Bruins Mailbag: Creating NHL’s Best Fourth Line, Boston’s Lack of Goaltender Controversy and Dealing Toronto’s First-Round Pick


February 23, 2011

Bruins Mailbag: Creating NHL's Best Fourth Line, Boston's Lack of Goaltender Controversy and Dealing Toronto's First-Round Pick Trade deadline? The Bruins don't need no stinkin' trade deadline.

The Bruins took care of their major moves well ahead of Monday's deadline. They aren't likely to be active in the final hours of the annual league-wide wheeling and dealing, but they made up for it with some early shopping at the trade market.

They picked up the puck-moving defenseman they had coveted in Tomas Kaberle and added depth up front with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley in a trio of deals last week. Not surprisingly, the impact of those moves and the potential for further deals dominated the submissions to this week's Bruins Mailbag, but there were a few chances to weigh in on some other topics as well.

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.

Hello Doug, with the recent trades the Bruins are now one of the smaller teams in the league. We have only five forwards over 6 feet. With other teams beefing up for the playoffs, do you think we'll have any chance in the playoffs losing our physical edge that we had? We can no longer intimidate and we certainly aren't the big bad Bruins. How long can [Shawn] Thornton last having to fight for all the players who shy away from the rough stuff?
–50yr fan

While the Bruins traded away some size with Blake Wheeler (6-foot-5, 205) and Mark Stuart (6-foot-2, 213) going to Atlanta, nothing has really changed in regard to their physical game. In fact, the club's average height and weight before the deals was 6-foot-1, 201 pounds. After the trades? It was still an identical 6-foot-1, 201 pounds.

But assessing a team's physical play requires more than just looking at the measureables. Wheeler never made great use of his size as a physical presence. That just wasn't his game. New additions Chris Kelly (6-foot, 198) and Rich Peverley (6-foot, 195) are smaller but actually play a grittier game more suited to intensity of the postseason, where Wheeler had struggled in the past (1 goal, minus-6 in 21 career playoff games). Stuart is a loss as a physical presence on the blue line, but the Bruins had already largely replaced him in that role with a younger, bigger and cheaper version in Adam McQuaid (6-foot-5, 209). McQuaid has also been even more physical than Stuart this year, with 58 hits, 72 blocked shots, 85 PIMs and 11 fighting majors in 45 games to Stuart's 56 hits, 51 blocked shots, 23 PIMs and three fighting majors in 31 games. And don't forget that Stuart wasn't even dressed for the most physical games of the season so far, as he was injured for the brawl game with Atlanta in December and a healthy scratch in recent fight-fests against Dallas and Montreal.

I also think your second question is off the mark for this season. Thornton still leads the team with 13 fights this year, but he's hardly been a one-man gang. Just about everyone has chipped in to stand up for themselves or their teammates this year, with 16 different Bruins already earning fighting majors. Thornton's had plenty of help from McQuaid, Greg Campbell (eight fights) and Andrew Ference (four fights), and the Bruins are third in the league with 56 fighting majors through 59 games. Now a year ago, when the Bruins were 17th in the league with 47 fights the entire year and Thornton had 21 of them, your criticism would have been warranted. Thornton was personally responsible for 44.7 percent of Boston?s fights last season. Only three players — Paul Bissonnette (19 of Phoenix?s 30 fights, 63.3 percent), Brad May (10 of Detroit?s 19 fights, 52.6 percent) and Zenon Konopka (league-leading 33 of Tampa Bay?s 73 fights, 45.2 percent) — had a higher percentage of their team's fighting majors than Thornton. This year, Thornton's 13 fights are just 23.2 percent of the club's total. These aren't the Big, Bad Bruins or Don Cherry's Lunchpail Gang, but they are arguably the toughest team in the current NHL, which sadly doesn't require the toughness of past eras.

Hey Doug, although we tend to key on the immediate impact of the recent trades, do you think that the acquisition of Kelly and Peverley was equally about the filling of roster spots soon to be vacated by [Michael] Ryder and [Mark] Recchi at year's end? I don't see [Peter] Chiarelli attempting to re-sign Ryder, and hopefully, Recchi will decide to wind up his notable career on a high note rather than risking becoming a liability. I'd like to see the Bruins offer Mark Recchi a (non-playing) role with the team. He's always been a class act.
–Jim from Belleville ON

I'm not sure whether the Bruins see Kelly and Peverley filling the specific roles that Ryder and Recchi have had this year. They're different kinds of players. But Chiarelli did make it clear after the trades that the fact that both new forwards are signed through next year and are not just rentals is a big part of why the Bruins acquired them.

As for the future of Ryder and Recchi in the organization, I doubt we'll see Ryder re-sign unless he's willing to accept a major pay cut. The Bruins want to re-sign Tomas Kaberle, and the cap space for that has to come from somewhere, and the Bruins have younger, cheaper alternatives to Ryder, like Jordan Caron, in the system.

As for Recchi, I don't think it's likely he'll be back for another season, but I've learned never to bet against him. If he's this effective at 43, who's to say he can't get another year out of that body? Once he does hang up the skates though, I don't think he'll stick around here for an off-ice role. He's settled in the Pittsburgh area, and once he's done playing, he'll be back there spending a lot more time with his family.

Where do you think Tyler Seguin will fit into the roster? Personally I see him being on the fourth line with Campbell and Thornton, and a second possibility being on the third line with Peverley and Ryder, with Kelly playing wing on the fourth line.

