Bruins Alumni: Happy Birthday Tim Thomas

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(Photo Credit: Associated Press)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

Happy 46th Birthday To Boston Bruins Legend, Tim Thomas!

Thomas was born on April 15th, 1974, in Flint, MI, and was drafted by the now-defunct Quebec Nordiques in the ninth round (217 overall) of the National Hockey League Entry Draft in June of 1994. After graduating from Davison High School, he attended the University of Vermont from 1993-97.

The Catamounts went to the NCAA Tournament in both the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons. In addition to Thomas, their roster boasted future NHL players, Martin St Louis, and Eric Perrin. In 1996, they made it to the Frozen Four for the first time in school history before being eliminated by Colorado College. In 1997 they returned to the tournament but were eliminated by Denver, 6-3, in the Regional Quarterfinals. Thomas still holds the school’s single-season saves record with 1,079 stops during the 1996-97 season, and the four-year record with 3,950 stops.

Thomas would attend his first professional training camp in the Fall of 1997, with the Colorado Avalanche. Despite all the success and great statistics at Vermont, it seems that coaches and scouts did not view his unconventional, “helter-skelter” style of play as sustainable at the NHL level. He disagreed, and after a few minor league games in the IHL and ECHL, he found his way to the Finnish Liiga, where he played 18 regular-season games, with a 1.62 GAA and a .947 Save%. He continued his stellar performances during the playoffs with a 1.52 GAA and .926 Save% in nine postseason games.

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(Photo Credit: Matthew West Boston Herald)

The Michigan native would spend the next four seasons putting up very solid numbers in a variety of leagues across the world, including the AHL, IHL, SHL (Sweden), and the Liiga (Finland). In 2002, he signed with the Providence Bruins, and played in 35 games with the Baby B’s, putting up decent numbers (2.87, .906). He got into four games in Boston that year as well. The following season he would put up even better numbers in 43 games for Providence as their starter (1.84, .941). Unfortunately, his opportunity for an NHL job would have to wait yet again as the 2004-05 was lost to a lockout.

Undeterred, he would go back to Finland that year and put up ridiculous numbers playing for Jokerit. His 54 games, 1.58 GAA, and .946 Save% were all-league bests. Even more importantly, he did this while several NHL goalies were also playing in Finland. His statistics were better than established netminders like Tomas Vokoun, Dwayne Roloson, and fellow B’s goalie, Andrew Raycroft. It must have caught someone’s eye in the Bruins front office because the following year (2005-06), at the ripe old age of 31, Thomas finally got his chance to be an NHL starter. Over the next two seasons, Thomas would play in 104 games for Boston, and put up decent numbers for a team that was not very good, and failed to qualify for the playoffs both those years.

However, the real turning point in Thomas’ Bruins career would come in 2007-08, after the Bruins fired Dave Lewis, and replaced him with the more defensive-minded Claude Julien. In his first season under “Clode”, Thomas would play in 57 regular-season games (top 20) and had a .921 Save% (Top 10). The following season (2008-09), he would better those numbers in both the regular season and playoffs and take home the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. The unheralded goalie who could not get an NHL opportunity until after the age of 30 had reached the top of his profession.

That offseason, GM Mike O’Connell would make one of his shrewdest signings, extending Thomas and inking him to a four-year deal that would pay him a total of $20 million. It appeared as if things could not get any better for Thomas, but there would still be some bumps in the road for the reigning Vezina winner. He would put up good regular-season numbers, but he was not his usual self. It turned out that he had been playing through a torn labrum that would require surgery and keep Thomas out of the postseason. His team would suffer a crushing seven-game series loss at the hands of the Flyers, after leading three games to none at one point.

If 2009-10 had been a time of trials and tribulation for Thomas, the 2010-11 season would prove to be a revelation and one of redemption. First, he would fight off a challenge from young backup Tuukka Rask to retain the starting position. Then, he would put up stellar numbers during the regular season (2.00, .938). After a shaky first few games versus Montreal, Thomas would find his game and lead the Bruins back to the Cup Finals, culminating in a Game Seven win in Vancouver. Thomas would not only help bring the Cup back to Boston after a 39-year absence, but would also take home both his second Vezina, and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

Unfortunately, after his dream season, Tim Thomas would play only one more year for the Bruins. The end of his tenure in Boston would be marked by some acrimony due to his political beliefs and disagreements with management, and he would be traded to the Florida Panthers in 2013-14. Personally, I choose to forget about this period of time and concentrate on the story of a guy who went from being unwanted to the oldest Stanley Cup MVP ever at the age of 37.

Recently, it appears that Thomas and the Bruins have made efforts to mend fences and Thomas made some comments publicly at his induction into the Hockey USA Hall of Fame after years of silence. It turns out that the game he loved also took its toll on him in the form of multiple concussions that had a profound effect after he retired. Thomas appears to be recovering and I hope that we see him honored in Boston before very long. It’s only befitting of a man that is arguably the best goalie in Bruins history.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 174 that we recorded below on 4-12-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!!

Bruins Alumni: Happy Birthday Hal Gill

( Photo Credit: Phillip MacCallum / Getty Images )

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

Happy 45th Birthday To Former Boston Bruins Defenseman Hal Gill!

Gill was born on April 6th, 1975, in Concord, MA, and was drafted by the Bruins in the eighth round (207 overall) of the National Hockey League Entry Draft in June of 1993. The 6′-7″, 243-pound behemoth of a man was drafted out of Nashoba Regional High School in Bolton, MA before attending Providence College.

