Bruins Mailbag: Tyler Seguin’s Role Down the Stretch a Pressing Concern for B’s Fans

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Bruins Mailbag: Tyler Seguin's Role Down the Stretch a Pressing Concern for B's Fans The trade deadline is in the rear-view mirror and for better or for worse, this year’s Bruins roster is close to a finished product.

Injuries may happen and help could be summoned from the farm, but by and large this is the squad the Bruins will go into the playoffs with. Will it be enough to make some serious noise in the second season?

That’s yet to be determined, but at least we can finally get past the plethora of trade questions and proposals that have clogged the last few editions of the mailbag and start addressing some issues with the players that are actually here, rather than those who hypothetically could have been coming or going.

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. How does the Bruins’ depth compare with that of other top contenders?
— Lord Thomas

The Bruins’ depth matches up extremely well with just about anyone in the league, especially after adding Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly to the third line. And while many of you bemoan the fact that Tyler Seguin isn’t seeing more playing time, having that kind of talent on the fourth line shows the depth the Bruins have. Shawn Thornton also brings much more to the table than most fourth-line tough guys and Greg Campbell has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. Add in that the Bruins have seven NHL quality defensemen and will soon be able to call upon veteran Shane Hnidy if needed and depth isn’t the issue for the Bruins.

The question is whether the top two lines can stack up with the other contenders. The David Krejci-Milan Lucic-Nathan Horton line is clicking again and the Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand-Mark Recchi combination has carried the team for much of the season, but those six certainly don’t match the firepower of the top two lines in Detroit, Vancouver, Philadelphia or even Tampa Bay. For the Bruins to advance deep into the playoffs, they’ll have to do it with their superior goaltending and their depth wearing down opponents. This isn’t a team built to win on top-level talent alone.

2. I know [Peter] Chiarelli has every intention of re-signing [Tomas] Kaberle, but given his cap situation next year do you think he will be able to extend his contract? Because if not the premium for Kaberle was too high. And also given the cap situation the Bruins have do you think they will be able to re-sign Brad Marchand as well?
— JB

Chiarelli has been confident that he will be able to re-sign Kaberle since making the deal and reiterated on Monday that while both sides have agreed to wait until after the season to negotiate, his brief discussion with Kaberle’s representative “was in a very positive light and I’m very optimistic.” Things can certainly break down once they start crunching numbers, but it would be very unusual for Chiarelli to make those kind of public statements (he also said after the trade that the negotiations would be “smooth sailing”) if he wasn’t very confident a deal would be reached. I do agree that if they don’t re-sign him and Kaberle ends up being a rental, only a Stanley Cup this spring will make the price they paid palatable.

As for Marchand, he’s certainly earned himself a raise with his breakthrough year. But he’s in a completely different situation. He’s a restricted free agent, not a UFA like Kaberle, and with just one season of NHL production on his resume, the Bruins should be able to reach agreement on a reasonable price. They do have some flexibility with Michael Ryder‘s $4 million hit and likely Mark Recchi’s $1.95 million coming off the books, plus possible LTIR relief on Marc Savard‘s cap hit and very few holes to fill. They aren’t likely to be players on the free-agent front on July 1, but they do have younger, cheaper options who should be ready to step in like Jordan Caron.

3a. Do you think [Tyler] Seguin will be moving up to the third line anytime soon, because with [Marc] Savard’s future in question, Seguin is the only center the Bruins have that has potential to match his point production?
— Bucc from Charlestown
3b. Do you think Claude [Julien] and Crew should start giving Seguin more experience in important situations down the stretch? It would be nice to see him playing on the first power play and top-line minutes a few games before playoffs.
— Kent Hammond, Toronto

Lots of questions about Seguin this week, with these two representative of what most of you are asking. The expectations were high for Seguin this year based on his draft position and natural talent, probably unreasonably high. He’s needed much more time to adjust to pro hockey than most hoped, but that’s not unusual, and not a reason for too much concern. He isn’t going to have a huge impact this season, but the Bruins are doing the right thing by bringing him along slowly.

A move to the third line is possible, and something I mentioned hoping to see after the trades were initially made. But the Peverley-Kelly-Ryder combination has shown promise and I wouldn’t be too quick to break it up. Seguin may one day develop into a point producer of Savard’s caliber, but he’s not close to that yet and won’t be this year no matter how many minutes he plays. For this year, the Bruins are better off filling that third center spot with Kelly or Peverley. Long-term, a 1-2-3 punch of Krejci, Bergeron and Seguin will be tough to beat, but that’s still a ways in the future. I also don’t think it’s wise to force Seguin into important situations too quickly. He hasn’t shown he’s ready yet for that kind of workload, and rushing him into an expanded role not only risks the points at stake that the Bruins can’t afford to squander in a tight playoff race, but also could stunt his growth and development.

