Haggerty: Bruins push over the Sox in Boston

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Haggerty: Bruins push over the Sox in Boston

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs

There was no mistaking just how monumentally things have changed for the Boston Bruins this summer.

When 1.5 million fans decked out in Black and Gold paraphernalia showed up for a hockey love in celebrating the Cup-winning Bs in June during their victory parade, it was clear that things have gotten bigger, better and different.

The fans have multiplied by tens and hundreds of thousands over the last eight years as the organization has completed the rocky climb from Eastern Conference punchline to legitimate Cup contender. Its a byproduct of success, but its also an investment return on the Bruins giving their adoring public a likable, entertaining brand on the ice.

The gut-punch losses and playoff disappointment of the previous few years only stoked the flames of Bs interest even higher in Boston, and the Game 7 disappointments all paid off with a cathartic, captivating 25-game romp through last years Stanley Cup playoffs.

That two-month Cup march featured Game 7 overtime goals, a false start against their archrivals that could have caved in the entire team infrastructure, head shots, show-stopping saves, coaching gamesmanship, grown men biting each other and goalies breaking fraternal code to talk trash about each other.

In other words it couldnt have been any been more entertaining had it been on pay-per-view and dropped inside a steel cage.

The Bruins barreled through the last few years of ups and downs with an identifiable, agreeable group of personalities within the dressing room that the public identified with and wanted to openly root for while representing the Black and Gold.

The citys warm and fuzzy feeling for the Bruins is all the more striking when placed next to an oafish, standoffish, arrogant group of Red Sox players that underwhelmed on every level. The Sox magic spell is over, and no longer does the Olde Towne Team hold some kind of enchantment over the region they managed to capture during the World Series years.

Many of the likable Red Sox personalities have left Fenway Park, and in essence have been replaced by an archetypal set of characters: The modest and gentlemanly Patrice Bergeron; the intimidating and punishing Milan Lucic; the everyman goaltender turned superstar in Tim Thomas; the exciting young puck prodigy in Tyler Seguin; and the pugnacious, fun-loving throwback to the old time hockey Bruins in Brad Marchand.

The thrilling wins and conscious willingness to share the Cup celebration with the entire city in the weeks afterward certainly reminded older Bs fans of the 1972 Bobby Orr Bruins with their wild ways.

But to the newer wave of fans the Bruins players had simply pushed the Red Sox out of the way as the resident rock star athletes in Boston. As one caller into 98.5 the Sports Hub said in the last few weeks, many fans have broken up with the Red Sox to start going out with the Bruins.

Its all plain to see with the naked eye.

The sheer amount of Bruins gear worn up and down the city streets in Boston, and the recognizability factor is off the charts for hockey players who used to live in relative obscurity in Boston as the poor stepsister on the local sports scene far behind the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics.

Well, the Celtics arent playing and dont appear ready to tip things off anytime soon amid their momentum-killing work stoppage.

The Red Sox have gone from model baseball franchise to a bloated mess with stunningly bad contracts and spoiled players unworthy of Bostons adoration. The Patriots are still the Patriots, but havent won a meaningful playoff game in a surprisingly long time.

So the Bruins are the hottest commodity in the Boston sports scene, but with that comes a price that each of the 22 players must now realize.

The Bs are no longer nameless, faceless young men traipsing around the city with the freedom to act like the twenty-something group they largely are. Their popularity and success means they are constant fodder for the Inside Track and non-sports news outlets that now view the Bruins as a viable story.

It means the Bruins cant go many places in Boston to truly escape, and perhaps cant be quite so fun-loving all the time.

Anytime you win in any market but especially this one youre going to be recognized more, said Shawn Thornton. People are passionate about their sports teams and we were fortunate to bring it home. It definitely turned things up a notch.

The attention is pretty much the same for me, but Im sure its a little different for the young guys. If were out to eat then its going to get called in to the newspapers. I think those girls have probably turned us down for putting us in the Inside Track because they get a million calls on us. But you try to carry yourself as a professional . . . at least since camera phones came out anyway.

Thornton was joking, of course, but its true the Bruins have to wonder now, more than ever, when exactly the lights and cameras wont be trained on them.

Witness the Track story on Milan Lucic and his girlfriend after a drunken spat in the North End last month: A story where no arrests were made and nothing substantial actually happened. But nonetheless Lucic saw his name and reputation get splashed around on the gossip pages, and the 23-year-old power forward hoped it was a good lesson for the rest of the team.

