The Bruins enjoyed a rare break in the schedule with the league shutting down for the All-Star festivities in Ottawa, where Zdeno Chara found time to break his own record in the hardest shot competition once again, then captained his squad to a win in the All-Star Game.
Chara had Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin on his team for that victory, while the rest of the Bruins got a chance to unwind for a few days. That down time could be valuable with the arduous schedule ahead for the stretch run.
The Bruins may also have to adjust to some new faces in the lineup soon with the trade deadline now less than a month away. Trade talk dominated the entries to this week’s Bruins Mailbag, and I did my best to get to as many of them as possible. 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 down the stretch run of the season.
What is the biggest obstacle coming back from the break?
— Chase Cohn via Facebook
The All-Star break, while a welcome respite from the grind of the NHL season that allows players to rest, relax and recharge a bit with a few days away from the game, isn’t long enough to really cause any issues. The players aren’t away long enough for conditioning to be a problem or anything like that.
The obstacles the Bruins face entering the stretch run of the season have less to do with anything that happened over the break and more to do with cleaning up the issues in their game that were manifesting themselves prior to the break. The Bruins had gotten away from a lot of what had made them so successful, with inconsistent efforts, defensive breakdowns and some undisciplined play that added up to a club limping into the break 3-3-1 in its final seven games. The first 40 minutes back Tuesday night against Ottawa didn’t show much improvement in those areas, but the Bruins found their game in time to rally for a 4-3 win. They can’t just show up for the third period anymore, though. They need to get back to the 60-minute mantra that carried them to a championship last season. The Bruins will have to hope that the rest they did get over the break helped them to refocus on that goal, and now that those first couple periods against Ottawa cleared any remaining cobwebs, they’ll start playing Bruins hockey on a more consistent basis the rest of the way.
Hi Doug. I find the NHL point system strange. Some games are worth two points and others worth three points. It seems slightly ridiculous that a team that wins a regulation game gets the same amount of points as the winner of a skills competition. The recent world junior tournament awarded three points for every game — three for a regulation win, two for an overtime win and one for the overtime loser, I believe. Such a system would open up more distance between the elite teams and the also-rans. Currently 22 of the 30 teams are playing so called .500 hockey, which also makes little sense. I would appreciate your thoughts on this.
— Neil, Ashland, N.B.
As faithful readers surely know by now, I am certainly no fan of the shootout. I think giving any points for what you accurately labeled a “skills competition” is ridiculous. I also hate the concept of awarding a point to the “losing” team just because they extended the game beyond regulation. Personally, I have no problem with ties and would be fine going back to the old system of two points for a win, one for a tie and none for a loss. I would be open to extending the overtime or even adding a second five-minute OT with 3-on-3 play to reduce the number of ties if they are really that troublesome.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the NHL will revert back to such a saner system, so we are stuck with shootouts and loser points for the foreseeable future. With that being the case, I wouldn’t oppose your proposal to change the point system and make every game worth three points. It will dramatically alter historical comparisons between teams with so many more points at stake, but that is already happening with the extra points awarded to overtime and shootout losers. It’s not an ideal solution, but it may be the best way to handle the poor system in place.
Hey Doug, with the trading deadline fast approaching I have two question for you if that’s OK? What do you think about [Jarome] Iginla as a guy for the Bruins? And if not him who do you think would be a good fit for depth for the another Cup run? Thanks for your time.
— Andrew Chubs, Hamilton, Ontario
No problem with the double-header. As much as I would love to see Iginla in a Bruins uniform, as I think his game is perfectly suited for Boston, I don’t see that scenario as very likely. He has a no-movement clause and he has shown no inclination to waive it, nor have the Flames asked him to. Even if he was open to being dealt, I’m not sure the Bruins would want to give up the assets it would require, especially if it entailed risking the team chemistry that has been such a big part of their success by trading pieces from the current roster in addition to picks and prospects. Add in Iginla’s $7-million cap hit this year, and especially next year when the Bruins have so many other contracts to deal with, and it just doesn’t appear to be a likely scenario.
I still think the main targets the Bruins will look at will be veteran players on expiring contracts. Ray Whitney would be a perfect fit supplying some additional offense and a bit of the wisdom and experience Mark Recchi supplied in the past, but his availability will depend on Phoenix’s playoff chances. The Coyotes are 12th in the West coming out of the All-Star break, but just three points out of the final playoff spot. Will they be ready to deal before the deadline? Dominic Moore from Tampa Bay is another versatile guy who could be a valuable addition, but the Lightning too are making a bit of a charge and may not be quite ready to sell just yet.
Do you think it would be wise to trade [Tim] Thomas now for a top free agent or draft pick?
— Charles Hochstrasser, Hope Valley, R.I.
Thomas is not going to be traded this season. He has full no-movement protection in his contract until July 1, and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has stated he has no plans to ask Thomas to waive his no-trade clause or try to shop him around the league. The Bruins wouldn’t have won the Cup without Thomas last year, and while Tuukka Rask is the future in goal for the club (and already looks pretty darn good in the present), I don’t see them weakening the most important position on the team by trading Thomas away when they are poised to make another run at a title right now. Bruins management and ownership released a statement that they were disappointed in Thomas’ decision to boycott the White House visit, and that they did not share the views expressed in Thomas’ Facebook statement detailing his reasons for that decision. But it is not something that should reach a point that will force them into a rash decision to part ways with the reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe winner.
If the Bruins ever were to trade Thomas, which while unlikely could be a consideration this summer when his no-movement clause expires, they wouldn’t have to do that for a free agent — unless you meant clearing his cap hit to free up space to go after a free agent. That’s still a longshot as the Bruins need to be more concerned with re-signing their own guys with Rask, Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton among the players up for new deals this summer or next. I also don’t see the Bruins trading a veteran like Thomas for draft picks. They have a team built to win now and are fortunate to also have some exciting young prospects in the system like Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight, so I can’t see them hurting their chances at another title this year or next to build for the future with more picks. If a Thomas deal ever does come to pass next summer, the Bruins should be seeking something that provides a more immediate impact in return.
Hi Doug, just wondering who you see the Bruins trading for? I know that they’re looking for depth, but what if [Nathan] Horton is out for a while, what names do you see coming to Boston? Thanks.
— Scott, Stirling, Ontario
I still think the Bruins will primarily be in the market for some veteran depth both on the blue line and up front. That doesn’t necessarily mean a fourth liner or spare part — as obviously a guy like Ray Whitney, who I mentioned above, would play a more prominent role — but rather a player who could play a complementary role and wouldn’t require a major shakeup of the roster to acquire. The Bruins will likely use picks and prospects to add the pieces they seek, and will be looking ideally for players on expiring contracts so as not to lock themselves into long-term deals that could complicate re-signing their own free agents in the next couple years.
The injury to Horton does add a bit of a wrinkle, though, as his loss for an extended stretch could get the Bruins to look at a more significant addition to bolster the offense. That doesn’t appear to be necessary at this point, however. While it is a bit discouraging that Horton has still not begun exercising even after the All-Star break, recovery from a concussion is difficult to predict and every player responds differently. The Bruins remain optimistic about Horton’s progress, and I think it’s premature to start shopping for any potential replacements.
Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.