Monday, May 30, 2011

Broons and 'Nucks: A Cup Finals Preview

Just one series to go, folks. Let’s cut to the chase and take a look at the line-by line matchups for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks:

Sedin-Sedin-Burrows vs. Chara-Seidenberg

Strength versus strength here in a battle between Vancouver’s vaunted first-line forwards, including the wonder-twins, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and Boston’s powerful top-line defenders, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. It will be a massive tactical battle on par with some of the great clashes in Stanley Cup history. The only thing that could keep these heavyweights from sparring is the off-chance that B’s coach Claude Julien makes the decision to split the pair up to deal with the multi-line threat that the ‘Nucks represent…but the Lightning essentially provided the same challenge and Julien stuck to his guns, so I don’t see it happening. The Sedin twins have been unspectacular by their standards for much of this postseason, yet have still put up a combined 10 goals and 37 points (more than half of which have come on the powerplay)…not too shabby. Alexandre Burrows has been solid with a 7-7-14 line.

On the Bruins’ side, Chara is Chara, a dominant force at gap control, physical play and all-around defensive acumen. His partner, Seidenberg has been a revelation this postseason, delivering an immense performance as Boston’s #2. He hurdled past Eric Brewer for the league lead in blocked shot with 55, is top-10 in hits, leads the NHL in total time-on-ice, and has been on the ice for more of his team’s goals than any defender in the league—by a very wide margin (30 to 24 over Chara… he’s been on the ice for more than half of Boston’s goals).This is one matchup that could go either way – and I’ll guess the result will change from game to game, but look for Boston to win this matchup more times than not. Slight Advantage – Boston

Raymond-Kesler-Higgins vs. Boychuk-Ference

This is the matchup that will make or break the Bruins. Assuming Julien doesn’t separate his Dynamic Duo of Chara and Seidenberg, it will be up to Andy Ference and Johnny Boychuk to stop Vancouver’s second line which is centered by the game-changing two-way forward Ryan Kesler. I don’t expect the Bruins to stop him, I only hope they contain him and minimize his impact. Boychuk is one tough customer and Ference doesn’t back down, but it’s hard to believe these two match up well against Kesler & Crew. Kesler’s linemates Mason Raymond and Chris Higgins aren’t exactly fearsome with only fifteen points between them, but they’re both talented and speedy enough to challenge the Bruins consistently. Significant Advantage – Vancouver

Torres-Lapierre-Hansen vs. Kaberle-McQuaid

Vancouver’s third line is not particularly explosive. With twelve points between them, they’ve mainly held serve as defensive stalwarts. I don’t see Tomas Kaberle and Adam McQuaid having significant problems keeping them in check. The real question is how well the Canuck’s third line plays against the Bruins scoring lines. They have been really effective in handling opponents’ best threats (Torres, Lapierre and Hansen are all plus players and among Vancouver’s top performers in +/-), opening up the ‘Nucks top two lines to go all-out offensively. I give the slight edge to Boston here because of Kaberle’s potential offensive production….I think he’ll put up at least 5 assists in this series, finally somewhat vindicating Peter Chiarelli’s trade. Slight Advantage – Boston

Lucic-Krejci-Horton vs. Hamhuis-Bieksa

Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis have been fantastic this postseason, each with impressive +/- and point production. Bieksa has been particularly amazing, leading all NHL defensemen in 5-on-5 goals against per 60 minutes as well as scoring more goals than any NHL-blueliner whilst consistently being tasked with stopping an opponent’s top forwards. The Vancouver D-men certainly have a difficult task ahead of them, but after handling the likes of Thornton, Marleau, Kane and Toews; how difficult could the Bruins’ top line be?

David Krejci might be playing the best hockey of his young career at an all-too critical time. With sixteen points and nine goals in the past two series, the B’s number one pivot has staked a claim to the playoff goal lead, and is closing in on his regular-season total of thirteen…in 75 games. He’s scored more game-winners than anyone else this postseason with four. Nathan Horton has been a wonderful story, accumulating an impressive line of 8-9-17 with three game-winners—including two overtime scores and two game-seven series clinchers (as the first player in NHL history to accomplish this). He’s defined himself as a player who performs in the clutch seems like a steal after being acquired in the offseason for Dennis Wideman and a 2010 first. Milan Lucic has had modest production compared to his line-mates with only three goals and nine points, but his physical play and seemingly indomitable will has inspired his teammates and made up for his meager scoreline. It will be curious to see how this will all play out—Hamhuis and Bieksa are not undersized by any standards, but Horton and Lucic are experts at using their size to initiate the cycle and maintain puck control. I don’t know how long Krejci and Horton will be able to keep up their torrid pace, and they might be going up against some excellent defensive forwards, but you have to imagine the B’s will hold the edge in this matchup. Moderate Advantage – Boston

Marchand-Bergeron-Recchi vs. Edler-Ehrhoff

This projects to be another situation where Vancouver is evidently superior., this is a devastating pair of puck moving, intelligent defensemen. While not the most physical pair, both have the capacity to play with an edge and win defensive battles. Boston’s second line forwards saw a significant dip in production during the Eastern Conference Finals, totaling three goals combined. Mark Recchi hasn’t sniffed the scoresheet since the Conference Semifinals. Bergeron and Marchand have been productive otherwise, with ten goals and twenty-seven points between them. Aside from Manny Malhotra, Bergeron significantly outclasses all other pivots in this series at the dot, and he’ll need to continue to provide excellent defense and zone-control with his linemates if they continue to fail to produce. With the offensive potency of the Canuck d-men, Vancouver must be expected to win this battle, but I never count out Bergeron. Moderate Advantage – Boston

Ryder-Kelly-Seguin vs. Salo-Ballard/Tanev/Rome/Alberts

If the Bruins are to win this series, they’re going to need their secondary scoring to step up. Their third line projects to be a far more effective offensive threat than Vancouver’s. What remains to be seen is if the myriad defenseman who could fill the ‘Nucks’ final pairing. Christian Ehrhoff and Keith Ballard are the pair I believe will end up filling those slots, if Ehrhoff has indeed recovered from a shoulder injury he suffered against San Jose… but Aaron Rome is an equally plausible replacement if he’s healthy. Ehrhoff is one of the leaders in playoff production from the point, but none of the others are especially talented blue-line scorers, but they are all strong defensemen to fill the number 6 slot.

Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder have each put up eleven points, which is solid production from lower-line players. Tyler Seguin’s six point outburst in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals made him an instant superhero in the Boston Hockey community, but while his point totals haven’t increased in five games, his play has been nothing short of excellent, earning nearly fifteen minutes of ice time during game seven. He will have to score, along with his linemates if the Bruins have optimism for a Cup victory. Despite the challenges, I feel the Bruins will come out on top in this matchup, Seguin will push the Canuck defense and create plenty of opportunities. Moderate Advantage – Boston

Paille/Thornton-Campbell-Peverley vs. Bolduc-Hodgson/Malhotra-Glass

Without Thornton, this line’s advantage in physicality is lessened, but their speed and offensive capabilities are more than a match for Vancouver’s fourth liners. If Manny Malhotra comes back, it gives Vancouver a dominant faceoff man to compete with Bergeron…other than that the ‘Nucks don’t come close to matching up with Boston here. Don’t expect either fourth line to pay major minutes, but Boston’s will get more playtime and be more productive. Significant Advantage – Boston

Vancouver PP vs. Boston PK

Just like the series with Tampa, Boston’s PK finds itself up against a dominant powerplay anchored by an extremely talented first unit. The powerplay is Vancouver’s bread and butter, 35% of their offense has come off the PP during this postseason. The Bruins managed to play decently against an equally strong PP in Tampa except for a one-game outburst. Vancouver’s power play numbers are somewhat inflated due to having the fortune of three 5-on-3 goals and facing the 24th and 25th worst regular-season penalty kills in San Jose and Chicago (whereas Tampa had succeeded against the 1st and 2nd best PKs before meeting Boston). The Bruins are a superior 5-on-5 team and must resort to being disciplined to prevent the Canucks from utilizing their most dangerous weapon, but there is no doubt who owns the edge. Significant Advantage – Vancouver

Boston PP vs. Vancouver PK

The Bruins fortunes on the powerplay are positioned to turn for the better with the improved play of Tomas Kaberle and the fact that Vancouver’s postseason penalty kill is the worst they’ve faced. If the Canucks play sloppily and give the B’s many early opportunities to break out of their PP slump, the Bruins could turn it around. However, at this point it’s a safe bet to assume Vancouver will be able to at worst minimize the damage Boston could manage with the man advantage. Expect at least a few goals from the B’s but it would be truly shocking to see their powerplay flourish in the Cup Finals after so many problems. Moderate Advantage – Vancouver

Tim Thomas vs Roberto Luongo

This series is certainly setting up as a goaltender battle for the ages. Two of the most skilled goalies of the past decade (and 2 of the 3 Vezina finalists this year) will duke it out for all the marbles. Because the balance of talent in the teams’ skaters so significantly favors Vancouver, if Luongo minimizes his mistakes, many believe the Canucks are a shoo-in for the championship. On the other hand, Boston’s inconsistently dazzling Thomas must be excellent for the Bruins to have a chance. Their significantly contrasting styles can be over-simplified as size, athleticism and method (Luongo) vs. agility, aggressiveness and drive (Thomas). In a seven-game series, give me the goalie whose desire and resolute will to be victorious trumps precision of form. Thomas is my guy here, by a hair. For the Bruins to win, he’ll need to play the best hockey of his life. Slight Advantage – Boston


The Bruins are largely without injury, if you don’t count Marc Savard at this point (and no one really does, sorry Marc). Steven Kampfer is supposedly at or nearly- ready to play following a late-season leg injury. However it is unlikely that he will be called upon unless more than one Bruins defender goes down. Vancouver, on the other hand has several defenders coming back from injuries that cost them significant playing time in the San Jose series. Aaron Rome and Christian Ehrhoff will likely be available for game one. Winger Mikael Samuelsson is out for the season following surgery to fix an abdominal/sports hernia issue. In a surprise announcement, injured center Manny Malhotra has been cleared to play following his nearly miraculous recovery from a horrific eye injury suffered towards the end of the regular season. Malhotra gives the Canucks more strength down the middle and a devastating weapon at the faceoff dot. Still, Boston’s lack of any injuries to their starting lineup gives them a slight edge but Malhotra’s amazingly rapid recovery and return will give the Canucks a significant morale boost. Slight Advantage – Vancouver


Cup coaches Alain Vigneault and Claude Julien share much personal history: They were both head coaches of the Q’s Hull Olympiques, were teammates on the minor-league Salt Lake Golden Eagles, and most recently were both Head Coaches of the NHL’s Canadiens. This is the first time in the history of the NHL that two French-Canadiens have skippered both franchises heading to the Cup Finals. Both coaches stress defensive responsibility but Alain is regarded as a much more talented offensive and special-teams mind. However, with the pressure squarely on Vigneault whose team was expected (perhaps demanded) to get this far, Claude can focus on managing matchups and coming up with an effective strategy to counter the powerful Canucks. Slight Advantage — Boston


Vancouver native son, Milan Lucic, is returning to the city where he is so fondly remembered for helping the WHLs Vancouver Giants win their most recent Memorial Cup title in 2007. While his postseason has been far from stellar and his enemy combatant status might make him a villain to some Nuck Heads, most in Vancouver still recall “The Shift” and his three years there with high regard.

Both the Canucks and the Bruins are among the NHL’s most championship starved franchises, with the Canucks having not won a Cup since their inception in 1970 and the Bruins having failed to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup since their 1972 championship season. Both Boston and Vancouver are cities eager to see a return for sport’s greatest trophy.

The pressure is certainly on Vancouver, owners of the 2011 President’s Trophy, with the best record in the regular season, whereas few pundits picked Boston to make it to the third round, let alone contend for the franchise’s sixth Stanley Cup. Vancouver has the added pressure of trying to become the first Canadian franchise to win the Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. With the Sedin twins playing more like the Art Ross trophy winners they were during the past two NHL regular seasons and embattled goaltender Roberto Luongo returning to the form that earned him a spot as one of the Vezina Trophy finalists and not the hapless netminder we saw in Vancouver’s first-round series versus Chicago. The Canucks’ talent for and willingness to utilize the dive against a physically imposing Boston team may give them opportunities on the PP that could shift the balance of the Finals. Slight Advantage — Vancouver


There are those out there in hockeyland, analysts whose acumen far exceed my own, who say this series will not make it past game five and that Vancouver’s potent offense and daunting special-teams play will be too much for the Bruins, who will be quickly overpowered. However, the Claude Julien-era Bruins have never lost a playoff series in fewer than seven games despite talent mismatches which greatly exceeded any we will see in this series. There is no question that Vancouver possesses the three most dangerous offensive talents in this series, and that their powerplay prowess might be too much for the B’s to handle. I see matchups the Bruins can exploit, like their considerable size mismatch on the first line and their powerful defensive pair of Chara and Seidenberg may be able to manhandle the Sedins enough to mitigate their outstanding abilities. The fact that they are considerable underdogs might actually feed into the Bruins’ perception that they’re being disrespected and propel them with passion to a series victory.

