Are The Bruins Showcasing A Defenseman?

lauzon

( Photo Credit: Paul Rutherford )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

Another day, another Bruins trade rumor.  Elliotte Friedman is a seasoned hockey reporter for Canada’s Sportsnet and NHL insider.  He is known to have credible sources and news when it comes to NHL rumors.  Friedman is a weekly guest on the “Oilers NOW with Bob Stauffer” podcast, where he piqued Bruins fans’ interests with the latest story.  “Tyler Toffoli is a name that’s been out there a while.  Boston has expressed interest.  The price for Toffoli is a second-rounder and a prospect.”

It’s no secret the Bruins have been searching for years for their top-six forward to pair with David Krejci.  They have plenty of in-house options, but most haven’t been consistent enough for the opportunity.  Some have even had the misfortunate of untimely injuries (Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman).  When nothing in the system works, teams look for outside help.  Don Sweeney, current Bruins General Manager, has reportedly been on the phone since day one of the 2019 season.  He recently sent David Backes and Brett Ritchie down to the American Hockey Leauge for cap relief, which will help in a potential future trade.

The Bruins also recently called up Jeremy Lauzon from Providence.  The current Bruins defensemen are not hurt, so it’s reasonable to think Lauzon’s call up is to showcase his skills for a trade.  If Tyler Toffoli genuinely nets a second-round pick and a prospect, Lauzon could fit the mold.

Jeremy Lauzon, a left-handed shot defenseman, was the Bruins’ 52nd overall draft choice in 2015.  He was coming off of a career year as captain of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 50 points and a plus-40 in 46 games.  He was drafted for his size (6’1, 205 pounds), his physical presence, and offensive ability.  In his four years in the QMJHL, he finished with a plus-81 rating and 130 points in 200 career games.  He made his AHL pro debut in the 2017-18 Providence season.

In Providence, Lauzon had a tough time finding the same scoring touch he had in the QMJHL but was able to continue his defensive tenacity.  Through the first 15 games in his rookie season, he was among the top defenseman in plus/minus with a plus-8 rating.  Unfortunately, he sustained a concussion and missed the majority of that season.  He returned at the end of January 2018 and made a lasting impression on the Providence Bruins fans and writers.

He would only finish the year with seven points but looked to regain some of his confidence, which is immense for a young defenseman.  A year later, he would receive the call up to the Bruins for 16 total games, one of which he will remember forever.

Lauzon has the makings of a solid NHL defenseman because he is useful in all three zones.  He has the scoring ability but has been untapped up to this point.  He’s nearly doubled his first two seasons point total this year in Providence and still has a plus-rating.  The Bruins may be showcasing him to the Los Angeles Kings to help with their depleted blue-line.  The Kings have been heading toward a massive roster rebuild for over a year.  They’ll need to unload some of their aging stars (Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown) and expiring contracts (Tyler Toffoli) to jump-start the rebuild.  A second-round pick and Lauzon could be great a complimentary piece for the Kings’ future plans.

Tyler Toffoli is a 27-year old right-winger for the Los Angeles Kings.  He has been with the Kings organization since the 2010 draft, where he was selected 47th overall.  He made his NHL debut in 2012, where he scored five points in 10 regular-season games and six points in 12 playoff games.  He was even part of Los Angeles’s 2014 Stanley Cup-winning season.  Toffoli has surpassed the 30-goal total once and currently has 27 points on an abysmal Kings team.  Bruins fans may remember Toffoli for his heroic game-winning goal in overtime in the 2017 season.

Toffoli has the resume to play alongside Krejci for the remainder of the year, but will that be his only time in a Bruin uniform?  Tyler is an unrestricted free agent after this season.  Rentals are a significant trade risk because their future is uncertain.  Sweeney and the Bruins may show Toffoli the benefits of playing in Boston, but players’ mindsets are always unknown.  He has the pedigree and the fantastic shot release to be a long-time contributor for Boston.  At 6’0, 197 pounds, Toffoli has Stanley Cup experience and currently plays on the top line of the Kings with Anze Kopitar and Alex Iaffalo.

Backes and Ritchie’s demotions to the AHL also fit a trade mold because the Bruins are trying to clear cap space for a potential player.  The Bruins started off the year with thousands of dollars in cap space, but have since been able to move money around for a current-day $1.3M in cap space.  If the Bruins wait to trade for Toffoli until the February deadline, his in-season cap hit would be much lower than it was at the beginning of the season.

The second-round pick is probably the hardest ingredient to send.  Sweeney has been very mindful and frugal with his draft picks.  He has been on record saying he wants a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. He won’t part ways with a high draft selection unless it nets him an unbelievable long-term player. He would have to be quite confident to send a draft pick that Toffoli will help his team get over the hump to a Stanley Cup win or that Toffoli would sign long-term.

It’s a risky business, but in this day and age, NHL teams need to give the talent to receive the talent.  It just so happens, the Kings have plenty of it and require a new direction.  Toffoli would be a beneficial addition to the Bruins, who are searching for the last few puzzle pieces for their seventh Stanley Cup.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 162 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!! 

Karson Kuhlman’s Position On The Bruins

(Photo Credit: AP Photo / Winslow Townson)

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

When Don Sweeney took over as General Manager of the Boston Bruins, one item on his to-do list was to send his scouts to a relatively untapped market.  Historically, American college hockey took a backseat to leagues like Canada’s Ontario Hockey League, Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, and Sweden’s Elite Swedish League.  Draft-eligible players found themselves forgoing college hockey and playing in these leagues because that’s where the competition was.  Over the last seven or eight years, though, American college hockey has attracted more stars, and NHL teams have noticed.

Don Sweeney played at Harvard University from 1984-1988.  He is familiar with the talent in the college hockey system, which explains his vested interest.  Some of his recent draft picks have even come from Boston University, University of Denver, and the University of Wisconsin.  Moreover, he’s made sure his scouts are also looking for players who weren’t drafted in June and invite them to training camp.  One player in particular who fits this situation is Karson Kuhlman.

The Esko, Minnesota native played his college hockey 20 minutes northeast of his hometown at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.  Karson was awarded captain his senior year and posted a modest 80 points and an impressive plus-47 rating in 166 games for the Bulldogs.  He and his teammates won the franchise’s second National Championship in 2017-18.  Karson was named MVP of the Frozen Four and scored a goal and an assist in the title game.  Kuhlman’s style of play fits the Bruins style perfectly.  He is a smaller center, with great hands, a lethal shot, and the ability to lead on and off the ice.

