That point was driven home by the volume of entries for this week's edition of the Bruins Mailbag, and I've tried to answer as many of them as possible. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to answer any of the submissions from the small but passionate fan base in Arizona. It seems I touched a nerve with my column questioning the long-term viability of Phoenix as a hockey market compared to more suitable options such as Quebec City.
But this is a family website, and none of those submissions would make it through our censors. I would be happy to enter a civil discourse on the topic if any Phoenix fans are interested in trying to address the issues like adults, although I must admit that I did appreciate Michael Hamilton of Scottsdale telling me I look like I'm 22 years old. With my 22nd birthday nearly two decades in my rearview mirror, I definitely enjoyed that unintended compliment.
Now, on to a much more Bruins-centric mailbag. As always, I'd like to thank all of the readers who sent in questions (even those from disgruntled Coyotes fans) 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 to help get everyone through the long summer ahead.
Who do the Bruins have in the AHL or juniors that you see making a jump to the big club? Is Dougie Hamilton ready? Thanks.
– Bill Fyler, Porter, Maine
Hamilton will be given every opportunity to make the team next year, and the Bruins expect him to push for a spot. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has said several times this year, including at the club's breakup day, that he thinks Hamilton will challenge for a spot in Boston next season. Hamilton certainly did nothing this year in the OHL for anyone to doubt his chances. He was the OHL's Defenseman of the Year (or more accurately the Defenceman of the Year, if we abide by the spelling used north of the border) and a first-team all-star after leading all OHL blueliners with 17-55-72 totals in just 50 games to go with a plus-37. He's added 5-18-23 totals and a plus-15 in 19 playoff games with his Niagara squad in the OHL finals, although they trail London 3-1 and face elimination in Game 5 of that series Friday. Hamilton isn't expected to put up those kinds of offensive numbers in the NHL, and he still needs to add some bulk to his 6-foot-4, 193-pound frame, but he is the closest to being NHL-ready among the Bruins' high-end prospects.
Bruins president Cam Neely did offer a bit of caution last week, though, when asked about Hamilton's chances of making the team next year. "It's tough to say," Neely said. "I want to see him at camp. I want to see him in games against NHL players. We all know he has the skill to be an NHL defenseman, it's just a matter of is he's going to be ready this year. It's something we're not going to find out until training camp."
I expect Hamilton to show enough in camp to earn a job in Boston, but he will likely be eased into action in a somewhat limited role, similar to how the Bruins utilized Tyler Seguin in his first season.
Beyond Hamilton, the players to watch trying to make the leap next year are fellow OHLers Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner. Knight, whose London team has pushed Hamilton to the brink of elimination, had 26-26-52 totals in 52 games and has added 4-4-8 in 15 playoffs games so far. Spooner (29-37-66 in 57 games) was eliminated early in the OHL playoffs, but for the second straight season got a taste of the pro game in Providence with four points in five games there. Alexander Khokhlachev had 25-44-69 totals in 56 games with Windsor, but his season ended in early March after he suffered a lacerated kidney. He may be the most talented of that bunch but is also the youngest and. with the time lost to injury. will almost definitely need more seasoning in the OHL before making a real run at a spot in Boston.
Providence didn't feature a lot of top-end prospects this past year, but there are some role players who could challenge for varsity jobs. Carter Camper impressed in his brief call-up late in the season, and Lane MacDermid could be ready for regular duty on the fourth line, especially if Daniel Paille is not re-signed. Matt Bartkowski, Andrew Bodnarchuk and Torey Krug, who finished the year in Boston after being signed out of Michigan State, could push for jobs on the blue line depending on what the Bruins do in free agency to add depth there. Tommy Cross will also bear watching after a solid career at Boston College but will likely need some time in Providence.
How do you see our top six looking? Do you think [Tyler] Seguin jumps to center?
– David MacDonald via Facebook
There are a lot of variables that have to be sorted out before a real clear picture of Boston's top two lines can take shape. Chiarelli said after the season that he doesn't plan any major changes but does intend to look at adding another top-nine forward. If the right opportunity presents itself in free agency or on the trade market, I could easily see him upgrading that to a top-six forward, but he may also be content with the return of Nathan Horton restoring the solid top two lines the Bruins had last year. Prior to Horton's concussion in January, the Bruins had been virtually unstoppable from the start of November on, and the combinations of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Horton and Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Seguin were a big part of that success. There would be some risk involved in relying on Horton to return to his old self after two concussions in the last calendar year, while also banking on both Krejci and Lucic bouncing back after subpar postseasons.
Seguin's position will depend on whether the Bruins add anyone to that top-six mix and what they do with Chris Kelly. If Kelly is not re-signed, then Boston could reshuffle things much more dramatically, and Seguin could help shore up the depth down the middle. But I don't think there's a pressing need to move Seguin back to center. That is the position he played coming up, but he proved this past year how effective he can be on the wing. And with the chemistry he showed with Bergeron and Marchand, I wouldn't mind seeing that line stick together a while longer. Knowing that Seguin can move to center if needed if injuries strike is a nice luxury to have, but it's not something that the Bruins have to force with Bergeron and Krejci already in place in the middle and better suited for the defensive responsibilities for that position at this point.
