When you stumble upon a star

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When you stumble upon a star

By Michael Felger

It's late May and we're not only still talking Bruins hockey, we're arguing playoff hockey.

And that, of course, is right in my wheelhouse.

Felger, You DB!That Seguin kid is pretty good, eh?I was watching CSNNE's brilliant, concise, and informative postgame coverage on Tuesday, which began promptly after the final whistle. Mike Giardi mentioned that this was a game where people will claim they knew where they were because it was the moment Tyler Seguin became a star. While I agree it was an undeniable milestone in his career, it never would have happened without the events of May 6, 2011. We may very well smile and mockingly thank Flyers fans for Claude Giroux's hit (borderline, but the price of business in the playoffs) on Bergeron in the same way that I mention to Jets fans (in short, easily communicated sentences, or cave paintings) that I am a huge Mo Lewis fan. But unlike the Bledsoe and Brady situation, the Bruins won't have to pick one or the other to play when Bergeron returns. They both will be able to contribute to a team that already showed the desire and heart to win in the playoffs. Instead of taking away the Bruins' best player, it may have actually doubled the top-end skill on their roster. And I'm not going to call Tyler Seguin a superstar just yet, but Tuesday night proved he clearly has elite level finishing skills, something this team has been missing since the current Bruins president called it a career. If Tuesday wasn't just a aberration, Seguin becomes a game-changer going forward. Having a rookie player mature suddenly at an elite level late in the postseason can be the difference that this team needed to take that last step from conference finalist to champion. And I'm not talking about Seguin centering the first line. If Seguin can be a hockey version of Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez in the 2002 MLB playoffs, excelling in a well defined role, Mazz may need to stock up on some more cones. I don't want to get ahead of myself, Mikey, because we're still talking about a 19-year-old rookie, albeit a supremely talented one. And Bergeron's injury reminded everyone just how quick fortunes can change in the playoffs. It caused every Bruins fan to hold his or her breath. It tempered what should have been a triumphant moment of redemption against the Flyers. It made even the most ardent Bruins fan question their team's postseason aspirations. But maybe everything happens for a reason. On May 5, 1991, Ulf Samuelsson's hit on Cam Neely ruined his career and sent the Bruins into a funk from which they have yet to fully recover. On May 6, 2011, after exactly 20 long years, Claude Giroux's hit on Patrice Bergeron just might have uncovered the player the Bruins needed to finally win it all. MikeAttleboro

What a story. What a great debate. The kind of thing that makes the sports world go around. Was Tuesday's performance by Seguin an indictment on how Claude Julien handled the rookie this season (what I believe), or was it a reaffirmation that their take-it-slow approach was the right one?

We can argue that point plenty. But here's what is indisputable:

This was not part of any "master plan." The fact that Julien's team is now enjoying the fruits of Seguin's talent is purely accidental. Had Giroux not concussed Bergeron, Seguin would still be wearing a designer suit up on the ninth floor. And had Seguin's talent not been so over-the-top obvious, Julien wouldn't be giving him minutes and wouldn't be putting him on the power play. Remember, Julien sat Seguin down for 15 minutes following his first goal in Game 1, and he didn't put the kid on the man-advantage in Game 2 until late in the second period, after he had scored two more massive goals against the Lightning.

Seguin is on the ice no thanks to Julien. If it were up to the coach (and not Giroux), Seguin would still be a scratch.

Felger,For everyone saying the reason we didn't see this Tyler Seguin sooner is because he didn't deserve to be out there is flat-out crazy. You can argue he didn't belong at the beginning of the playoffs (which I'd agree with), but that doesn't excuse the fact that during the regular season he was never given a chance to prove that he had this in him by Claude. In 53 of the 82 regular-season games this year, Seguin was either scratched or was in the bottom three forwards in ice time, which means he was most likely banished to the fourth line in most of those games!I think most of the fans aren't pissed that he didn't play in the playoffs until now. But it's the fact that he was never given a legitimate chance in the regular season to show what he showed Tuesday night.Joe
Agreed. I refuse to believe there wasn't a better way to work in Seguin during the year. Maybe Claude was fearful for his job and he just didn't trust the rookie when every two points mattered. Whatever it is, it's now apparent the coach didn't get the most out of this player. I mean, how could it be any more obvious?