He was a four-year starter for the Friars and captained the team his senior year before turning pro for the 1997-98 NHL season. The four years of NCAA play apparently served him well as he would play only four games in the AHL before being called up to the big club, and never looked back. Gill would spend the next 16 years in the NHL, logging more than 1100 games with the Bruins and five other organizations.

He was a fixture on the Boston defense for the next eight seasons, playing with guys like B’s legend Ray Bourque, and current GM, Don Sweeney before they moved on. Gill was a steady, stay at home defenseman who did not put up many points, but was very solid defensively. It was my experience that Gill was a bit of a whipping boy in his years in Boston. I think that was because despite his massive size he was never much of a fighter, although he did fight some heavyweights like Kocur, Godard, and Chara (when he was with OTT). His teams made it past the Quarterfinals only once during his tenure (1998-99) and failed to qualify for the playoffs three times, which was unacceptable to a fanbase that was accustomed to winning.

Gill would move on to Toronto in 2006-07, but not before accumulating 626 games with Boston, more than three times as many games as he would play for any other team. He spent only a year and a half with the Leafs before being dealt to Pittsburgh in 2008 for their playoff run. Like his former teammate, Bourque, Hal Gill would find postseason success outside of Boston. He won a Cup the following year (2009), raising Lord Stanley’s hardware with the Penguins. After that, he played with Montreal, Nashville, and closed his career with a brief stint in Philadelphia.

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( Photo Credit: NBC Sports )

While Gill did not enjoy much playoff success in Boston and was underappreciated here, personally I will always think of him as a Bruin. I could never get used to him in a Hab uniform in particular and felt bad that he was wearing that uniform while the B’s went on to win their Cup in 2011. Hopefully, he had an enjoyable 45th birthday today and remembers only his good times here in the Black and Gold.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 173 that we recorded below on 4-4-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!!

Report: Krug Asking For Six-Year, $49M Deal From The Bruins

Krug

( Photo Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images )

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

There has been a great deal of speculation about the status of Torey Krug and the contract negotiations between his camp and the Bruins. Krug has said he would like to remain in Boston and Don Sweeney has categorized the talks as “cordial”. On Saturday, reporter Shawn Hutcheon threw a little gasoline on the fire with this tweet:

Right off the bat, I want to say that I am a huge Krug fan. My son is an undersized defenseman as well, so I have always had a soft spot for players like that. Krug started off as an undrafted college free agent and through hard work transformed himself into one of the top offensive D-men in the NHL over the last five years or so.

Krug became a regular in the 2013-14 season and from that time to the present, he’s 8th in the NHL for scoring by defensemen. The names in front of him: Hedman, Karlsson, Burns, Carlson, Josi, Yandle, Barrie, are regarded as some of the best D in the game. The majority of them are also paid that way. Erik Karlsson tops the list at $11.5m, with perennial Norris contender Drew Doughty coming in at $11m. Roman Josi and PK Subban are next at $9m, with five players at or around the $8m mark (Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brent Burns, Jacob Trouba, Thomas Chabot, and John Carlson).

A defenseman that many consider the closest comparable to Krug, Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon, just signed a seven-year deal worth $7.575m per this past offseason. Spurgeon does not provide the offense that Krug does, but plays more minutes and is generally considered to be better in the defensive zone.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room when it comes to Krug, his defense. While everyone acknowledges that he is one of the best offensive catalysts in the NHL, Krug is not in the same category as guys like Josi and John Carlson when it comes to his two-way game. As important as the offense is from the back end these days, many fans (and some GM’s) don’t seem to think it’s prudent to pay a defenseman a huge contract unless they can contribute at both ends of the ice.Carlo and Krug ( Photo Credit: Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald )[/caption]

Even with all that, I just can’t see the Bruins giving him $8m plus over six or seven years on a new deal. I’m not saying that sum is not fair, given what other defensemen have signed for, or that it is not “market value”. However, that’s not the way that Boston has done business for a number of years. A lot of players talk about taking a “hometown” discount, but members of the Bruins have put their money where their mouths are when it came time to negotiate their deals. Last year during the playoffs, in an interview with SI’s Alex Prewitt, Brad Marchand was quoted as saying,

“If you want to try to make every dollar you can, unfortunately, that’s not going to be with this group.”

Pastrnak, Marchand all took less than what they could have demanded based on performance. This past summer young veterans Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo took very team-friendly deals in comparison to some of their peers, in what appeared to be moves designed on keeping this group of guys together. A lot of credit has gone to Don Sweeney for the recent signings and while he does deserve some praise, these deals would not have been possible without the players buying in and legitimately wanting to be in Boston, surrounded by guys that feel the same way.

In recent days Krug has talked about balancing being paid fairly while playing for a winning team. However, he also said, “The Bruins are going to do whatever they need to do and their situation.”

When I look at the way the Bruins have approached these contracts in the past and what other players have done, unfortunately, I only see this going one of two ways. Either Krug follows the examples set by so many other players in the room and takes less than market value to stay. Or, the Bruins try to make another strong run at the Cup and let Krug walk this summer. The question that remains for Krug and Boston is what qualifies as “taking less to stay”? My guess would be a number around $6.75m for six years. If Krug cannot live with that, I believe his days as a Bruin are numbered.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 167 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!!

Why Did Bruins Fans Dislike Danton Heinen So Much?

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(Photo Credit: NHL.com)

By: Joe Chrzanowski| Follow me on Twitter @jchrz19

This is a topic that has been weighing heavily on me for the last year or so. With the Trade Deadline behind us and Danton Heinen off to Anaheim, perhaps it’s a moot point? However, the question remains, what was it about Danton Heinen that was such a turn-off for so many B’s fans?