Unfortunately, Kuhlman was not drafted during his eligibility year in 2014.  He was invited to two training camps by the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens.  Neither team saw enough to sign him.  Thankfully, his hometown roots made him a rememberable name to another Minnesota Native with Bruin ties.  Jamie Langenbrunner, former NHL right-winger, and current Bruins player development coach, knew Kuhlman before the NHL teams caught on.  Langenbrunner has long been impressed by Kuhlman’s “attention to detail. He’s a kid that plays a pro-style game in the way he positions himself, uses his body, gets pucks out on walls.

The Bruins invited Kuhlman to their 2017 development camp to see what Langenbrunner had advocated.  He left the Bruins without a deal, but they kept a keen eye on him.  Following his senior year, the Bruins signed Kuhlman to a 2-year, $1.5M contract, and he reported directly to Providence.  He would only play in three games, notching two assists for the baby Bruins.  The following year, he played through the end of January for the Bruins’ AHL farm team and received the call up to the Boston Bruins when one of their star players injured himself.

David Pastrnak slipped on ice in the Boston streets and injured his thumb.  This created an empty roster spot, which Kuhlman was called to fill.  He joined the Bruins on their west coast road trip and lit the lamp in his second career NHL game.

He would play in nine more regular-season games and made the playoff roster.  He played through game one of the Columbus series and was eventually scratched for the veteran David Backes.  Kuhlman would watch the Bruins from the ninth floor until game six of the Stanley Cup finals.  Similar to his time in Minnesota, Kuhlman shined on the team’s biggest stage.

Both the Stanley Cup goal and the NCAA Championship goal featured Kuhlman’s lethal shot.  He has immense power and accuracy from most areas of the offensive zone, and both goals are evidence of that.  His willingness to shoot the puck in any spot of the offensive zone will pay dividends for his style of play in the long run.

The 24-year old was set to make a lasting impact on the Bruins second line at the beginning of the 2019 regular season.  He formed great chemistry with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci right off the bat.  The Bruins and its fanbase were hopeful they found the top-six winger they’d been longing for.  He was averaging nearly 13 minutes a game through the first eight games in October until he suffered an unfortunate injury.

It wouldn’t be until January 3, 2020, that Kuhlman would return to the ice.  He was sent to Providence for a conditioning stint to get his legs back and up to game speed.  Once again, Kuhlman didn’t skip a beat and notched three points in four games, one of which was an impressive score.

The Bruins finally called up Kuhlman on January 16, 2020, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he set up two Bruin goals.  Karson’s call up is also interesting timing.  The Bruins had just sent down Brett Ritchie and are still looking for the top-six winger that’s plagued them for years.  Kuhlman’s skill is undeniable, but is he the answer for Krejci’s wing?

That is still to be determined.  He has yet to play a full season as a top-six forward.  He certainly fits the mold of what the Bruins search for in players.  He’s versatile, leads by example, and plays on both ends of the ice.  He even throws his body around quite well for a sub-6-foot forward. Karson has already earned the trust of his coaches and the organization, which could yield significant benefits in the future.

Even if he doesn’t answer the Bruins hole on the second line, he would fit nicely with Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle on the third line.  That line combination would be a high-speed, hard-hitting, skillful third unit to counter the league’s top counterparts.  Karson is a mainstay on this Bruins roster, and time will tell what line is best for him and the franchise.

Check out this weeks Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 163 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!! 

The Bruins’ Silent Defender: Brandon Carlo

carlo-image

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

There’s a famous saying amongst NHL teams and scouts around regarding defenseman.  A defenseman’s ceiling is not known until they’ve played at least 250 NHL games.  Well, Boston’s Brandon Carlo recently eclipsed 278 games, and Carlo’s trajectory is clear to the organization and its fanbase.

The 6’5 Colorado Springs native began his path to the NHL in Canada’s Western Hockey League in 2012.  He spent three seasons in the WHL with the Tri-City Americans, progressing his game and points each year.  He was also featured on the American U-20 World Junior Championship teams in 2014 and 2015.  In 12 games at the World Junior Championships, he brought home a Bronze medal, scored five points, and an impressive plus-10 rating.

He even led the entire tournament pool of U-20 defenseman with two goals, winning the “U20 WJC Most Goals by Defenseman” award in 2015.  He is in great company for this award with the likes of Cale Makar, Thomas Chabot, and Zach Werenski.  Scouts predicted Carlo either be selected at the end of the first, early second round, and the Bruins were one of many teams interested.

The Bruins were fortunate enough to acquire four extra picks between the first two rounds in 2015.  Upon trading Johnny Boychuk, the Bruins found themselves with an additional pick in the second round, and with it, they selected Brandon Carlo.  His pre-draft scouting report was foreshadowing to what Bruins fans see night in and night out.  “Through maneuvering his way around the ice and making high-percentage, skilled decisions in all three zones, he is able to shut opposition offense down before it begins to take shape.”

He has become a steady, consistent shutdown defenseman that the team has lacked in the past few years.  There has been so much emphasis, energy, and draft choices spent on trying to find the league’s next Erik Karlsson. Teams should spend just as much time and energy on securing a player like Dennis Seidenberg.

Dennis Seidenberg came to the Bruins from Florida in a deadline trade in March 2010.  He was not known for his offensive prowess, but instead was a penalty kill specialist and a blocking shot animal.  Seidenberg amassed 1,417 blocked shots and averaged 20:44 minutes of ice time in 859 career NHL games.  This type of defenseman is needed to make a deep, unbeaten playoff run.

Brandon Carlo is following in the footsteps of Seidenberg, and for Bruins fans, that is a significant area of need.  The beginning of Carlo’s Bruins career would only require seven games in Providence before showing the Bruins he was ready for the big league.  In his first full year with the Bruins, Brandon played in all 82 games averaging 20 minutes on ice and finished with 16 points and a plus 9 rating.  He played alongside big man Zdeno Chara, and the two looked to have solidified an excellent working relationship.  Carlo was primed for his first NHL playoffs in 2017, but unfortunately, the game of hockey can be cruel.  In the last game of the regular season, Carlo suffered a concussion from an Alex Ovechkin brutal hit from behind.

The hit caused Carlo to miss the Bruins’ short playoff run.  The Bruins were eliminated heartbreakingly against the Ottawa Senators in the first round.  Their offseason began in April, and the Bruins were faced with an exciting offseason task.

The Vegas Golden Knights were the NHL’s newest expansion team in 2017, which created a new twist to the upcoming offseason.  The expansion rules required current teams to select 11 roster players for protection, while the rest of their roster was fair game.  However, NHL teams were allowed to exclude pro players who completed two or fewer years of the NHL from their list and the Knights.  These players for the Bruins included Charlie Mcavoy, Jake DeBrusk, and Brandon Carlo.  While this stopped the Knights from nabbing Carlo, it didn’t stop other teams from pursuing him.

