Battle is on for seventh Bruins' defense spot

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Battle is on for seventh Bruins' defense spot

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON -- The top six defense spots on the Bruins have been spoken for since the Bruins locked down the summer deal for Joe Corvo, so there isnt a great of mystery when it comes to the blueline crew.

But its likely that the Bruins will carry a seventh defenseman out of training camp since they have plenty of salary cap space and a plan in place to give plenty of rest to all of their players after most of the healthy Bruins skaters played over 100 games last season between the regular season and playoffs.

Steve Kampfer played nearly 40 games for the Bs last season as a puck-moving defenseman before Tomas Kaberle was brought in at the trade deadline, and clearly has the experience advantage over some of the other seventh defensemen candidates. Kampfer appeared to wear down and lose a little confidence as his rookie year progressed with the Bruins last season, but the young skaters has arrived in camp with a renewed vigor.

Fellow young defensemen Matt Bartkowski, Colby Cohen and David Warsofsky have all experienced both and bad moments during training camp, and both Bartkowski and Cohen have stood out particularly. Bartkowski made some rookie mistakes, of course, but hes also executed plenty of solid offensive players while showing off his seam passing during the power play.

Cohen has similarly shown good creativity, vision and passing skills while working the point, but still has a bit of work to do on the defensive end. Warsofsky has moved the puck ably, but will need to continue learning how to fight off bigger, stronger attackers before hes truly ready for regular NHL duty. All four young defensemen have their strengths and weaknesses and all four young defensemen could benefit from more development time at the AHL level, and thats gotten Julien thinking that a good, old fashioned defensemen rotation might work best for the depth player.

One other name that shouldnt be forgotten: Army officer Zach McKelvie, who was forced to sit out two seasons while completing his military obligation and is really beginning to pick things up. McKelvie is one of the best skaters in training camp and wont shy away from the physical stuff, and those qualities dont along very often.

We want to continue to have a look at those guys, but no doubt. Steven Kampfer was here, Matt Bartkowski was here last year, and they certainly have a little bit of edge in that regard, said Julien. But weve still got McKelvie, I think hes done a fabulous job for a guy that hadnt played in a couple of years. Were kind of monitoring his progression here as we go along.

Colby Cohen is another guy who I thought has good size -- and maybe not the extreme physical player -- but certainly a guy that moves the puck extremely well. There are some guys that are still here: David Warsofsky is another guy that maybe size-wise is not big, but his mobility is extremely good. He can move the puck well. There are a lot of guys still that were looking at. The one thing we know is that those guys are all young players and theyre also easy guys to bring in and send back without the waivers. So it doesnt mean necessarily that it only has to be one guy thats the seventh player. It could be one person, but it doesnt mean it has to be.

For an organization that appeared to hold a bare cupboard of young defensemen just a couple of years ago, the young talent lining up for a reserve role on the Bs roster is nothing to sneeze at. The Bruins defensemen cupboard is now once again full of talent, and this is a big season for many of their young careers.

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

Friday, May 6: Boudreau excited at prospect of coaching Senators

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Friday, May 6: Boudreau excited at prospect of coaching Senators

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while fairly certain I’ll never be buying Tom Brady’s $200 cookbook:

-- Good piece on NBC’s Inside the Glass man Pierre McGuire, who is once again doing yeoman’s work during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

-- Bruce Boudreau is excited at the prospect of coaching the Senators as he readies for an interview with Ottawa. Boudreau would be a good fit there, given his past history with offensively talented teams.

-- Down Goes Brown lists their top-10 old guys without a Stanley Cup whose playoff hopes are still alive in this current postseason.

-- You’ve got to love the fancy stats crew that, when their team is down 3-1 in a playoff series, contends it’s all based on luck. No, it’s based on the other team scoring more goals than your team rather than which team is winning the puck-possession battle.

-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer Jason Brough has San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer ripping the goalie interference replay system, saying it’s been “clear as mud” all season after it cost the Sharks in their triple-overtime loss to Nashville. It feels like he’s got a point: I thought the Joe Pavelski goal should have been a game-winner too rather than be waved off for goalie interference.

-- It looks like the mighty have fallen quite: Stephane Da Costa isn’t on France’s World Championships roster after being in the NHL a couple of years ago. Or maybe the mighty are just hurt after playing last season in the KHL. It’s tough to tell at this point for the former Merrimack hockey star.

-- The massive nation of China is becoming a growing incubator for budding young hockey players and could become a new resource for the NHL.

-- For something completely different: For a Lego commercial for Star Wars movies that still don’t come out for almost a year, this is pretty great.

Time for a tough transition

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Time for a tough transition

This is the fifth and final installment of a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

Casual Bruins fans probably thought they were getting a Shawn Thornton-type player when Boston traded a third-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Zac Rinaldo last summer.

Instead it was a deal that was a win in the ledger of Flyers GM Ron Hextall from the very second it was approved by the NHL’s central registry. Hardcore hockey fans knew the Bruins-Rinaldo marriage had little chance of ever working out.