If you spend any amount of time on Bruins Twitter, you couldn’t go more than 10 minutes without some sort of derogatory comment about Heinen. Most commenting on his lack of toughness, physicality, or production. I would say that Tuukka Rask was probably the only player on the team that was more polarizing than Heinen.

So what was it?

By all accounts, he was well-liked in the dressing room. Given his reaction to the trade, he obviously wanted to be in Boston. He played up and down the lineup and performed reasonably well wherever Bruce Cassidy put him. His salary of $2.8m is a little high based on his production this year but is in line for what players of similar age and production earn. He was extremely durable, having missed only one or two games to injury in almost three NHL seasons.

His detractors say he provides no offense. That he’s soft, never wins board battles and constantly gives the puck away. Obviously, if these were all true, he would not have been taking a regular shift for one of the best teams in the NHL, but why bring common sense into the equation?

For his career, the 2014 4th Round pick played in 220 games, had 34g/69a (103 pts), and was a +23 for the Bruins. Also had 138 hits, 103 blocks, 105 takeaways, and 87 giveaways. That equates to a .47 points-per-game average, which is average to above average for most NHL third-line players. This year Heinen was off his career pace a bit, with only 22 points in 58 games, which no doubt led to increased frustration with him by the fan base.

Not to pick on specific players but when you look at these stats in comparison to some other B’s guys, the “Heinen-Hate” doesn’t make a lot of sense. Jake DeBrusk, who is loved by most of the B’s fanbase, has been stapled to Krejci’s hip in the Top 6 since he entered the NHL. His career totals: 198 games played, 61g/58a (119 pts), +14 (.60 ppg). Throw in 147 hits, 65 blocks, 96 takeaways, and 67 giveaways. Better than Heinen in some categories, but not overly impressive for the 14th overall pick in 2015.

Smaller sample size, but another player B’s fans love is Anders Bjork. In 107 career NHL games, he has only 14g/20a (34 pts), +6 (.32 ppg). He also has 71 hits, 44 blocks, 47 takeaways, and 33 giveaways. The majority of those numbers are actually below Heinen’s totals, even when you double them to get close to his total games. I’m not sure how often people look at stats like this before they tweet out their opinions on Heinen, but given the actual numbers, it’s probably not very often?

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( Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images )

The supposedly “soft” Heinen has similar hit totals to both Bjork and DeBrusk and blocks significantly more shots than either. In my humble opinion, stepping in front of a slap shot takes a lot more guts than checking a player or face-washing someone in a scrum when the refs are sure to break things up, but to each his own I guess.

One of the legitimate issues fans had this year with Heinen was definitely his production in comparison to his salary. He got a raise after his ELC expired and was having his worst statistical year as a pro. If he was still making $800k, there would have been less noise about it for sure.

The flip-side to this is that it happens a lot with players. You can only have them on short money for so long, and I didn’t hear anyone complaining when Heinen put up 47 points on the first year of his ELC. As big a Heinen fan as I am, I would agree that he didn’t play to his contract this year as a Bruin. That said, I still don’t believe that his salary was the primary reason that Boston fans disliked Heinen.

So, if it wasn’t the production and the salary was only part of it. A relatively small part that really doesn’t explain the venom with which people went after Heinen. Then what was it exactly?

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(Photo Credit: Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

More than anything else, I believe it was simply a perception that Heinen was not passionate about the game and didn’t care because of his cerebral and “quiet” style of play. He went about his business as a Bruin very calmly and without any fanfare. Goal celebrations were muted and there was no tugging on the spoked B of his jersey. Instead of big, attention-grabbing hits, opponents were efficiently ridden off the puck. Instead of flashy steals and end-to-end rushes, lanes were clogged and passes sent off the mark or deflected.

Ever since the “Big Bad Bruins” of the early 1970s and Don Cherry’s “Lunch Pail A.C.” teams of the late ’70s, Boston fans have identified more with players they see as gritty, nasty, and tough than they do with guys who are skilled and play a quieter game. I don’t have enough time or space to debate the merits of that approach in this article, but it is the way a lot of Boston fans think. Heinen was not the first B’s player that was disliked by fans because of his style of play and he won’t be the last. He’s just the most recent example.

Blake Wheeler was not physical enough for his size. Reilly Smith was too quiet. Loui Eriksson was a piss-poor return for Tyler Seguin and wasn’t edgy enough. Even a long-time Bruin like David Krejci is not immune to this bias. For years, despite evidence to the contrary, he has been considered “soft” and too cerebral by much of the fanbase he has given so much to. Anybody who watched him fight Pavelski the other night and saw the look of absolute glee on his face as he was throwing punches should realize you don’t judge a book by its cover.

I don’t think we will see Heinen exchanging haymakers with opponents in ANA any time soon, but it won’t be a surprise if he does well there. Hopefully, the deal ends up working out for both teams and both players.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 167 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!!

Lauko Will Reportedly Miss A Couple Of Weeks

Garrett Pilon, Jakub Lauko

(Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19 

Jakub Lauko, the Bruins 2018 3rd Round pick (77th Overall), was super-excited about the prospect of playing before his native Czech crowd in the 2020 World Junior Championships. That excitement lasted all of one shift as Lauko was injured 53 seconds into the first game versus Russia. The CZE team held on for a 4-3 upset, but after the game, it was reported that Lauko had suffered an MCL injury and was done for the remainder of the tournament.