The Colorado Avalanche were looking to unload their impending free-agent Matt Duchene in the same offseason.  They had a few calls, and one, in particular, piqued General Manager Joe Sakic’s interest.  Bruins General Manager, Don Sweeney, called Sakic inquiring the asking price for their second-line center.  Sakic expressed his interest in the Bruins budding blue-liner.

Don Sweeney was building a system and philosophy to develop and invest in players he drafted.  Thankfully, Sweeney stuck to his word and refused Sakic’s request.  Duchene would eventually be traded to the Ottawa Senators in a massive haul of prospects and draft picks.  Sakic tried a second time to pry Carlo from the Bruins, this time offering up their captain Gabriel Landeskog.

Sweeney, again, held onto his shutdown defenseman.  Carlo entered his sophomore season on the Bruins’ third-pairing with Kevan Miller.  Zdeno Chara and Charlie Mcavoy were leading the charge on the blue-line, with Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug right behind them.  When McQuaid broke his leg early into the season, Carlo moved up to Krug’s left side.  Carlo and Krug struggled to find chemistry right away, and he was heading towards a sophomore slump.

Hockey is just as much a mental sport as it is a physical sport.  Defensemen need to read plays before as it develops and react in an instance.  They need to pick themselves up after a goal is allowed on their watch.  Carlo struggled during the 2018-19 regular season, so much so that he was on the wrong end of the game-day roster in February against Buffalo.  The message was sent loud and clear, and Carlo quickly found his groove.  In 1,000 minutes played on 5-on-5 ice time, he led the league in the least amount of goals-against with 1.42 per 60 minutes that season.  Yes, even during a down year.  He was full-steam ahead for the playoffs when once again, the injury bug arrived, and he missed another playoff run.

The third time is the charm, and he finally made his playoff debut in 2019.  He averaged 21:31 of ice time throughout the Stanley Cup run and even scored two goals.  The most impressive part of Carlo’s playoff run was his ability to shut down the offensive talent.  Chara was the guy to shut down the likes of Max Pacioretty, Steven Stamkos, and Henrik and Daniel Sedin in 2011.  Unfortunately, Chara isn’t getting any younger and needs to pass the shutdown torch.  Carlo stepped up in a big way.

According to Natural Stat Trick, Carlo played his most playoff minutes against Artemi Panarin, Auston Matthews, and Pierre-Luc Dubois.  All three are an incredible talent and poised to be household names for years to come.  When the three players were on the ice with Carlo in a 5-on-5 situation, the three fired a combined 104 shots on goal.  Without Carlo, the shot total increased to 114.  He also led the team in penalty killing minutes with 77:22 in the entire 2019 playoffs.  The next most PK minute total was Chara at 55:04.  Carlo also added a little flair to his penalty-killing abilities.

Unfortunately, adding a Stanley Cup to his resume will have to wait, but he grew into a phenomenal player over three months.  Carlo received a team-friendly contract of 2 years, $2.85M this past offseason, and will be a restricted free-agent again when it’s complete.  He will be a long-term staple on the blue-line and is an outstanding defensive defenseman, which is rarely talked about.  It’s now clear why Sweeney refused to trade the former second-round pick.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 162 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!! 

Boston’s Latest Trade Buzz

NHL: Boston Bruins at Buffalo Sabres

( Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

A Bruins regular season would not be complete without trade rumors. The Bruins are almost always rumored to be in on a specific player or shopping their own. Don Sweeney, current General Manager, is always doing his due diligence to improve his team, from sending scouts to NHL games to making phone calls to other General Managers. The latest buzz features two young Bruin names that their fans might be reluctant to give up.

The key takeaway in this tweet is the “Bruins aren’t necessarily shopping them.” Don Sweeney would not be fulfilling his job as General Manager if he didn’t field calls and negotiate deals.  Other teams’ General Managers are doing the same, which is why there’s chatter.  What are the Bruins giving up in these players and who would be worth receiving?

Anders Bjork was drafted 146th overall in the 2014 draft out of Notre Dame.  He had a fruitful career for the Irish, amassing 109 points in 115 games.  Bjork is a young 23-year old impending restricted free-agent who has had the misfortune of two straight seasons ending due to shoulder surgeries.  This season, the 6-foot, 190-pound left-winger is finally fully healthy and improving every game.  He’s largely played with Charlie Coyle as his center and recently been placed on David Krejci’s line. The Bruins have longed to find David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk’s wing partner and Bjork has the tools to be the answer.  

Danton Heinen is the second Bruin to be included in the rumors.  Heinen was drafted 116th overall in the same draft as Bjork (2014).  He played two years for the Denver Pioneers, eclipsing 93 points in 81 games before heading to Boston for eight games in the 2016-17 season.  The 24-year old’s versatility has been one of his many strengths in Boston.  He recently signed a 2-year, $5.6M deal in this past offseason.  He will become a restricted free agent in 2021.  He’s been asked to play with Bergeron, Krejci, and Coyle and has succeeded immensely.  Heinen has the defensive tenacity, vision, and nose for the net that is required of a top-nine winger.  He is a role player needed on a team to make it deep into the playoffs.

If the Bruins potentially have two long-time wingers in their possession, why would they be willing to trade them?  

NHL General Managers generally make trades based on three reasons: they’re looking to rebuild their roster, they’re looking to make a playoff push, or they’re looking to acquire talent for one of their impending free-agent stars. 

If Don Sweeney is fielding calls for Bjork and Heinen, it is more than likely to acquire an impending free-agent to fulfill his top-six winger issue.  Both young forwards have shown promise and have the talents to help lead a team deep into the playoffs.  The Bruins also control their rights for the next several years.  Giving up on players too early has bitten this organization before with the likes of Tyler Seguin.  So if Sweeney does pull the trigger, a well-established NHL scorer should be included in the return.  

The Bruins have brokered trades to acquire impending free-agents (rentals) before in Rick Nash, Marcus Johansson, and Jaromir Jagr.  None of the three were in Bruins’ uniforms the following season, which makes these trades tricky.  Rentals are a risk because they could hit the free-agency market the following year.  The NHL team loses not only the player they acquired but the player they traded away. 

The New York Rangers have two of the three aforementioned motives to strike a deal.  They are seven points behind the Florida Panthers for the final Wild Card spot.  They won the Artemi Panarin sweepstakes in last year’s offseason, handing him $81M for the next seven years.  They also netted the second overall pick, jumping from the sixth spot, in last year’s lottery.   On paper, their roster was primed to make a playoff push.  

