It was an eventful week for the Bruins, who engaged in another memorable fight-filled clash with the Stars, welcomed Joe Thornton back to Boston and announced that Marc Savard will be shut down for the rest of the season.
But this week’s Bruins Mailbag focuses more on looking ahead than looking back. And who can blame the readers for wanting to take a peek at the future with the trade deadline less than three weeks away and the playoffs just around the corner after that.
As always, I’d like to thank all the readers who sent in questions for this edition of the mailbag, and apologize in advance if I wasn’t able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I’ll get to as many of them as I can as we head down the home stretch of the season.
1. Who is even available for trade? Due to the tight playoff races in both the East and West, it seems like there is more buyers than sellers. Usually by this time we know who the big ticket guy is that everyone wants. Could this be one of the worst trade deadlines in years but one of the most exciting finishes to the regular season ever?
— James N.
It will definitely be a sellers’ market this year, with only a handful of teams out of the playoff race. In the West, only Edmonton is definitely out, while every other team is within seven points of a playoff spot. St. Louis, Columbus and Colorado could become sellers depending on how they do in the next couple of weeks, but it will be tough for those markets to throw in the towel on a playoff run at the end of February. It’s not much better in the East. The Islanders, Ottawa, New Jersey and Toronto are pretty much out of it, and Buffalo and Florida could be ready to sell by the deadline too.
But what do these teams really have to offer? There’s a reason they’re where they are in the standings. With Matt Moulson re-signed, there’s not much worth acquiring from the Isles, Toronto will likely be asking way too much for Tomas Kaberle and Edmonton doesn’t have any rentals worth pursuing and while Dustin Penner could help in the short term, I’m not sure the Bruins want his $4.5 million cap hit on their books next year. The same goes for Ottawa’s Mike Fisher, who has a $4.2 million hit through 2012-13. Senators teammate Chris Phillips is a UFA to be, but doesn’t add the puck-moving dimension the Bruins’ defense needs.
New Jersey could be a trading partner. I have doubts they’ll actually part with Zach Parise (RFA after this year) despite their cap issues, but he’s a guy worth mortgaging a chunk of the future for, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to return from his knee injury for a playoff push this year. Jason Arnott ($4.5 million hit, but UFA after season) could be an option, or Florida’s versatile Cory Stillman ($3.5 million, UFA after season). Stephen Weiss would be tempting if available, but I’m not sure he’s worth the premium it would take to land him in this market. And the Brad Richards ($7.8 million, UFA after season) and Jarome Iginla ($7 million through 2012-13) rumors seem like fairy tales to me, with their teams in playoff position and the cost associated, both in terms of assets that would be given up and the cap space that would need to be created.
2. Wondering what the status is of Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder. Blake is showing a lot of promise with his play without the puck but can’t seem to get into a groove to be scoring on a regular basis. With a cap hit of 2 million (I think), do the Bruins stay patient with him? I think so. As for Michael Ryder, isn’t enough… well enough? I know he’s scoring this year, but he hasn’t nearly been what we wanted out of him. Any chance of him being re-signed?
— David Everson
Wheeler has a $2.2 million cap hit, and that will likely go up with a new deal or another arbitration award next year. I do like that you mentioned his play without the puck as he has played solid defensively and been a key part of the penalty kill. He may never develop into the prolific scorer hoped for out of such a high pick (fifth overall by Phoenix in 2004), but the goals will start to go in if he keeps creating chances. He may be a chip the Bruins need to use at the trade deadline, but that’s more a reflection that other teams still value him, not that the Bruins are actively looking to unload him.
I doubt you’ll see Ryder re-signing here unless it was for a substantially lower cap hit. Despite his recent slump (9 games without a goal), he’s been much better this year, but it’s probably not enough to get another deal here with so many younger players in the system close to being ready and those precious cap dollars needed for upgrades elsewhere.
3. What are the chances of Bergeron getting traded? He’s my favorite player, and if the B’s lose him, they would lose, in my opinion, their best player.
Judging from your username, you’ll be happy to know that there’s virtually no chance of Bergeron getting dealt anywhere. The Bruins committed to him as one of their core players when they signed him to a three-year, $15 million extension just before the season, and he’s proven worthy of the investment with his play this season. I won’t take anything away from Tim Thomas‘ fabulous season so far, but I would also concur that Bergeron is at least the Bruins’ best skater. He should get consideration for the Selke this year and he’s carried the offense for the past six weeks.
4. What about bringing back a retired player like [Miroslav] Satan or [Bill] Guerin? It wouldn’t affect the cap and would be short money. A quick fix.
— Doug P.