All things considered I think we’re in for a surprise. I anticipate Boston dropping the first two in Vancouver on the backs of the ‘Nucks vaunted man advantage. The Bruins will ride an increasingly unbeatable Tim Thomas for two wins at home, sending the series back to British Colombia knotted at two games apiece. A third and final OT winner from Nathan Horton will put the B’s one win away headed back to Beantown. Tim Thomas will rise to the occasion in game six, stopping all shots faced for his second shutout of the series (and fourth of the postseason) to secure the Stanley Cup for the Boston Bruins. Thomas’ performances will earn him the Conn Smythe Trophy as Boston beats Vancouver 4 games to 2.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ju-B-lation! Boston Wins Game 7, On to Cup Finals!

Jubilation coursed through TD Garden as the hometown Boston Bruins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in game seven, allowing them to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in more than 20 years. The Bruins will now head to Vancouver with four victories separating them from the Stanley Cup. The Lightning are headed home to think about what might have been. Nathan Horton scored the game-winner for Boston late in the third and Tim Thomas stopped 24 Tampa shots for his second shutout of the series. Dwayne Roloson was nearly perfect for the Bolts, stopping 37 out of 38 to give Tampa an excellent chance to win.

Tim Thomas looked good early, making some scrambly saves in defense of the scoreless tie. Both teams looked solid in the offensive zone and sought to keep the pressure up with some timely pinches and good cycling play. With around five minutes to go in the period, Rich Peverley sprung Milan Lucic on a break-away with a delicate and deft leading pass. Lucic’s attempt was denied as Roloson closed down his five-hole. Nathan Horton was noticeably absent from the Bruins bench late in the first following a hit by Nate Thompson. Despite several good chances, the B’s and Bolts went to their respective locker rooms knotted at nil.

Horton was back for the Bruins in period two. Both teams gave the impression of having much more tentative energy, as they seemed to realize that one small mistake could mean the game – and season. Unfortunately Steven Stamkos was the recipient of a frightening play, as he took a Johnny Boychuk slapper off his face, sending him bloodily rushing to the locker room for repairs. As if channeling some old-school hockey toughness Stamkos was back on the ice within a few minutes sporting a full cage and a giant gash on his nose. Toward the end of forty, both teams started getting good chances, but great netminding and some timely blocks kept the score even at zero through two periods of play.

Roloson and Thomas were a combined 46-for-46 through the second. With no penalties called in the first 40, the game was the first postseason match since 1993 to go without a penalty through two periods.

With the urgency level in both the B’s and the Lightning at an exceptionally high level they battled it out hard with an eye on the clock to start the third period. The Bruins appeared to own the pace, but tied at zero, knew they would need to act as the instruments of their own fate. Twelve minutes in, Nathan Horton was the recipient of great passes from David Krejci and Andrew Ference on the rush, tapping it past Tampa netminder Dwayne Roloson to send the TD Garden crowd into an absolute frenzy and giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead. With a chance to play for the Cup within their sights, the B’s clamped down and went into a ‘prevent’ defense. Needing a goal to force overtime, the Bolts started pressing – which played right into the defensive designs of the Bruins. Seemingly incapable of gaining clean entries into the offensive zone, Tampa was unable to successfully pull Roloson until well under a minute to go and the B’s retained puck possession and ran out the clock, assuring the conference championship and a date with the Canucks in the Finals.

The B’s and the Garden crowd erupted in euphoric celebration when the clock ticked to zero, and the Bruins mobbed Thomas. The teams exchanged handshakes and Thomas and his buddy and former Vermont Catamount teammate, Martin St. Louis shared an emotional embrace. Afterwards, Thomas acknowledged how difficult it was to face his friend and competitor. Afterwards, the deputy commissioner called B’s captain Zdeno Chara over to receive the Prince of Wales Trophy as the Eastern Conference Champion. Complying with tradition (or superstition), Big Z politely declined to touch the trophy but instead, in a great show of camaraderie, called over his teammates for pictures surrounding the award.

Nathan Horton scored his third game-winning goal of this postseason, and in doing so became the first player in the history of the NHL to score the game-winning goal in two game sevens in one playoff season. The game was historic in another way, according to the NHL Network; it was the first penalty-free playoff game since 1953 (58 years). It was the 100th game of the season for both teams, who had identical regular season and postseason records going into game seven. The Bruins continued their dominance of the dot, winning 35 of 61 draws (57.4%), marked by solid performances from Patrice Bergeron (65.2%) and David Krejci (82.4%).

Just euphoria here from a B's fan. Everyone stepped up tonight, no slackers on the team. Seguin looked amazing and got fifteen minutes of ice time. Horton has the heart of a champion (and secured my belief that he'll score at least 30-30-60 next year), Timmy has the heart of a champion! Really wonderful moment to see the entire team celebrating around the Prince of Wales trophy. I'm ecstatic... gonna have a hard time going to sleep now.

GO B's!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bruins WIN! Updates from Period Three!

Amazing game. Both teams showing incredible poise and great heart. Anyone's game now. Who's going to be the hero, who's going to be the goat? Both goalies have played like champions. Can't complain about a game like this.

Both teams used their timeouts in relatively rapid fashion due to tired players icing the puck.

BRUINS 1-0: Nathan Horton from David Krejci and Andrew Ference. Seven minutes to Vancouver! Great passes from Krejci and Ference on the rush, with Horton tapping it past Dwayne Roloson to send the TD Garden crowd into a frenzy.

Bruins beginning to go into their "Prevent" defense. Really frustrating the Tampa squad right now....

Roloson is out of the net 0:45 to offside might bring him back in!

Bruins WIN --- HEADIN TO B.C.!

Forty Minutes to Go? Updates from Game 7

Nathan Horton is back on the B's bench following leaving the first period with an unspecified injury or equipment issue.... good news for the Bruins.

Some scary moments, as Seidenberg and Bergeron combine to hold of a vacant side of the net with Thomas unsure of where the puck was headed. Good bit of luck, as Lecavalier was waiting.