The Rangers also have an impending unrestricted free-agent in Chris Kreider.  Kreider, who hails from Boxford, MA, was drafted 19th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft out of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.  He went on to play three years at Boston College, tallying 92 points in 114 games.  The 6-foot-3, 217-pound left-winger has the speed that NHL GM’s salivate over.  He’s currently playing on the Rangers’ top line with 12 goals, which would rank fourth on the current Bruins roster.  He is playing out the last year of his four-year, $18.5M contract. 

Kreider is making $4.6M this year and will look to increase to at least $5M per year on his next deal.  Kreider is a big-bodied winger that would fit the Bruins mold well, especially if he had Krejci feeding him the puck each night.  However, the Bruins should be cautious and ensure Kreider plans to sign a long-term, cost-effective deal if he is traded to his native state.  

The Los Angeles Kings are a team that falls into the rebuilding category.  The Kings are last in the Western Conference with an aging roster.  The Kings have $21M tied up between three of their top-six forwards all over the age of 33.  They’ve been guilty of giving out poor contracts and have had a history of the injury bug.  A few bright spots on their roster have some NHL teams calling.  Tyler Toffoli is a 27-year old winger, who is also on the last year of his contract with Los Angeles.  He, too, will be looking for a pay increase as he sits third in scoring on the lowly Kings with 11 goals.  

 

The last scenario the Bruins could entertain is packaging a young forward to trade David Backes’s deplorable contract.  The Toronto Maple Leafs traded Patrick Marleau, who had a similar contract, to the Carolina Hurricanes for a seventh-round pick this last offseason.  The Leafs had to send a first-round pick in order to rid themselves of Marleau’s contract. 

The same will apply to Backes, but Sweeney could decide to dangle Heinen or Bjork, instead of his coveted first-round choice.  A package that includes Backes, Bjork or Heinen and another draft selection could send New Jersey Devil Miles Wood and a draft selection to Boston.  Miles is a 24-year old left-winger who is in the midst of a team-friendly $2.75M per year deal.  The Devils are second-to-last in the league in points and could also be looking for a new direction.  

General Managers wear many hats and one of them is to improve their team, even if they sit atop the standings.  The Bruins are first in their division and second in the Eastern Conference.  Their Stanley Cup window is dwindling because of their aging core of players.  Zdeno Chara is playing out his one-year deal, Patrice Bergeron has sat for a few games to keep him fresh for the playoffs, and David Krejci has one more year on his 6-year deal signed in 2014.  The time to bing a Stanley Cup back to Boston is now.  Heinen and Bjork were drafted to be a part of a long playoff run but if an NHL team calls and offers a deal that they can’t pass up, Sweeney may take the risk.  

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 161 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!!

Who Is Bruins’ Defenseman, Cooper Zech?

( Photo Credit: Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

NHL teams employ a variety of prospects. Team scouts are responsible for researching and assessing prospects throughout the world to determine a player’s draft position. Prospects who are highly scouted and considered the best of the best are selected at high draft positions. Others, however, endure more work in making an NHL roster because they are not drafted. These players are considered undrafted free agents (“UDFA”). Boston Bruins’ prospect Cooper Zech falls into this category.

The life of an undrafted free agent is predicated on calls from NHL teams looking to expand their rosters. A typical UDFA will play four years of college hockey or junior hockey in America or Canada. They’ll wait for tryout invitations after their eligible draft year(s) to show teams what they may have missed. A variety of reasons will affect a player’s draft position: progression of their development, strength, or size. The latter is the leading reason why most players go undrafted.

Most notable free agents who have been told they were too small for the NHL include Martin St. Louis, Adam Oates, Connor Sheary, and current Bruins player, Torey Krug. Oates and St. Louis have been inducted into the NHL’s Hall of Fame. St. Louis polished off his career with a Stanley Cup win in 2004, Sheary has two Stanley Cup rings with Pittsburgh, and Krug is eyeing a large payday next off-season. Cooper Zech’s initial pre-draft impression wasn’t any different. He had consistently been told his 5’9, 170-pound stature was too small for an NHL defenseman. Thankfully, that didn’t stop the left-handed shot defenseman from pursuing his dreams.

Cooper Zech started his unconventional road to the NHL with the North American Hockey League (NAHL). The NAHL is the only Tier II junior league sanctioned by USA Hockey, and acts as an alternative to the Tier I United States Hockey League (USHL). The USHL features young stars who have their sights set on an NHL roster and have been told by general managers they need more developmental time. These players are typically drafted, including current emerging star Bruins defenseman, Charlie McAvoy. Similar to the NHL draft, some players are not fortunate enough to play in the USHL, which creates an opportunity for the NAHL.

Zach Zech, Cooper’s older brother, played for the NAHL’s Odessa Jackalopes. With the help of his older brother, Cooper was given a try-out and the 17-year old Michigan native made his first junior hockey team in 2015.

Zech played two seasons in Odessa, notching 57 points. He left after 41 games in 2016-17 to play in the USHL with the Muskegon Lumberjacks for a 25-game stint. He moved on to a full season in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) with the Wenatchee Wild in the 2017-18 season. This particular season was huge for Zech’s development. He led all BCHL defenseman in points for the season (69 points) and playoffs (23 points). He was awarded BCHL’s Best Defensemen in 2018 and was an integral part of the Wild’s first BCHL championship.

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Following his admirable year with the Wild, Zech looked for an opportunity to sign with an NHL team. NHL teams hold development camps to evaluate their prospects before the season kicks off and allows teams to invite undrafted prospects for a tryout. Coaches and management evaluate what areas of the game each prospect needs to work on, and shares that with the player to help in their development process.

The Washington Capitals became the first NHL team to invite Zech to their development camp, months after his season in the BCHL ended. He attended the Capitals’ camp, where his skill was recognized. He took part in 3-on-3 tournaments and even signed some autographs.

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Unfortunately, like most UDFA’s who attend camps, he left Washington without a contract. He verbally committed to the Ferris State Bulldogs in the Western Conference Hockey Association (WCHA) for the 2018-19 season. He continued his torrid success at Ferris State, earning WCHA’s Rookie of the Year. He led all WCHA freshmen in points with 28 and became the first freshman to lead the Bulldogs in scoring since the 1987-88 season. His .78 points per game by a freshmen blue-liner led the entire nation.