The Bruins are being held to a different kind of standard moving forward after winning the Cup, and its something they have to be prepared for.

The privacy isnt there like it was when I was a rookie here. Thats the difference, said Lucic in his first public comments to CSNNE.com about the reported incident. Even though it was something made out of nothing -- and I still have to put the blame on myself for something even happening like that -- it was eye-opening for myself and I definitely learned a lesson."

The Inside Track reported that Lucic was angered by police and asked them, "Don't you know who I am?"

I know I haveto be smarter," Lucic said. "To everybody, Im really sorry if I offended anybody for what I did. For them bringing out the 'Dont you know who I am' thing, if you asked my friends and family Im the last guy that puts myself on a pedestal and expects special treatment.

I enjoy hanging out with the regular folk. I dont put myself on a pedestal and believe that Im a better person than them just because I play hockey. Thats not what Im about. I meant in the sense of Id never be doing what those people are saying because 'Do you know who I am? I have so much to lose.' Im only four years into my career and its still a young career. Thats what I meant by it.

But Lucic has clearly learned his lesson, and passed it on to his teammates.

Some things get made out of nothing, but it was eye-opening for me. Its something you put in the past and move on, said Lucic. You take it as a learning experience more than anything at this point.

That kind of fishbowl existence is something the Red Sox routinely groused about during the 2003-07 golden age of the team, and it adds a level of immeasurable pressure to the challenges already posed to a pro sports team. Toss in a season where 13 of the first 17 games are at home this year for the Bruins, and that microscope moves in even a little tighter on the beloved hockey club.

Add that kind of market pressure to the challenge faced by being the reigning Stanley Cup champion, and there are some legitimate hurdles for the Bruins to climb this season.

But theres also the simple fact it came about because the Bruins did the unthinkable and won the Cup.

Were dialed in to what we did well last year. There are a lot of positives to take from being the defending champs, said Andrew Ference. There are obstacles, but you have to remember the good stuff.

For even the most scrutinizing Bruins fan, there is going to be a big, fat bright side to this entire hockey season no matter what happens over the next six months.

Thats exactly what happens when you nudge out the Red Sox as the resident rock stars in the city of Boston.

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

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

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GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: 

No defense for blue-line shortcomings

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No defense for blue-line shortcomings

This is the fourth in 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. 

The Bruins had a master plan to upgrade the defense last summer. It quickly morphed into a dumpster fire.

After ultimately deciding they were unwilling to pay Dougie Hamilton an outlandish sum of money -- and coming to the conclusion that the young D-man simply didn’t want to play for Boston anymore -- they dealt him to the Calgary Flames for three draft picks. It was pennies-on-the-dollar value for a young, top-pairing defenseman, and a fear-based move given the threat of offer sheets that possibly loomed if Hamilton made it past July 1 without a new contract extension.

(They also torpedoed a better draft-pick package offer from their ex-general manager, Peter Chiarelli, by demanding Edmonton's young stud D-man Darnell Nurse, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The Bruins made the decision to move Hamilton after he and his camp ignored Boston’s multiple contract overtures. It was also apparent to those running the team that players like Hamilton and Reilly Smith weren’t meshing well with the rest of the Bruins core. 

(There's no second-guessing from this humble hockey writer about the jettisoning of Smith, despite his solid 25-goal season with the Florida Panthers: he was a soft player in that last year with Boston. The part of that move that should be regretted was immediately signing Jimmy Hayes to a three-year contract extension after closing the Smith-for-Hayes deal. But, again, that's neither here nor there.)

The problem for the Bruins after trading Hamilton was in the follow-through.

First they followed Chiarelli's troubling pattern of overpaying mid-level talent by handing Adam McQuaid a four-year, $11 million extension. Then they were unsuccessful in their attempts to move up in the first round of last summer’s draft and take either of the two collegians, Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski, who projected as eventual No. 1 defensemen. They offered Hamilton and first-round draft choices; they also tried to use Martin Jones as a chip.

But whether new GM Don Sweeney thought he had a deal in place or not, things fell apart at the 11th hour. The Bruins did have three first-round picks, but they were in the middle of the round. In that position, they were unable to get an immediate difference-maker on defense.

The inability to land that young D-man (and potential heir apparent to Zdeno Chara) at last summer’s draft, or at the NHL trade deadline in February, ended up being a fatal blow. There was too much stress on a patchwork defense corps, and it was a major factor in the Bruins missing the playoffs. And even if they'd made it, the B's would have been nothing more than first-round cannon fodder.

