Felger: They are who I thought they were

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Felger: They are who I thought they were

By Michael Felger

Five thoughts on the Bruins following an alarmingly bad performance Saturday in Toronto:

1. So now you want to fire the coach?

Where were you 11 months ago, after the Bruins became the first NHL team in 35 years to blow a 3-0 series lead in their second-round playoff loss to Philadelphia? Where were you after they peed down their leg in Game Seven at the Garden? Where were you after Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli explained away that defeat by saying, hey, we're one of only five teams to make the second round two straight years, so why is everyone so upset?

I mean, really. If no one lost their job after that, you think it's going to happen after two bad weeks in March?

2. I'd wouldn't call what the Bruins have right now a goalie "controversy." That would connote two guys making a case to be the starter through their solid play. That would be a good thing. I would classify the Bruins' current situation in net as a goalie "thing," because neither Tim Thomas nor Tuukka Rask look like they deserve the job. That, obviously, is a bad thing.

If you ask me, Rask is the sharper guy right now, but that's not to say he's been foolproof. Even his good games include a clunker or two. He's just looked better than Thomas, who seems to have lost whatever mojo he had from his terrific first half. He's won just once this month and was yanked in the second period in Toronto. Only, that wasn't the end of Thomas' night, as Rask blew another gasket, yelling at defenseman Dennis Seidenberg for an apparent screen, and Thomas was back in to start the third. Julien said Thomas returned for the final period because he lobbied for it during an intermission conversation.

Whatever. The B's have a thing on their hands. The solution? Even though I think Rask is the better (or least bad) goalie right now, Thomas still deserves to play his way out of this. He's been too good for too long this season for the B's to give up on him. Yes, just a few weeks ago we were talking about how important it was to get him his
rest, but that was before this thing came up. Now it's time to play him. If he shows no signs of snapping out of it, then go to Rask.

3. The power play looks better with Tomas Kaberle -- but who gives a crap how it looks? The puck still isn't going into the net. The B's have scored just one power play goal in their last 29 chances, and that was when they had a 5-on-3 advantage. Otherwise, all we've seen is a bunch of passes from Kaberle to Chara at the point and a lot of blocked shots.

Kaberle sure can pass the puck, but if he's the true "puck moving defenseman'' the B's so desperately needed, then it has yet to show itself. It better materialize in the playoffs, or this team has no shot. In the meantime, Kaberle is 0-3-3 with a plus-4 as a Bruin.

4. Why did the Bruins trade a second-round pick for forward Chris Kelly again? Didn't they already have a couple of guys like that (Greg Campbell, Danielle Paille)? Didn't they have a need on the top two lines, not the bottom two?

The last thing we needed was for Julien to get another defensive-minded plugger. He loves those guys. He wraps them in his bosom and rolls them over the boards every fourth shift like it was their birthright. Then he treats them to ice cream after the game. He can't get enough of them.

This month, Kelly has one assist and is a minus-4. Yet check his ice time; it's around 15 minutes a night. Rain or shine. A perfect Julien guy.

5. All that said, I think the Bruins will be okay. Note: I said "okay." Not champions. In fact, I don't feel dramatically different about the Bruins after this seven-game stretch (1-3-3) than I did after their previous one (7-0).

They'll bounce back from this. Maybe it will be Thursday against the Canadiens. And, come the postseason, if they get the right matchups, they could make the Conference Finals. If they have a tough draw, they could be out in the first round. I felt this way in October and I felt this way in February. I feel it now.

I think most of you got way too ahead of yourselves a few weeks back. Take off the footy pajamas. The B's don't have a Top Four roster. When they're playing hard and the goaltending is there, they can beat most everyone in a regular-season setting. But they aren't a great team.

Don't you understand where we are, folks? Unless or until Cam Neely makes a major change to the core (players andor coaches), or until Tyler Seguin develops into a top 10 player in the league, we'll remain where we've been for three years:

Purgatory.
E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Bruins having 'very, very productive talks' with D-man Liles

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Bruins having 'very, very productive talks' with D-man Liles

The Bruins still hold high hopes for what free agency might bring them for a defenseman when the market opens Friday at noontime, but it also feels like Bruins GM Don Sweeney is under-promising while hoping to over-deliver. Either that or the Bruins really don’t have many good prospects at significantly improving their blue line group headed into next season.

For the first time Sweeney made a “defenseman-by-committee” reference during Thursday’s conference call to announce the four year contract extension for Torey Krug, and talked up positive contract talks with 35-year-old John-Michael Liles.

Yes, that’s the same Liles that was a minus-7 in 17 games with the Bruins after coming to Boston at the trade deadline for draft picks and Anthony Camara. One would expect it to be a one year deal at a very reduced rate along the lines of last year’s $2.75 million to bring Liles back in Boston if the Bruins can’t somehow land a bigger free agent fish like Jason Demers, or Brian Campbell.

