Bruins Mailbag: Impending Free Agency of Several Key Players Likely to Limit B’s Deadline Acquisitions

Bruins Mailbag: Impending Free Agency of Several Key Players Likely to Limit B's Deadline AcquisitionsIt was another eventful week as the Bruins, with wild shootout wins, another player suspended and a Bruin injured with that offending party drawing no supplemental discipline. Oh, and there was also that little side trip to the White House that the team took. Well, most of the team anyway.

There were plenty of topics for discussion surrounding the team heading into the All-Star break, and I did my best to get to as many of them as possible in the latest 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 head into the second half of the season.

Hi Doug, after Claude Julien’s recent calling out of a player, Nathan Horton, only to have him perform above and beyond expectations, is [Claude] Julien second to none in the race for coach of the year?
–Jake, Simsbury, Conn.

I think Claude Julien has done an excellent coaching job this season. He guided the Bruins out of their Stanley Cup hangover and back to the top of the standings with an incredible run since the start of November. Perhaps because of the confidence gained from having that championship on his resume, he’s been more forceful and proactive this season, whether it’s adjusting his tactics and personnel groupings or challenging players to improve their game as he did with Nathan Horton, he seems to be pushing all the right buttons.

Unfortunately, I don’t see him being in the mix for another Jack Adams (he won in 2009). He’s coaching a championship team with nearly its entire roster returning intact, and the voters generally look more toward coaches who have exceeded expectations or turned a struggling team around. I think Ken Hitchcock, who took over a sub-.500 St. Louis squad early in November and put together a Bruins-like 23-6-7 run, is the heavy favorite at this point. Paul MacLean‘s turnaround in Ottawa will earn some consideration too, as could John Tortorella of the Rangers or even Peter Laviolette in Philadelphia for keeping the Flyers among the elite in the East despite the loss of Chris Pronger for the season and a string of other injuries (similar to Dan Bylsma winning it last year for a 106-point campaign despite Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin suffering long-term injuries).

Who do you think will be the emerging leader goal-scorer in the second half of the season?
–Lin Blank via Facebook

I’m not sure there will be anyone new suddenly emerging. Nathan Horton was coming on strong and primed for a big second half, but suffering another concussion, even a mild one, raises some concern. Benoit Pouliot isn’t going to put up huge numbers, but I think the level he’s played at for the last couple of months is sustainable for him.

But for the most part, I think you’ll see the same guys doing the bulk of the scoring in the second half that were putting up numbers in the first half. Milan Lucic should continue to produce and Tyler Seguin, while prone to some slumps at this stage of his young career, has too much talent to stay quiet for long. Watching how Brad Marchand responds to his suspension will be worth monitoring, but it was encouraging to see him score on Tuesday. Rich Peverley, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron are guys I could see picking up their current pace in the goal department, while Chris Kelly is likely to regress from his unexpected start, and actually has already (two goals in last 17 games after 12 in his first 30).

Doug, with trade season in full swing, do you see Tim Thomas being traded for prospects and picks after the season and before the next draft or will he end his career in Boston as a backup to Tuukka Rask at a reduced salary after next season?
–James Paul, St. John’s

Thomas has a no-trade/no-movement clause, which according to the usually reliable folks at capgeek.com is in effect until July 1, 2012. So that would rule out a trade before the draft unless Thomas is willing to waive that clause. That is highly unlikely. The Bruins will have an issue next year having to give Tuukka Rask a sizable raise to retain him while still having Thomas’ $5 million cap hit for one more season, but considering how well that duo has worked out so far, the Bruins will probably accept having to devote a bit more of their cap space to goaltending for a single year while Rask’s new deal and the final year of Thomas’ current contract overlap.

The big decision will come the following summer. If Thomas is still performing at an elite level, the Bruins will be hard pressed to continue to give him starter’s money with Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin up for new deals at the same time. If he’s willing to continue a partnership with Rask — with Rask taking on the majority of playing time — and is willing to take a reasonable deal, then I could see a scenario where Thomas finishes his career here. But if he feels he can still be a No. 1 guy and wants to secure his place in the history of the game with a few more years as a starter, and the Bruins are ready to commit to Rask in that role here, I could also see him at that point being willing to move on. It will also bear watching if the recent controversy over his boycott of the club’s White House visit will have any lasting impact on his relationship with the organization and fan base. He may also simply be ready to move on to other pursuits outside of hockey after his current deal is done.

There’s an awful lots of ifs there, but as we found out this week, you can never really be sure exactly what Thomas is going to do. For now, it might be best to just enjoy having a goaltending tandem most teams would envy for as long as both Rask and Thomas are here.

Hi Doug, do you see any tinkering to the B’s roster coming?
–Dave, Stoughton, Mass.

I would be very surprised if the Bruins don’t make a couple of moves before the trade deadline on Feb. 27. Actually, I think the Bruins will be active even earlier than that. The real key date to watch is Feb. 15. That’s the night Boston opens a six-game road trip in Montreal. Peter Chiarelli usually likes to act ahead of the deadline to avoid the last-minute inflation, and having any new faces with the team for that trip would give them a chance to bond quickly with their new teammates during the trip. Last year, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Tomas Kaberle were all acquired just as the Bruins began a six-game trip in mid-February and they benefited greatly from going through that experience with their new team.

Don’t expect any major deals this year, though. Chiarelli doesn’t want to mess with the chemistry he already has in place with this roster. He’ll be looking to add some complementary parts and depth, both up front and on the blue line. Also don’t look for anyone with a long-term deal being acquired. With so many of their own free agents to re-sign this summer and next, the Bruins will be in the rental market. So look for veterans due to be unrestricted free agents after the season, and that’s likely the pool the Bruins will be dipping into. Ray Whitney, Teemu Selanne, Dominic Moore, Tim Gleason and Bryan Allen could be the types of guys they kick the tires on.

How do you feel about the inconsistency in [Brendan] Shanahan’s suspensions?
–@Chiggs7 (Conor Higgins) via Twitter

That’s my biggest issue with the job Shanahan has done so far as the NHL’s new dean of discipline. I appreciate the transparency of explaining his decisions in the videos the league has released this season, though I wouldn’t mind seeing him also explain more of the decisions when he chooses not to apply supplemental discipline.

But the problem I have with his administration of justice is no different than the issues I’ve had with his predecessors. There simply seems to be little regard for the precedent he sets with each ruling. Similar transgressions get a wide range of punishments, or often no supplemental discipline at all. It makes it very difficult for the players to understand exactly what is and isn’t allowed and leads to a constant outcry from teams and fan bases that feel their players have not been treated fairly.

I am not a fan of the suspension culture that has developed in the game where every borderline play elicits calls for another ban, but the league is committed to policing the game with fines and suspensions rather than allowing the players to police themselves on the ice. There’s never going to be a perfect system with that approach, but I do think there is plenty of room for improvement and the first step needs to be a more consistent application of discipline.

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.

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