Seguin is slated to play on the fourth line for now. That's not an ideal fit for him, as he isn't the type of banger best suited for an energy role, and his defensive commitment has been questionable at times. But Campbell and Thornton have more skill than most fourth-liners, and they've shown a knack for creating chances, so Seguin will still get scoring opportunities skating with them; maybe some of their work ethic and defensive awareness will rub off on the rookie.

Claude Julien also said that he will get Seguin some extra shifts on the higher lines after power plays and penalty kills when some of the special-teams guys need a break. Still, I would prefer Seguin play on more of a pure offensive line with Peverley and Ryder, but he needs to earn that opportunity and ice time. Seguin's played much better as of late after being scratched for two games earlier this month, so maybe he's finally realizing the kind of effort required at this level because there's no question he has the skill to do it. If Seguin can move up to a higher line, I think a Kelly-Campbell-Thornton combination would be a tremendous asset as a fourth line. Kelly worked well with Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu in Ottawa in a similar unit, but that was the Senators' third line. Think about the depth the Bruins have to wear down opponents with Kelly, Campbell and Thornton as the fourth line.
Do you think trading Mark Stuart will backfire on Peter Chiarelli?
I've already addressed Stuart a bit above. There's no doubt his presence will be missed, both on and off the ice. He was a physical force on the blue line, delivering some huge hits that could swing momentum and he was always willing to stand up for a teammate. He also showed some surprising offensive instincts in his final few games in Boston, pinching in deep to create chances. Off the ice, he was a respected leader in the room, as evidenced by his being elected the team's NHLPA player rep the last two years.

But many of his best attributes had been rendered a bit redundant by the emergence of McQuaid, and Stuart was struggling just to get into the lineup here in Boston. With the addition of Kaberle, Stuart would have been pushed even further down the depth chart, even if he hadn't been one of the bodies moved out to create cap space for Kaberle. I think Stuart will be an asset for Atlanta down the stretch and could help a lot of teams wherever he signs this summer, but I can't really fault the Bruins for making the move with their cap situation and the chance to add Kaberle.

If Tuukka Rask continues to play well, and [Tim] Thomas regains some of his early-season form, who do you think will be the starting goalie come playoff time?
–"jack edwards"

I know the real Jack doesn't need me to explain anything to him, but to answer his namesake here, there's no goalie controversy brewing in Boston this season. Even with Thomas' recent struggles (14 goals in his last three starts heading into Tuesday's game in Calgary), he still leads the league with a 2.02 GAA and .938 save percentage and would be the runaway winner of the Vezina if the season ended today. But Thomas is still less than two months from his 37th birthday and is coming off hip surgery. He needs the occasional break, and the Bruins need Rask to be able to deliver some solid performances to give Julien the confidence to put him in there more frequently down the stretch. Rask has done that in his last two starts and needs to continue that strong play, but he won't be unseating Thomas as Boston's starter this season. The only way Thomas doesn't get the call come playoff time is if he's injured, in which case Rask is a pretty nice insurance policy to have, but you can bet the Bruins don't want to collect on that.

Hello Doug. How can the Bruins improve some on not allowing opposition forwards to skate into the Bruins' zone with the puck so easily? It looks as if the Bruins defense backs up way too often, and that they are giving up the blue line too easy. Teams look as if they know they do not have to just dump and chase against the Bruins' defense.

This is an interesting observation, and there have been times when I've noticed the Bruins allow opposing forwards to gain the zone without much resistance, especially when the opposition is on the power play. That's a tactical decision that many teams employ, as going for the hit at the blue line can often leave a defender out of position and create odd-man chances down low. It's a risk-reward scenario that Julien likes to avoid.

I'm curious to see how having Kaberle on the back end will affect opposing teams' attempts to play the dump-and-chase game. He's not a physical defender who will stand up opponents at the blue line, but his mobility and skill at retrieving pucks in deep off the dump could help neutralize opponents' ability to set up shop in Boston's zone. And there are still opportunities to stand up at the blue line at times, and the Bruins can maybe pick their spots to do it a little more often to make opposing forwards a little less comfortable coming into the Bruins' end.

That said, the biggest problem with the defensive breakdowns in the Bruins' game as of late haven't come from being too passive in backing up into their own zone, but in making some ill-advised decisions on when to pinch up into the play. The Bruins need their blueliners to be active in helping out the offense and they've gotten much better at that as the season's gone on, but the last few weeks I've seen more and more plays where the defensemen have jumped up when they probably shouldn't have, failed to keep the puck in and allowed an odd-man break the other way. When one defenseman is caught up ice like that, there's not much the other can do to stand up at the blue line. 

I know the Bruins are thinking about using the Toronto first-round pick, but would it be better if they kept it and got the prospect? Or could they get someone actually worthwhile for it? And who would you think would be the best fit for the Bruins (whether it's a realistic deal or fantasy one)? Thanks!

Having already giving up their own first-round pick, as well as their second- and third-rounders, I can't see the Bruins parting with Toronto's pick. That's likely going to be another lottery pick. The Bruins don't have the cap space for the kind of player they would need to get in return for such a valuable asset. Kaberle was the big splash on the trade front for the club this year, so don't expect any other major moves before the deadline. The Bruins are banking on Kaberle, Peverley and Kelly being enough to push them deep into the playoffs, but they also want to have some staying power as a contender, and picks like that one are vital to the long-term outlook of the club.
To submit a question to Douglas Flynn for future mailbags, click here, or contact him on Twitter @douglasflynn.

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