Douglas, can and will the B's be in the hunt for unrestricted free agent Zach Parise?
– Bob D'Amico, Warwick, RI
Do you think the Bruins might try to sign [Ryan] Suter from the Predators?
– Cristian Castellanos via Facebook
Parise and Suter are by far the hottest commodities that will potentially hit the free agent market this summer, and their friendship off the ice and experience playing together for Team USA has led them to be frequently linked, so I'll deal with both of these questions together. I say "potentially" hit the market because, for all the rumors of the two signing with Detroit or Minnesota as a package deal, neither has ruled out staying where they are. Of the two, Suter is the more likely to move, with Nashville also needing to re-sign restricted free agent Shea Weber, but Suter and the Predators plan to meet in a couple of weeks to discuss his future plans. Parise seemed destined to depart the Devils with New Jersey's financial difficulties, but the Devils' surprising run to the conference final could help convince him to stay.
Even if both become available, Boston is an unlikely destination. I really don't think the Bruins will make that big a splash this summer. The commitment both players will command just doesn't fit into Boston's salary structure with Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic, among others, up for new deals after next season, plus the possibility of the cap going down once a new CBA is sorted out.
Suter especially doesn't seem like a fit. As enticing as seeing him and Zdeno Chara together on the same blue line might be, the Bruins simply can't afford Suter's asking price with Chara just one year into a seven-year, $45.5-million deal. They also have Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk locked up with cap hits over $3 million apiece, plus Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid under contract and Dougie Hamilton coming along. Adding Suter, who will likely command a long-term deal in the $6 million to $7 million a year range, just doesn't work. Parise provides a similar dilemma, although at least there the Bruins would be addressing a more obvious need by adding a high-end offensive talent up front.
Who do you think the Bruins will let go or trade in the offseason to make room for new talents or players coming off injuries? And will the Bruins keep Tim Thomas after his less-than-average performance in the games leading up to and in the first round of the playoffs?
– Madison Roberts, Dedham
I don't expect the Bruins to be a big player on the trade front this offseason, at least not in terms of dealing away current members of the roster. They will likely make some additions to supplement their depth either through free agency or possibly with some deals involving picks or prospects, but the bulk of the turnover on the roster will come from players departing via free agency. The Bruins would like to retain Chris Kelly, but he will be highly sought after following his breakthrough season. Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille could be back depending on their contract demands and what happens with Kelly, as a big raise for him could force the Bruins to turn the fourth line over to younger, cheaper alternatives. Brian Rolston is still mulling over retirement, but if he plays, it will certainly be for a much smaller salary and likely with another organization, with the Bruins' needing to leave some spots open for fresh blood.
On defense, there doesn't appear to be any scenario that would see Joe Corvo return for another season. Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau were better fits but may have to look elsewhere as well. Mottau could work out well as a veteran sixth/seventh defenseman capable of filling in when necessary, but the Bruins may opt to go with younger alternatives within the system for that role. Tuukka Rask and Benoit Pouliot are restricted free agents, and both should be back, although Rask's negotiations could get interesting this summer.
As for Thomas, both Chiarelli and Neely have gone onthe record to say they have no intention of dealing him away, and the Bruins are comfortable going with a Thomas/Rask duo for another season. Of course, if the Bruins were going to shop Thomas, they probably wouldn't come right out and say it and cost themselves any leverage. I think Chiarelli has to do his due diligence to listen to any offers that may be out there for Thomas, whose no-trade clause expires on July 1. That doesn't mean there's any need to dump him or deal him away for anything less than fair value. But if the Bruins can get a worthwhile return that addresses another need, they should also have confidence in going forward with a Rask/Anton Khudobin pairing in goal.
Do you think [Marc] Savard will ever return back to the lineup?
– Tom Taylor via Facebook
I wish I could offer a more optimistic take, but it's very unlikely that Savard will ever play again, and that is probably best for his long-term health and well being. His most recent comments were made earlier this month in an interview on NHL Home Ice on Sirius/XM Radio, when he discussed how he still suffers post-concussion symptoms. "Lightheadedness, a little bit of an upset stomach all the time, but the biggest issue I've had throughout this whole course is my memory issues," Savard said. "That's really frustrating and something I don't want to deal with my whole life."
Savard was asked directly during that interview if there was any possibility he would play again, and while he didn't rule it out completely, he did say, "Right now I don't see anything in the near future."
Will [Nathan] Horton be ready next year?
– Cam Viera via Facebook
At least in this case, the news is a little better. At the club's breakup day, Chiarelli said he expects Horton to make a "full recovery" and be ready for the start of next season. Chiarelli said he is going into his offseason preparations with Horton projected as part of the lineup.
Chiarelli did note that there's never complete certainty when it comes to an injury like a concussion and conceded that the team initially expected Horton to return this year, but all of the information he's received from the medical staff indicates that Horton should return next year.
"I know we were expecting better recovery time for Nathan and for certain reasons he didn't," Chiarelli said, "but I have complete confidence in the information that was given to me that he'll be back."
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.