 

Details were lacking about the severity of the injury, and are still not crystal clear, but Lauko apparently underwent an MRI this morning. Lauko himself told Czech NHL,com hockey reporter Michael Langr , “it looks like I will miss a couple of weeks”. This is good news for Bruins fans and would indicate that the injury is a Grade 1 tear, which normally requires anywhere from a few days to a week and a half off before the player can return to hockey activities.

While it is a postive development if Lauko only misses a couple of weeks, it would be a bitter pill for him to swallow. He had been playing well in his first professional year for the Bruins AHL affiliate in Providence (4g/4a, 20 PIM’s, +4, in 18 games), but suffered an “upper-body injury” in a game against Utica on Decemeber 7th, and not played since. There was some question of whether or not he would be healthy enough to play for the Czech Republic, but he cleared last week.

Lauko’s injury would be a big loss for the Czech team. He was a returning member of the 2019 WJC team (1g/1a in 5 games) and was being counted on for scoring and leadership.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 159 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!!

Potential Bruins Trade Target: Tyler Toffoli

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(Photo Credit: John Wilcox-Boston Herald)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

The season is more than a third over and the infamous “United States Thanksgiving” measuring stick has passed with Boston securely in a playoff spot. Despite the B’s great start, there is always room for improvement.

With that sentiment in mind, this is the first in a series of articles that will look at some possible trade targets for the Bruins as they “gear up” for what is (hopefully) another long playoff run. I just did an article about the logjam the Bruins have on defense, so while you can never say never, I am going to assume Boston will be looking at bolstering their forward depth. The most obvious need appears to be a 2nd line RW, but if the B’s found a 3rd-line center they really like, that would allow them to move the right-shot Coyle to the RW2 spot if they wanted.

The first target I want to examine is LA Kings right-wing, Tyler Toffoli. He has been linked to the Bruins for a while now, going back to last season’s trade deadline, before they opted for Marcus Johansson instead. His name has popped up again this week in connection with Boston. It’s easy to see why, as he is a right-shot RW, playing for a franchise that’s currently last in the West, and who will certainly be a “seller” before too long.

Toffoli was a 2nd-round pick (47th overall) in the 2010 Prospect Draft. The same draft where the B’s took Tyler Seguin 2nd overall. It’s a bit ironic in that they could have had Toffoli in the 2nd round twice, instead of selecting Jared Knight (32nd) and Ryan Spooner (45th), neither of whom are still in the NHL.

Toffoli played for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL and put up 37-42-79 totals in 65 games in his draft year. The six-foot, 200-pound Scarborough native proved those totals were no fluke. He followed that up with seasons of 108 and 100 pts before making the jump to the King’s AHL affiliate, Manchester Monarchs, in 2012-13. After getting a 10 game NHL cameo that season, Toffoli established himself for the good the following year with a very respectable 12g/17a in 62 games with the Kings. He then chipped in 7g/7a in the playoffs, helping LA win their second Cup in three years.

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(Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The following season he would score 23 goals for LA and be producing like a legitimate Top 6 forward. In 2015-16 he really broke out, scoring 31 times at the ripe old age of 23. Unfortunately, over the next three seasons, Toffoli’s numbers would reflect the fortunes of an LA team that was slipping from its perch at the top of the NHL standings. He recorded 34, 47, and 34 points during those years. Not bad totals, but not what you would expect from a former 30 goal-scorer.

Despite the down years, Toffoli still remains an attractive trade target for a number of teams, including Boston. This is true for several reasons, not the least of which is that he has become a reliable three-zone player as he has matured. We all know that even if you are an elite scorer if you want to play for the Bruins, a strong 200-foot effort will be required by the coaching staff. That will not be an issue with Toffoli, who also has some other things going for him, besides his two-way game.

Even though the Kings are “rebuilding”, Toffoli has maintained above average advanced statistics this year. His Corsi, Fenwick, Shot, and Scoring Chance percentages at even strength are all in the mid-upper ’50s, despite grinding for a last-place club. On a stronger team like Boston, one would assume that he would at least continue to be good in those areas, and potentially improve.

While his 6-7-13 numbers in 30 games are not going to blow you away, 10 of his 13 points have come at even strength, and he would be tied for 7th on scoring for forwards in Boston. These numbers are more representative of a 3rd line player than a legitimate second-line player, but there are a couple of things to consider. First, the Kings are not a very good hockey club. Second, we heard the same thing about Johansson last year, who was also coming from a bad team and was one of the better playoff performers for the Bruins.

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(Photo Credit: Rogers/Sportsnet)

Toffoli is in the last year of a four-year deal worth $4.6m per season, and it is unclear at this point whether the Bruins would consider him a pure rental or try to re-sign him. Some fans have expressed some concern about continually trading for rentals, as opposed to players with the term (like Coyle last year). While I understand the concern, a player in the last year of his deal will demand a lower return. With the Bruins cloudy cap situation and the free agents they have, Boston may want a player they don’t have to worry about fitting under the cap for next season.

If you are looking for negatives in regards to Toffoli, there are a couple. Since his 31-58-69 numbers in the 2015-16 season, his totals have declined. He bounced back in 2017-18 but then regressed again last season. Some of that can be attributed to the team he is playing for, but it is definitely a red flag. The other “issue” is that Toffoli is not overly physical. He’s not small, and he doesn’t avoid the “dirty” areas, but he also doesn’t play an overly gritty game. In a little over six NHL seasons, he has less than 400 hits, which works out to roughly 60 hits a season. If a “heavy” style of play is your cup of tea, Toffoli is not going to be your guy.

