Bruins Mailbag: Slow Start Won’t Force B’s to Make Big Trade, As Current Group Has Proven Capable of Winning

Bruins Mailbag: Slow Start Won't Force B's to Make Big Trade, As Current Group Has Proven Capable of WinningThings haven’t exactly gone as planned so far for the Bruins. The reigning champs are off to a 3-5-0 start and have yet to win back-to-back games this season.

Those struggles aren’t completely unexpected, as most recent champions have endured some form of the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover. Fortunately for the Bruins, it’s still early, and they have 74 games remaining to get back to playing the kind of hockey that made them so successful last season.

So what have been the sources of the Bruins’ problems? And what might they do about them? Read on to see in this week’s edition of the Bruins Mailbag.

I’ve done my best to answer as many of your questions as possible this week, but there were plenty of questions I couldn’t get to. I’d like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn’t able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I’ll answer as many of them as I can as we continue on in the season.

Hi, Doug. Do you feel that the Bruins’ current inconsistent play is due to the B’s just not playing up to the level that they are capable or the other teams raising their performance levels a notch when facing the Cup champions? Three of their five losses were by one goal.
–Peter Corrado, East Haven, Conn.

I’d say it’s a bit of a combination of both factors. Opponents are definitely more fired up to measure themselves against the reigning champs, and the Bruins expected that coming into the year. It’s still been an adjustment though to actually see teams come at them so hard night after night. That said, I do think the slow start has been more a result of their own play than that of their opponents. The good news there is that the Bruins have control of that and their lack of consistency is a fixable problem. The bad news is they have to fix it quickly, as they can’t afford to give away too many games early or they could find themselves trying to dig out of a very deep hole.

Doug, I’m real worried about the scoring on this team. Power play is still a joke, I like the line shifting [Claude] Julien has made, but, just like last year, we lack scoring. And as we’ve seen, this year will be much harder than last. Do you think a trade is in the works to get someone that will put the puck in net? I think it’s well overdue! We have depth, let’s make a deal!
–Christopher Foley, UNLV

There’s no denying that scoring has been a struggle this season. The Bruins have just 18 goals in eight games (2.25 a game), and 10 of those came in their two wins at home. But this is not an ongoing problem from last year. They finished fifth in the league in scoring last season at 2.98 per game and increased that average to 3.24 in the playoffs. With the roster returning largely intact, there’s no reason the Bruins shouldn’t be able to produce more than enough offense this season as well. They’ve actually done a decent job of creating chances. The finish simply has not been there.

It may reach a point where the Bruins will need to make a deal to improve in that regard, but eight games into the season is a little early to make any major deals. I know they’ve made early moves before (Chuck Kobasew being a recent example when he was traded to Minnesota on Oct. 18, 2009), but the difference this year is this group has proven it can win together, and that has earned the players a little patience.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli admitted in Tuesday’s conference call that he is hesitant to mess with the chemistry that produced a Cup last year, while noting that he does have the ability to make moves if it does become necessary down the road.

“We do have roster space,” Chiarelli said. “We do have cap space to create competition. We’ve got some guys pushing in Providence. I’m just not at that point yet.”

Do you think the Bruins should consult Marc Savard as some sort of assistant coach in order to take younger players under his wing, especially [Tyler] Seguin? Plus, he knows what it takes to create a very good power play, thus he might be able to adjust it properly.
–Thomas Braun, Berlin, Mass.

I don’t think Savard is really in a position to take on any kind of coaching role at this time. He certainly does not appear up to facing the kind of travel a full-time role would entail as he continues to deal with post-concussion symptoms. Even if he could, I’m not sure it would be a good fit. Star players seldom make good coaches. It’s very difficult to teach others the kinds of skills that come so naturally to the most talented players.

Why do you think the league/media/fans discuss [Sidney] Crosby’s return vs. Marc Savard’s possible non-return? I want to read/hear/listen to the truth about why? Realistically, a top player was eliminated by a hit. Yes, he had another, plus a fight with [Bryan] Little, which did nothing, but “the hit” is what it is. It started the fluid change, but yet does not remain as the standing fact of the reality. Instead, media focuses on Crosby’s return. Why? Just state the truth and tell us why.
–Mark, Bonney Lake, Wash.

Surprising amount of questions about Savard this week. I really don’t think there’s any conspiracy going on to stay quiet about Savard. The simple truth is there’s not much to discuss at this point. He’s been ruled out for the season. That’s not going to change. And he’s more than likely not going to play again. Crosby, on the other hand, continues to progress and is expected to return at some point this season, perhaps in the near future. That’s an ongoing story with frequent developments. Also, as good as Savard was before the injury, he was never anywhere close to the level that Crosby was at, both in terms of his on-ice performance and overall impact on the game. Crosby is the face of the league. Naturally his status is going to draw a ton of interest.

Hi, Doug. My question is, how much room under the salary cap do the Bruins currently have, given the credit for Savard, and do you think the Bruins, if they don’t start clicking soon, would go make a deal with the available cap room? Secondly, who might be out there for them to acquire that could be a help, especially on the PP? Thank you.
–Phil, Crofton, Md.

