Haggerty: Bruins should go after Stamkos

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Haggerty: Bruins should go after Stamkos

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins InsiderFollow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON Heres a tantalizing question for all of those still drunk off the glorious Boston champagne party following the Bruins' Stanley Cup season.

What better reason is there to go for NHL broke than putting all the chips on the table for an explosive, exciting 50-goal scorer not even close to approaching the prime of his pro hockey career?

Were talking, of course, about the one and only Steven Stamkos.

The 21-year-old has cashed in 96 goals over the last two seasons for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and is considered to be the type of player Boston hopes Tyler Seguin to be once he's fully developed.

Stamkos will become a restricted free agent at noontime on Friday when free agency begins, and any team can legally push a drunken sailor offer sheet toward Stamkos bursting with cash, perks and anything else a creative GM could dream up in the nights leading up to July 1.

Thats exactly why the Bruins should grow bold and make the Stamkos move while they have a chance at the explosive force of hockey nature.

The rare opportunity has presented itself with Boston sitting way under the salary cap with more than 10 million to spend once the number goes up this season and Stamkos and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman have been unable to find common ground on a long term deal in the days leading up to Friday.

Its not easy for the Lightning as they scrounge around for some way to fit Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Stamkos under the same salary cap while overturning the couch cushions looking for loose change.

There is no magical cap exemption in the NHL collective bargaining agreement to bail out the Lightning, and Stamkos heads up some talented names among the RFA group that include defenseman Keith Yandle and Drew Doughty. Unfortunately the Bruins dont own their own 2012 second-round pick given up in the Tomas Kaberle deal, and that precludes them from sending any offer sheets with an average annual value between 4.7-7.8 million.

That development leaves the Bs out of the RFA sweepstakes for Yandle and Doughty, but still leaves them in play for a Stamkos-level player that should command upwards of 7.5 million per year.

Instead Yzerman is left to publicly vow that hell match any offer sheet thrown Stamkos way over the next few weeks if it devolves to that point, and privately hope none of the other GMs go for the kill.

If the Bruins hypothetically offered Stamkos an eight-year offer sheet at 8 million a season there is little way for them to lose anything as an organization.

If they somehow ended up with Stamkos the Bruins would surrender their next four first round picks in drafts that are likely to see them pick close to No. 30 after collecting top 10 players in each of the last two drafts through the shrewd Phil Kessel deal brokered by Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. Sure, the Bruins would have some tough cap decisions after next season, but that will be under a new NHL CBA with uncertain terms.

Planning too far ahead for a new CBA can be disastrous as the Bruins should know firsthand after letting Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston, Sergei Gonchar and Michael Nylander walk away coming out of the lockout a series of moves that left the Bs with nothing more than an expansion team-level roster.

The Bs could pair Stamkos and Seguin together for the next decade and feature their game-breaking offensive forces that would make the offense hum. And that's not to mention the power play, which would click like it hasn't since Marc Savard caught Matt Cookes blindside elbow. It would literally be the most impactful move the Bs could make with Michael Ryder (4 million) and Tomas Kaberle (4.25 million) potentially coming off the books, the future of Savard (4 million) seriously in doubt and another 5 million plus floating in for the 2011-12 season. The NHL salary cap website capgeek.com has the Bruins currently sitting with 12.097 million in cap space, and with Brad Marchand set to cost the Bruins somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million per season.

That is some serious monopoly money the Bruins are playing with, and Stamkos is Boardwalk and Park Place combined with hotels mortgaged to the hilt.

Stamkos-to-Boston sounds pretty good for a Bruins team coming off their first Stanley Cup trophy in 39 years, and would play awfully well to a burgeoning and hungry fan base that showed up 1.5 million strong at the Rolling Rally parade.

There are bushels of money to be made at Bruins Inc. these days, and the organization needs to find ways to be even bigger, better, badder and more exciting than they were last year. Thats not an easy feat, but pushing for Stamkos would do just that on all fronts.

