The Bruins' slump hasn't been good for the club's quest to secure the Northeast Division title and set itself up for another long playoff run, but it certainly has been a boon for the Bruins Mailbag.
There was no shortage of questions this week, some of them even with language suitable for a family-friendly website like this. After doing my civic duty of urging calm and recommending everyone step away from any sharp objects and maybe even pop in those championship DVDs from last spring one more time, I managed to find time to answer as many inquiries 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 down the stretch run of the regular season and into postseason.
With all of the defensemen the Bruins have, how will coach [Claude] Julien figure out the best combination for a playoff run and will the players left out create a distraction?
–Chuck Stewart, Weymouth
I really don't this it will become an issue. The eight players they have currently on defense are all experienced, veteran players who understand their roles and they are all character, team-first guys. I don't foresee any locker room issues over playing time. Mike Mottau is probably eighth on the depth chart right now and he has been extremely supportive and accepting of his role since his arrival. Even when he is not in the lineup, he's working hard in practice and pushing the others, and his willingness to move to forward for a game to fill in shows his commitment to doing anything he can to help.
And unfortunately, there really haven't been many games since the Bruins added Mottau and Greg Zanon when the Bruins have had everyone available anyway. Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid have each missed time with injuries in the last couple weeks, and there's sure to be more bumps and bruises to come. If the Bruins can snap out of their slump and lock down the division, they'd also like to ideally rest some guys for a game here or there before the playoffs. Having additional options also increases the competition and can get the most out of some guys. I don't think it was a coincidence that Joe Corvo's play picked up noticeably after the deadline acquisitions. So overall, I think the depth added is far more of a positive than any kind potential distraction or issue.
Doug, why does it take coach [Claude Julien] so long to tweak the lines? He stumbled across his "NEW" No. 1 line and now he cannot figure out a right winger for [Patrice] Bergeron? WHY??????? Give [Jordan] CARON an audition maybe [Benoit] POULIOT and call it the French Connection!!!!!!!
– Bill Daw, Guelph, Ontario
It amazes me how so many people seem to think that Claude Julien has forgotten how to coach less than a year after guiding the Bruins to the Cup. I don't mean to single you out Bill, but I had a number of questions this week taking issue with the various "shortcomings" of Julien's coaching. The fact of the matter is that the Bruins would not have won that Cup last year without Julien, whose system, leadership, lineup decisions and in-game adjustments played a huge role in that postseason run. Now, the same can be said for Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, Peter Chiarelli and a host of other key figures in the organization, but let's not lose sight of the job that Julien has done behind the bench in his time in Boston.
As for your specific complaint about the line combinations, Julien has shuffled those units frequently, especially as more and more injuries have forced him to maneuver the remaining options around. I do think in a perfect world with everyone available he would prefer to maintain some stability in the combinations, and he does show patience with units that have a track record of success and proven chemistry. Personally, I agree with that approach. I think coaches in general today are too quick to break up line combinations and that makes it difficult to develop chemistry. Plus, I miss the old days of lines staying together and becoming part of that team's identity, not to mention the nicknames for the lines that used to produce. Shawn Thornton's "Merlot Line" moniker for the fourth unit has stuck a bit, but today's game has nothing comparable to the Production Line, GAG Line, Legion of Doom or even the original French Connection you referenced.
Also, it appears that Bergeron will get his old right wing back anyway with Tyler Seguin returning to that line and Jordan Caron moving up with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. I think that shows why Julien waited so long to put Seguin, Krejci and Lucic together. They've been great offensively, but they've been on the ice for just as many goals against as they've produced. Caron is more defensively responsible and he's shown of late that he can contribute offensively as well, while Bergeron is better able to cover Seguin's occasional defensive lapses than Krejci without stifling his offensive creativity, so that should produce a better balanced top six.
Hello from the Land of Oz Doug. Is the Bruins terrible play of late a result of their enormous injury toll or is it deeper lying than that? I know teams who have big names out through injury struggle, but we just seem to have lost the competitiveness which made us so successful last season. Do you think that if the Bruins were full strength, we would still be in a slump? I can't help but think our problem is deeper than the injuries issue.
– James Marando, Canberra, Australia
First, it's great to hear from a hockey fan from Down Under. Thanks for checking in.
The injuries can't be ignored. There's no doubt that the loss of key players like Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley and Tuukka Rask for an extended time, plus a number of other lesser injuries keeping other players out for shorter stretches have been a factor in Boston's struggles over the last couple months. That said, injuries are a part of this game. Every team has to deal with them and they cannot be used as an excuse for poor play. The Penguins have dealt with the loss of arguably the top player in the game in Sidney Crosby and their top defenseman in Kris Letang and still rattled off nine straight wins to pull into contention for the top seed in the East.
The Bruins themselves have shown in recent years a resiliency when faced with key injuries to the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard and others. So while the absence of Horton and Co. has certainly hurt, especially on offense, I do think there is more to Boston's slump than just the impact of those injuries. They have gotten away from their successful brand of hockey. The sound team defense that has always been a hallmark of a Claude Julien team and the relentless and intimidating physical play that has fueled their success have both slipped. The goaltending has not been up to the standards set in recent years, though some of that is related to the defensive breakdowns in front of the netminders. The Bruins need to get back to the simple, responsible and physical game they used to play, and commit to sticking to that system for a full 60 minutes. They can't afford the slow starts and occasional lapses that have plagued them of late. That's the message that Julien has been trying to hammer home, and it's time for the players to put that into effect on the ice and show that commitment once again on a consistent basis.
