with P-Bruins

Trent Whitfield knows he must be doing something right.

The 35-year-old pro hockey veteran is starting his fourth season in the Bruins organization as a borderline AHLNHL player that provides leadership and experience at the AHL level, and gives the Bruins good veteran injury insurance at the NHL level if something should compromise their center depth. That makes him a valuable commodity to a Bruins organization that keeps bringing him back to set an example for the young wave of players.

In fact Bs assistant general manager Don Sweeney said it had a palpable negative effect on the P-Bruins younger players last season when Whitfield went down with a concussion.

Part of our trouble last year in Providence was that he was hurt for a long period of time and wasnt allowed to show other players his professionalism on a regular basis, said Sweeney. The year before when he returned so quickly from Achilles surgery that was a huge testament to him, and other guys need to see how hard he works to come back. When you lose a veteran presence like that, and Jamie Tardif falls into that category as well, those things are hard to overcome.

When youre at a developmental level like the AHL with young players, you need your veteran guys to be the first one through the door for practice and working the hardest. It sets the precedence for everybody else.

The 5-foot-11, 204-pound Saskatchewan native isnt going to post another 33-goal and 78-point season for Providence like he did with the Peoria Rivermen back in the 2006-07 season in a career AHL season. Whitfield clearly knows that, but he can apply the Bs organizations principles of playing responsible two-way hockey on the ice. More importantly he can show young forwards like Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight how to prepare for an 80-plus game season like a professional.

Little things like what to eat, how much sleep to get and how to ensure consistent performance despite crazy AHL travel schedules are lessons learned over time, and they are things that Whitfield has mastered at this point. That includes keeping focus on the task at hand when something like a lockout could easily become a distraction.

The lack of an NHL training camp was disappointing for me, but it was probably even more so for the younger guys that have only been once or twice if at all, said Whitfield. In essence this whole first half of the AHL season or however long it takes for the NHL to get-going it a big tryout period for guys.

When the season starts up theyre going to be looking for guys from this league, and individual players need to keep their eyes on it. It makes me feel good that Ive done things right during my career: Ill give guys a boost when they need it and Ill also give them a kick in the butt when they need it too. Ill let the coaches do the scolding and I can be a little bit of a buffer between the coaches and the younger players.

He can also fill in like he did three years ago when David Krejci was knocked out of the series against the Philadelphia Flyers with a dislocated wrist. Whitfield was a member of the Black Aces during the playoffs as hes been for the last few seasons, and Claude Julien actually chose to go with the grizzled center over an unproven Brad Marchand during postseason crunch-time.

In all, Whitfield has played in 17 games with an assist and a minus-2 rating for Boston during his four years in the organization, and has returned quickly from a partially torn Achilles and concussion injuries over the years. The quick return from injuries is another quality the Bruins love in Whitfield as it sets the tone for expectations right on down the line for their AHL farm club.

One bonus for Whitfield: the AHL will be much higher quality this season due to the NHL lockout just as it was in 2004-05 when he was skating with the Portland Pirates.

I was up in Portland and there were five or six NHL guys on every single team. It was electrifying hockey and the skill level was exceptional, said Whitfield. Well need to be ready. Weve got good young talent in Providence and were looking forward to see where well be at.

Its pretty clear to Whitfield that chunks and bites of NHL action are the best he can probably hope for heading into his late 30s as a player thats spent nearly his entire career at the AHL level. The term Crash Davis derived from the movie Bull Durham where Kevin Costners character is a lifelong minor league catcher brought on to tutor a wild young pitcher applies to a degree with Whitfield after a working mans career built around the game of hockey.

So whats the next step for a guy like Whitfield after the next handful of years play out in pro hockey?

Moving into coaching at the pro hockey level would be a natural next step, and Whitfield said hes already kicked around that notion while still fully intending to play for at least a few more years.

I still enjoy playing. If I didnt then I probably wouldnt be grinding it out here at 35 years old. I wouldnt have stayed in the minor leagues for as long as I have, said Whitfield. Being around these young guys makes me feel young too. They probably give just as much to me as I bring to them, you know?

Maybe I can tell them a few things to help them get over the hump, but being around this young energy keeps me young too. It works both ways. Ive thought a lot about coaching over the last few years. I want to play as long as I can, but a career as a coach is definitely something in the back of my mind. Ive taken baby steps and learned nuances while watching coaches over the last few years, but hopefully thats still a few seasons away.

It sounds like Whitfield is in no hurry to move on from his elder statesman hockey role, and the Bruins are certainly glad to have him.

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

The Bruins should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. They really shouldn’t. 

Yet they might. Pierre McGuire said on TSN Radio Tuesday that his guess is that Shattenkirk, arguably the best free agent defenseman on the market, will end up in Boston.