Theres also the argument to be made the Bruins simply need to pull the offer sheet trigger in a conference thats quickly improving.

With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin returning to health for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Eastern Conference will be much more of a dog fight next year and beyond.

The Bs also have another need to improve substantially: There is a virtual certainty that the Detroit Red Wings will be migrating their winged wheels to the East in two years when the league realigns. The Red Wings will immediately become another obstacle in the way of the Black and Gold, and the Bs will need to match their talented roster.

Boston must gain offensive explosiveness and generate pure speed from all spots on the ice, and Stamkos holds both of those qualities among an ever-expanding tool box that saw him get stronger and grittier around the net this season.

Add that to the toughness he displayed by returning to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals after nearly getting his nose ripped off by a Johnny Boychuk slap shot, and Stamkos is the definition of a franchise player worth altering the long range plan for.

Theres obviously the chance Tampa Bay matches any offer sheet -- as Yzerman has guaranteed he will do -- and is forced to blow up part of the Bolts roster in order to retain their young superstar.

But theres really no down side here for the Bruins.

All is fair when it comes to competition within the NHL, and there are few chances to significantly weaken the only Eastern team that stood between the Bruins and their Stanley Cup in the conference finals. The Lightning are a hockey club on the rise, but salary cap complications could suck the gigawatts right out of Tampa Bay's attack in very short order.

The RFA offer sheet is a cold, ruthless and unmerciful move in the fraternal world of NHL GMs, but one can be certain nobody is going to do the Bruins any solid favors after they won the Cup this spring.

Its the right time to be bold and take chances with a team shooting to become the first to repeat as Cup champions in the last 15 years of the NHL.

The next few days or week should be the only chance the Bruins will ever have to seize Stamkos as Boston hockey property, and it could be the only chance theyll get at a proven 50-goal scorer in a long, long time.

Its a little crazy and very risky, but the Bruins should do whatever it takes to make Stamkos the newest member of the Stanley Cup Champions.

That certainly has a nice ring to it, doesnt it?

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. 

Thursday, May 5: Slash and burn over Ovechkin and Crosby

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Thursday, May 5: Slash and burn over Ovechkin and Crosby

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while lamenting what it appears the choices will be for US President in the fall.

*Don Cherry and Ron MacLean have at it with the Alex Ovechkin slash to the wrist of Sidney Crosby and Crosby’s theatrics that ensued afterward.  

*Matt Murray is proving to be a difference-maker for the Pittsburgh Penguins between the pipes, and could be a nightmare for the Washington Capitals.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Rob Rossi says that all of the little things that Sidney Crosby is doing are adding up for the Penguins in all of the best ways possible.

*In the shameless plug department, here’s episode No. 15 of the Great American Hockey Show podcast. Jimmy Murphy and yours truly break down the plight of the Bruins with Mike Giardi, and then talk Bruins, sports talk radio and his tumultuous couple of years covering the B’s with the one and only Mike Felger.

*Ken Hitchcock might be one of the oldest coaches in the NHL, but he still hasn’t reached a level of satisfaction with a Blues team in the thick of things right now.

*Here are 10 big reasons to tune into this year’s World Championships, with Auston Matthews registering as the biggest reason for most hockey fans.

*NHL writer Jon Lane has Bob Hartley hoping to seek some new opportunities after getting fired by the Calgary Flames.

*Tampa Bay Lightning VP Dave Andreychuk sits in on Sirius XM Satellite Radio to talk about the Lightning/New York Islanders playoff series.

*Plenty of turns on the coaching and GM carousel that the My NHL Trade Rumors blog has you covered for today.

*Former B’s netminder Chad Johnson is coming off his NHL season with the Buffalo Sabres, and he has a few secrets for his success.  

*For something completely different: some harrowing video from the Fort Mac forest fires up in Alberta that is truly a scary situation. Those looking to help out can send money to the Canadian Red Cross, who are supporting all of the people that have lost so much in one of the most beautiful parts of Western Canada.