The Bruins didn’t close out 2011 quite the way they would have liked, with a disappointing 4-2 loss in Dallas on New Year’s Eve, but Boston hockey fans can’t really complain about how anything went in the past calendar year.
The Bruins ended their 39-year Cup drought in June and look like they may actually be even better this year with a 21-3-1 run over the last two months. That’s enough to give hope that 2012 might just be another joyous year for hockey in the Hub.
There are still some questions about the team though, and we’ll kick off the new year by trying to answer as many as possible in the first 2012 edition of the Bruins Mailbag. As always, 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.
Hey Doug, thanks for taking my question. I have heard that Rick Nash is on the trading block for the Blue Jackets. Correct me if I’m wrong, but do you think the Bruins might go after him? If they did, they would have four outstanding lines that are basically unbeatable. I mean no one in the league could match our depth right now but getting him would make us unstoppable.
— Ed, Holbrook, Mass.
Despite the continued speculation, there’s been no credible reports yet of Rick Nash being willing to waive his no-trade clause or the Blue Jackets actively shopping him. Is it possible that could change? Certainly, but I wouldn’t count on it. And if he did become available, I don’t see the Bruins being one of the suitors. The price is simply too high, in more ways than one.
First, there are the assets the Bruins would have to give up to get him. Columbus, in desperate need of help in goal, would likely start by demanding Tuukka Rask, plus a package of other young players, prospects or picks. I can’t speak for Peter Chiarelli, but that would be a non-starter for me. As great as Tim Thomas is, he is 37, and Rask remains the franchise’s future in net.
Then you add in the fact that Nash carries a $7.8 million cap hit through the 2017-18 season. The Bruins may be able to absorb that this year depending on the contracts that would be heading Columbus’ way and with Marc Savard‘s LTIR exemption, but what about after this year? There’s no way the Bruins can add Nash and hang on to the guys coming up for new deals in the next couple years, a group which includes Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. And when you can’t sign those guys, those four outstanding lines no longer exist. You’ll be left with a very top-heavy lineup with a handful of guys taking up the bulk of the cap while scrambling to fill out the rest of the roster with whatever bargains you can find. That’s a very risky recipe to build a team.
It’s also completely unnecessary. The Bruins have already succeeded with the formula in place. This is a team built on depth and chemistry. They don’t rely on one or two guys to carry the offense, and in turn, opposing teams can’t shut them down by just holding one or two guys in check. The Bruins have won a Cup with this approach and look to be even stronger this year with the continuity they’ve maintained and the added confidence gained from that postseason experience.
I really don’t see them making any kind of major move this season. They may make some minor tweaks to complement the core they have in place and add some additional depth, but shipping away a big chunk of the current roster or mortgaging the future to be handcuffed to Nash’s albatross of a contract shouldn’t be in their plans.
Hi Doug, this is kind of becoming cliche, but how about how much the Bruins players have each other’s backs? Seeing Adam McQuaid send Raffi Torres off with blood on his face was amazing. Do you know if Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask look out for each other the same way as the rest of the Bruins lines do?
— Jake, Simsbury, Conn.
Well, I don’t think you’ll see Rask hopping over the boards to jump the next guy who runs Thomas in the crease or catch Thomas tossing punches at anyone getting out of line with Rask. Not that it wouldn’t be fun to see, but the goaltending position is a little different.
Thomas and Rask are very supportive of each other, though. They have a very strong relationship and have been close throughout their time together in Boston. They are both very competitive and they’re battling each other for playing time, but that just pushes both of them to be better. I’ve spoken with both of them many times over the last few years and they don’t generally spend a lot of time talking to each other about goaltending, preferring instead to discuss non-hockey matters and gets their minds off the game when they can. But they are both always willing to go over techniques or scouting reports if either needs some help or sees something worth mentioning to the other. The Bruins are very fortunate to not only have two of the top goalies in the world on their roster, but to have the two of them be so close and supportive on and off the ice.
If you could choose any player on the Bruins to have on your fantasy team, who would it be? Thanks!
— Derek Westy, Boston
Admittedly, I’m not a big fantasy guy. I’ve always enjoyed looking for the little things players do that don’t necessarily show up on the score sheet, or at least not in the categories usually seen in fantasy pools — stuff like guys willing to sacrifice their bodies to block a shot on the penalty kill, stepping up to defend a teammate or winning a key draw in the defensive zone. That said, in this line of work you do have to pay attention to the more tangible numbers as well, so hopefully I can help you out a bit.
If I was choosing one Bruin right now, and assuming you’re dealing with the standard categories, I would actually go with Brad Marchand. He may not end up leading the team in scoring, but he won’t be far off. He’s on pace to obliterate last year’s already solid 21-20-41 totals as he’s already at 15-15-30 through 35 games. Add in the fact that he’s also a monster in the plus/minus category (plus-24) and big contributor in PIMs (60) and it’s hard to find a more well-rounded fantasy player that can help you across the board. And if you can find a league that awards bonuses for best chirps or most nicknames, then you’ve really got a winner in Marchand.