Satan signed with Moscow Dynamo of the KHL last month, so cross him off your wish list. As good a story as he was last year, I’m not sure he would be the answer anyway at this stage. The same goes for Guerin. He was a great player and his blend of toughness and scoring ability would be a welcome addition, but I’m not convinced he can still contribute at this point. There was a reason the Flyers chose not to offer him a contract after inviting him to camp and watching him play in the preseason, and after four months of inactivity I have a hard time thinking he would be the answer for the Bruins now.
Also, while a player like that might be willing to take a relatively low-money deal for another chance to play, any contract will count against the cap and affect what other moves the Bruins can make. I think Boston is better off seeing what it has with its own youngsters like Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill over the next couple weeks, then exploring the trade market at the deadline.
5. Doug, what are the chances PC looks at acquiring [Jason] Spezza from Ottawa? Spezza and a fourth-rounder for Toronto’s pick, [Mark] Stuart and a prospect? Also, if we deal Wheeler for a puck-mover, does it make sense to bring back Billy Guerin to fill that void as a “depth” forward?
Lots of love for Guerin. I addressed that question above, but I would also note that it would probably take more than Wheeler to get a truly impactful puck-moving defenseman. As for Spezza, I know Peter Chiarelli’s connections to Ottawa make rumored deals with the Senators a popular pastime, but I can’t see any way this one goes down. Spezza’s numbers have declined significantly the last two years and he’s battled a number of injuries. But the real non-starter is the $7 million cap hit he carries through 2014-15. The Bruins don’t have that kind of space available, and if they did, there are a lot better ways to utilize it than taking on that albatross of a contract, let alone giving up a potential lottery pick with Toronto’s first-rounder in the process.
6. Doug, do you believe like I do that the B’s need to play more physical like the Dallas game in order to compete for a cup? And where has the old Lucic gone? He seems to shy away at the physical side of the game.
— Matt Lehman
There’s little doubt that the Bruins play their best when they are emotionally engaged and playing with an edge. That doesn’t have to mean tons of fights like the Dallas game, though few will complain about the entertainment of those bouts. It does mean finishing checks, an aggressive forecheck and standing up for each other when needed.
The biggest problem for the Bruins in recent years is that opponents also know that the Bruins are most effective when playing that style and won’t engage in those physical battles. Dallas was a rare opponent that was willing to take the Bruins on in that way, and I give the Stars full credit for helping to make that such a memorable game. But the Bruins have to find ways to stay emotionally involved and effective when opposing teams won’t accept the challenges to fire up the Garden crowd and the Bruins’ bench. This week will be a good test to see how the Bruins handle that, as neither the Canadiens nor the Red Wings are likely to engage in such physical encounters. If the Bruins can avoid coming out flat and play their physical brand of hockey while staying out of the penalty box against those teams, it will bode very well for their future fortunes.
As for Lucic, it’s clear that his role has evolved and he’s developed into much more of a scorer as a fixture on the first line. Still, he can’t abandon his physical style completely, as he needs that element to create space for himself and his linemates. The career-high 21 goals this year are great, but it’s the blend of skill and toughness that makes him a unique presence on the ice. He had just 20 hits in 13 games since the start of January before recording five on Saturday, while his fight last week in Carolina was his first in 42 games.
Injuries were an issue last year and it’s understandable that could be weighing on his mind still, but Lucic still needs to be wreaking havoc with his hits on the forecheck on a regular basis and be willing to drop the gloves often enough to maintain the intimidation factor that gives him that extra bit of space to make plays.
7. Doug, from what you’ve seen so far out of Tyler Seguin, who does he remind you of? And do you think that he is going to be a superstar might be too far-fetched?
It’s really hard and usually unfair to try to compare young players to established stars. Seguin came into the league with scouts and even Chiarelli evoking comparisons to the likes of Steve Yzerman and Steven Stamkos, which certainly didn’t help to lessen the pressure on the youngster. While he’s shown the occasional flash of brilliance here and there, it’s obvious at this point no one should be expecting him to produce anything like those players at this stage of his career. At this point, the Bruins just want to see him making some strides in the right direction down the stretch as he continues his adjustment to the pro game. Unfortunately, his development has appeared to stall a bit of late, as he’s struggled to create chances on offense and committed too many lapses on defense. That’s led to less ice time for him as Claude Julien can’t afford to play him extensively late in close games with points at such a premium, and Seguin could even be seeing some time in the press box as a healthy scratch in the near future.
While it has taken Seguin longer to make an impact than many hoped, it’s still way too early to get down on him. He still possesses the abundant talent that made him a clear-cut choice with the No. 2 pick last June. He definitely still has the potential to become a legitimate star in this league. He’s just not going to get there without experiencing some growing pains along the way.
Thanks again to all of you for the questions. I look forward to answering even more in the coming weeks, so keep them coming.
To submit a question to Douglas Flynn for future mailbags, click here or contact him on twitter at @douglasflynn.