To me, Seguin should have been on the second power-play unit all season long. And if he played well in a given game, then he deserved time with some of the better players. There were long portions of the season when Nathan Horton or Milan Lucic or Mark Recchi or Michael Ryder were ineffective. Why couldn't Julien have spotted Seguin with some of those lines when the situation warranted? And if he played poorly, then he deserved to be sent down with the grinders or put up in the press box. It should have been a game-to-game, week-to-week process.

But that would entail Claude getting involved and actually making adjustments within the course a game, which is not what he does. We all know he just likes to roll out the four lines. 1-2-3-4. Thanks and goodnight. Unfortunately, Seguin got lost in that shuffle.

Hey, FelgerClaude better keep playing him now. What an idiot for keeping this kid on the bench all playoffs. DaveWinchester

Julien announced on Wednesday afternoon that Seguin would definitely be in the lineup Thursday night. And I don't think the statement was perfunctory. I was actually sweating it out. Claude now has to go to a beloved veterangrinder (Shawn Thornton or Dan Paille, I would guess) and break the news. It's going to be hard for him. He loves fourth-liners as if they were his own children. Let's just all hope he doesn't lose his nerve and change his mind.

Hey, FelgerThey used to say that Dean Smith was the only person who could keep Michael Jordan from scoring. Is Claude Julien Dean Smith to Tyler Seguin's Michael Jordan?DennisBeverly

Do you realize that Milan Lucic (five points in 13 playoff games this year) saw 6:13 of power-play time on Tuesday? And Seguin (six points in two playoff games) saw 1:49? Just saying.

Hey, MikeIf I were Cam, I would have read Julien the riot act about how he wasted 15 minutes before the Bruins' only goal-scorer at the time in Game 1 went back out.JeffReading

So you're saying Claude got a "talking to" about Seguin? What makes you think that? After the game last Saturday, Claude said "no comment" when asked about Seguin's ice time. Then the next day he said that he "would have" used Seguin had the power play not improved (it was 0-for-4 in Game 1). Then the next day Seguin actually worked with the power play during practice. And on Tuesday he actually got power-play time. Call me crazy, but there seemed to be an evolution between Saturday and Tuesday night. Maybe Claude came to it on his own. And maybe I'll be the Bruins' backup goaltender next season.

Hey, FelgerI couldn't agree more with you about both Claude and the Celtics trade. One thing I would do if I were Julien is put Seguin together with Recchi and Marchand. Leave lines 1, 3, and 4 intact. By moving Kelly or Peverley to the second line, you're messing around with two lines instead of one. The KellyPeverleyRyder line had some great chemistry going in the playoffs so far, why mess with that?Anyway, love the show with you and Mazz. Great to see you guys kicking ass.RaySomerville

I think the lines are pretty simple:

Horton-Krejci-Lucic
Marchand-Bergeron-Recchi
Ryder-Kelly-Seguin
Paille-Campbell-Peverly

Hey, FelgerWhen it comes to the Bruins, you have always been a realist. You have always been non-biased in your analysis as a reporter, columnist and host, and always were cognizant of the disappointment this team has given to its fan. You are the cognoscente of the Bruins in this town. Over many years I have cautiously followed the Bruins, always knowing not to get 100 percent committed as a fan.But, Mike, now you have fallen into the Bruins trap. You have become a FAN. I can see it. Your reporting has been borderline distorted. Youre bleeding Black and Gold. Mike, you know and I know in the end they are going to ruin our summer. Take a step back. Its not too late.BenBeverly

Don't worry, Ben. I have no delusions of grandeur. Tampa's big dogs came out to play on Tuesday (that Stamkos goal was stupid), and that scares the crap out of me. Seguin or no Seguin, the Lightning have more talent up front. If the B's don't improve in their own end (including goaltending), then they will get bounced quickly.

Hey, FelgerFor anyone to believe Bergeron will come back and have an impact on this series after his third serious concussion is beyond hopeful. If this was the regular season he would be out indefinitely and maybe would have shut it down for the year. (It seemed Crosby was "close" to returning for weeks.) I hope the Bruins come to grips with the idea he's not coming back and have guys ready to step up. Because let's face it, Craig Janney is not coming through that door.DavisCheshire

I disagree, Davis. Given all the awareness on head injuries in sports nowadays, and especially given Bergeron's history, there is no way anyone is taking any chances with this one. That's NO WAY. No doctor is going to clear Bergeron if he's even slightly questionable. The liabilities would just be too great. The days of pushing the envelope on these injuries are over. If Bergeron plays, I'm fully confident that he's 1,000 percent able to do so.