Exact figures are hard to determine because not all bonus clauses are known, but the Bruins have about $3.1 million in cap space to work with. That is with Savard’s $4.007 million cap hit still on the books. Unlike past years, the Bruins are in a good position cap-wise. They haven’t had to place Savard on long-term injured reserve, though they can still do that at a later date and go over the cap by his figure if needed. They do have to be careful in what kind of contracts they acquire if they do make a deal though. Anybody on an expiring contract is fine, but adding salary commitments beyond this season could cause some problems. They have cap space now, but this summer they have David Krejci and Tuukka Rask as restricted free agents and a slew of unrestricted free agents to deal with, then Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton among the players in need of new deals after next season.

As for who might be available, that is hard to say as well because this early in the season no teams are ready to give up and are looking to shed salaries yet. The type of deals that go down at this time of year general involve a swap of players off to slow starts and in need of a change of scenery (like the David Booth deal to Vancouver) or taking on a major salary commitment beyond this year (like Booth again with his $4.25 million cap hit through 2014-15). The first scenario doesn’t necessarily provide the kind of help the Bruins would be seeking, and the second wouldn’t be palatable for the reasons mentioned above.

Is Matt Bartkowski really the best young D-man we have? He is too slow for the NHL game and makes [Andrew] Ference-like poor decisions with the puck. Both of these guys are holes that must be filled for a good team. What does Julien see in these guys that we don’t? Thanks.
–Tom, Chicago

Bartkowski definitely didn’t look ready for prime time in his brief appearance with the big club this year. He got off to a strong start in camp, but tailed off noticeably after Steven Kampfer got hurt and he basically had the final spot on defense locked up by default. He still has the potential to be an NHL regular, but it’s going to take some time. Remember, this is only the start of his second season out of college, and learning how to play defense in the pros is one of the toughest and most time-consuming transitions in the game.

I also don’t think it’s his speed that’s the biggest issue. He gets around OK for the most part. His problem is in his decision making. He’s slow to react at times in reading plays and getting in position. That should improve with time and right now the best thing for him is to get regular playing time down in Providence to work on that aspect of his game. How he does at that in the short term will dictate whether he’ll get the call again if injuries strike on the blue line or if the Bruins will give Colby Cohen or David Warsofsky a look. They are other young defensemen closest to being ready for the NHL, with Ryan Button a little further away.

As for the Ference comment, while he like most of the Bruins has struggled a bit early this season, I think you may want to take a look back at how he performed in the playoffs last season before associating his name with poor defensive decisions. He was a vital part of Boston’s blue line last year, and his strong play enabled Julien to keep Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg together to form a dominant top pairing. The Bruins are a better team with him in the lineup, so I wouldn’t be so eager to try to drive him out of town.

Do you think new league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan’s judgments and decisions are biased based on his career in the league as a goal-scorer and playmaker? I believe that his “rulings” will adversely affect the sport and send the message “no hits, no camaraderie, no protection, just goals.”
–Ben, Abington, Mass.

I have been a little concerned with Shanahan’s draconian crackdown and fear the direction the league is heading in terms of physical play, with both hitting and fighting dramatically on the decline in recent years. I have no problem with coming down hard on the cheap-shot artists and players deliberately attempting to injure opponents with head shots and hits from behind, but I do think the pendulum has swung a little too far in the opposite direction and some of the clean physical play is being sacrificed to try to eliminate the dirty hits, which judging by the number of suspensions Shanahan has handed out really don’t seem to be on the decline, despite his efforts.

I’ve also been disappointed to see Shanahan continuing the league’s long double standard of applying justice very differently based on the players’ roles on the ice. Tough guys and grinders still get punished excessively, while the stars get away with slaps on the wrist for similar offenses. That’s especially disappointing coming from Shanahan. While you might recall him as a goal-scorer and playmaker (he certainly put up some impressive offensive numbers), I remember him fondly for being one of the true power forwards in the league with 2,489 penalty minutes and nearly 100 career fights. Considering the aggressive way he played the game, I was hoping he would have more respect for the physical side of the game, but the early indications are that aspect will continue to be marginalized under his watch as it was his predecessors.

What is your opinion on this for a point system in the NHL? Three points for a regulation win, two points for an OT win, one point for shootout win, and zero points for the losing team!
–Ralph Emery, Largo, Fla.

I’m for anything that can rid the game of the scourge of the shootout, and while that proposal doesn’t eliminate the offensive gimmick deciding so many games, it does at least reduce its value. It does smack a little too much of a soccer scoring system for my tastes, but I do like the idea of rewarding teams for winning in regulation and especially for taking away the point for losing a game that goes beyond 60 minutes.

Personally, I’d be happiest to go back to the old system with ties if a winner can’t be determined in overtime, but unfortunately I think the ship has sailed on that one and we’re going to be stuck with shootouts.

Leave your questions for Douglas Flynn’s mailbag in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send them here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week. Be sure to check back to see if your question was answered.

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