Bruins Mailbag: Tyler Seguin’s Absence From All-Star Ballot No Big Deal

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Bruins Mailbag: Tyler Seguin's Absence From All-Star Ballot No Big DealThe Bruins’ remarkable run came to an end Tuesday with a 2-1 loss in Winnipeg. It was their first regulation loss in 16 games, snapping a 14-0-1 streak that dated back to the end of the October.

But that defeat is far from the end of the world. With the way they’ve played over the last five weeks coming off the heels of last spring’s championship, the Bruins have clearly established themselves as one of the elite teams in the NHL.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t still questions to be answered, and the latest edition of the Bruins Mailbag will try to get to as many of them as possible. As always, I’d like to thank all the readers who sent in questions 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 as we continue on in the season. 

Plain and simple, how good are the Bruins without [Tim] Thomas? I mean, can they win with Tuukka [Rask]?
–Joe, Florence, Mass.

Plain and simple, the Bruins don’t win the Cup last year without Tim Thomas. He was the difference throughout that run and put together one of the most amazing seasons a goalie has ever had in the NHL. And he’s been almost as good this season with no signs of slowing down. I think it would be tough to argue against him being the best goalie in the league right now, and he’s certainly the best goalie on the team.

That’s not a major knock on Tuukka Rask, who has played very well himself. He’s also proven capable of being a No. 1 goalie when he led the league in GAA and save percentage in 2009-10. The Bruins made the playoffs that year and advanced to the second round. The Bruins are fortunate to have a backup who would start on many teams around the league, and if something were to happen to Thomas, all would not be lost if they had to turn to Rask as their primary netminder.

So can they win with Rask? Absolutely. But their chances are certainly better with Thomas with the way he’s playing right now.

Chris Kelly has been a real surprise this year with his many goals, but he has also proved to be a true leader in the locker room. Do you think he is next in line for an extension?
–Tyler, Boston

I do believe that locking up Chris Kelly is the next order of business for Peter Chiarelli, and given the GM’s track record of signing his guys before they reach free agency, I would be surprised if a deal is not done before the end of the season. It would certainly behoove the Bruins to do that, since Kelly will attract plenty of interest if he reaches the open market. He’s long had a well-earned reputation as a top defensive forward, and this season he’s showing off an increased offensive dimension to his game.

Couple that with his leadership skills and the fact that he has a Cup on his resume, and there’s no doubt he’s a valuable contributor and the Bruins need to make it a priority to retain him.  

Doug, many teams are giving younger franchise-type players C’s and A’s early in their careers. Do you think the Bruins are sharing an A this year so they will have one for Tyler Seguin next year?
–James Paul, St. John’s, Newfoundland

While many teams do anoint their young stars with letters early in their careers, I don’t think the Bruins are grooming Tyler Seguin for that just yet, and Tuesday’s benching for missing the team breakfast and a team meeting in Winnipeg clearly shows that there’s a lot more maturing for Seguin to do before he’s ready for such a role. It’s a bit of a moot point anyway. I think the letters are pretty well set for the immediate future. Obviously, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron are locked up for a while as they are both on just the first year of the extensions they signed before the start of last season. Andrew Ference also has another year on his deal, and as I noted above, I believe Kelly will be re-signed as well. So there shouldn’t be any vacant letters next year.

If one does become available for any reason, I don’t think Seguin would be the right choice for it. This is a veteran group with plenty of worthy options for such a role if needed with the likes of Dennis Seidenberg, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley and Adam McQuaid all more likely choices, and that’s not even considering the pending free agents who could return like Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Johnny Boychuk.

Asking Seguin to take on a leadership role at his age with this kind of veteran nucleus in place would be very awkward. He’s also not the type of personality who exudes the kind of leadership qualities some players exhibit even early in their careers, which was evident even before his disciplinary problems were made public in Winnipeg. I think Seguin might lead the Bruins in scoring for many years, but I don’t see him leading the team in any formal way like that any time soon.

Originally, I was going to ask about the Krejci line not living up to its ability, but the players on that line have since stepped up. In practice, the Krejci line wears the white shirt indicative of them being the No. 1 line. Why don’t the Bruins use the colored practice jerseys as sort of a reward for the line that played the best the previous game and let that line wear the white jerseys? Kind of create a reward for the line that plays the best to keep all the players motivated night in and night out.
–David, South Boston

It’s an interesting idea. For anyone unfamiliar with what David is referring to, the Bruins wear different colored jerseys during practice to differentiate the lines. Typically, the “first” line, currently Krejci between Lucic and Horton, wears white, the second line (Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Seguin at the moment) wear yellow, the third (Kelly, Benoit Pouliot and Peverley) don gray and the fourth line (Campbell, Paille and Thornton) are in maroon. Last year Thornton dubbed his unit the “Merlot Line” in honored of the wine-like hue of their practice sweaters. 