Felgy,On Monday night's "Late Edition," you kept peppering Gary Tanguay -- the man who seems to have a new pair of glasses every show -- with the "apparently you don't agree with Doc" line in reference to the Perk trade. Did you even hear or read what he said? His issue with the trade was the effect it had on the play calling, not the team's interior defense. In turning over so many players, the playbook was rendered outmoded. That's a subtle point, but it's a far different one than "we lost to Miami because we didn't have Perk."Thanks,GregManchester, NH

If Doc thought the Perk trade didn't impact the Miami series, then why did he say he wishes it was done after the season? I'll say the same thing to you I said to Gar-Bear:

Give it up. The verdict is in. Danny blew it.

Mike,G-Dick polishes off the Celtics' ball bag for his end-of-season rap session with Ainge and asks the question, "Not me, Danny, but others have questioned the toughnes-" . . . Before he even got the second "s" out Danny asks, "How do you think that makes KG feel?"Huh? Did you just dismiss the impact of Perk's toughness to explore the effect on KG's FEELINGS? Who cares about bleeping feelings? And how dare Ainge act repulsed, as if soft is somehow a misnomer for his team both mentally and physically? Your own coach, who you trusted enough to give a five-year extension, called the team soft for the first time I can remember in four years following the Perk trade. So if you want to know how it makes KG feel to find out Perk was a big part of what made them tough, just ask Doc, and then get back to me.In the other part of his Perkins trade defense, Danny lists Krstic and Big Baby playing well as reasons they did the deal. Excuse me, Danny, but did you just list a guy that came over in the Perkins trade as though he was playing for you already and was the reason you felt comfortable trading Perk away? And when did Big Baby look good this year? This guy lost a preseason backyard wrestling match last year and it's been all downhill from there.This is a bad joke wrapped in an unbelievable farce and someone should mention two things to Ainge:1. When G-dick asks the questions and then is simultaneously answering with you, it gives the whole interview all the credibility of a Piper's Pit segment.2. Even though it is just G-dick interviewing him, the crazy fiction he is spinning goes out over the interweb, where it is viewed by people who are not in the ball bag and don't have the words "Absolutely, Danny" ready to spill off their tongue at first prompt.JakeBoston

I'd contact Dickerson for a response, but he's currently busy waxing Danny's car.

Felger,I hate agreeing with you on anything. But it's time to resurrect the "fraud" comment you threw at Borges, only this time at Tanguay. I want to hear it! Right on the air: "Gary, you are a FRAUD!!!"Really, the only Green Teamers who say "Miami was just better" are Gary and Dickerson. These were the same two dopes that said because the Celtics got to the finals as a No. 4 seed last year, home court didnt matter. Of course it matters! Its the ultimate equalizer in the NBA, more than any other sport. The Celtics lost to a bunch of scrub teams down the stretch. If they beat two of them, they were probably playing Game 7 at HOME. If you lose that, THEN you say the other team was better.There is nothing more pathetic than the sycophant who says, "They were better." Do you think the Lakers fans are sitting home saying Dallas was better? It's like politics, Mike. When ideology and allegiance clouds your judgment or forces you to spout talking points that we know are not true, youre nothing more than a cheerleader. If thats the case, then dont call yourself an objective analyst. Say, "Hey, I am working for the team so I am going to exclude myself from the discussion." This actually is a problem with your whole industry. Youre all so dependent on these teams for money, ratings etc., that you sell your soul. GeorgeWoburn

I'd contact Gary for a response, but he's currently busy picking up Doc's dry cleaning.

Felger,I love when you have experts on your Sports Sunday show and you ask them questions and then answer them yourself, e.g., KPD. You asked him this long, drawn-out question then answered it yourself and he spoke for, maybe, five seconds before you started talking again. You should just get a ventriloquist dummy and you can talk the entire time.Unsigned

I gave him five whole seconds? It's usually not that long. I'm losing my touch.
Read Felger's weekly column on Mondays. Email him HERE and read the mailbags on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

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.