After falling 3-0 to the Rangers on Tuesday, the Bruins are now just 6-7-1 in their last 14 games. Starting with their emotional 4-3 loss to Vancouver on Jan. 7, the Bruins are just a .500 team at 8-8-1. What was once the league's top offense has also sputtered of late. The Bruins have been shut out in three of their last six games after being blanked just twice in the first 48 games of the season.
Those kinds of struggles can lead to lots of questions, and I've done my best to answer as many as possible in this week's edition of the Bruins Mailbag. 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 head down the stretch run of the season.
If Daniel Paille keeps showing a combination of great speed and good defense to create odd-man rushes, do you think that he could become the shadow of who the Sabres thought that they were getting with the 20th pick in 2002?
— Jake and Owen, Simsbury
Paille is what he is at this point. I really can't see him suddenly finding the scoring touch he showed in juniors once again in his eighth pro season. When he was picked in the first round a decade ago he was projected to be a scoring forward as he was coming off a 27-30-57 campaign with Guelph (OHL) in 2001-02 and eventually capped his junior career with 37-43-80 totals in 2003-04. He's never reached the 20-goal mark in the pros, though, peaking with 19 with Buffalo back in 2007-08. His speed and hockey sense do create plenty of chances, but he's struggled to convert them at this level.
But the fact that he didn't follow that career trajectory as a scorer isn't all bad news. He is still an extremely valuable player for the Bruins. Boston's penalty kill has been among the league's best since he arrived in 2009 and he has played a huge part in that. He's also played a vital role on what is arguably the NHL's best fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. They've provided energy and solid defense whenever the Bruins have needed it, and while not a sniper by any stretch, Paille has chipped in some solid offense with nine goals so far this season. At this point I wouldn't worry too much about whether Paille can ever live up to expectations from a decade ago and just enjoy the effective role player he has developed into now.
Based on the 2011-2012 season, in your opinion, who are the top five prospects in the Bruins system? (Not including anyone that has already seen time on the Bruins roster. )
— Greg, Standish, ME
Look no further than the Ontario Hockey League if you want to find the top Bruins prospects. The top four guys in the system are all currently in that circuit, with 2011 first-round pick Dougie Hamilton the clear-cut No. 1 guy. He recently served a 10-game suspension for a head shot, but otherwise the Bruins couldn't have asked for much more out of his first post-draft season. He has 13-39-52 totals and is a plus-20 in 35 games with Niagara, still leads all OHL defensemen in scoring despite the suspension, and he could be ready for the NHL as soon as next year. The Bruins won't rush him, though, as blueliners generally take longer to develop and he could be a special one, so they won't risk pushing him too fast.
Behind Hamilton, forwards Jared Knight (22-22-44, plus-27 with London), Ryan Spooner (23-27-50 in 42 games split between Kingston and Sarnia) and Alexander Khokhlachev (20-38-58 in 49 games with Windsor) round out the top quartet. Picking a fifth guy is tougher, especially with your parameters eliminating guys like Steven Kampfer down in Providence who have been up with the big club this year. It's been a disappointing year in general down in Providence as far as prospects are concerned, with Max Sauve hurt much of the year and Jamie Arniel really struggling. I would go with Brian Ferlin for the fifth spot. He was impressive at this summer's development camp and has followed it up with 8-13-21 totals in 25 games so far in his freshman year at Cornell, good for second on the Big Red.
Do you think the Bruins would trade a defenseman/a second-round pick for [Ryan] Suter and count on Dougie Hamilton to fill the spot next year?
— Max, Cohasset
Even as a rental, the price for Suter would be much, much higher than that, unless the defenseman in question is Hamilton himself. The Bruins won't do that, so I don't see them getting involved in the Suter sweepstakes, even if Nashville were to make him available, which considering their position in the standings and prospects for a deep playoff run, I don't see happening anyway.
Hey Doug, I have another couple of questions for you again but this time nothing to do with the trade deadline. For the first time since earlier this season [Tyler] Seguin is not the team's leading goal scorer. Now I know there is no need to be alarmed but I was just curious do you feel that:
1. Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] will hit 30 goals this season?
2. That whole line will be the first line to have all guys hit 30 since the "500 lbs" line (Joe Thornton, Glen Murray, Mike Knuble) accomplished it in the 2002-03 season?
3. Will Seguin be our first 40 goal player since Glen Murray did it in 2002-03?
My apologies for so many questions.
— Andrew Chubs, Hamilton
No problem with the extra questions, but unfortunately I don’t see the Bruins in question hitting any of those milestones this season. Bergeron has 16 goals through 54 games, putting him on pace for just under 25. Is it possible that he gets hot and can reach 30? Absolutely, but he's only done that once in his career and that was back in 2005-06 when he had 31. I see him bettering last year's total of 22, but finishing somewhere closer to the 25-goal pace he's on, which isn't bad considering it comes with Selke-worthy defense.
With Bergeron falling short, obviously the whole line won't reach the mark, though I'm sure Thornton, Murray and Knuble will be happy not only to be remembered for something positive in these parts, but that you've put them on quite a diet. That line was actually a bit bigger, as it was dubbed the "700-Pound Line" by none other than Claude Julien himself, back when he was behind the Montreal bench (remember when the Habs used to have coaches who spoke French?). Anyway, Seguin (20 goals through 53 games) and Brad Marchand (19 goals through 48 games) are right on pace for about 30 goals. They have a better chance than Bergeron of reaching that mark at this point, but obviously can't afford any extended cold spells.
Seguin seems more likely to fall prey to such a slump, as he remains a bit streaky this early in his career. I think he'll finish strong and make a run at 30 goals, but don't see any shot at 40 this season. After getting 20 in 53 games, he'd need to match that in just 28 games, assuming he doesn't miss any time. And that will be with defenses getting even tighter as the playoff races really heat up.
What do you think the Bruins immediate plans are with Dougie Hamilton? Obviously he's still young and maybe not quite ready for the NHL, but are they able to promote him at least to Providence?
— Al Rocklein, Peabody
The Bruins' immediate plans are to let him continue to develop his game in the OHL, which is really the only option they are allowed at this point. Hamilton is not eligible to play in Providence this season as long as his junior team is still playing. He could join Providence after Niagara is eliminated from the OHL playoffs as Spooner and Knight did last season, but with Niagara currently first in the East in the OHL, it may be a longshot that his junior campaign would end with Providence still playing. Next year Hamilton will be facing the same restrictions. If he doesn't make the big club in Boston, he will have to return to the OHL and won't be eligible to play in Providence other than another possible end-of-season cameo. Peter Chiarelli has stated that he thinks Hamilton could compete for a spot in Boston as soon as next year, so it's possible that he could skip the AHL altogether.
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