While he has some warts (most players do), I believe Toffoli would be a good fit in Boston, even if he’s not the 30 goal scorer he once was. With LA being at the bottom of the standings and him being in the last year of his contract, it would seem that he would be available and not overly expensive. Personally, if the Bruins are interested, I would like to see them make a move around the first of the year and not wait until the trade deadline. It might cost a bit more, but in my opinion, it would be worth it to allow the players extra time to develop some chemistry.

That wraps up our look at Tyler Toffoli, Part two of the series will take a look at another right-wing, Columbus Blue Jacket, Josh Anderson.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 157 that we recorded on 12-8-19 below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!

The Bruins Have A Logjam On Defense

krug 1

(Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/AP)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

In the 2016-17 playoffs versus Ottawa, the Bruins were forced to use both rookies like Charlie McAvoy and career 8-9 defenseman like Joe Morrow in games because their defense had been decimated by injuries. The next year it was guys like Matt Grzelcyk and Nick Holden in the lineup vs Toronto and Tampa. I can only assume that as the Bruins were being eliminated in Game 5 of their series against the Bolts, GM Don Sweeney was vowing never again to have a depth problem in the playoffs.

That summer he signed left-handed defenseman John Moore to a five-year deal. During camp, he dealt blue-liner Adam McQuaid to the Rangers but acquired the less expensive former Bruin, Steve Kampfer, in the deal along with a draft pick. That gave them proven NHL players in: Chara, McAvoy, Krug, Carlo, Moore, Miller, Kampfer. They also had Matt Grzelcyk, who had played well in 2017-18 as a rookie, not to mention promising youngsters like Vaakaneinen, Lauzon, Zboril. At the time, I remember the B’s faithful asking where all these defensemen were going to play. Apparently, Sweeney knew what he was doing?

In 2018-19, because of injuries, Boston ended up using 12 different defensemen over the course of the regular season and playoffs. All of the guys I mentioned above, plus a pleasant surprise in the form of free-agent signee Connor Clifton. A 5th round draft pick of the Arizona Coyotes in 2013, Clifton was unable to come to a contract agreement with them after four years at Quinnipiac University. He ended up signing an AHL deal with Providence and performed well enough in 2017-18 to earn himself a two-year NHL deal. He ended up filling in admirably during the regular season after the usual myriad of injuries, playing 19 games. He played another 18 games in the playoffs as Boston went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

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(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Before the 2019-20 season would even begin, the Bruins depth on defense would again be tested. John Moore needed offseason surgery after he played through an injured shoulder in the playoffs last year. Kevan Miller, who ended last season on the injured reserve, would start there to begin the season. Neither Moore nor Miller has played a single game for the Bruins this year, but it appears that both are finally getting healthy, and could push for playing time within the next few weeks (Moore is closer). On the surface, this would appear to be a good thing for the Bruins, but it will force Don Sweeney and his staff to make some decisions.

The first hurdle for Sweeney was that he and head coach Bruce Cassidy would have to decide what to do with Connor Clifton, who has been quickly approaching the point where he would no longer be waiver exempt. The obvious advantage to Clifton maintaining his exempt status is that he could be sent down to Providence without another team being able to claim him when he went through the waiver process. It was something that the B’s front office must have been thinking about long and hard because Clifton sat out two of the last five games in favor of Steven Kampfer before Sunday. Apparently, the staff came to some sort of conclusion, because Clifton played his 60th NHL game against Montreal, which will mark the end of his “exempt” status.

Most people who follow the team thing it’s a foregone conclusion that Clifton would not make it through waivers if the Bruins attempted to send him down at this point. Sweeney is not going to just give an asset like Clifton away, so the logical assumption is that he is here to stay with the big club.

Other relevant news that was announced Sunday was that John Moore had been loaned to Providence of the AHL for the purpose of a “conditioning stint”. Moore played that afternoon in Providence’s 4-0 win over the Charlotte Checkers, where he recorded an assist and was a “plus” two for the game.

Moore has since been recalled and placed back on LTIR, but the Bruins have said he may be ready to play Thursday. The maximum amount of active players allowed on an NHL roster at any one time is 23. With David Backes being activated off the IR for the game against Montreal, and Gaunce sent down, the Bruins are at 22 right now. With Clifton’s waiver status changed, Moore supposedly ready to play Thursday and Kevan Miller getting closer to full health, something is going to have to give. The Bruins can add Moore to the roster and I believe they will be ok as long as Miller is still on the LTIR.

In the short-term, I would not be surprised to see the Bruins waive Kampfer. I think his ability to sit out for long periods and still play well when called upon is valuable, but I believe he would pass through waivers unclaimed (unlike Clifton). The problem is even if the B’s carry 8 D/13 F, when/if Miller returns someone is going to have to get moved.

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(Photo Credit: The Associated Press)

It would appear that the two most likely candidates for a trade would be Moore or Miller. The Bruins have won so far this season without them, so it makes sense one of them would go. The two guys are apples and oranges in my opinion. Miller is the more physical of the two, and that’s definitely something the team could use more of. On the flip side, Moore is a big body and a very good skater, but not overly physical. One advantage he has is that he is comfortable playing either side, whereas Miller is strictly a right side guy.

It’s going to be an extremely difficult decision for the front office, but one that has to be made because of the emergence of players like Grzelcyk and Clifton. It’s a good problem to have and one that 30 other NHL teams likely would not mind having.