Why not bring up Dougie Hamilton? If you have no problem keeping [Marty] Turco in net, you shouldn't hesitate to bring up a future great defenseman.
– Sal DiStefano via Facebook
Junior players like Hamilton are not eligible to be called up to the NHL during the season once they've been returned to their junior club based on the terms of the agreement in place between the NHL and Canadian Hockey League, which consists of the QMJHL, the WHL and the OHL, where Hamilton plays for Niagara. The only exception to that is under rare emergency circumstances due to injury, when a junior player can be called up for a limited time. Once the NHL team has enough healthy players to meet the minimum roster requirements, that call-up has to be returned to his junior club. With the Bruins currently carrying eight defensemen on their roster after the trade deadline, not to mention the options available in Providence, there is little chance of there being a situation that would require calling upon Hamilton. Hamilton is eligible to join Providence once his OHL team's season is completed, assuming the Bruins' AHL affiliate is still playing.
Even if Hamilton were eligible to be called up, there is absolutely no reason to rush him to the NHL at this stage of his development. Throwing him into the fray of a playoff chase at this point would seriously jeopardize that development, and there is no way the Bruins would do that with a player they envision becoming a cornerstone of their defense in the future. The comparison of using an 18-year-old defensive prospect against NHL competition and playing a 10-year NHL veteran netminder exactly twice his age is preposterous. The two situations have nothing to do with one another.
So my question is, why not give [Michael] Hutchinson a try? I understand the next goalie up would be [Anton] Khudobin but he is injured. Can't hurt any more than [Marty] Turco's performance [Tuesday night]. There's a farm system for a reason. We should try to utilize it.
–Justin Bragan via Facebook
Hutchinson is simply not ready for the NHL. He's a second-year pro, and even if you look past the fact that he has not played a single minute in the NHL, he also has less than 50 games of experience at the American Hockey League level. He's been in a battle just to stay at the AHL level in his first two pro seasons, spending much of his time in the ECHL with Reading. His numbers in the minors aren't exactly screaming ready for the big time either (20-22-2, 2.89 GAA, .911 save percentage in AHL, 10-6-4, 2.93 GAA, .918 save percentage in ECHL).
He's still a kid (turned 22 on March 2) and does have potential to develop into an NHL netminder down the road, but throwing him into the NHL now could shatter his confidence and derail that development. You are correct that the farm system is there for a reason. That reason is to develop players that can eventually help the organization at the NHL level, either directly for the big club or as an asset in a deal to address other needs. It does not help the organization in either the short term or the long term to put a player into a position that he is not ready for.
I also think there's been a bit of an overreaction to Turco's outing on Tuesday. Yes, it was a horrible performance, but he was also very solid in his debut Sunday in Pittsburgh. I think it's a bit premature to give up on him based on one bad game, especially considering there is a similarly small sample that shows he still is capable of getting the job done. Will he regain his all-star form from five years ago? That's unlikely. But he does have a long track record of success and should still be able to be a serviceable NHL goalie capable of keeping the Bruins in games and giving Tim Thomas some nights off. If he can't, and Tuesday was more representative of his skills at this point in his career, then Anton Khudobin is just a couple weeks away from returning and he will soon be an option to fill the void as a backup while Hutchinson continues to gain experience in Providence.
What's going on with [Nathan] Horton? Is he too injured to come back or is it just [that] he needs some R&R?
– Podge Moran via Twitter ( @PodgeMoran)
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers when it comes to concussions. It is simply not possible to put a timetable on a recovery, as every individual responds differently. With other injuries, it's much more straight forward. Sure, there can always be setbacks, but it's safe to expect that Rich Peverley, who skated in Boston on Wednesday, will take about 4-6 weeks to recover from his knee injury, and that Tuukka Rask will need a similar amount of time to heal his abdominal/groin strain (though he appears likely to need closer to the full six weeks).
With a concussion, there's no way to know exactly when the symptoms will subside and if they'll remain gone long enough to progress through the next stages of the protocol for recovery. Claude Julien stated on Wednesday that Horton has still not resumed skating since the symptoms returned after his first attempt back on skates in early February. The Bruins still hope that he will be able to return and contribute this season, but there is no way to predict exactly when or if that will happen.
Last year the Buffalo Sabres played in Germany against the Adler Mannheim. Is there any chance that the Bruins might come here to play against Dennis Seidenberg's former team and against his brother? It would definitely be interesting.
– Steffi, Bonn, Germany
The Bruins organization was very pleased with their experience in Europe at the start of the 2010-11 season when they opened the year in Prague. Like most teams that participate in the NHL's Premiere Games in Europe to kick off the season, the Bruins also played some exhibition games over there, stopping in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Liberec, Czech Republic. They would be open to the possibility of going to Europe again, and depending on where they were going, an exhibition game in Germany could be a consideration. Unfortunately, that will have to wait until the 2013-14 season at the earliest. The NHL will not be opening the 2012-13 season in Europe due to the uncertainty of the start of the season with the expiration of the current CBA in September.
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.