Morning Skate 222: First stop in Calgary

Morning Skate 222: First stop in Calgary

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.comCALGARY You know its a long road trip through Canada when the Canadian customs guy at Pearson Airport gives you the hairy eyeball when you tell him youll be in Canada for nine days covering hockey.So it will be an endurance test for the Bruins mixed in with some cool moments for Vancouver homeboy Milan Lucic, and there will be a couple of very good tests mixed in there. The Calgary Flames are the hottest team in the NHL, and the Vancouver Canucks are the class of the Western Conference with a whopping plus-60 goal differential on the season.The Flames have taken points in nine of their last 10 games, smoked the non-factor Canadiens in the Heritage Classic televised all over North America, and seem to have found their Western Canada mojo. They've put up a 15-4-5 record since Dec. 28 when Jay Feaster took over as GM of the Flames, and it appears the front office transformation was exactly what Calgary needed.Hard to believe there were ever whispers that Jarome Iginla might want out of Calgary given how the Flames are moving and grooving, but things can change pretty quickly in the NHL. Now he's just outside the NHL's top 10 with 25 goals and 57 points this season, and he's been revived by a Flames team around him that's come to life when it mattered most.On to the links:A good recap at Yahoo! Sports of the WhalersBruins alumni game that took place at a freezing cold New England venue over the weekend.USA Todays Kevin Allen takes us through the questions that still remain with the trade deadline slightly less than a week away in the NHL.A side-by-side comparison Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin of the way into their first NHL seasons. Get used to this as well be hearing a lot about it over the next few days leading up to the Oilers game.A Toronto radio interview with new Maple Leafs prospect Joe Colborne for those Bs fans out there that already miss him.Its a new dawn for the Buffalo Sabres, and much of the Sabres media contingent is pretty giddy at the possibility of money being spent and players being retained. Its pretty much the opposite of letting Daniel Briere and Chris Drury walk away after some great regular seasons.An overview by the Globe and Mail at whos left and whos available on the trade market with a flurry of deals already completed.Pat Hickey was not all that impressed with the Heritage Classic between the Flames and Habs, and its not all that surprising given how one-sided and Justin Bourne paints a pretty vivid picture of what its like to join a new pro hockey team in the middle of the season. After all, hed done it three different times before his writing career got going.

Pandolfo ready to jump from player development to Bruins assistant

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Pandolfo ready to jump from player development to Bruins assistant

Jay Pandolfo grew up a rabid Bruins fan as a native of Burlington, Mass, and got to live out his youth hockey dreams playing in the Black and Gold at the very end of an excellent NHL career that included winning Stanley Cups for the New Jersey Devils. 

Pandolfo then was hired as a Player Development coach with the Bruins and was charged with working with their young prospects. Pandolfo responded as he typically does with a great work ethic and an open-minded, success-driven attitude, and did some very good things with young players Frank Vatrano, David Pastrnak and Noel Acciari the past couple of seasons.

So, it was a bonus for both the individual and for the team when Pandolfo was added to Claude Julien’s NHL coaching staff this week and it also bodes well for the further development of young players on the NHL roster. Perhaps Pandolfo can even coax a little more production out of young veteran forwards Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly, who were both lackluster given ample chances to consistently produce last season.

Pandolfo was also a part of the interview process two years ago when Geoff Ward departed from Boston’s NHL staff and the Bruins eventually hired Joe Sacco as Julien’s top assistant.

Clearly, developing the young players was a mandate with the hires of both Pandolfo and Bruce Cassidy to the NHL staff, and getting the coaching experience in the NHL is something he wanted to try after his retirement as a player.

“Coming out as a player, Jay expressed interest from day one to get into coaching, had been a part of the search process [last season] that Claude referenced earlier. I’ve spent an awful lot of time with [Pandolfo] in the last two years while he’s transitioned into a development role. He spent a lot of nights behind the bench in Providence. He watches a lot of video with our players in a development role,” said Don Sweeney, who also added that Pandolfo’s move to coaching would open the door for former Devils forward Jamie Langenbrunner to become more involved in the B’s burgeoning Player Development Department. “I don’t really think it ever left him that he wanted to take a crack at this. I think it’s sort of in him as part of his fabric to want to teach, to want to impart upon the players the knowledge that he knows what it takes to win.