It is remarkable how universally against a Shattenkirk megadeal B’s fans have seemingly been. A Twitter poll with over 3,600 votes this month had Bruins fans preferring Boston sign 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to a two-year, $8 million extension than the 28-year-old  Shattenkirk to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal. 

That is obviously the correct conclusion, but considering how hard the false “Chara is old and bad” garbage is pushed in this town, it’s telling that 64 percent would rather he stick around than the team build the defense around Shattenkirk. 

Of course, Shattenkirk is not a bad player just because he’s been overrated in recent seasons. He’s a decent second-pairing defender and strong power play asset who can be penciled in for 40 points a year. The Bruins already have that in Torey Krug, and he makes less than Shattenkirk figures to command. Shattenkirk is also a righty who plays on the right, which is not a need for the Bruins, whereas Krug is a left shot who plays both sides. 

Add in the Bruins’ cap situation due to some bad contracts and they why of Shattenkirk would be a bad signing doesn’t need to be re-hashed. By this point, the explanation’s been given a few times in a few different places. 

So what would the Bruins’ actual case for signing Shattenkirk be? 

TO KEEP IT MOVING 

Last season was encouraging for Bruins fans because it saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in three years while also seeing young talent emerge. Yet they still only made the playoffs by two points, something of which Don Sweeney and Cam Neely are undoubtedly aware. 

So for all the good signs, this could be a fringe playoff team again if more improvements aren’t made, and missing the playoffs for the second time in three years would mark a step back in the eyes of ownership, perhaps putting jobs in danger. It would be a shame if money were spent irresponsibly for the sake of saving jobs, but Shattenkirk would definitely make the Bruins better next season, even if it crippled them financially down the road. 

TO PULL A CHIARELLIAN FREE AGENT SWITCHEROO

With McAvoy set to be a top-pairing player and Brandon Carlo a good second-pairing option, the Bruins do not have a need for a highly paid right-shot defender. That doesn’t mean they don’t have needs elsewhere. 

Last offseason, Peter Chiarelli made the controversial move of trading Taylor Hall, one of the best left wings on the planet. He did it to get Adam Larsson to help build Edmonton’s blue line up, then he went out and signed Milan Lucic in free agency to replace Hall. 

If the Bruins truly have designs on adding Shattenkirk, perhaps they could have something similar in mind: Trade someone like Carlo for either a left-shot defenseman or a left wing, then replace Carlo with Shattenkirk. 

This would still not be financially palatable, however. When the Oilers traded Hall for Larsson, they swapped a player with a $6 million cap hit for a player with a $4.16 million cap hit and replaced the original player (Hall) with a player in Lucic who carried a $6 million cap hit. So essentially they netted one player for an additional $4.16 million. 

Carlo is on his entry level contract, so unless the Bruins traded him for a player on an entry-level deal, they’d be spending a lot of money in any maneuver that involved replacing him with Shattenkirk. 

TO GO ALL-IN ON POST-CLAUDE LIFE

Claude Julien’s detractors lamented his affinity for responsibility. They loved it when Bruce Cassidy was more open to trading chances. 

Well, you like trading chances? Shattenkirk’s your guy. He’s a good skater, a good offensive player and a sub-par defender. You put Krug, Shattenkirk and McAvoy as three of your four top-four defenseman and you’ll be a long way from the days of Chara, Seidenberg and Boychuk, for better or worse. 

BUT, KEEP IN MIND . . . 

They for sure should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. 

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading, while wishing that Gordon Hayward and Paul George were already in Boston, like, yesterday.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Freidman gives his 30 thoughts for the week, including the trade value of a first-round pick right now.

*It could that non-unrestricted free agents steal all of the thunder on July 1 with massive contract extensions a la Connor McDavid.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has the Detroit Red Wings taking potential fliers on a number of veteran D-men that are out on the free market.

*With free agency right around the corner, the legendary Stan Fischler details the sad end to Bobby Orr’s career in Boston, where he was lied to about the offer extended to him and ended up playing things out with the Chicago Blackhawks in a way that it shouldn’t have gone. The sight of Orr in a Blackhawks sweater is one of the real all-time NHL oddities out there.

*The NCAA is eying college hockey expansion in NHL markets, including the University of Illinois and Pitt, and, from what I’ve been told, perhaps UNLV and maybe even Vanderbilt. This is a great thing for amateur hockey players and anybody that can’t get enough of the game.  

*Ex-Senators defenseman Marc Methot holds no ill will toward the Sens after being dealt from Vegas to the Dallas Stars following his selection in the expansion draft.

*Josh Ho-Sang shares his wisdom to Islanders prospects as a 21-year-old somebody that’s gone through the ups and downs of being in their shoes.

*As we referenced above, Connor McDavid is closing in on a massive contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers that will probably make him the highest paid player in the NHL.

*For something completely different: My heart goes out to this Roslindale family fighting through a situation with a child who has a life-threatening disorder. They have a Go-Fund-Me page, so please give if you can.