Rinaldo is a physical player who likes to wildly throw the body around. He has above-average skating ability and is fearless, as evidenced by the much bigger, stronger players he tangles with on a regular basis. But there's no comparison between a cheap-shot artist like Rinaldo and a genuine enforcer like Thornton, who struck a tone of intimidation with opponents whenever he was in the Bruins lineup. Thornton gave the B's an air of toughness and courage, and was one of the unquestioned leaders in the dressing room, able to command both respect and accountability.

Thornton's final year in Boston wasn’t without its challenges, given the lengthy suspension he received for knocking out Brooks Orpik at center ice and the needless water-bottle-spraying incident with P.K. Subban in that season's playoffs. But one thing is certain: Thornton would never have watched Adam McQuaid get train-wrecked from behind on a dirty hit by Washington’s Zach Sill, and then simply skate to the bench. That, however, was the reaction of Rinaldo when Sill hit McQuaid this season.

Rinaldo explained his non-actions by saying he was tired at the end of his shift and wary of getting in trouble with the league. He left it to Patrice Bergeron to grab hold of Sill, even though that sort of retaliation is exactly what the Bruins were expecting from Rinaldo when they brought him to Boston in the first place.

It was similar to the hesitation 6-foot-6 Jimmy Hayes showed at times as the opposition pushed around his linemates, or took runs at other Bruins players while he was on the ice. Hopefully Hayes learned that he needs to knock that indecision out of his game if he’s going to be effective here.

But it all speaks to a bigger issue: The change in the makeup of the Bruins, and the need to get back to a tougher, more intimidating style of play.

During their seven-year playoff run, the Bruins earned a reputation as one of the hardest teams to play against in the NHL. Players like Thornton, McQuaid, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk had size and strength, and were hard-hitting and tough when it was called for.

Very few teams messed with the Bruins. If they did, there was a good chance it would explode into a back-alley brawl . . . like the night when virtually all the Bruins went to war with Sean Avery, Steve Ott and the rest of the Dallas Stars:

It didn’t matter how those teammates felt about each other off the ice. It was no secret that Ference and Mark Recchi had their differences early in their time in Boston, stemming from things that were happening within the NHLPA. But that didn’t stop Ference from jumping to Recchi’s defense when he got smashed in the open ice by David Backes:

That should be the standard for any Bruins team when opponents start to take cheap shots, simply because it makes the B's much more difficult to handle. There were too many nights last season when the Bruins simply didn’t want to battle out on the ice. Not coincidentally, there were also too many nights when they buckled under the bright spotlights of big games.

"We’ve shown some positive stretches and things that we’ve done well . . . " said Chara. "But when times were [there] to fold up or respond, we always kind of find ourselves taking steps backwards. That was one of the things that was disappointing, and frustrating."

Those things might happen a little less if they returned to the previous standard of intensity, engagement and urgency.

That might be easier said than done, but it all starts with the players the Bruins are bringing into the fold.

Matt Beleskey is a prime example of a callback to those previous B’s teams: The kind of hard-hitting, high-energy gamer who would have fit in perfectly with the Stanley Cup-era squads. While the Bruins seemingly missed on Hayes and Rinaldo, they hit -- in the best way -- with the free-agent signing of the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Beleskey. He changed momentum in games with massive hits thrown on the ice, led the club in registered hits last season, and showed up in many of last season’s big-game disappointments when so many others did not.

The Bruins simply need more players like Beleskey, and who preferably can also play the game at a similarly high, or even higher, level. 

Torey Krug is often the smallest guy on the ice, but never stops fighting against XXL-sized opponents while refusing to give in on any level. He even dropped the gloves with the massive Chris Stewart, the very definition of courage (with perhaps a little insanity thrown in for good measure).

Noel Acciari is another young player who energized the fourth line toward the end of the regular season with his fearless style of play. He's unafraid to throw violent but clean hits against even the biggest of opponents while bringing energy and thump to the lineup. He didn’t quite get the hang of the offensive game at the NHL level during his brief audition, but the hope is that will change with a little more experience.

Players like Beleskey and Acciari speak to the Bruins’ acknowledgement that regaining their traditional identity is important, and it’s something they did intermittently last season.

“I still think we have room to improve in that area," said president Cam Neely. "I believe the group [last year] was a closer group; they enjoyed playing for each other and working hard for each other. I thought . . . aside from a couple stretches, we were a team that showed more passion probably than the year prior. But it’s still an area we need to improve upon.”

Most importantly for Neely, general manager Don Sweeney, coach Claude Julien and the Jacobs' ownership group is the need to understand how important their fan base feels about that style of play. The loyal Bruins followes can forgive quite a bit if they feel their team is hustling, working hard and fighting for each other at every turn.

That’s the bare minimum the Bruins should be striving for next season. A lot of good things could start happening if they get back to those basics.