Monday February 9th, 2015

Off The Draw

Maybe now we’ll see how smart Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli really is.

We’ve been hearing for weeks that he’ll be an active buyer at the March 3 trade deadline, looking to spackle over a few cracks in the black-and-gold plaster by adding a top-four defender and a top-six winger ahead of Boston’s annual run at the old mug.

Of course, such assets are the type that every contender is looking for this time of year. And if Chiarelli is being honest with himself, he knows his Bruins aren’t really contenders.

That’s not so say that Boston is a pushover. With the estimable Tuukka Rask between the pipes, the Bruins won’t be an easy out for anyone once the postseason rolls around.

Henrik Lundqvist injury questions; Byfuglien stands up for Jets

But losses to the Rangers and the Canadiens during the past week highlighted problems that go far deeper than having to use Hamburger Helper to fill in a couple of key positions. The pair of defeats reveal a team that just can’t match the pace being set by the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Chiarelli’s team is still built to win the 2011 Stanley Cup. That’s not a good look for hyper-speed NHL of 2015.

This group is aging out fast, particularly on the blue line where Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are proving too heavy-legged to keep up with the younger, faster forwards that New York, Montreal and the Lightning can throw at them. 

It's not just the battleships that are struggling. Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid are neither quick nor are they particularly capable playmakers. Outside of Torey Krug, the whole unit struggles to move the puck out of their zone and into the attack. The Bruins’ forwards are also short of spark; only rookie David Pastrnak seems capable of generating anything creative. The team as a whole lacks discipline, as its lopsided penalty-kill/power-play ratio proves—Boston has played 81 times shorthanded, as opposed to its league-worst 62 man-advantage chances. And as was shown repeatedly last week in the games against the Rangers and the Canadiens, when facing heavy checking the Bruins settle too easily for perimeter chances rather than paying the price to scratch out the higher-value scoring opportunities down low.

Is there a player on the market who changes that? Are there two?

The short answer: no. That’s why Chiarelli is at a crossroads. And that’s why what happens next is so critical to his future and the organization’s.

The easy thing to do is move out some picks and prospects for Antoine Vermette or Cody Franson or whatever other warm body is out there on an expiring contract. That might give Boston a bump, a little edge heading into the postseason. But as Tyler Seguin and Johnny Boychuk prove, Chiarelli’s not been all that adept lately at making moves with the short term in mind.

Or Chiarelli could make the harder call: recognize that he has some rapidly depreciating assets in players like Chara and Seidenberg, and possibly the ill-tempered Milan Lucic, and set out to determine the market value for them. Their age and contract terms might scare off some suitors, but they're not getting any younger and their value will only decline will Boston's chances to compete.

Yes, losing one or more of those players would hurt the team this spring. But maybe a little short term pain is exactly what Chiarelli and the Bruins need to get back on the road to relevance.

What to watch tonight

Canucks at Wild (8 p.m. EST; SNP, FS-N)

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Minnesota is on a roll. The Wild have rediscovered their defensive identity, with shutouts in two straight games and three of their last four during a five-game winning streak.

But that’s all going to be quickly forgotten if they lose tonight.

Minnesota’s best stretch of play in nearly a year has pulled the team to within five points of Vancouver, who hold down one of the two wild card spots in the Western Conference. The math then is fairly simple: win tonight and the Wild cut the Canucks’ lead to just three points. Lose, and the gap between the two stretches out to seven.

To avoid that fate, Minnesota could use a bit more jam up front. The Wild have scored only 11 goals during their winning streak, including just once on the power play in 11 chances. As good as goalie Devan Dubnyk has been, he could use a bit of breathing room.

It won’t be easy. Vancouver is coming off a shutout of its own, a 5–0 win over the Penguins on Saturday in which Ryan Miller stopped 31 shots. With so much on the line, expect a tense, tight-checking affair on Monday night.

Rest of the schedule: Oilers at Devils (7 p.m. EST; SNW, MSG+); Kings at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EST; SNE, SNO, FS-W, FS-O); Coyotes at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. EST; NBCSN, CSN-CH); Flames at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EST; SNW, CSN-CA)

What you missed

• Columbus’s Scott Hartnell  is a very heady player.

• Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist talked about his neck injury and the scary danger that came with it.

​• Carey Price continued to show why he’s the Vezina Trophy frontrunner.

The numbers game

• The Canadiens swept their season series against the Bruins for the first time since 2007–08, and did so without needing overtime in any of the victories for the first time since 1944–45.

• The Islanders (34-18-1) have tied a franchise record with 34 wins in the first 53 games of a season, first set in 1978–79 (34-9-10), and equaled in ’81–82 (34-13-6). Last season, New York did not reach 34 victories until its final regular season game, finishing 34-37-11.

• ​The PredatorsFilip Forsberg needs one goal to break Alexander Radulov’s single-season franchise rookie record (18, in 2006–07). Forsberg leads all NHL rookies in goals (18), assists (30) and points (48).

Hot links

Rick Nash's legacy, handicapping the Calder race, more in our roundtable

• Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets’ home ice, is built on land between the sites of the old Ohio Penitentiary and the old North Graveyard, which might explain why the team seems to be cursed.

• Need a reminder that scouting has always been an inexact science? “He’s not likely to ever be a star but he has a good chance to be a player,” a bird dog said about this future Hall of Famer.

• You won't believe the advantages that goalies are finding through technology.

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