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The Bruins Most Prolific Scorer: Phil Esposito

phil-esposito

(Photo Credit: Tony Triolo Sports Illustrated)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

This week I have been working on an article about where David Pastrnak’s and Brad Marchand’s seasons project in regards to the greatest Bruins seasons of all time. The problem was that as I was researching and writing the article, it started to become more about B’s legend Phil Esposito than about the aforementioned players. At that point, I figured it would probably be a good idea to just dedicate an article to Esposito himself, and here we are.

Esposito was born on February 20, 1942, in the city of Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Province of Canada. His younger brother Tony was born in 1943 and legend has it that Phil forced his baby brother to play goal so that he could practice his shooting. Whatever they did back then, it appears to have worked out pretty well, as both are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The elder Esposito was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks and was told to join the Sarnia Legionnaires. He was a high-scoring player even as a teen, putting up 47 goals and 61 assists in only 32 games for his Junior B team. The following season he moved up to play for the St Catherines Teepees in the OHA-Jr league (sort of a precursor to the modern-day OHL). The jump in the competition didn’t seem to slow him down, and he recorded 32 goals and 39 assists (71 points) for the Teepees in 49 games.

In today’s NHL, a scorer like Esposito would have probably gotten a long look for the big club, but things worked differently back then. Despite his scoring prowess, when Esposito turned pro, he was assigned to the St. Louis Braves of the EPHL/CPHL. These leagues were started by the NHL and fully controlled by them in an attempt to have more control over the development of players. At the time, other professional leagues like the AHL existed but did not have strong relationships with NHL teams they do now. His first season with the Braves Esposito had 36g/54a in 71 games but was not called up. The following year (1962-63), he produced 24g/54a in only 43 games and got the call-up. In 27 NHL games that year, at the age of 20, Esposito had 3g/2a. While not the most auspicious start, he showed enough to the Chicago brass to earn a spot in the NHL for good.

Espo-CHI

(Photo Credit: The Hockey Writers)

He spent the next three seasons in Chicago, Espo put up some very good numbers. In 208 regular-season games in the Windy City, he had 71 goals and 98 assists, much of the time centering Bobby Hull. What a lot of fans today may not know is that despite these stats, Chicago did not see Esposito as a good “fit” for the team.  When the Blackhawks were eliminated in the 1966-67 semifinals by eventual Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs, Esposito had zero points in the six playoff games that postseason. He shouldered much of the blame from fans (and apparently staff) after the loss to the Leafs. The NHL was expanding from six to twelve teams in June of 1967, and the “Original 6” teams were going to lose a significant amount of players. Despite his statistics, the Blackhawks still considered Esposito an unproven talent and had no plans to protect him. So, on May 15th, 1967 (immediately before the rosters were frozen for the expansion draft), they dealt him and young forwards Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to the struggling Bruins franchise for veteran center Pit Martin (who they saw as Esposito’s replacement), 22 year-old defenseman Gilles Marotte, and minor league goalie Jack Norris.

The Blackhawks saw the three players they dealt to Boston as underachievers who would not be missed by the NHL club. The centerpiece to the trade in their mind was the promising young Marotte, who had been paired in Boston with defense partner Bobby Orr. They (and many others) thought at the time they had fleeced the Bruins and their new GM, Milt Schmidt. Of course, over the next eight-plus seasons, this would be proven to be the furthest thing from the truth, as the Bruins would establish themselves as one of the dominant NHL clubs of the early and mid-’70s.

The long term benefits notwithstanding, the trade also paid immediate dividends for both Boston and Esposito. In his first year with the Bruins, he was named Assistant Captain and had 35 goals and 49 assists in 74 games, good for second in the NHL. Former teammate Stan Makita was the only one who finished above him (with 87 points). More importantly to Boston fans, the Bruins made the playoffs for the first time since the 1958-59 season. While they were swept in the first round by the eventual Cup-champion Canadians, it would mark the start of a 29 year consecutive run of playoff seasons in Boston.

The following season would result in more milestones for both Esposito and the team. In 1968-69 Esposito would become the first NHL player to reach 100 points in a season in the league’s history. Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe would also reach the century mark that year, but Esposito would hit it first and lead the league with 126 points during the regular season (49g/77a). This season would also start to establish Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Wayne Cashman as one of the most feared lines of the early ’70s. Hodge finished 5th in the NHL in scoring with 90 points (45 goals) and Cashman added 31 points in just 51 games. These numbers were due in large part to Esposito’s skill and influence. The Bruins as a team also improved, sweeping a series against Toronto, including outscoring them 17-0 (10-0 and 7-0) in games one and two at home. The Bruins would lose to Montreal again, but this time in a hard-fought six-game series in the Semifinals. Montreal would go on to sweep the St. Louis Blues for yet another Cup. Not the ending the Bruins were hoping for, but things were certainly looking up.

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(Photo Credit: Boston Bruins Alumni)

The next season, Esposito would take a bit of a step back from a personal standpoint. In 1969-70, he “only” produced 43 goals and 56 assists for 99 points in 76 regular-season games. That would be good enough for second in the NHL, behind teammate Bobby Orr, who finished with 120 points (33g/87a). Despite the slight fall off for Espo, the Bruins as a team improved to the highest level. After tying Chicago for first overall with 99 points, the B’s faced the NY Rangers in the first round and defeated them in six games. Next up was the Blackhawks, and Esposito would get a measure of revenge on his old team with a four-game sweep. The Finals pitted Boston against the St. Louis Blues, who were there for the third straight year representing the West. The Bruins made short work of the Blues, sweeping them 4-0 and bringing the Cup back to Boston for the first time since 1941. Esposito finished the playoffs with 27 points (13g/14a) in fourteen games.