There’s also the possibility of something shaking loose with Kevin Shattenkirk or Cam Fowler in trade discussions, but Liles was the only available defenseman that Sweeney addressed by name during his chat with reporters.

“We’ve talked to free agent candidates. I’ve mentioned John-Michael [Liles]; I think that we’ve had very, very productive talks there. We’re looking for balance; we’re looking for younger players to have an opportunity to emerge and grab a hold of that,” said Sweeney. “Whichever we can improve our team internally or externally, we’re going to continue to evaluate and pursue. The trade market … whether that materializes remains to be seen. And it’s not an easy process, nor is the free agency process.

“So we’re going to do the work to try and improve our team but it starts internally with our group. And our coaches are excited about what our young players are going to bring to the table.”

After signing Krug to a four year extension that will pay him $5.25 million per season and buying out Dennis Seidenberg’s contract, the Bruins still have $19 million to play with headed into Friday’s open of the free agent market. So the Bruins have the capital to be players on July 1 if they want to make a big splash.

It just remains to be seen whether the Bruins will be capable of making a big splash given the available players, and how many of the big named ones seem to be leaning toward NHL destinations other than the Black and Gold. 

Wyshynski: Eriksson is looking to really cash in

Wyshynski: Eriksson is looking to really cash in

Greg Wyshynski joins Michel Felger on Sports Tonight to discuss the recent Boston Bruins moves and other potential landing spots for free agents Loui Eriksson and Milan Lucic.

Bruins view newly signed Krug as an emerging leader

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Bruins view newly signed Krug as an emerging leader

With Bruins defenseman Torey Krug in the fold for four more years, a Thursday afternoon conference call with the 25-year-old defenseman and GM Don Sweeney was about what the young puck-mover can accomplish over the next few years. With Krug coming off a four goal, 44-point season and offseason shoulder surgery, it will be a slow and steady progression to begin next season once he’s cleared to play.

What isn’t in question is Krug’s leadership, toughness and gritty attitude to go along with his considerable offensive skill set, and those all made the $21 million contract a no-brainer from the Black and Gold end of things.

“Torey’s got a very, very unique skill set that’s important to our hockey club. He’s had a very, very productive three years. His role this year and his time on ice, in all situations, increased significantly. He was able to shoulder much, much more responsibility in all parts of the game. As a young player who is invested in the Boston Bruins organization, he wants to win, he does things the right way every time he comes to the rink,” said Sweeney. “He wants to get better; he’s not satisfied. All the things you want out of a young player to identify with, which is something we also acknowledge, that Torey has really been identified as an emerging part of our core leadership group.

“I think he’ll help tremendously to help all of our young players that hope to fall in similar fashion with the success that he’s had up to this point. We have a lot of work to do in front of us and Torey’s going to help us get back to where we want to be in trying to win a Stanley Cup.”

Krug has averaged 10 goals and 41 points over his first three seasons in the NHL, and averaged a career-high 21:37 of ice time last season as a de facto No. 2 defenseman behind Zdeno Chara. It was a big season because Krug survived, and continued to put up points, as a legit top-4 defenseman in the NHL, but the 5-foot-9, 181-pounder also needed his shoulder repaired after his first season of heavy duty usage.

So it bears the question of whether Krug will stay in one piece with the heavy top-4 duty over the next four years. Whatever the answer is to that question, the puck-moving defenseman will be a leader, a feisty character on the ice and somebody that’s going to serve as a good professional role model for the flock of young players expected to come through in the next couple of seasons.

The Michigan boy couldn’t be happier to be a part of all of it in Boston for the next four years.

“I think [the leadership thing] has been something that was instilled in me in a young age, you know, coming from my father. It’s always been authentic. If anyone tries to force it then people see right through that, and it just doesn’t happen. But for me and this team and this locker room I think I’m able to bridge that gap from the young guys to the older guys,” said Krug. “I relate to every single person in that locker room, which I think will help our team as we grow and we mature bringing in younger guys from Providence. Or guys that are just signed and helping them develop and helping them feel comfortable within the locker room because it can be intimidating.

“It’s tough to walk in the locker room, you know, when you have Stanley Cup Champions and Norris and Selke Trophy winners. So it can definitely be very intimidating and hopefully I can serve as that bridge to kind of ease that gap for those guys. As far as young defensemen goes, the one thing that Claude [Julien] helped me with when I first came up was making sure I was myself. I was here for a reason. I was able to do the thing I do well, and I wasn’t straying away from that to try to be someone that I’m not. So I think young defensemen, once they realize that and they realize that everyone in this organization is there to help them then they’ll begin to improve. They’ll become themselves as they will at the NHL level.”

With Krug having experienced a couple of years of late season collapses as one of the young leaders on this Bruins team, even more will be asked of him next season as the Black and Gold push hard to right the ship.