Stamkos took a Boychuk slapper off the face/visor and had to run off for significant repairs. Stamkos was back on the ice within a few minutes sporting a full cage and a giant gash on his nose.

Decent back-and forth play with some scary moments for both sides. Haven't seen many odd-man rushes at this point, with both teams playing tenatively in the neutral zone, not wanting to give up the mistake that could affect the balance of the game. No penalties so far fifteen minutes into period two.

Great chances at both ends, with both defenses and goalies making timely plays to keep the score knotted at zero through forty minutes of play. Mark Recchi nearly put the B's on top twice but the right pad of Dwayne Roloson denied him both times.

So far, all four Bruins lines look great, and we're witnessing some great performances from Peverley, Seguin, and the top-two lines.

Sixty Minutes from Destiny?

Game Seven from Boston tonight, with both teams looking to go up early.

Bruins looking good in the offensive zone, with some consistent pressure, but having an equally difficult time getting out of their own zone. Thomas looking at his scrambly best negating some early opportunities from Tampa. Seidenberg made an incredible open-ice hit on St. Louis to get the crowd into it.

Julien seems to be double-shifting both the Krejci and Bergeron lines.

Tyler Seguin showing his drive with a couple of near-miss chances. With around five minutes to go in the first, Rich Peverley with a wonderful leading pass to send Milan Lucic in all alone on Roloson. Roloson shuts Lucic's fivehole try down.

Nathan Horton not on the bench late in the first after getting hit by Nate Thompson. No word on this yet.

Krejci's Trick, Kaberle, Faceoffs and Game 7 Predictions

A quick glance at the Bruins’ stat lines heading into game seven and one number shocked me – 35:33 – which denotes the production value of one Tomas Kaberle, leading all Bruins defenseman. Now, before you demand my head be set on a pike and my limbs be sent to the four corners of the empire, I’m not suggesting he’s played like the Kaberle we thought we were getting when we sent Colborne and picks to Brian Burke in February. I am suggesting that since his points per time on ice is better than any postseason defenseman with more than six points not named Lindstrom, Boyle or Ehrhoff, we should probably reconsider all of these “Bench Kaberle” ideas. The guy has the fifth-highest plus/minus rating among playoff D-men while being tied with David Krejci for (the admittedly meager) team lead in powerplay points….Again, not saying we should resign him (we shouldn’t unless the price is waaaay right), just ease off the calls for Kampfer, k?

David Krejci’s hat trick Wednesday in Tampa was the first hat trick recorded by a Boston Bruin in over twenty years. On April 5, 1991 Cam Neely scored in triplicate in game two of the 1991 Adams Division Semifinals versus the Hartford Whalers.

In between the two hat tricks was a span of 142 B’s playoff games without a player registering three in the goal column, a considerable drought. Krejci’s hat trick was also significant in that it was only the third hat-trick this season where the team with the player scoring three lost in regulation. The record of teams with a hat-trick this season was 73-3-2. Krejci also has reached the distinction of being the first Bruin to put up double figures in goals during the Stanley Cup Playoffs since Neely had 16 back in that 1991 season. If DK manages to keep up this pace and the Bruins reach the finals, he could be the first Bruin to lead the postseason in goal scoring since the incomparable Bobby Schmautz put up eleven (to go with one lonely assist) to lead the NHL in postseason G’s in 1977.

Patrice Bergeron’s bad night in the faceoff dot (9 out of 19) on Wednesday dropped his faceoff percentage down to 62.1%. He leads every other faceoff taker still alive in the playoffs by at least five percent. The Bruins need that faceoff edge to maximize their possession-play game plan, and given Bergy’s ability on the draw, he’s got to come through big for the B’s for them to win game seven. In the B’s six losses this postseason, they’ve been beaten at the dot four times. When the Bruins win the faceoff battles with greater frequency than their opponents, they’ve won seven out of nine.

Who needs to step up in game seven?

For Tampa: Ryan Malone- He’s an emotional and physical leader of this club who hasn’t produced at his expected level this postseason (3-3-6). He certainly has it in him – he put up 16 points in the 07-08 postseason – but he must show more focus than the player who leads the playoffs in minor penalties. Malone can be a force when he’s playing smart, and getting him going will only further activate his talented linemates: Stamkos and St. Louis.

For Boston: Tim Thomas – I struggled with this choice, (Lucic and Recchi were my other candidates) but decided in the end to back the man who I called the unequivocally better goaltender in my preview of the B’s-Bolts series. If he doesn’t play like the best goaltender on the planet, the Bruins don’t make it past the Canadiens in round one and they certainly don’t sweep the Flyers in round two. Because the B’s play a more deliberate, patient style of play and lack the top-end offensive talent Tampa possesses, they need their goaltender to be better than good; they need him to be superhuman. If Thomas is anything less than the spectacular goalie we saw so much of this year, expect to see Vincent Lecavalier and not Big Z, politely refuse to hoist the Prince of Wales Trophy in Boston tonight.

Prediction time:

The last time the Bruins won a playoff series in seven games from a team other than Les Habitants was 1992, when the B’s outlasted the Buffalo Sabres. Don’t expect a low-scoring affair, as both teams offenses have ruled the day in this series – combining for an impressive 41 goals split nearly evenly (20 for Boston and 21 for Tampa) – and neither goaltender expected to start has been especially brilliant in recent play. If the game is a track meet, the odds favor Tampa, so expect the Bruins to try and keep the pace deliberate through two periods. The third will be a race to the buzzer, but don’t expect overtime—the battle will be won within 60. In the end, the Bruins will hold off a late frenzied push from Tampa for a 4-3 victory and a date with Vancouver.

Three Stars of Game Seven:

3. St. Louis (3 assists)

2. Seguin (1G, 1A)

1. Lucic (2 goals)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Boston Bruins 2011 Draft Big Board

The Boston Bruins are in the enviable position of selecting in the top-10 for the second consecutive year despite being a Stanley Cup contender each of the two seasons. While last year’s selection of Tyler Seguin with the second overall pick was seemingly inevitable, the Bruins will go into this draft with a significantly larger first-round big board! While I don’t profess to be psychic I’ll take a stab at the potential picks the B’s might target in the first round. The following list is not a mock draft, but rather my opinion on which draft-eligible prospects the Bruins would prefer to select in the draft, in descending order from least desirable to most desirable talents. Enjoy!

Numbers 16-20, the Mark Stuart Division

There is an outside chance that the Bruins trade down from the ninth pick if the guy they wanted isn’t available and they’re not much higher on Hamilton, Zibanejad or Strome (or whoever falls to ninth) than the players available in the high teens and twenties. I wouldn’t bet on it unless a team makes a ludicrous offer.

