The Bruins’ quest to defend the Cup ended much earlier than expected. A year after surviving three thrilling Game 7s to win their first championship in 39 years, the Bruins found themselves on the wrong side of a dramatic seventh game as the Capitals eliminated Boston on Joel Ward‘s goal 2:57 into overtime.
And so the Bruins’ season came to a sudden and shocking end. But even though the Bruins won’t be playing games again until next fall, there are still plenty of issues facing the club as it embarks on its extended offseason.
That early exit raised lots of questions, and I’ve tried to answer as many of them as possible in the first offseason 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 to help get everyone through their hockey withdrawals throughout the long summer ahead.
Why did Shawn Thornton not dress for Game 7? [The Bruins] could have used his intensity on the ice and in the dressing room!
— Mike Goetz, Wallaceburg, Ontario
First off, I agree completely that the Bruins could have used Thornton’s energy and leadership in Game 7, and actually wrote that before the game. The reason Claude Julien gave for scratching Thornton in favor of Jordan Caron was the uncertainty of Patrice Bergeron‘s situation. Julien told me that there were concerns about Bergeron being able to make it through the game because of his oblique injury and Julien wanted to have Caron available to move up to that line if Bergeron wasn’t able to finish the game.
There is certainly a case to be made for that reasoning. Still, I think Thornton showed in last year’s Final the kind of emotional impact he could have on a game of that importance. That fourth line of Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille was instrumental in the Game 7 victory over the Canucks. Thornton also provided a needed spark with his physical play in Game 5 against the Capitals. While Caron is more offensively gifted than Thornton, there was also plenty of risk in inserting a young player who had never played in an NHL playoff game before Game 6 of that series and had not played at all since the regular season.
If Bergeron had been forced to come out of the game, the Bruins could have just as easily slid Chris Kelly up to that spot with Campbell moving to the third line or had Paille move up as Julien has done many times before. The difference between doing that and having Caron available if needed is negligible, and not worth sacrificing the other elements that Thornton would have brought to the lineup.
Will the Bruins have to place [Anton] Khodobin on waivers if/when they re-sign [Tuukka] Rask?
— Chris, Foster
No, signing Rask won’t have any effect on Khudobin like that. This isn’t a situation where the Bruins have to free up a roster spot to re-sign Rask. Both goalies will remain Bruins property as they were this past year.
Where waivers could come into play with Khudobin if the Bruins retain both Tim Thomas and Rask stems from the fact that Khudobin is on a one-way deal next season. That means he will make his NHL salary ($875,000) whether he plays in Boston or Providence. But if he is sent down to Providence, he would have to clear re-entry waivers to return to the NHL. Anyone making over $105,000 in the AHL is subject to re-entry waivers. If a player is claimed on re-entry, the team losing him is charged with half the player’s salary.
That makes it very unlikely that the Bruins would recall Khudobin if they send him down, as he would almost certainly be claimed and they would not only lose him, but get hit with a pro-rated $437,500 charge to their cap. That will make things tricky if Thomas or Rask were to get injured. The Bruins could find themselves in a similar situation as this year, forced to call up a goalie that might be less prepared to play in the NHL like Michael Hutchinson or search for another solution like they did with Marty Turco.
What do you think the chances are that the Bruins bring back Brian Rolston for another season to provide veteran leadership, like Mark Recchi did when he was here? I know Rolston is 39, but he still has some jump in his skates and some thud in his shot.
— John Greeley, Halifax, Nova Scotia
First, Rolston still has to decide whether he wants to play another season or not. After the Bruins were eliminated he told me that he was still undecided about playing next year and would need to take some time to determine his future plans. His return to Boston and the success he had here down the stretch did rejuvenate him a bit, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him try to stick around a little longer, but it is a big commitment to go through the kind of offseason conditioning program it takes to get ready for another season at that age.
If he does decide to play again, it’s a possibility that the Bruins would be interested, but I don’t know that bringing him back would be a high priority. While a solid veteran and a well-liked guy in the room, Rolston didn’t replicate what Recchi brought to last year’s team and it’s really unfair to expect that of anyone. Recchi was a special player and his presence on and off the ice really can’t be duplicated. That said, there’s also less of a need for a player in that kind of role now on the Bruins with so many of these players having seen firsthand what it takes to win a Cup during last year’s run and the leadership already in place with Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Andrew Ference and Shawn Thornton. Maybe if guys like Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell sign elsewhere Rolston’s experience would become more of a priority. Even then, he will have to be prepared to take a significant pay cut, as no team is going to match his 2011-12 salary of over $5 million.
[How about] Dustin Penner on a cap-friendly deal for the Bruins next season? Big power-play body in front of net?
— Mark Clinton ?via Twitter (@mark_clinton)
It’s an interesting possibility, though I wonder if Penner’s next deal will be as cap-friendly as anticipated with the postseason he’s having. I’m also leery of how good he will be if he does land another decent deal. He certainly hasn’t lived up to his current $4.25 million cap hit on the five-year contract that expires after this season, at least not since coming to Los Angeles. He was solid for much of his stay in Edmonton, including one big 32-31-63 season in 2009-10, but really struggled with the Kings before starting to come on a bit in the playoffs. Even though he’s not really being used on the power play (his 0:55 of power-play ice time ranks just 11th on the Kings in the playoffs and seventh among L.A.’s forwards). He doesn’t have a point on the power play and the Kings have been very Bruins-like on the man advantage overall (4-42, 9.5 percent).