Do you think that Montreal had a chance to come back and beat the awesome Bruins?
— Billy Marchand, Springfield, Mass.
Anyone who has followed the Bruins for any length of time knows better than to ever write off the Habs or take them lightly, but this does look like one year when the Bruins might not have to worry about having to go through Montreal in the playoffs. The Habs are a mess right now. They’ve put language skills above coaching ability as the priority for leading their club, completely undermining now lame duck interim coach Randy Cunneyworth in the process. They’ve got P.K. Subban and Tomas Plekanec fighting in practice, which is ironic considering how the Canadiens are usually so adamant about refusing to drop their gloves in actual games.
They’re just 1-6-0 under Cunneyworth and 14-18-7 overall. That has them 11th in the East, eight points out of the final playoff spot. They’re also won just five of 18 games at the Bell Centre so far this year, while posting a 9-11-1 record on the road (something about that record seems more fitting for home ice in Montreal, considering their fans have those numbers set on speed dial every time Zdeno Chara dares throw a hit on one of their precious Habs). It’s not out of the question that Montreal can still rally in the second half of the season and be a thorn in the Bruins’ side once again, but Boston fans can cautiously revel in seeing their Canadiens counterparts suffer for a change.
When will [Nathan] Horton show up?
—@anthonyamico, via Twitter
I’m not going to argue that Horton’s play hasn’t been disappointing at times, but that’s more a reflection of the heightened expectations created by his strong playoff performance than an actual drop from his past production. Through 35 games, Horton has 9-13-22 totals, putting him on pace for 21 goals and 52 points. That’s not far below the 26-27-53 line he actually put up in the regular season last year. Considering that he was coming off a severe concussion suffered during the Stanley Cup Final, that minimal dropoff hardly warrants the handwringing his performance has caused in some quarters.
And it is pretty clear that he was still dealing with the aftereffects of that concussion, especially early in the season as he tried to get his timing and feel for the game back to where it was pre-injury. You can still see some hesitancy on his part, most notably when it comes to dropping the gloves. He’s had just one fight this season, and didn’t have much choice about that one as Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo came at him swinging in a scrum after the hit that got Milan Lucic suspended for a game.
The lack of fights isn’t just because of the concussion though. It’s also a bit of a natural regression to the mean. Horton was fired up to prove himself to a new team and took the Big, Bad Bruins mentality to heart last season, putting up a career-high seven fights. But he had just six total in his first six seasons combined in Florida, so having established himself in this market, it’s not shocking to see him cut back on the glove dropping (and don’t forget he would have had another fight if Carolina’s Tim Gleason hadn’t turtled).
More encouraging in regard to getting all the way back from the concussion is the fact that he has 29 hits and 41 penalty minutes already this year, so he’s not completely shying away from the physical play. That’s a pace for 68 hits and 96 PIMs, roughly in line with last season’s 74 hits and 85 PIMs and blowing away his numbers from his final year in Florida (34 hits, 42 PIMs). He also already has four power-play goals after managing just six all of last season.
The two areas that do raise some concerns are his minus-2 rating, down from a plus-29 last season, and the fact that he is on pace for just 150 shots after racking up 188 last year. The plus/minus issues aren’t his alone, as linesmates David Krejci and Milan Lucic are just minus-1 and plus-5, respectively, despite the Bruins’ league-best plus-55 goal differential. Horton is still a work in progress this year, but he hasn’t been nearly as bad as some have suggested, and having proven his ability in the clutch in the postseason last spring, there’s plenty of reason for optimism that he’ll turn things up a notch in the second half of the season.
With the Bruins on such a tear lately, do you see them making any moves come trade deadline time?
— Tom, Schenectady, N.Y.
Peter Chiarelli is usually active at the deadline, bringing in the likes of Aaron Ward, Dennis Wideman, Steve Montador, Mark Recchi, Dennis Seidenberg, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Tomas Kaberle at or around the deadline in his time as the Bruins’ GM. This year there are no obvious weaknesses to address with how well the team is playing, but there’s a long way to go before the deadline and things can change quickly if injuries or slumps strike.
The Bruins do have plenty of cap space available if they want to add players, though as mentioned above in the Nash question I don’t expect them to go after any real marquee names. And barring a major injury creating a void to be filled, I don’t expect the Bruins to be quite as active this year as they have been in the past because they shouldn’t risk the chemistry that has been such a big factor in their success. But I wouldn’t expect them to be completely quiet either, as some small moves to add depth and tweak any areas in need of a slight upgrade are definitely possible.
Have questions for Douglas Flynn’s mailbag? Leave them in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter @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.