20. Jamie Oleksiak, D (Northeastern, H-EAST) – Big, big defenseman clocking in at 6’7 and 240lbs. Oleksiak will undoubtedly make it to the NHL because of his physical tools. If the Bruins think he has more upside and offensive potential than being a huge and mobile shutdown defender, I could see them trading with Edmonton at 19 to try to pick him up.

19. Boone Jenner, C (Oshawa, OHL) – Great hockey sense and work ethic from this youngster make him one of the more difficult to gauge players at the draft. On the one hand, he’s not an overtly talented skater or dazzling with the puck, but on the other, he’s one of those guys who is a force on the ice with what’s been described as an incredible will to win. If the B’s trade down below 20 (however unlikely that prospect is) he’s one of a few players that will be on their radar. If he’s around at 40, I’d be extremely shocked if the Bruins didn’t gobble him up.

18. Duncan Siemens, D (Saskatoon, WHL) – Duncan is a tough and strong defensive d-man prototype who might have a decent bit of offensive upside. While I love his playstyle and willingness to drop his gloves to protect teammates, I don’t like drafting defense-first players in the first two thirds of the first round, if they drop past 15, the Bruins might look at this low-risk selection who would immediately shore up the Bruins defensive prospect pool.

17. Matt Puempel, LW (Peterborough, OHL) – A guy I’ve liked for the Bruins since before the season, Puempel has a professional shot and projects to be a sniping winger at the next level, something Boston sorely wants though he’s probably a year or more away. Regardless, two consecutive thirty-plus goal seasons puts him in a lot of teams sights and he could go anywhere from eleventh to twenty-fifth.

16. Jonas Brodin, D (Farjestads BK, SEL) – I rarely hear the word ‘cerebral’ used when describing young players, but I’ve heard it twice in descriptions of Swedish blueliner Jonas Brodin. He may not be the most dynamic player, but he’s an effective puck mover who is undoubtedly on the Bruins’ radar. Since he’s already playing against men for Farjestads BK in the Swedish Elite League he could be a very desirable commodity come draft day.

Numbers 11-15 the Stephane Quintal Division

All these guys are potentially on the Bruins’ radar for the ninth overall, and while none of them stand out as selections the Bruins will call to the podium in June, if a minor trade does happen and the B’s move down a few spots, they are all names you should know. If they really like Beaulieu (which is a distinct possibility), but know he’ll be available down the line, they’ll start fielding offers for #9.

15. Mark Scheifele, C (Barrie, OHL) – Tall and lanky at 6’3, 175, Scheifele was a revelation this year, skyrocketing up draft boards across the continent. Scoring 77 points in 66 games for a bad Barrie club no doubt raised his stock even more. Good playmaking ability and (eventually) good size make him a relatively safe pick, though he could just as easily fall into the early second round. If the Bruins drop into the early teens, they will probably have their eyes on someone else and would trade down further before taking Scheifele.

14. Brandon Saad, F (Saginaw, OHL) – Saad came into this year as one of the most highly-touted draft eligibles in the entire OHL, however a mediocre season has scouts a bit worried. He’s got the physical ability and size to grow into a solid power forward and certainly has a lot of potential value in the mid and late first-round.

13. Sven Bartschi F (Portland, WHL) – Talented shoot-first forward who the Bruins might even tab at 9 if they like him enough. His skating is mediocre and he acts like more of a perimeter player at times, but his upside is undeniable. He could break into the top-10 (as fellow LFHR analyst Bill Ladd has suggested) which could give the Bruins a shot at one of the “Elite Eight”.

12. Mark McNeill, C (Prince Albert, WHL) – McNeill is a big, strong pivot who opened eyes with his 80-point outburst this season with the Raiders. With great defensive play and a willingness to drop the gloves (and good pugilistic ability) he has the feel of a Bruin-type player. I could certainly see the B’s making a strong play for this talented and tough forward if they drop out of the top ten, or in the unlikely chance that he becomes available after pick twenty.

11. Nathan Beaulieu, D (Saint John, QMJHL) – Sea Dog who is a decent-sized defender with good offensive potential and excellent skating game. If Hamilton, Murphy and Larsson are off the board at nine, the Bruins will likely consider this nicely blended version of their abilities. He brings solid physical play, intelligent defending and displays a significant amount of offensive talent. Playing on such a potent and capable team might suggest he’s overrated at fifth overall in Central Scouting’s North American rankings. But considering his effectiveness in nearly all aspects of the game, I would argue that he’s a steal anywhere outside the top-10.

Numbers 7-10, the Sergei Samsonov Division

Two of these four will be available at ninth overall unless some major surprises take place in the top-eight. Worst case scenario for the Bruins is that they will have to decide between Scandinavian Studs Zibanejad and Armia, or trading back for value… not a bad scenario at all.

10. Joel Armia, RW (Porin Assat, SM-Liiga) – Skilled Finn plays a gritty style and will grow into his 6’4 frame, making him a strong contender for the Bruins’ selection at 9th overall. His great shot and skilled hands combined with his decent speed (although it seems he’s more of a north-south skater than east-west) make him a can’t-miss prospect.

9. Mika Zibanejad, F (Djurgarden, SEL) – As the consensus builds for his inclusion in the group of eight draft eligible players at the top of the draft, the Iranian-Finn has become one of the most exciting prospects. With his excellent puck handling, solid size, good shot and skating and amazing passion for the game, he has scouts drooling. His amazing move 1-on-1 against fellow 2011 prospect Adam Larsson lit up the blogosphere and brought him even further up the charts. There’s a decent chance he goes as high as fifth to the Isles, but if he falls to ninth, the Bruins will happily take him and run.

8. Dougie Hamilton, D (Niagara, OHL) – While I may not be as high on him as most prospect-watchers, I don’t deny Hamilton’s outstanding abilities and excellent potential. At his very worst, this kid is a dependable second-pairing guy with great size who plays sound two-way defense. However, in my opinion, he just doesn’t offer the high-end potential that every player ahead of him on this list provides (and a few after him for that matter). Still, if he falls to ninth, don’t be surprised if the Bruins snatch him up and take this low-risk 6’4 defender.

7. Ryan Strome, C (Niagara, OHL) – Strome is an excellent playmaker who has the vision to be a solid 1C at the next level. Not a physical player, but has decent size at 6’0 and 183. He might sneak into the top-five but don’t anticipate him going very high unless Florida GM Dave Tallon is in love with him as FLA’s center for the future. Simultaneously, I’d be surprised if he fell past Atlanta at seven… but if he does, bet on him donning a Bruins jersey at the draft.