Penner does have some past success on the power play (13 of his 23 goals came on the power play in his first season in Edmonton in 2007-08) and his size (6-foot-4, 242 pounds) could be effective in front. But that’s not really Boston’s biggest need on the power play. They really need more skill and better puck movement. They never replaced Marc Savard‘s ability to distribute the puck along the half-boards and their attempts at landing a true power-play quarterback on the blue line with Tomas Kaberle and Joe Corvo have failed. Filling those roles should be the priority in fixing the power play, along with getting the guys they already have like Milan Lucic to do a better job of creating more net-front presence.
Are there quality goaltending prospects out there? At 38, we can’t get complacent with Tim Thomas. He has been overworked and is deserving of support. I’m not certain about [Tuukka] Rask.
— Doreen De Fontes Taylor via Facebook
Thomas’ age and his workload the last couple of years is certainly a concern, leading to both speculation that he could be dealt and the reality that he might not bring as big a return as hoped if he is traded. But whether they keep Thomas for the final year of his contract or not, the Bruins are well stocked with younger options behind him.
That begins with Rask, who turned 25 in March. Other than worrying about a recurrence of his abdominal/groin injury, I’m not sure why you would be hesitant about Rask. Before being hurt, his numbers this year (2.05 GAA, .929 save percentage) were significantly better than Thomas’ (2.36 GAA, .920 save percentage). Rask has also been a No. 1 before, and more than held his own as he led the NHL with a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage after unseating Thomas in 2009-10.
Behind Rask, Khudobin appears ready for at least backup duty in the NHL. He was stellar in his lone start in Boston this year (a 44-save effort in a 3-1 win at Ottawa) and overall is 5-1-0 with a 1.32 GAA and a .961 save percentage in seven games in the NHL. It’s a small sample, but he has earned a longer look somewhere. He is under contract for next year and turns 27 on Monday.
The Bruins are more than set in goal at the NHL level for the immediate future with that trio. Their long-range outlook is more cloudy. Michael Hutchinson is still unproven and Zane Gothberg and Lars Volden, sixth-round picks in 2010 and 2011 respectively, are long-term projects. The Bruins may look to augment that position with a prospect a little higher in this upcoming draft, but there’s no need for any immediate help with Thomas, Rask and Khudobin in place.
What are the chances the B’s do something flashy? Like trade a top 6 forward for more of a sniper, or sign [Zach] Parise?
— Dan Sherman via Twitter (@DanSherman_1027)
While it’s always possible they’re laying a smokescreen to cover their intentions, it doesn’t appear that the Bruins are looking to make any major changes to the roster this offseason. Peter Chiarelli at the club’s breakup day stated, “certainly we’re not going to do anything to make over this team” when asked about possible changes. On Thursday, club president Cam Neely reiterated that sentiment when he said there would be “just some tweaking” to the roster this summer.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with that approach. While the first-round exit fell far short of expectations, the core of this team did win a Cup just a year ago. The Bruins were rewarded for their patience two years ago when they resisted the impulse to blow up the team after the collapse against Philadelphia and were rewarded with that championship. I believe it’s more prudent to see how they respond to this setback next year before making a major overhaul of the roster.
Do they need to augment that core with some more skill and scoring up front? Absolutely. A healthy Nathan Horton will help and there could be further reinforcements from within the system if Caron can take on a bigger role or if Ryan Spooner or Jared Knight can make the leap to the big club. They can’t rely on just those options though, so acquiring a proven forward through trade or free agency should be a priority. Chiarelli stated he wants to add a top-nine forward. I would like to see him raise the stakes higher and bring in someone capable of playing in the top six.
But I wouldn’t do that at the expense of breaking up the nucleus of the current team. And Parise, while an enticing talent, would require that as his contract demands will force the Bruins to part with other key players with the likes of Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Horton among the Bruins in need of new deals after the coming season.
I have read in a couple of places that [Roberto] Luongo is likely to be traded this summer. With his lengthy contract, what kind of a market will there be for him?
— Bill Kimball, Easthampton, Ma.
Taking on Luongo’s deal, which has 10 more seasons at a $5.33 million cap hit, is a daunting proposition for any team. But as much as Boston fans enjoyed watching his struggles last year in the Cup Final and at key times this season, the fact remains that Luongo still is among the best netminders in the NHL. His numbers this year were actually eerily similar to those of his old nemesis Tim Thomas, with Luongo posting a 2.41 GAA and .919 save percentage.
It’s understandable why the Canucks would want to turn the reins over to the younger and cheaper Cory Schneider after he posted a Tuukka Rask-like 1.97 GAA and .937 save percentage in the regular season and supplanted Luongo in Vancouver’s first-round loss to Los Angeles. Still, with plenty of teams desperate for quality goaltending, there will be a market for Luongo. I have my doubts that Luongo will ever lead a team to a Cup, but he can certainly take a bubble team to the playoffs and even make them a contender.
His contract may limit the return the Canucks can command, but there will be suitors. Tampa Bay and Toronto are the most frequently mentioned potential destinations due to their needs in net. Luongo still has ties to Florida as well, though the Panthers have top prospect Jacob Markstrom waiting in the wings. Other surprise teams could emerge as well. Chicago GM Stan Bowman noted after the Blackhawks were eliminated in the opening round by Phoenix that, “Our goaltending in general was not our strength.” Could they get in on the bidding? That might be a tough sell for Blackhawks fans who hate the Canucks as much as the Boston faithful. Where Luongo could end up is uncertain, but if the Canucks do indeed decide to deal him, they shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a trade partner.
Have questions for Douglas Flynn?s mailbag? Leave them in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter @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.