The Band-Aid trade for 35-year-old John-Michael Liles was a nominal improvement at the deadline, but it spoke to just how badly they needed puck-moving reinforcements to assist a clearly overworked Torey Krug.

“I can tell you [Sweeney] worked extremely hard to try to move up (in the first round)," said Bruins president Cam Neely at his end-of-the-season press conference. "The scouting staff did a good job of identifying [players], and obviously, if you look back at the draft . . . you kind of had to be (in one of the top spots) to get one of those [defensemen] that were highly coveted. [Sweeney] just couldn’t do it last offseason. [He also] tried throughout the year to make something happen and he’s maybe laid some groundwork (for a future trade) . . . Hopefully [he'll] be able to get something done in the offseason.

"But like I said earlier, we know it’s an area that we need to improve upon . . . [We] know what our back end is all about. We need to . . . really improve that area of our team . . . [It's] something that I know [Sweeney's] going to be very focused on.”

Fast-forward to the present day. The Bruins finished the season with the aging, declining Chara, now 39, as their No. 1 defenseman, and the 5-foot-8 Krug as their No. 2 while posting a career-high 21:37 of ice time per game. The diminutive Krug perhaps paid the price for that wear and tear with right shoulder surgery last month that could sideline him until late October, which raises red flags about whether he should again play those kinds of heavy-duty minutes given his offensive value.

Beyond those two, the Bruins’ defensive prospects aren’t bright. The body of 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg is breaking down, and the B's would love to be out from under the final two years (at $4 million per) of his contract. Both McQuaid and Kevan Miller are limited, stay-at-home defensemen better cast as bottom-pair guys. Youngsters Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow weren’t able to lock down roles last season for a multitude of reasons. Miller is the only one who appears to have potential to develop into a top-four NHL defenseman; Trotman and Morrow seem poised to be passed by other young D-men (Brandon Carlo, Robbie O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon) in the organizational ranks sooner rather than later.

Botton line: It simply doesn’t feel like the Bruins have the answer to their defense woes, at least in the short term, within their system.

They need a No. 1 defenseman in the prime of his career, or being groomed into that prime, who can ideally allow the Bruins coaching staff to start easing up on Chara's ice time. Chara is a No. 1 in name only these days, and would be much better served as a middle-pairing D-man playing closer to 20 minutes a night and removed from the power play, where he no longer features his booming slap shot very much.

It’s an fact that nearly every team that’s won the Stanley Cup since the 2004-05 lockout has had a prime No. 1 defenseman in the 25-33 age range, with the exceptions of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. Names like Chara, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Nik Lidstrom, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty figured prominently in those championships, playing 30 minutes a night during the brutal two-month run to the Cup.

The Bruins don’t have that type of guy right now, and they aren’t anywhere close to competing for a Cup until they get one.

So how do you get one?

Sweeney and his management team are already deeply involved in that process, and that’s where names like Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen and Matthew Dumba will figure prominently in trade discussions this summer. But those types of players are costly, both in terms what will be needed to be surrendered to acquire them -- trade partners will undoubtedly ask for such talent as David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner -- and in what they'll be seeking in new contracts, since those demands are what's pushing them into the trade market to begin with.

Ultimately, there’s no guarantee that Sweeney and Co. will close the deal for any of these defensemen, given how hard it is to acquire young talent in trades in the NHL. There's also no guarantee the Bruins will target the right guy in a blockbuster trade, seeing how their scouting staff has whiffed on players like Hayes, Zac Rinaldo and Brett Connolly in recent years.  

The Bruins can hope their amateur scouting and development group can unearth a gem. After all, the Blackhawks probably didn’t know they had a future Conn Smythe winner in Keith when they selected him 54th overall in the 2002 draft. The Penguins got a diamond in Kris Letang with the 62nd overall pick in 2005 NHL. The Bruins, too, struck gold when they acquired Johnny Boychuk from the Colorado Avalanche in a deal for energy forward Matt Hendricks. Within a few years, Boychuk developed into a top-pairing stud on a Stanley Cup championship team. 

So perhaps one of the young prospects currently in the Bruins system is the ultimate answer as an eventual replacement for Chara.

But that’s something tough to count on, especially since -- even if it happens -- it's unlikely to happen in time to provide help next season. Sweeney and Neely need to pull off something in the epic-acquisition category this summer, whether it’s a deal for Kevin Shattenkirk and/or something worked out with a team like Winnipeg for a stud like Trouba.

Both their jobs, and the immediate health and well-being of a Bruins organization currently in distress, may very well depend on it.