NHL Lockout Could Be Looming, But Claude Julien’s Extension a Reason for Optimism When Bruins Do Return

NHL Lockout Could Be Looming, But Claude Julien's Extension a Reason for Optimism When Bruins Do ReturnThe Bruins have won just one Stanley Cup in the last 40 years. With that championship coming just over 13 months ago, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the club continues to try to keep as many key components of that title squad as it can.

After locking up free agents Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille earlier this summer, the Bruins signed coach Claude Julien to a multiyear extension this week. Julien's steady guidance was one of the most important elements of that Cup run, and his continued presence should help the Bruins in their quest to make sure this wait between championships is a lot shorter than the last one.

Do you think hockey season is going to start on time? If not, how much of the season do you think we will miss?

– Billie-jean Chaput via Facebook

Going into the summer, I was optimistic that both sides understood how much damage would be caused with another work stoppage, and that they would find a way to hammer out a new agreement in time. After all, the NHL has been trumpeting its record revenues for each of the last seven years under the current CBA. That includes $3.3 billion this past year, so why would the owners need to demand the players make another huge set of concessions this time around?

Having seen what the owners wanted in that first offer, however, I have a hard time believing the NHL will avoid a third lengthy lockout on Gary Bettman's watch. I do think this will be closer to the 1994-95 lockout than the 2004-05 one that wiped out an entire season. The league resumed play with a new CBA in place in January in 1995 after that first lockout. This year, the pressure will be on the owners to compromise even earlier than that, as they won't want to risk the revenue sure to be raised by packing 100,000-plus into the Big House in Michigan for the Winter Classic on New Year's Day.

Unfortunately, for many teams, shutting down the early stages of the season doesn't present the risk of too much of a loss, as many markets struggle in October and November going up against football and the baseball playoffs. That may embolden the owners to test the players' resolve with another lockout, but it would be a surprise if the stalemate went into the holiday season.

Good news with [Claude] Julien signing an extension, how do you think the stability of the coaching team affects the players?
– Pete, Swansea, U.K.

I think it's definitely a positive for the players, who seem to genuinely enjoy playing for Julien. He's done an excellent job over the past five seasons of balancing the need for discipline with enough latitude to keep things loose. He knows when to crack the whip, but just as importantly he is a strong communicator and relates well to his players. Add in the fact that he's a very good technical coach and that his system has been very successful since he came here, and it's easy to understand why so many players here enjoy playing for him.

After the 2011 Cup run, numerous Bruins told me about how instrumental Julien was to that championship. Some of the tactical things he did were obvious, such as putting Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg together to form a dominant top pairing on defense. But perhaps even more important were the things that went on behind the scenes. Several players talked about how Julien's calm demeanor and reassuring presence was a key to settling the team down and turning the opening-round series with the Canadiens around after the Bruins lost the first two games at home. That steadying presence remained a key factor as the Bruins overcame a tough challenge from Tampa Bay and clawed out of 2-0 and 3-2 holes against the Canucks in the Final despite losing Nathan Horton along the way.

Despite the unwarranted criticism he gets from some, having Julien around for a few more years is certainly a positive for the Bruins, and that stability will definitely help the team remain among the NHL elite.

With Rick Nash going to New York, do the Bruins make any move to get Shane Doan? With what little the Rangers gave up for Nash that should bring down the value for Doan.
– Glen Davis, Peterborough, Ont.

I don't see the Bruins bringing in Doan. They don't have the cap space for the kind of deal he's looking for, which reportedly is in the range of $30 million over four years. That's on an over-35 deal, which as the Bruins know all too well from the Tim Thomas contract means there's no escape from that cap hit even if Doan retires or loses effectiveness as he ages. Even if he manages to defy the aging process and stays at the level he's played at in recent years, it would be hard to justify a $7.5 million cap hit. Over the last three years Doan has averaged exactly 20 goals and 55 points. Yes, he brings more to the table with his leadership, experience and physical play. But he also turns 36 on Oct. 10 and there's legitimate reason to fear his production will decline even further with the wear and tear he's accumulated over 16 seasons in the NHL playing that physical style.