Of course, designating the lines by numerical rank is something that rankles Julien quite a bit. To that end, he’s had some fun this year with switching the jerseys around. When Kelly filled in on the top line due to injuries earlier this year, one reporter asked about using him as a No. 1 center, and Julien replied that Kelly would be happy to hear that someone considered him a first-line center. The following day at practice, Julien had the white jerseys issued to Thornton and Co. to prove his point that all the lines were equal in his mind. That said, it could be an interesting motivational tool to award the best line from the previous game a certain color for the following practice. It could serve as something similar to Ference’s vintage jacket from last year.

It may be a little early for such a tactic, though. With things going so well of late, it might be better to try something like that later in the year if the Bruins hit a slump and may need something to motivate and bond them a bit more.

Who are the Bruins’ top prospects down in Providence?
–via Twitter @PHILKESSEL81 (Jesse Bickford)

Well, the really elite prospects in the Bruins system haven’t reached Providence yet. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton and forward Ryan Spooner are still tearing up the junior ranks in the Ontario Hockey League, while fellow OHLers Jared Knight and Alexander Khokhlachev would also rank high on the club’s prospect list. None of those players are eligible to play in Providence yet, though they may get a chance to play a few games at the end of the year once their junior seasons are over.

As for the players currently with Boston’s top minor league affiliate in Providence, there aren’t any real elite prospects on the level of a Hamilton but there are some players to watch who could help the big club in the near future. Zach Hamill has taken a major step forward this season with his move to wing and didn’t look out of place with the big club in his brief call-up earlier this year, while Lane MacDermid has the makings of a very useful fourth liner in the mold of Thornton with the toughness he brings, along with an ability to play a regular shift. Carter Camper is leading the team in scoring and is worth monitoring as well. The defense also has some promise, with Matt Bartkowski, David Warsofsky, Colby Cohen and Ryan Button possessing the most potential. Bartkowski made the big team out of camp, but has struggled a bit in his second pro season (0-7-7, minus-11 in 20 games). Two of Providence’s more promising forwards have also gotten off to rough starts this season, with Jamie Arniel managing just 1-5-6 totals and a minus-6 in 25 games and Max Sauve 3-2-5 and a minus-6 in 19 games. It’s too early to give up on any of those guys, but it has been a disappointing season so far for a few of those guys.

Hi Doug, as a longtime Bruins fan, I’ve always paralleled the Bruins winning with the rough, tough style of play. It seems like when they are fighting, hitting, playing with an edge, they seem to win. How difficult emotionally is it to maintain that style of play, and if the players realize it is successful, why can’t they play at that level every game, especially considering the money they make?
–Peter Corrado, East Haven, Conn.

I completely agree that the Bruins play their best when they’re physical and have an edge to their game. Part of their problem early in the season was getting that nastiness back after an offseason of Cup celebrations. A bigger issue was the fact that opponents had caught on to how effective they were when they got physically and emotionally involved and simply refused to engage, which just led to the Bruins taking penalties as they did in the Carolina game. But over the course of the last five weeks the Bruins have found the right balance. They’ve given teams no choice but to engage them because they’ve forced the issue with an aggressive forecheck and a steady diet of clean but hard hits.

They’ve become the initiators once again, which is what they need to do, though they’ve also shown repeatedly that they’re more than willing and able to respond when an opponent tries to take liberties. Campbell showed that most recently when he came to Thomas’ defense in Pittsburgh.

Still, as much as the Bruins understand that they need to play that style of game to be at their most effective, playing that way takes a mighty toll on the players both mentally and physically. It’s almost impossible to summon that level of energy and intensity every night over the course of an 82-game schedule, so there will be occasional lapses. The good news is that they’ve proven capable of sustaining that level a lot longer and more consistently than most teams. They proved that in the playoffs last year and they’ve shown it again in their remarkable run since the start of November.

What are your thoughts about Tyler Seguin not making the All-Star ballot with the season he’s having?
–Cam Kenney, Cromwell, Conn.

I really don’t have an issue with it. Those ballots are made very early in the season, and while there was never a doubt that Seguin had special talent, few expected him to start putting up numbers like this so quickly after his modest rookie campaign. Every year there are players who get off to an unexpectedly strong start that are left off the ballot and players who are either injured or off to a poor start that are on the ballot who probably don’t deserve to be on there that particular season. You can still write his name in on the ballot and the fan voting only selects six players for the game, so Seguin will still get fair consideration from the NHL hockey operations staff selecting the remaining 36 spots. The fact that his name isn’t on the ballot won’t be a major impediment to him being selected for the game if he continues to put up big numbers and is judged worthy by the hockey ops staff.

Leave your questions for Douglas Flynn’s mailbag in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter at @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.

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