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Zech’s remarkable pre-NHL journey did not go unnoticed. Following his season at Ferris State, the Boston Bruins offered him a two-year AHL contract. An AHL contract is a deal between the player and the AHL team, not the NHL club. The difference between Cooper and a player like Zach Senyshyn who’s on an NHL entry-level contract and can play in the AHL, meaning he’s not on an AHL contract. Therefore, if the Bruins ever want to call up Zech, they would have to sign him to an NHL deal.

Zech joined the Providence Bruins for 12 regular season and 4 playoff games in 2019. He racked up 6 points in these 16 games, two of which were scored in the playoffs. Most notably, Zech scored a game-tying goal, which was eerily similar to Krug’s goal against the Minnesota Wild in a comeback 5-4 OT victory on November 23, 2019. Zech has often been compared to Krug, not only for his size but for his offensive ability and power play prowess.

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He entered the 2019 off-season looking to make an impression at the Bruins development camp and pre-season games. In his NHL debut preseason game against Philadelphia, Zech registered five shots on goal, a hit and a block in 17:35 minutes of ice time. He also appeared on the Bruins power-play unit. The Bruins cut Zech during their training camp, sending him down to Providence for the year to continue his development. He hasn’t skipped a beat this season, racking up 6 points in 17 games, while also receiving the recognition he’s deserved by the Bruins’ media.

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The Bruins will have to wait to figure out what they truly have in Cooper Zech and if it can translate to the NHL. He has been compared to players like Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk, mostly due to size but also for his elusive defense and power playability. He has a knack for the net and has only once in his storied career registered a negative plus/minus season. He’s been a bright spot on the Providence Bruins roster and his coaches have noticed. Jay Leach, current Providence Bruins Head Coach, praised Zech during a brief post-game interview with The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa. “His ability to make something out of nothing was there. And as always, his ability to compete and be the hockey player was always there.”

The Bruins have a plethora of defensemen vying for a spot on the roster. They also need to figure out how to financially include Krug in their future plans. Once next season hits and Zech is at the end of his AHL contract, it would not be surprising if the Bruins offer Cooper his first NHL-entry deal.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 158 that we recorded on 12-15-19 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! 

Report: Bruins Interested in Kovalchuk

( Photo Credit: David Kirouac/ Icon Sportswire )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

Could the recent release of a former-NHL All-Star solve the Bruins top-six winger issue?

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At first glance, most Bruins fans want nothing to do with the 36-year-old aging winger. But, dig a little deeper and his services could be beneficial for the remainder of the year.

Kovalchuk is a former number one overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. The Atlanta Thrashers, now the Winnipeg Jets, selected the Russian forward with the intent he’d be their franchise player. Kovalchuk averaged 1.03 points in eight years with the Thrashers. He scored 41 goals in his third season with the Thrashers, which yielded him (along with Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla) the Maurice Richard Trophy (most goals in a season).

In his final contract year with the Thrashers, he was traded to the Devils in a massive deal. The Devils and Kovalchuk agreed to a record-breaking 15-year, $100 million deal. Unfortunately for New Jersey and its fans, he only played the first four years of the deal before leaving for the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia (KHL) to be closer to his family. When Kovalchuk left the NHL, his contract was terminated and he was placed on the voluntary retirement list. The Devils maintained his NHL rights until he turned 35, which was April 15, 2018.

The KHL is notorious for plucking Russian-born NHL stars to play in their homeland. Players like Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk have left the NHL to play in Russia’s top hockey league because they’re offered the highest salaries to represent their country in their native league. Kovalchuk continued his torrid 1.08 points per game pace in 5 years with the KHL, but the NHL itch to win a Stanley Cup was still present for Ilya.

When the news broke that Kovalchuk wanted to return to the NHL in 2018, the Bruins were considered a front-running destination. The Bruins were coming off an unsatisfying playoff run, getting steamrolled by the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-1 series loss. The Bruins’ Achilles heel all playoffs was their lack of scoring depth, so the interest in the former 50-goal scorer was warranted. Kovalchuk made it abundantly clear he wanted to sign with a Stanley Cup team on a longer-term deal. Don Sweeney (current Bruins General Manager) could not dish out the money and term that Kovalchuk sought. The Los Angeles Kings won the Kovalchuk sweepstakes days before the July 1 free agency period.

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The Kings won Lord’s Stanley Cup twice in the past 10 years, so they definitely had the championship pedigree. However, the Kings became too old and injury-prone over the last two years and couldn’t find their groove. They missed the playoffs last year, finishing 30th out of the 31 teams and recently fired their head coach. Kovalchuk’s cap hit of $6.25 million per year suddenly became too costly for a rebuilding franchise. The Kings cut Kovalchuk on December 9th, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. He hasn’t played for the Kings since November 9th but is still vying for the Stanley Cup.

The Bruins, coincidentally, are still searching for a formidable top-six winger. They have tried numerous options such as Charlie Coyle, Brett Ritchie, and Anders Bjork. Coyle was acquired from the Minnesota Wild ahead of last year’s trade deadline to solidify their third-line center position. Bjork hasn’t been able to sustain a full year yet due to injuries and is still adapting to the NHL play. Brett Ritchie has 4 points in 19 games, which is nowhere close to a proper top six stat line. Kovalchuk’s current season stat line is similar to Ritchie’s, but he has the history of scoring and the numbers to back him. In nine seasons, he’s surpassed 30 goals in his 13-year career.

Kovalchuk and his agent have made it clear he is “OK” with signing a league-minimum deal of $700K. He would be an extremely low risk, high reward situation for the Bruins for even just the remainder of the year. His size (6’4 222-pounds) and prolific scoring would be beneficial to the Bruins offense, and especially to David Krejci. Krejci has been the most affected by the Bruins inability to find a top-six winger. He hasn’t had a capable set of wingers since Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. The move could also allow Cassidy to shift Pastrnak down to Krejci, where he’s found success this season.

The Bruins would have to create cap space in order to make this move. Waiving Brett Ritchie would be the most logical move, which would create $1 million in cap space. Ritchie has not panned out in the Bruins plans as of late and could use some AHL time to find his game.

The other question is, how Kovalchuk would fit into the Bruins locker room? Team chemistry is key in any NHL locker room. Bruins fans are privy to this as they’ve seen the likes of Dougie Hamilton and Tyler Seguin traded due to lack of chemistry and other team-related issues. The hope is the Bruins have a strong enough locker room bond because of their leaders like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci.

If the Bruins did sign Kovalchuk, their initial line combinations could be:

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

DeBrusk – Krejci – Kovalchuk

Bjork – Coyle – Heinen

Nordstrom – Kuraly – Backes

These lines create flexibility for Cassidy and line chemistry to develop. Kovalchuk would also immediately slot into a power-play role, where has always found success, even in LA.