Numbers 6-3, the Glen Wesley Division

If the B’s want any of these players to pull on a Black and Gold sweater come June, they’ll have to be lucky or move into the top-five via the trade. Nugent-Hopkins is likely going first overall, so if he’s their guy, anticipate the B’s trying to swing a deal with Edmonton (as extremely unlikely as it is…). Many people (including myself) want to see the Bruins go hard after Ryan Murphy, but though there is a chance he will fall to ninth, it is in no way a certainty.

6. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C (Red Deer, WHL) – The WHL’s premier 2011 draft eligible is this far down my list for a number of reasons. Thinking practically, there would be 3 to 4 centers ahead of him at the start of the 2011-12 season, all but one of whom are under contract for at least one following year. Additionally, his weight worries me. As one of the lightest top prospects in memory (if not the lightest) he has a lot of filling out to do, which is always a concern. Furthermore, some have described him as a perimeter player whose production is heavily weighted towards the powerplay. All that being said, RNH is arguably the most talented offensive prospect in the draft with excellent vision, off-the-charts playmaking ability and masterful hands. Any team looking to swing for the fences by selecting Nugent-Hopkins will have to do business with Edmonton who is likely salivating at drafting another talented forward. If the B’s want him badly, they will likely have to first trade into the top five (as EDM won’t be amenable to dropping much lower than third).

5. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW (Saint John, QMJHL) – A world-class talent, Huberdeau won’t likely fall past sixth and could go as high as second to the Avalanche. Huberdeau was projected in the early second round by Red Line Report as recently as this past August, but has risen due to his outstanding production – 43g, 105p. Pegged as a playmaker, his ability to score has led to his burgeoning value. If the B’s move up, he’s a great option, but I don’t see them targeting him if they decide to trade into the top-five.

4. Sean Couturier, F (Drummondville, QMJHL) – Big, talented forward who was at several points this season, the de facto top projected player by several scouting organizations. Despite falling out of the top spot, Couturier has a lot to offer as a top-5 and certainly a top-10 pick. Despite his relatively poor skating, he will pique the interest of many a GM who sees that his size and skillset are a rare find. His excellent playmaking and scoring abilities combined with intelligent 2-way play make him an incredible value anywhere outside the top-three. There is a slim chance that his stock has fallen enough to make him available even at seven or eight, but if he does get to the Bruins at nine, I don’t expect to see any deliberation in the Bruins war-room besides how his name is pronounced. Expect him to be gone by pick seven, and as early as Florida at three (though I believe he’s one of three players with an outside shot at going #1 overall).

3. Ryan Murphy, D (Kitchener, OHL) – Murphy is one of the most divisive potential draftees in all of hockey. After being an occasionally dominating force from the blue-line, producing 79 points in 63 games for the Rangers this year, many argued he was the ‘best player available’, some suggesting that he was talented enough to be selected with the first overall pick. His lack of elite size and sometimes inconsistent defensive decision-making make him a risky prospect to project. Despite the risk in drafting a defenseman of short stature highly; his puck skills (perhaps the equal of Nugent-Hopkins), shooting and high-end mobility make him difficult to pass up. In the somewhat unlikely chance he falls to ninth the Bruins will be sure to thank Brian Burke as they head to the podium. He’s projected all over the first half of the draft board, but don’t anticipate him going before NJ at 4th or after Boston. If he’s the Bruins’ guy, I implore Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to try to make a move to get him: the Devils, Islanders and Blue Jackets could all be interested in picking him up

Numbers 1-2, the Tyler Seguin Division

These are the two players the Bruins would grab first if available. Both have relatively low risk factors and project to be standouts at the next level. To acquire either, the Bruins would likely have to trade into the top-three picks in the upcoming 2011 draft.

2. Gabriel Landeskog, F (Kitchener, OHL) – This Super Swede has all the makings of a future NHL-captain, excellent player, excellent work ethic, and excellent leadership. At 6’1, 205, he’s got the size to be a power-forward and has a nose for the net, scoring 36 times during the 2011 OHL season. His brilliant two-way play, outstanding effort and hockey sense make him a very safe pick for anyone in the top-five. If he falls, it will be because his upside is not quite as high as some of the others on this list. There’s virtually no scenario that sees him falling beyond sixth and if he drops beyond fifth I’ll be surprised. I think the Bruins want him badly but will have to pay through the nose to get to where he’s available.

1. Adam Larsson, D (Skelleftea, SEL) – Of all the players in the draft, Larsson has one of the highest upsides with a very low. Solid offensive production at the point is to be expected. He has the size and skill to play in the NHL today, especially after performing solidly in two seasons versus men in the Swedish Elite League. Worst case scenario projects him as a #2 d with good puck moving capabilities, at best he could be a perennial All-Star defender who excels in the defensive, offensive and transition games. He is gone if he drops to fourth, as NJ will spring to grab their new franchise defenseman. Of all players not named Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, he is the most likely to go #1 overall to Edmonton. I have no doubts that the Bruins want him and would likely prefer him to Murphy simply because unlike Murphy, his chance of being a washout is so low.

Winnepeg's Back, Who's Next?

With the seemingly imminent relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, here’s a quick look at some of the most intriguing sites for future NHL relocation/expansion, ranked from most to least deserving. Included in the descriptions are my estimations of the region’s chance at getting a team, and the most likely arrival time of the potential NHL franchise.