4. Why won’t [Nathan] Horton shoot the puck more? Can you please tell him to have a minimum of eight shots on net every night? How does anybody expect to break a slump with only 2-3 shots on goal? SHOOT NATHAN!
— #91

Horton can be frustrating at times with his tendency to look pass first instead of shooting. He’s had no shots in five games and just one in nine others. Despite that, he’s still third on the team with 152 shots and second among forwards, trailing only Patrice Bergeron, who has 165 shots in two more games than Horton. The big winger could be more consistent with his shot production, but eight shots a game isn’t going to happen. You might as well demand he score a hat trick every night too because no one averages close to that. Alexander Ovechkin leads the league with 295 shots, and that’s just an average of 4.68 a game, barely more than half of the “minimum” you would require of Horton. And by the way, Horton actually did have eight shots once this year, and finished with no points that night against St. Louis on Nov. 6. So piling up the shots doesn’t automatically lead to goals.

As for Horton breaking out of his slump, he’s already done that. He has 4-2-6 totals in his last six games and 6-7-13 in his last 13. I don’t think point-per-game production can qualify as still slumping. Horton is a streaky scorer and will probably always be one, but he has the talent to put together enough hot streaks to make it worth putting up with the cold spells.

5. Now that we have acquired a D-man like Kaberle do you think Julien will ever use [Zdeno] Chara in front of the net on the power play? Since he is the biggest player in the NHL why not use his size to our advantage? No one would move him from in front and why won’t Julien use Seguin on the power play as well? He’s got so much offensive talent.
— andrewchubs

Using Chara in front is an option that Julien has employed on occasion, though usually only on a 5-on-3 advantage or a power play late in a game with the goalie pulled. It is an enticing option to use because Chara’s size does make him effective in front, but it’s also a risky move. That big body makes it tough for the goalie to see around, but it’s also tough for the shooters to miss. Chara isn’t accustomed to playing down there and doesn’t practice tipping shots as frequently as the forwards, so there’s more of an injury risk to using him in that role. The Bruins can’t afford to lose him, so I think you’ll continue to see Chara stay on the point and be the one firing the pucks instead of standing in the firing line. With Kaberle added, the Bruins are also confident that the power play should improve without the need for such drastic measures. Chara at the point blasting one-timers from Kaberle could be just as effective, and a lot safer. As for Seguin, his issues have been addressed above, but he has to earn his power-play time with better effort and production at even strength. 

6. We all know the jump from college hockey is an immense one to the NHL. Are you surprised the Bruins gave up on Joe Colborne so early, considering this was only his first year of pro hockey? He seems to be the prospect the Leafs most coveted in the Bruins system. Big centers with hands are very hard to find in the NHL.
— Kessel

I don’t think this was a case of the Bruins “giving up” on Colborne. They had a need for an offensive defenseman like Kaberle and Colborne was part of the price to acquire that. It helps that the Bruins were dealing from a position of relative strength, as they already have a pair of young centers atop their depth chart in Bergeron, 25, and Krejci, 24, and just added two centers signed through next year in Peverley and Kelly. They also have both Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight coming along in the pipeline, plus Zach Hamill in Providence. The Bruins felt they were close enough to contending that adding a defenseman of Kaberle’s stature to help them win in the present was worth giving up a piece of their future. I do think that Colborne has the ability to go on to a solid NHL career, and he’s certainly off to a good start for the Marlies. But the Bruins were in a position where help this year was more valuable than waiting for the potential dividends Colborne could yield a few years down the road.

7. Doug, with the added forwards in the past week, do you see any chance that Claude [Julien] may give [Mark] Recchi some time off down the stretch so he would be fresh going into the playoffs? Or would that even be a good idea? Hated to see Wheels [Blake Wheeler] and [Mark] Stuart go but I do like the three additions!
— Cecil Dunlap, Truo, Nova Scotia

Glad you liked the trades, and it is always tough to see players depart. Wheeler and Stuart were great guys to deal with and I wish them the best in Atlanta. The Thrashers’ beat writers are about to find out how good we’ve had it up here, because you’ll be hard pressed to find two more approachable and articulate players than Wheeler and Stuart.

As for Recchi, I thought coming into the season that the Bruins might give him the occasional night off to keep him fresh. But he’s shown no sign that he needs the extra rest, and frankly, I’m not sure the Bruins can afford to take him out of the lineup either. He’s fourth on the team in points (42), second in assists (31), first in power-play points (16), tied for first in game-winning goals (six) and even fifth among forwards in hits (62). Why would you want to take that out of the lineup, especially when the only option currently is Daniel Paille (seven points in 28 games)?

Recchi also has a chance to move into fourth place in the all-time games played list if he plays 81 games this year. He’s currently seventh at 1,634 games, and can pass Scott Stevens (1,635), Dave Andreychuk (1,639) and Chris Chelios (1,651). That would leave just Gordie Howe (1,767), Mark Messier (1,756) and Ron Francis (1,731) ahead of him. Not bad company. Still, Recchi would be the last person to put a personal record like that ahead of what was good for the team. But Julien has done a good job all season of giving Recchi and the other veterans occasional breaks from practices or morning skates to keep them fresh, and there doesn’t appear any need at this point to sit him out. And understanding that he doesn’t have that many more games left in his Hall of Fame career, I know Recchi certainly doesn’t want to waste any of them watching from the press box.

To submit a question to Douglas Flynn for future mailbags, click here or contact him on twitter.

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