Preseason notes: Bruins catch a break with Chara after injury scare
It could have been worse for the Boston Bruins.
Just days after learning that top-four defenseman Dennis Seidenberg needed back surgery and would be sidelined approximately eight weeks, the B’s watched in dismay as Zdeno Chara left Thursday night’s game against the Rangers with an apparent upper-body injury after an innocent-looking collision with New York’s Ryan Bourque.
Coach Claude Julien was able to walk Bruins nation back in off the ledge on Friday afternoon when he announced the captain was day-to-day. Although Julien wouldn't commit to Chara’s availability for the start of the season, this sounds like the best-case scenario. Anything more serious would have left Torey Krug as Boston’s No. 1 defenseman and forced GM Don Sweeney into making a drastic (and likely costly) deal to shore up the backline.
Sweeney may still be in the market for help—Philadelphia (Andrew MacDonald) and Edmonton (Nikita Nikitin and Andrew Ference) have veterans they’d like to dump—but he won’t be searching from a position of abject desperation.
On the bright side, the longer Chara is out, the longer Brandon Carlo has to display his talents. Boston signed the 37th pick in the 2015 draft to an entry-level deal on Friday, and while that may be a parting gift to reward him for an impressive performance at camp, it also paves the way for Carlo to see some regular season action. At 6' 5" and nearly 200 pounds, the 18-year-old has an NHL-ready body and his skating is up to the task. He’ll likely see more preseason action this weekend after scoring against the Rangers in his debut. Another safe, solid performance or two and anything's possible.
• The Flyers are reportedly shopping Luke Schenn. The 25-year-old defenseman, acquired in the trade that sent James van Riemsdyk to Toronto, averaged better than 18 minutes for Philadelphia last season but has never lived up to the promise that prompted the Maple Leafs to select him with the fifth pick in the 2008 draft.
More to the point, Philly has less than $600,000 of cap space to work with, so GM Ron Hextall would love to get Schenn and his $3.6 million hit off the books before the season starts.
It’s likely there’s another opportunity for Schenn out there somewhere, but Hextall won’t get much in return—maybe a mid-round pick—and he might need to swallow some salary as well to make it happen.
• Great news out of Buffalo, where it was announced that legendary broadcaster Rick Jeanneret will remain in the booth for at least one more season.
The 73-year-old was set to hang up his headset after calling 41 home games this season. Instead, he’ll be back in 2016-17 on at least a part-time basis.
Jeanneret said that enthusiasm about the team’s future and his own good health made sticking around an easy decision.
“I’m very, very optimistic about this hockey club,” he said. “I am even optimistic about this year. I know a lot of people figure it is going to take quite a bit of a time. I firmly believe they are a playoff contender this year. That adds to it. Of course it does. Why wouldn’t it? Especially after the last couple of seasons, which were in the dumper. It is nice to be on the other side looking down.”
• All the big names that skated in the All-American Prospects Game—Matthew Tkachuk, Logan Brown and Max Jones—delivered as expected on Thursday night, but one relatively unheralded teenager may have done more to improve his draft standing than anyone.
William Lockwood was barely on my radar coming in, but the high energy winger made the sort of impression that will keep him front of mind the rest of the way. He had just one point on the night, an assist on Tim Gettinger’s first-period tally for Team Roenick, but was crisp and clever with his puck movement and played with an intensity and pace that demanded attention.
The 17-year-old is listed (perhaps generously) at 5' 10", 172 pounds, so size is a factor that might keep him down in the middle rounds. He’s skating with the National Team Development Program this season and is committed to the University of Michigan next year. Don’t forget the name.
• A gentle reminder before you buy into the Dallas Stars hype: Yes, they are going to be a scary good offensive team, possibly the most dangerous in the league, but that wasn’t their problem last year. Stopping the puck was ... and so far, it still looks like a problem. Not to read too much into a preseason game, but that was purported starter Kari Lehtonen who was on the hook for every goal in a 6–0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night. Granted, he had an AHL-caliber defense playing in front of him, but it continues a trend of sluggish play in camp that extends back to last season when he ranked 35th in goals-against (2.94) and 38th in save percentage (.903) among goalies who made at least 30 appearances. Antti Niemi, who hasn’t dazzled in camp either, is expected to play the entire game Saturday night when the Stars host the Lightning. Clearly, the No. 1 job remains up for grabs.
• Speaking of the Blues, 2014 top pick Robby Fabbri is turning heads in camp and is closing in on a job with the varsity. One observer raved about his puck skills, saying the 19-year-old center “is making better, faster decisions” than he did at his first camp and is “playing like he belongs.” If Fabbri sticks, he’ll likely push David Backes to the wing or out of the top six entirely. That’s not ideal for the veteran, who is entering the last year of his current deal and would like to maximize the return on what might be his final contract.
• The NHL’s most dangerous line is looking to build on the successes of the 2014-15 season.
• Three-on-three overtime isn’t the only major rule change this season. Chris Johnston offers a refresher on how the new coach’s challenge will work.
• Take a look at this and you’ll understand why Gary Bettman’s 30 bosses love him ... and why he’ll be the NHL’s commissioner for as long as he wants the job.
• Top 2016 draft prospect Matthew Tkachuk recaps his experiences at Thursday’s All-American Prospects Game, and offers some insight into one key player who wasn’t in Buffalo for the event.
• Speaking of prospects, TSN’s Bob McKenzie offers his first look at the top-15 candidates for the 2016 draft. I’m only surprised Logan Brown didn’t make the cut.