The Bruins top need has been a capable top-six forward. Bruins management has been scouring NHL rosters for the void that has plagued them for the past few seasons and playoffs. They have done their due diligence, even as far as inquiring on Taylor Hall.

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It’s clear Sweeney does not want to take the Dave Dombrowski approach and sacrifice his prospects and payroll for a likely rental. Kovalchuk, though a short-term solution, presents a cost-effective quick fix and could pay dividends to come playoff time. The Bruins would not need to trade a budding young star in order to acquire Ilya. The Bruins should certainly kick the tires on Kovalchuk and identify what it would take to bring him to Boston for the remainder of the year.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 158 that we recorded on 12-16-19 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! 

Celebrating A Bruins’ 500th Career Game

( Photo Credit: Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

Jaroslav Halak celebrated his 500th career NHL game on December 9, 2019, at the TD Garden. The Bruins hosted the stingy Carolina Hurricanes on a snowy night. The game featured a lackluster offensive showing on both sides. Neither team found a quality scoring chance until four minutes left in the third. The Bruins scored two goals in two minutes, one of which earned David Krejci his 200th career NHL goal. A shutout for a goalie in any game is satisfying, but earning his 49th career shutout in the 500th career game speaks volumes to Halak’s 14-year career.

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The Slovakian was drafted 271st overall in the 2003 NHL draft by the Montreal Canadiens. Halak’s draft position is unique today because 2003 was the second to last year the draft featured nine rounds. In 2005, the NHL decreased the round total from nine to seven, which still reigns true today. The 2003 draft also featured a number of goaltenders who still play in today’s game. Marc-Andre Fleury (selected first overall), Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard, and Brian Elliot. Jaroslav’s draft position warranted some time to play in the American Hockey League. Halak was called up for 16 games in 2006 to back up Montreal’s starter Cristobal Huet. Halak began appearing regularly in the NHL in 2008, where he and (current Montreal starter) Carey Price split time. Montreal drafted Carey Price fifth overall in the 2005 draft with the plan that he would be their long-time starter, which has come to fruition. This sealed Halak’s services in Montreal. A week before the 2010 NHL draft, the Canadiens traded Halak to the St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.

Before Halak, the St. Louis Blues’ goaltending situation was a constant merry-go-round of players. The Blues did not have a four-year tenured starter since Brent Johnson from 1999 to 2004. They desperately needed a goalie who could handle the workload of a starter. After trading for Halak in 2010, the Blues offered a four-year, $15 million deal. His first season with St. Louis yielded a fourth-place position in their division, missing the playoffs. The following year, Halak posted an exceptional 1.97 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, earning him and fellow teammate, Brian Elliot, the William M. Jennings Award (fewest goals against in 25 minimum games).

The two could not continue their fewest goals feat against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings, in the 2012 semi-finals. Additionally, the following two years the Blues exited the playoffs in the first round. Suddenly, Halak’s days in St. Louis were dwindling.

The Blues drafted Jake Allen 34th overall in the 2008 NHL draft. Within the organization, Allen was primed to guard the team’s blue paint for the foreseeable future, which made Halak expendable. In a mammoth deal during Halak’s final contract year, the Blues sent Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, a 2015 1st-round pick, and 2016 3rd-round pick to Buffalo for 2009 Vezina Winner Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. Buffalo flipped Halak and a 2015 3rd-round pick to the Washington Capitals for goaltender Michal Neuvirth and forward Rostislav Klesla. Jaroslav only played 12 games with the Capitals before they shipped him to the New York Islanders for a 2014 4th-round pick.

Halak and the Islanders agreed on a 4-year, $18 million deal in 2014. He started in 59 games his first year with the Isles, leading the team to second place in their division. The Isles, unfortunately, experienced another first-round exit in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In 2016, for the third time in his career, Halak split playing time with another goalie, Thomas Greiss. Neither could help the struggling Islanders, and they finished fifth in the Metropolitan Division in 2016. The 2017 season didn’t fare any better as the Islanders allowed the most shots and goals against. The Islanders finished with 2,918 shots against and 293 goals against for the year, which equates to 35.5 and 3.5 a game, respectively. Halak performed the best he could with what he had, once posting a 50-save shutout against the New York Rangers.

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Unfortunately, Halak could not give these heroic performances all year and the team finished seventh in their division. Halak found himself looking for a new home after finishing the season with an abysmal 3.19 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.

Don Sweeney, current Bruins General Manager, had been looking for a consistent and reliable back up for Tuukka Rask for a few years. Rask is at his best in the playoffs when his playing time is managed. The Bruins just came off of a second-round exit in the 2017 playoffs after running into a buzz saw in the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their back up goalie, Anton Khudobin, received a sizable raise from the Dallas Stars that the Bruins were unwilling to match. Sweeney called Halak on the first day of free agency and struck a deal for 2-years, $5.5 million. Halak brought a starting goaltender resume and could relieve pressure from Rask. Halak appeared in 40 games in the 2018-2019 season posting a 2.34 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. Not only did he provide Rask much-needed rest, but he also added a little flair to his starts.

Fast-forward to the current season: Halak and Rask have split time almost evenly. Rask has appeared in 17 games thus far versus Halak’s 11. Halak still hovers in the 2.14 goals-against average and .934 save percentage range in these 11 games. The two have been a large reason why the Bruins are sitting atop the league’s standings.

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The Bruins finally have two reliable goaltenders and can start either one with confidence. There is a thought around the league that goaltending tandems could become more common in the playoffs, and the Bruins would benefit immensely.

Halak is currently in his final contract year with the Bruins. The team has three goaltending prospects in the system that are working their way into NHL game-shape. None of the three are considered NHL-ready as of this season, so the Bruins could look to extend Halak. Those within the organization can estimate if a prospect is ready to take the leap, but Sweeney will be cautious. The Bruins have rarely benefited from employing a reliable back-up who could give Rask numerous games off. The two biggest obstacles in keeping Halak, however, are other NHL teams’ needs and Halak’s salary demands.

If Halak continues his strong play throughout the season and maybe the playoffs, he could be looking at a larger raise than Khudobin received from Dallas. Will Sweeney be willing to offer that, given the salary cap constraints if a prospect isn’t ready? NHL organizations are always looking for a formidable goaltender and Halak’s resume fits the mold. If he continues to post legitimate goalie stats, NHL teams will be calling on July 1. Bruins fans have come to love Halak with his acrobatic saves and reliability. Hopefully, Bruins fans see more of #41 and his play yields more than a playoff exit. Congratulations to an incredible feat of 500 games and here’s to many more

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! 