1. Quebec City – Bigger metro population than Winnipeg, long history of hockey and the city is definitely chomping at the bit to get back into the NHL. They have a population which could support a team, as a slightly bigger city than Winnipeg. From the buzz I hear from sources around the NHL it’s highly likely that the next team relocated will be heading north of the border. Communications company Quebecor recently put up a significant chunk of dough for a new stadium with the hope of luring a NHL franchise to Quebec City ($200 million for future naming and stadium operation rights). There are significant obstacles to overcome before the Nordiques return, but anticipate this happening in relative short order. CHANCE OF HAPPENING 75-90%; MOST LIKELY ETA: 2013

2. Hartford/Southern New England—Hartford is the 33rd most populous combined statistical area in the US and the 45th most populous metropolitan area in the US. Hartford is probably the city in Southern New England most likely to get a team, given the history of the Whalers, the fact that it lies just outside the metropolitan areas of both Boston and New York, and its significant (if unimpressive) population. There is a considerable movement in the area to see the Whale return. Other alternatives in New England include Providence (larger pop. than Hartford but would get more protestations from the Bruins), Worcester (like Providence but even less alluring) and Portland, ME (population equivalent to Winnipeg and/or Quebec with decidedly less hockey-rabidity). CHANCE 30-40%; ETA: 2016

3. Seattle – Home of the first ever American club to win the Stanley Cup (the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917), home of the Seattle Thunderbirds WHL franchise and a history of several other whl franchises and members of the PCHA, which was a major professional hockey circuit involving hockey forefather Lester Patrick among others. Despite its proximity to the Canucks, Seattle is a major city (12th CSA and 15th MSA) which could readily support a NHL franchise in my opinion, particularly with the absence of a NBA franchise and the relative mediocrity of the Mariners and Seahawks. But with little public incentive to build a hockey-friendly arena, America’s best bet for successful hockey expansion is a long way off. CHANCE 75-85%; ETA: 2021

4. Milwaukee – Milwaukee isn’t a huge city, but as the 27th CSA, 39th MSA they more than meet the minimum requirements. Wisconsin has a rich collegiate and high school hockey history, and the AHL’s Milwaukkee Admirals averaged a respectable 6,000+ fans during the 09-10 season, a very respectable number. The major impediment to a team coming to Wisconsin is the veritably ancient Bradley Center, which would need to be significantly renovated or replaced to lure a franchise to the Badger State. CHANCE 20-30%; ETA: 2025

5. Portland, Oregon – Like Seattle, has a long and rich hockey history including former membership in the PCHA, the Portland Rosebuds were a game away from the Stanley cup in 1916. The Portland Winterhawks of the WHL have been playing for over thirty years. With the Blazers’ recent ineptitude and no other professional sports franchises to compete with, it’s a nearly ideal situation in Oregon. Portland (20th MSA) isn’t quite as populous as Seattle, so I doubt it would receive a team ahead of them. The Rose Garden is already capable of hosting hockey, as the WHL’s Winterhawks are already tenants. CHANCE 10-20%; ETA: 2031

6. Hamilton/GTA –Tremendous hockey history and enough population to support two teams, only problem is getting the go-ahead from the Maple Leafs. Hamilton is the smallest city in Canada capable of supporting a NHL franchise, in my opinion. With a metro population just north of 650k, and potential territorial challenges from franchises in Buffalo and Toronto, Hamilton is anything but a sure thing. Another option for the NHL is to plant a second franchise within the Greater Toronto Area, a city that could without a doubt support a second team. I am completely in favor of putting another team into this hockey-hungry region, but it remains to be seen if the TMLs will allow it. CHANCE 50-60%; ETA: 2021

7. Atlanta – While the thought of two failed hockey franchises in Georgia’s capital would make any mogul seeking to bring a third to the Peach State think twice, I feel that within three decades, there will be an NHL team in this city. Atlanta has seen exactly two wins in playoff games, and it goes without question that neither the Flames nor the Thrashers achieved a single postseason series victory while in Hotlanta. If a franchise was willing to make the commitment to the region and was not marred by franchise in-fighting or mismanagement, the sport-loving people of ATL would surely support a team. With one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the US and Canada, Atlanta needs only a push in the right direction to become a thriving hockey-town. Don’t hold your breath as it will take a while. CHANCE 10-20%; ETA: 2036

8. Kansas City, MO – As the 22nd most populous combined statistical area and the 29th most populous metropolitan statistical area and a NHL-ready arena in the Sprint Center and its position, one would think that KC represents an ideal situation for the league. However, with a minimal history of professional and amateur hockey, a healthy NFL and resurgent MLB franchises, I feel that KC will likely remain the threat that ownership groups use to exact concessions from local governments and taxpayers and as an also-ran in expansion fights. The Kansas City Scouts drew just over 8000 fans per game during their two-season history. If they are granted a NHL team, expect it to happen sooner than later, while the Sprint Center is under a decade old. CHANCE 10-20%; ETA: 2016

9. Houston – If the NHL is dead-set on trying to expand further in the Sunbelt, then Houston presents them with a good opportunity. It’s currently the largest metropolitan area in the US and Canada without a NHL franchise. The AHL’s Houston Aeros have received a consistent attendance of around 6,000 per game over the past five seasons, which would seem to indicate the presence of a decent hockey following in the fourth largest city in the US. While a NHL franchise would need to more than double that (and achieve success through a decent TV deal) it seems like awarding a team to Houston is not that far-fetched. I would think the feasibility studies alone would take at least half a decade, so don’t expect the Houston Colts any time soon. CHANCE 15-35%; ETA: 2021

10. Las Vegas – Big city with a professional sport vacuum, host of several NHL awards ceremonies. Potentially huge market for the NHL given the absence of major sports and the big money available here, combined with the fact that Vegas is one of the fastest growing big cities in the US – the metropolitan area growing by 40% in the past ten years alone. The city has little hockey history, including a current ECHL team and a former member of the now-defunct IHL and Nevada is a state not exactly known for its hockey appreciation. A new arena would need to be in the works if the NHL is to come to Sin City, but the MGM Grand Garden Arena could work as an interim rink if necessary. It’s by no means a sure bet, but then again, what is in Vegas? CHANCE 20-40%; ETA: 2020

Other Possibilities include: Indianapolis, IN; Cleveland, OH; Cincinnati, OH; Baltimore, MD; Sacramento, CA; San Francisco/Oakland, CA; London, Ont.; Salt Lake City, UT

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


This season, on more than one occasion, I’ve felt an irrational disdain – perhaps even a feverish animosity towards Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien. Some of his decisions leave me screaming at the television while others find me sunken into the couch, drained of all but enough energy to fire indirect curses at the team, its management and the divine visage that seemingly fails to shine on the Bruins. Seeking answers, I feel the need to make an objective analysis of coach Julien’s effectiveness in several key categories – the development of prospects, the effectiveness of strategy, the ability to motivate players, and results both individual and team. I want to know, is my animosity misplaced or should I enthusiastically join one of those HF Boards groups that vociferously advocates the sole precept: Fire Clode?