“He’s won. I’ve trained with him in the summer; he knows exactly what it takes. I think that it’s in his blood. It doesn’t mean that he can’t transition back out in a year’s time if it’s something that he doesn’t want to do. But it’s something that he wanted to jump into right from the get-go.”

Both Pandolfo and Cassidy have the unique position of having already coached many of the prospects, either in the NHL or on the cusp of breaking through from Providence. Take it one step further, Pandolfo also has the unique perspective of having played with many of the B’s core group of veteran players. That experience can be a vital conduit between those players and Julien when normal brush fires crop up or when the head coach is actively looking to gauge the true pulse of his team.

“I think it’s a huge benefit. I think working with especially some of these young guys who will be coming up in Providence. Even getting to know the prospects that hopefully will be making the jump and whether it’s a year or two years, having those guys feel comfortable with coming into a situation,” said Pandolfo. “I’ve played with a lot of guys that are still on the Bruins, so I think being comfortable with those guys [is important], and those guys knowing me and being comfortable with them being able to bounce stuff off me. As an assistant coach, you know, a lot of times you’re a bit of a sounding board too for those guys. You know they can’t always go to the head coach for things, so you know they like to sometimes talk to the assistant, and get a feel for what everyone’s thinking.

“It’s a good situation. I played for Claude so I’m very comfortable with him. Working with Butch the last couple years has really helped me a lot and we’re real comfortable together. So it's a similar situation. I’ve known Joe for a long time and also working with Goalie [coach] Bob [Essensa] as well down in Providence on a regular basis and having a really good relationship with Don Sweeney the last two couple years, it’s a very similar situation. For everyone I think it’ll allow us to get close as a group right from the hop. I think that matters a lot when you’re trying to build a winning team.”

Clearly, the Bruins are trying to make adjustments to the coaching staff in the hopes things will be different than they’ve been the past two seasons. It remains to be seen how many more changes need to be made before the truly positive results start to return for the Black and Gold, and things begin to stabilize on Causeway Street. 
 

Cassidy wants Bruins to break out ‘quicker and cleaner’

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Cassidy wants Bruins to break out ‘quicker and cleaner’

It was more than a decade ago that Bruce Cassidy had his one and only NHL head coaching shot with Washington Capitals, so the enthusiasm was predictable and genuine when the longtime AHL coach was named to Claude Julien’s staff this week.

Cassidy paid his dues in Providence with the Bruins the past eight seasons and posted winning records in all five seasons as coach with playoff berths in each of the past four years. He also did all of that while developing the young talent that’s come through Boston’s organizational pipeline and showed a particular penchant for working with young defensemen.

The hope is that the Black and Gold can break the puck out of their end with a little more speed, precision and confidence with Cassidy in charge of pumping some energy into the transition game. The one caveat: a hockey team also needs the personnel to be able to transition the puck no matter how good the coaching might be.

“Obviously there’s going to be some roles that those two new coaches are going to have. Bruce Cassidy will definitely be behind the bench taking care of the defense part that Doug Houda had. Bruce Cassidy being a former defenseman and one that was very successful, I think, in the transitioning of the puck and has done a great job also with the group that he had in Providence,” said Julien. “I think that’s going to be a good place for him and certainly a good area for him to help improve our transition game back there.”

The list is long of B’s players that also counted Cassidy as their head coach: Noel Acciari, Tommy Cross, Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith, Alexander Khokhlachev, Torey Krug, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, David Pastrnak, Tyler Randell, Ryan Spooner, Malcolm Subban, Zach Trotman and Frank Vatrano. Cassidy and P-Bruins assistant coach Kevin Dean’s work with Krug, Johnny Boychuk, Miller and McQuaid among others in AHL has earned them plenty of plaudits in the Bruins organization.

Cassidy finished with a 207-128-45 as the bench boss for the P-Bruins and has said in the past that a return as an NHL head coach is the goal for him. There is a strong belief that Cassidy would be the choice for an interim head coach if an in-season change was ever made with Julien and that missing the playoffs  the past two seasons has dialed up the warmth levels on his coaching hot seat.

Cassidy was clearly avoiding that subject on Wednesday, and instead will dutifully work with the defensemen as fired assistant coach Doug Houda had done for the last 10 years in Boston.