Boston’s Unknown Talent: Par Lindholm

( Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

July 1, 2019, marked the first day of NHL free agency. NHL fans across the nation have hopes and dreams of their team signing the most attractive named talents. Unfortunately, the NHL salary cap limits numerous teams in who they can sign. Most General Managers will sign for needs rather than wants. The Bruins’ General Manager (Don Sweeney) had $12 million in cap space when free agency began, with three restricted free agents awaiting new deals: Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen, and Brandon Carlo.

Most fans and analysts were convinced Sweeney would have to trade a current roster player in order to sign all three. Thankfully, he was able to sign all three to team-friendly deals and had a few extra million dollars leftover. Noel Acciari had been a staple on Boston’s fourth line but received a hefty raise from the Florida Panthers in the off-season. The Bruins found themselves with a need for trustworthy bottom-six talent. With the leftover cap room, Sweeney signed a few inexpensive role players: Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm.

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Par Lindholm entered the league as an undrafted free agent, signing his first NHL deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018. The 26-year-old Swedish forward played in the Swedish Elite League from 2014 through 2017, racking up 148 points and a plus 42 rating in 193 games. He has the ability to play both left-wing and center, which is a coveted trait amongst NHL players. He featured in 61 games with the Leafs, before being traded to Winnipeg at the deadline for Nicolas Petan. Lindholm only played 4 games with the Jets and became a free agent in 2019.

The contract with Boston is a low-risk, high-reward situation. They aren’t investing much into Lindholm, but if he can help in small areas it will pay dividends for the team down the road. Elliotte Friedman (Canadian Sportsnet journalist) writes a weekly article called “31 Thoughts” explaining league news and his reaction to all NHL stories. In his latest article, he gave Lindholm an unexpected but warranted praise: “There is one player in the NHL with more than 100 minutes of ice-time who has not been scored against. It is Boston’ Par Lindholm. Jinx!” Unfortunately, this accolade was broken when the Capitals defeated the Bruins on November 16, but it highlights and recognizes his contributions that go unnoticed. It’s great to watch highlight-reel goals and tic-tac-toe passing, but the ability to resist the offense from scoring is equally as important and endearing.

This type of play is no surprise to Sweeney since he had done his homework on Par before signing him. “We only had one left-shot centerman, (Lindholm is) very good on faceoffs, also kills penalties, certainly in his previous years in Sweden he had 18 goals,” I don’t believe he’ll score just one.” Seventeen games into the season, Lindholm has scored that one goal and fittingly enough, it came against his former team.

Thankfully, he wasn’t signed for his offensive game; but instead for stats that never seem to gain the recognition it deserves. His NHL career has just begun but he has yet to post a total season’s negative stat in the plus/minus column. He’s logging an average of 11:08 of ice team a year, which is normal for a bottom-six forward. If he can give the Bruins 11 shutout minutes a night, this can catapult his teammates in situations that allow them to win the game.

Face-offs are also incredibly important to a team’s success. If a team cannot win the necessary face-offs, it could be the difference between a win or a loss. An example of a key situation is when a team (say the Capitals for argument sake) trail the Bruins and pull the goalie for an extra attacker. The strategy in these situations for a head coach starts with the grouping he wants to deploy. Normally, a coach will deploy a group that tends to kill penalties because the Capitals extra attacker is a man-advantage situation. The head coach also ensures his lineup consists of more than one center-man in case his number one center is thrown out of the face-off dot for a violation.

Patrice Bergeron is, unfortunately, a repeat offender of these violations (deservedly so or not), so Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will want a player like David Krejci or Par Lindholm on the ice for his replacement for the key defensive zone draw. If Bergeron, Krejci, or Lindholm cannot win the defensive zone face-off, the Capitals could get a quality scoring opportunity. Successful teams do the little things right and these successful plays often come from under-the-radar players. Lindholm is a career 49.3% face-off winner, which is a necessary and trait for a bottom-six forward especially on special teams. The best players generally have a face-off percentage of 52% for the year.

Lindholm will certainly not be winning any awards in the near future or be featured on the NHL Network’s Top 5 Goals of the Week. But, he will be doing all of the little things that don’t show up on the score sheet. He was able to work third line duties while the Bruins recover from the injury bug, so there’s an opportunity for him to build on other areas in his game. He has returned to fourth-line duties. Regardless of the line, he plays on, Lindholm has won face-offs, denied scoring opportunities, and kills penalties; which is exactly the reason Sweeney called him on July 1.

Check out our new Black N’ Gold Prospect Podcast episode that we recorded on December 4th, 2019! Our BNG Prospects Pod can be found on the same RSS Feed as our original Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast, which can be found 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!!

Don DelNegro’s Time With The Boston Bruins

( Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

 

NHL players work incredibly hard year-round to perform at their highest levels, though they do not achieve these statuses alone. The players receive a selfless and abundant amount of help from men and women who work their tails off behind the scenes. These include nutritionists, equipment managers, personal trainers, and athletic trainers. Athletic trainers by definition are certified and licensed health care professionals who practice in the field of sports medicine. The man who heads the athletic training department for your Boston Bruins is Don DelNegro.

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Don celebrated his 2,000th NHL game on November 21, 2019. He has been with the Bruins and NHL since the 1993 season as Head Athletic Trainer and has received numerous accolades throughout his career, at the collegiate and professional level. Prior to joining the Bruins, he served as Williams College’s Director of Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer for the U.S. Olympic Bobsled and Luge teams in the 1992 Olympics. The following year, DelNegro had a normal phone conversation with a former colleague and head athletic trainer for the U.S. Olympic Committee, Ed Ryan. Ed told Don he had turned down the Bruins’ offer to be their next athletic trainer. Don didn’t waste any time after Ed delivered the news. ““I literally called (general manager) Harry Sinden from Lake Placid (N.Y.) and I said, ‘I understand you’re looking for a head athletic trainer.'” Sinden granted DelNegro a chance at the position, giving his six months to try-out. DelNegro jumped at the opportunity and has solidified himself in the black and gold.

Athletic trainers do not work the 9-5 schedule that most of the working population is used to. Their typical workdays are strenuous, generally beginning early in the morning and prolonging into the night. Don is usually the first employee to arrive at the facility and last to leave. On a practice morning, DelNegro will prepare the training room for incoming players. He and his staff will fill the whirlpool tubs and ensure the training room is ready for an influx of injured players. Injured players remedying their sore muscles will sit in the ice-cold tub. Some need their muscles and bodies wrapped in medical gauze to avoid further injury. DelNegro will deliver treatments to any player that is in need before and during practice. He will prepare the bench for the coaches and players and watch practice for any injury that may come up. Don is always on-call and rarely enjoys a five-minute coffee break or hour-long lunch. He’ll perform post-practice injury checks with players who require more medical attention. He and his team will clean up the training room when players leave the facility and host team meetings to debrief.