Over the next five seasons, Espo would help the B’s win a second Cup and from 1970-71 through 1974-75, he would score an absolutely unbelievable 326 goals and add 361 assists. His point total over those five years (687) was only seven less than Hall of Famer Cam Neely accumulated over his entire career. Production like that will more than likely never be equaled.

Unfortunately, things did not end smoothly for Esposito in Boston. During the 1975-76 season, coming off a 127 point campaign the year before, he reportedly became upset over the Bruins asking him to take a reduced role at the age of 33. After winning two Cups, two Hart Trophies, and five Art Ross trophies, Esposito left town the same way he arrived, via the trade. He was moved in November of 1975, along with defenseman Carol Vadnais for Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, and Joe Zanussi. He played in New York for five more seasons before retiring in 1981 at the age of 38. In New York, Esposito never attained the same level of success he had in Boston, but he still managed 404 points in 422 games while he played in the “Big Apple”.

espo ny

(Photo Credit: Denis Brodeur 1980 NHLI)

Three years later, in 1984, Esposito would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Three years after that, he would be involved in another remarkable ceremony, as the Bruins would retire Esposito’s famous number 7 jersey. The jersey was being worn at the time by a young player that would eventually become a B’s legend, Ray Bourque. Esposito had told Bourque he wanted him to keep wearing the number and assumed the proceedings would be strictly for “show”. Bourque surprised Espo and the team as well by removing the 7 jersey and revealing a number 77 jersey underneath that he would sport for the rest of his career in Boston, allowing Esposito’s jersey to be raised to the rafters.

After years of acrimony towards the Bruins because of the trade to New York, Bourque’s gesture went a long way towards healing the relationship between Esposito and the B’s. While the hard feelings may never completely go away, the jersey retirement was a fitting way for the Bruins organization to pay homage to it’s greatest goal scorer.

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Bruins Prospect Swayman Named Hockey East Defensive Player Of The Week

Jeremy-Swayman-1

(Photo Credit: Peter Buehner)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

University of Maine goaltender Jeremy Swayman was named the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week. This past weekend Swayman had two stellar performances, leading Maine to two wins. The junior from Anchorage, Alaska, and his fellow Black Bears faced off against Hockey East rival UNH twice at Alfond Arena in Orono.

Friday night Swayman stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced and led Maine to a 3-1 victory over the Wildcats. New Hampshire was coming off a big win over 2nd-ranked Massachusetts and they came out of the gate quickly, going on the PP at 5:20 of the first. Maine managed to kill the penalty off, but seven seconds after they were all square, Junior forward Kohei Sato put UNH up 1-0.

In the 2nd period, UNH outshot Maine 12-9, but Swayman stopped all 12 shots and the Black Bears were able to take the lead with two goals of their own. More of the same in the 3rd period with UNH putting 12 more on Swayman without denting the twine, and Maine getting one goal on nine shots to close it out. All-in-all, Swayman stopped 28 consecutive shots after giving up the only score on the 3rd shot of the game.

Saturday night figured to be a spirited contest with the Wildcats loaded for Bear (pun intended) after their loss the night before. Instead, Maine came out and had the better of the early play, aided by an early power play. Once UNH killed the penalty, they seemed to get their skating legs under them. They ripped off the next nine shots in a row (including a PP) with Swayman stopping them all.

Maine had the better of the play in the 2nd period, outshooting UNH 14-9, but the Wildcats had the only goal on the PP with Angus Crookshank tipping a Kalle Eriksson shot past Swayman about halfway through the session. The score after two periods was UNH 1-0, with Swayman stopping 19 out of 20 shots.

Just like the night before, Swayman would allow only the one goal. In the 3rd period, he blanked the Wildcats, stopping all ten shots he faced, keeping the Black Bears in the game. At the 17:23 mark, UNH took a roughing penalty and with less than a minute to go, Maine’s Tim Doherty evened the game at 1-1. In OT, Swayman stopped both UNH shots allowing teammate Ryan Smith to bury the game-winner at 2:11 of the extra period.

For the weekend, Swayman faced 63 shots altogether, allowing just the two goals, for an absolutely ridiculous .968 save percentage. This raised his percentage for the season to .946 through the first 12 games of the season. Because of Swayman’s stellar play early this year, the Black Bears have gotten off to a surprising 7-3-2 start, putting them near the top of the Hockey East standings. After carrying the team to a weekend sweep of one of their league rivals, it was no surprise that he was honored with the Defensive Player of the Week award, his first of the season.

By the time this is published, Maine will have lost to Northeastern 5-2 on Friday evening. A rough outing for Swayman, allowing five goals on twenty-two shots. By all accounts, he actually played well but was as they say, “hung out to dry” on multiple occasions. I have no doubt that Swayman will bounce back tonight when the two teams meet again at Matthews arena. The game will be televised on NESN Plus at 7pm. Bruins fans should do themselves a favor and check out a prospect that will hopefully form quite the tandem in Boston with Kyle Keyser a few years from now.

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Can The Bruins Solve Their Secondary Scoring Issues?