I also disagree about the Nash trade doing anything to reduce Doan's value. It's actually just the opposite. With Nash now off the market, there's one less option for teams looking to add a top-six forward this summer. With Alexander Semin signing with Carolina, Bobby Ryan and Doan are about all that's left. Ryan would require surrendering some serious assets — probably an even bigger package than what Nash drew because Ryan is younger and has a lower cap hit, while providing virtually the same production over the last four years. Doan is a free agent and it will just cost money to sign him if he does indeed decide to leave Phoenix. But it will cost a lot of it. Semin got $7 million despite his declining production and questions about his work ethic. Doan will command a similar rate over more years, and that's something the Bruins simply can't afford.

With Nathan Horton now cleared for contact, what do you think the lines may be next year? Who will be moved out of the lineup?
– Shawn Miller via Facebook

Horton's return won't force anyone out of the lineup, as the Bruins already created some space up front by letting Benoit Pouliot and Brian Rolston go. Their departures should make the battles for the final spot on the third line and the spare forward role the most spirited competitions in camp.

Line combinations tend to be fluid, but with everyone healthy to start the season, there's a good chance the Bruins will return to their old combinations to start. That would put Horton back with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and keep Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin on the top two lines. Kelly and Rich Peverley would anchor the third line, with Jordan Caron the favorite to round out that unit, while the fourth line returns intact with Campbell between Paille and Shawn Thornton.

Is Jordan Caron a lock for the last top 9 spot? Who has the best chance to beat him out?
– Bobby Farrell via Facebook

I don't think I would classify it as a lock. Caron clearly has the inside track for that position, but he will have to earn it. If he plays like he did late in the season last year, it will be hard for anyone to overtake him. If he struggles to produce as he did at other times in his first two pro seasons, however, there will be plenty of guys ready to try to steal that spot.

Youngsters Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight have the best chance of beating him out. Spooner is the more skilled of the two 2010 second-round picks, and has a higher offensive upside as both a playmaker and a scorer. Knight can make plays and put the puck in the net too, but he also adds a bit of a physical edge that may make him better suited for a third-line role. Still, Caron still has the advantage in experience and size on both of the rookies, and Spooner and Knight may benefit more from playing more minutes on a scoring line and special teams in Providence in their first pro seasons.

Barring any more late-summer additions, the other options in camp will come from the players trying to move up from the AHL ranks. Lane MacDermid and Carter Camper have the best shots out of the players returning from last year, while Chris Bourque and Christian Hanson are newcomers to the organization with extensive AHL experience and limited NHL time on their resumes who will be in the mix as well. Those players are more likely to be battling for the 13th forward spot than a third-line role though, with the possibility of skating on the fourth line if a guy like Daniel Paille makes a bid to move up to the third unit.

Will Tim Thomas go back to Boston after his year off? If not, how will that affect the Bruins?
– Corbin J Simoneau via Facebook

I really don't see Thomas ever playing another game for the Bruins. I'm not sure how realistic it is to expect him to come back from a year off at his age and play in the NHL for anyone, but if he does return I don't believe it will be in a Bruins uniform after everything that has transpired in the past year.

As to how a possible return to play for another team would affect the Bruins, I don't see it really having an impact. The Bruins have moved on. Tuukka Rask is now the starter. I think he's ready to assume that role and more than capable of performing at the level the Bruins need him to play at. The only way Thomas' situation would have an impact on the Bruins next year is if they don't trade him this year to a team looking to reach the cap floor, and somehow decided to toll his contract. That would keep him as Bruins property, as he would still owe them a year for sitting out this one. But that's extremely unlikely to happen because the Bruins would run the risk of Thomas simply sitting out again and having that $5 million cap hit on their books for another season. One way or another, I think the Bruins and Thomas will part ways before next season. The only question is whether they trade him this year, he signs elsewhere as a free agent next year — if he can find a team interested after a year away from the game — or if he simply retires.

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