“I’m excited about it. Obviously, to be able to learn from a coach with Claude [Julien]’s pedigree, a Stanley Cup champion, I know it’s a big honor for me. It’s been great down in Providence with me for eight years. To be that much closer to him is only going to make me a better coach, so for me it’s a very exciting time,” said Cassidy, who guided the Capitals from 2002-2004 with a 39-29-8-6 record. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because the stamp of approval is always Claude’s first. Just meeting with him and having discussions, even previous years, I think what we’d like to grow in our game is the ability to move the puck out of the zone quicker and cleaner.

“That may involve a few more one-man breakouts. Players have the ability to beat the first fore-checker with their feet, make a good outlet pass, then you don’t have to always use your partner, so we’re not quite as predictable. So that’s how I’d like us to look on the transition part, where we’re a little more fluid coming out of our zone. That generally is a mindset that the defensemen have to buy into, that they have the ability to do that. Everyone’s is a little bit different. Every player on the back end has the ability to move the puck. They might not all be labeled necessarily puck-movers throughout hockey, but they’re NHL players, they all have the ability to move the puck and we want to sort of grow their game there and at least reach their ceiling.”

Cassidy will have his transition game work cut out for him with stay-at-home defensemen like Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller clogging up the Bruins roster, but there clearly could be later dividends for him in Boston if can work wonders with a defense that finished 19th in the NHL last season. 

Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

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Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

BOSTON -- A day after the Bruins announced a much-maligned four-year contract extension for defenseman Kevan Miller, B’s general manager Don Sweeney held court with the media to equal parts explain/defend the $10 million deal. Sweeney pointed to the very high character of a hardnosed player in Miller, and the relatively low mileage given that he’s played only 159 games at the NHL level.

There was also mention made of the room to grow in Miller’s game, though it’s difficult to imagine a much higher ceiling for a 28-year-old player than what the former UVM produced showed in 71 games last season.

“Kevan brings incredible character. His signing provides us with the necessary depth on our defense that all teams need. His relative low-mileage, having just played 160 games, we identified that we think Kevan has room for continued growth and development,” said Sweeney. “We certainly saw that in his play this year when he had an expanded role. Relative to the free market place, very, very comfortable with where Kevan fits into our group, and this provides us with the opportunity to explore the marketplace in every way, shape, or form, in having Kevan signed.”

Here’s the reality: Miller is a 5-6, bottom pairing defenseman on a good team, and a top-4 defenseman on a team like last year’s Bruins that finished a weak 19th in the league in goals allowed. The five goals and 18 points last season were solid career-high numbers for a player in the middle of his hockey prime, but he barely averaged 19 minutes of ice time per game as a front top-4 defenseman. Miller struggles with some of the fundamental needs in today’s NHL if you’re going to be a top-4 D-man: the tape-to-tape passes aren’t always accurate, there’s intermittent difficulty cleanly breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and Miller was exploited by the other team’s best players when paired with Zdeno Chara at points last season.

Certainly Miller has done some good things racking up a plus-55 rating during his three years in Boston, but executives and officials around the league were a bit surprised by the 4-year, $10 million contract extension. It’s viewed as a slight overpay in terms of both salary and term, but it’s more the redundancy of the contract that’s befuddling to some.

“Miller is certainly a rugged guy, but you already had one of those at roughly the same value in Adam McQuaid. I believe that you can’t win if you have both McQuaid and Miller in your top 6 because they are both No. 6 D’s in my mind,” said a rival NHL front office executive polled about the Miller contract. “You look at the playoffs and the direction that the league is headed in, and you need to have big, mobile defenseman that can quickly move the puck up the ice. You have too much of the same thing with Miller and McQuaid, and I think you can’t win with that in this day and age.”

The one facet of the four-year Miller contract that might make it okay for some Bruins fans: the tacit connection to the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes. According to several sources around the league, the Bruins taking care of Miller now will very likely have a positive impact on their chances of landing Vesey when he becomes a free agent on Aug. 15, and makes them the front-runner for the Harvard standout’s services. Both Miller and Vesey are represented by the same agent in Peter Fish, and those are the kinds of behind-the-scenes connections that many times factor into free agent signings and trades around the NHL.

So many, this humble hockey writer included, may owe Sweeney a slight apology if paying a $10 million premium for a bottom-pairing defenseman in Miller now pays dividends in landing a stud forward like Vesey that’s drawing interest all around the league.