Boston Bruins vs Calgary Flames

(Photo Credit: Matt Stone/Boston Herald)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

If you spend any time following Bruins fans on Twitter and other social media outlets (and I do), you might think the team had started out 2-6-1, instead of their actual record of 6-1-2. Losing two of the last three games to Tampa and Toronto in extra time was a little frustrating, but I thought the Bruins were the better team Saturday night against the Leafs and Andersen won the game for them. I’m not one of those “doom and gloom, the sky is falling” types to begin with, but even less so when the B’s have taken 14 out of a possible 18 points with Krejci missing most of the games.

That said, one of the things that was a problem early in the season last year was a lack of secondary scoring. Unfortunately, it has reared it’s ugly head again early this year. The Bruins have scored 26 goals as a team through nine games. The first line has accounted for 17 of those goals (Pasta has ten, Marchand five, and Bergeron two). The only two players not on the first line that have multiple goals this season are Danton Heinen and Brett Ritchie, the two guys that scored in the opening night win against Dallas.

As optimistic as I am, I don’t believe that relying on one line to score and having your goalies stand on their heads nightly is a sustainable model for success. You can get away with it during the regular season for a time, but eventually, it will catch up with you. It also tends to become even more of a problem in the playoffs. I’m not sure exactly why, but secondary scoring and more specifically the RW2 position seems to have been an issue since Jarome Iginla left.

So, what realistic moves can the B’s make to fix this issue? I’m here to tell you that it can be done “in-house” with three relatively painless moves. You want some additional good news? I’m going to tell you how the Bruins can do it without requiring you to pay for a subscription to our site.

Pasta Celly

(Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Move David Pastrnak Down

The first move in rebuilding the B’s sparse secondary scoring is to slide Pastrnak down to the second line. Before anyone starts wailing, yes, I am well aware of how good the Bruins first line is. And yes, after they move Pasta down with Krejci and DeBrusk, I will miss all the headlines about the Bruins having the best line in hockey, but it will be worth it. I won’t miss teams being able to largely shut down the Bruins offense in the playoffs by containing one line.

At the ripe old age of 23, Pastrnak has officially reached “carry a line” status in my opinion. After last night’s two-point effort, he has 17 points in the first nine games. This is the best start to a season by a Bruins player since Adam Oates in 1993-94. He’s going to produce no matter who he’s with, so if the Bruins can find a competent guy to replace him on the first line, they will definitely have at least two scoring lines. Which brings us to Step Two…

Bruins vs Hurricanes

(Photo Credit Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Put Danton Heinen On The First Line

Danton Heinen only has two points so far this season. This is not indicative of his overall play. He’s been more assertive and he’s shooting more while still giving the Bruins a high level of defensive play. He showed last season that not only could he hang on the top line, but that he could contribute there as well. During the 16 game span, while Pastrnak was out of the lineup with a wrist injury, Heinen had one goal and twelve assists over that time. In addition, the first line’s advanced and defensive numbers were significantly better than when Pasta was there.

I am in no way suggesting that Heinen is a better or more explosive player than David Pastrnak. What I AM saying is that he brings a different dynamic to the line. When he’s there, he allows Marchand and Bergeron to take more chances and be more creative because they know he will get back and cover. When Pasta is on the first line, I believe he becomes the focus of his linemates. They both will pass up scoring opportunities to get him the puck. When Heinen is in that RW1 position, those two become a bit more selfish and shoot more. When you have two players of that caliber firing the puck more often, it’s not a bad thing. With Heinen and Pasta now in the Top Six, Charlie Coyle needs a buddy on the third line that can take advantage of his puck possession skills. Enter the third and final step of my diabolical master plan…

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(Photo Credit: Matt Stone/Boston Herald)

Call Anders Bjork Up From Providence

Tuesday night we got our first taste of Anders Bjork in the B’s lineup and I thought he acquitted himself quite well. In 13:17 TOI, he had four shots, one giveaway and takeaway, and one block. He was a minus one, but also created a nice scoring chance and hit the crossbar. He also showed that he could play a Bottom 6 checking role effectively. The biggest takeaway for me was that he didn’t look out of place. The speed and physicality of the NHL game was not an issue.

Bjork was an “emergency recall” when David Krejci was placed on IR and had to be sent back down to Providence. This was done so a roster player would not have to be sent down and clear waivers. Given that, it would appear that Krejci is close to returning. I expect Bjork’s stay in PRO to be brief. With Karson Kuhlman out for at least four weeks (and probably longer) with a broken tibia, Bjork will likely be recalled again as soon as Kuhlman is placed on IR.

The only “fly in the ointment” is that it appears the Bruins want to keep Bjork on the left side. In the past, he played a lot of right-wing, but he looks more comfortable on his natural side. There was also some speculation that his tendency to get hit in the middle of the ice was partly due to playing the off-wing. Playing the left side should allow Bjork to come out of the Boston end much easier. This doesn’t appear to be a huge issue because Ritchie has been playing better and Heinen is capable of playing on the right side.

When Krejci returns, my forward lineup would be:

Marchand – Bergeron – Heinen

DeBrusk – Krejci – Pastrnak

Bjork – Coyle – Ritchie

Nordstrom – Kuraly – Wagner

That should give Boston two legitimate scoring lines and a third line that can contribute some offense as well. You can still keep Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak together on the man advantage. The powerplay is a pretty large part of their production and would remain unaffected. The best part of my plan is that it doesn’t require any outside personnel moves. This means that if it doesn’t work, Cassidy can always reunite the first line.

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(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Hopefully, Bruce reads my article, adopts my foolproof plan and massive improvements in the Bruins secondary scoring follows. Once that happens, I may not be writing as much, as I would expect Boston to offer me a coaching job. Unrealistic? Of course, but let a man dream.

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