One can attribute the development of several key youngsters toward the Julien Regime in Boston, and several to his shorter stays in Montreal and New Jersey. Easily identifiable as Claude’s success stories are Phil Kessel, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Milan Lucic and to a lesser extent: Mark Stuart, Dennis Wideman, Blake Wheeler, Johnny Boychuk, Travis Zajac, Tomas Plekanec, Adam McQuaid, Mike Komisarek, Michael Ryder and even Zach Parise. Whew! Those (myself included) actively worrying about the development of young Tyler Seguin can take a deep breath; Julien’s record with fostering fledgling talent is more than satisfactory. It would be difficult to intelligently advocate that Seguin’s growth would be stunted by Julien’s mentorship. It remains to be seen if CJ can foster the growth of a superstar from bud to blossom, but we can rest assured that it won’t be ‘Clode’s’ fault if Tyler falters.

Claude’s shown himself to be a decent strategist, particularly on the defensive front. Over his eight-year head coaching career, he’s coached a top-five scoring defense four times, finishing an average of just over 8th in scoring defense throughout his career. Since taking over the Bruins the team has finished in the top three in scoring defense for each of the last three seasons, and over his tenure their average finish in that category has been better than fifth. His system of responsible defense, strong neutral-zone play and forcing the puck to the perimeter has made the Bruins’ D quite formidable. In terms of offense and special teams, Julien certainly comes up short, with only two career top ten offensive finishes and only one truly successful season on the PK (09-10). Adjustments seem to come slowly to the Julien regime, and whether or not it’s accurate, he’s been described as a rigid structuralist. While his teams’ powerplay struggles have achieved legendary status this postseason, one can’t fault Julien’s effort, as he’s rotated in fourteen of his twenty playoff skaters for significant time with the man advantage, and he’s used both the overload and the umbrella and demanded movement when their play has become too stationary.

Pundits sometimes struggle with Julien’s steadfast confidence in his system and the players who he believes in to methodically and passionately execute it. His trap is equal parts brain and heart, with his team executing best when they’re simultaneously cerebral and emotionally invested. It’s by no means a sexy system, it can be unequivocally tedious to watch – but the B’s don’t have the personnel to play a fast-break, aggressive offense. With some of the slowest defenders in the NHL, and perhaps one of the slower top-9s in the league, the trap gives them the best chance to play their own brand of physical, puck-possession hockey and win games.

There seems to be a mixed bag of opinions on CJ regarding his ability to motivate players. He Is very much a player-friendly coach, giving many struggling vets an opportunity to play through their issues and retain relatively consistent playtime (particularly during the regular season). He’s been known to use healthy scratches sparingly among his underperforming regulars and is perhaps loyal to a fault. It took Julien more than 170 consecutive games of Michael Ryder to try and motivate number 73 with a seat on the bench.

It’s this stirring loyalty that seems to evoke a similar emotion in his players. Said B’s alternate captain and veteran leader, Mark Recchi: “…he [Julien] was very composed…the guys rally around it [the coaching staff’s composure]….we believe in the coaching staff and they believe in us…” This is evocative of how a coach like Julien is equal parts infuriating and magnificent, when the going gets tough, CJ doesn’t try to radically alter the B’s gameplan or team makeup, he instead puts more emphasis on the execution of the gameplan in hand, trusting in his team’s ability to get it done.

This sort of even-keeled, reassuring faith can get the B’s into trouble, as they have the unfortunate habit of starting games off flat and getting down early, giving up the first goal in half of the games in this postseason, and likewise giving up at least the first goal in 40 of the 82 games during the 10-11 regular season. However, the Bruins have been one of the most successful teams when trailing early, winning half of these games during the postseason and at a successful .400 clip during the regular season. This again, speaks to the ability of CJ to motivate his team and vindicates the trust he has in them

The ‘failures’ of the 2009 and 2010 postseasons are certainly blemishes on Julien’s record, but each can be explained in large part as the results of (in 2009) a personnel and playstyle mismatch versus a fast, aggressive team who exploited Boston’s flaws on the breakout; and in 2010 an injury-laden Bruins (Sturm, Krejci, Seidenberg, McQuaid and a still-concussed Savard) fell apart in four straight games against the talented Flyers. Both instances should certainly temper the resolve of anyone planning on lauding Julien unduly, but lest we forget the other coaches to have ‘accomplished’ this ‘feat’ are Jack Adams (I think there might be an award named after him, or something), Joe Torre (terrible, terrible coach), and Marc Boileau (…nevermind, pretend I said Scotty Bowman or something).

As my fellow analyst and shadow puppetry enthusiast Bill Ladd notes, CJ has only lost a single playoff series in fewer than seven games in his coaching career (2004 with Montreal to the eventual Stanley Cup champs, Tampa). This alone indicates his ability to successfully motivate his teams to up their “compete level” to go toe-to-toe with any opponent they might face. In any case, as Behindthenet blogger and statistician Gabe Desjardins reports, random chance accounts for 38% of regular-season performance, a number only elevated by the short sample size of postseason hockey. While Julien’s motivational problems might account for some of his recent playoff issues, to lay the blame squarely at his feet is folly at best.

Ultimately, a coach is judged by two numbers: Wins, and Stanley Cup Championships. He is one of the NHL’s active coaching leaders in wins, point percentage and consecutive postseason appearances. As for Stanley Cups, we here at LFHR are crossing our fingers, knocking on wood and praying to any and all unholy spirits that will hear us so that Julien will join that club this June. Even if he doesn’t, it is remarkable that only six NHL-employed head coaches have won Cups as jefes (not counting Ken Hitchcock, Jacques Lemaire and Marc Crawford who may or may not seek and find employment this summer) and only the four most recent champs are still employed by the club they won with. There are several coaches of seemingly greater stature than Julien who’ve never won, like Ron Wilson, Jacques Martin and Lindy Ruff.

Claude Julien frustrates the hell out of me, both as a fan of the bruins and a passionate follower of the game of hockey. While I love that he espouses a physical and defensively responsible brand of hockey, I could do without hearing the term neutral zone trap again. Those of you who’ve heard me on air know that Julien’s staggering patience makes me irritably impatient. His unwavering loyalty to his players and decided refusal to make significant in-game adaptations is more than a bit maddening. I psychically plead with him to for goodness sake turn Seguin (among others) loose offensively in more circumstances, and wish to all that is holy that he would be just a teensy bit more aggressive in calling timeouts.

As you might guess, I’m not about to start a “Claude Julien Appreciation Thread.” Still, I would argue that Claude has done more with this modestly-talented team than anyone else I’ve previously mentioned (even Torre!) could have hoped to do and is now sitting one win away from a chance at the most revered trophy in all of sport. Truth be told, Bruins fans such as myself could do a lot worse than Clode, and we probably couldn’t do much better.