Game days require longer hours because players have their routines, especially on the road. Don will arrive at the rink two hours before puck drop and stay far beyond the end of the game. If the Bruins are the away team, the players will check-in to the hotels and go on with their routines.  DelNegro will go to the rink and set up the temporary workspace for the night. During the games, he is manning the bench and first on the ice when a player is in need of assistance.

With how fast the game is, it is typically difficult for the referees to stop play when a player is injured. Other players on the ice will alert officials and the bench if the injury needs more attention. DelNegro rushes to the player’s side with the help of fellow teammates.  He will talk with the player to find out exactly what pains they’re experiencing, even if the injury was blatantly obvious.  If a player is bleeding, he will pressure the wound and do his best to avoid further leakage onto the ice.  He helps them off the ice and into the training room. Sometimes, players will skate off on their own power and DelNegro is waiting at the bench doors to help the player down the tunnel and into the room.  He is the Bruins’ first responder, and the players do not let it go unnoticed.  On the night of DelNegro’s 2,000th game, the Bruins put together a video of the players and management congratulating DelNegro on a successful career thus far.

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There’s never an off-night for DelNegro. He has lived up to the expectation of continuously assisting the players when they need it most. He was an integral part of the Stanley Cup run, keeping players as healthy as they could be to bring the Cup home to Boston. Sinden made the right choice giving DelNegro a chance at the role. It is an exceptional accomplishment and Don does not seem to be slowing down. Congratulations from the Bruins community and thank you, Don, for always allowing the players to perform at their highest levels.

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Boston’s Luck With NHL’s Offside Rule

(Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

In 1929, the NHL implemented the offsides rule, which players abide by to this day. Rule 83.1 in the current NHL handbook states, “Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone. The position of the player’s skates and not that of his stick shall be the determining factor in all instances in deciding an off-side. A player is off-side when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line involved in the play.” The rule was created to ensure a level playing field and allow players to defend their goal, without having to worry about an attacker cherry-picking behind them.

If a player is deemed offsides entering the zone, the whistle will be blown by an on-ice official and a face-off will occur. The ensuing face-off will take place outside the attacking zone or in the attacker’s defensive zone, depending on intent. In 2016, the NHL Board of Governors allowed its coaches to challenge an offsides ruling if it resulted in a goal. The amendment to the rule has created a frenzy of unhappy players, coaches, and organizations, and confusing explanations.

Hockey has always relied on referees to call its game fairly and objectively. Referees have been trained by the NHL to uphold the rule book and keep order on the ice. On-ice officials are entrusted to call a fair and unbiased game. This has, however, created an opportunity for human error. As the players become bigger, faster, and stronger, so does the game. It is always a criticism from the average hockey fan that the game is “too fast” and the puck is “hard to follow.” On-ice officials need to adapt to the changes and ensure their calls are correct. One bad judgment call by the referee can change the landscape of an entire game. With the emergence of challenging in-game video review across all sports, the NHL decided it was time to allow their referees to review offsides.

The challenge was implemented because in many instances (some in key games) a play should have been offsides and a goal was scored. The NHL wanted to give the referees a chance to reverse the call if, upon video review, their original ruling was wrong. When a coach requests a challenge, the referees stop the game, call the NHL review headquarters in Toronto, and have a phone call about the play. Referees talk to Toronto as they look at the play on an iPad, which most have scrutinized. Challenges have taken anywhere from three to ten minutes. As a whole, game-play slowed down significantly and coaches took advantage of the break to give players a breather. The NHL changed the penalty of a failed offsides from a loss of a time-out to a two-minute minor penalty.

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With the decrease in challenges, scrutiny increased in turn. Your Boston Bruins have been at odds with this rule numerous times, especially in the playoffs. In-Game 1 Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2018, Brad Marchand entered the attacking zone with the puck and ended up scoring on the play. His teammate, Patrice Bergeron, was run into by a Maple Leafs player. Bergeron’s right skate was in the zone, and his left skate appeared to have dragged on the blue line. As 83.1 further states in the NHL rule book, “A player is on-side when either of his skates is in contact with, or on his own side of the line, at the instant, the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line regardless of the position of his stick.”

 

Bergeron’s skate is simultaneously entering the zone as the puck enters the zone. Stop the video at 41 seconds and the puck is clearly in the zone, while Bergeron’s skate is touching the blue paint. The NHL’s rule book states this is a good goal, but the referees and the NHL called the goal back upon video review. Any camera angle showing the replay on the jumbotron or on the at-home TV broadcasts are the same cameras the NHL sees. So Bruins fans are left wondering, why was this called no-goal? These plays are happening during the most crucial time in the sport, and goals are held to the interpretation of the referee on an iPad.

More recently, Weymouth-native Charlie Coyle scored what looked like a good goal in the eyes of the rule book in Montreal on November 6, 2019.

 

In this instance, rule 83.1 allows Coyle’s goal. “A player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered “off-side,” provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.” Control of the puck means the act of propelling the puck with the stick, hand, or feet, which Coyle displays. Players nowadays are talented enough to use their skates as a way to pass the puck to their stick, which is considered possession. The referees and NHL determined Coyle did not have possession, even though he corralled the puck from his skates to his stick upon entering the zone.

Interestingly enough, a similar play occurred in 2016 between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals.

 

Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington Capitals forward) entered the zone and lost the puck for a brief moment. Moments later, Evgeny’s teammate, Alex Ovechkin, scored the game-winning goal. The NHL reviewed the goal and the goal was upheld, meaning the NHL determined Kuznetsov had possession of the puck while entering the zone even though he did not have it on his stick for a moment.

The NHL is inconsistent with their calls. Ovechkin’s goal stands when, for a moment, Kuznetsov did not have clear puck possession, but Coyle’s goal is overturned when he, too, had possession. Many around the league feel the referees do not want to reverse their own call, especially if the replay is inconclusive. Even further, when referees give an explanation, it is too vague and does not explain the decision. Herein lies the problem.

This past Tuesday, the NHL and General Managers met at their annual November meeting. The meeting is designed to review how the year has progressed and discuss any rule changes that need to be reviewed during their annual March meetings. Rules are changed, created, or deleted during these March meetings. “Commissioner Bettman said a discussion on the offside rule, possibly regarding the way it is written in the rulebook and how it is being applied in video replay through a coach’s challenge, will be one of the many topics the GMs will talk about.” Don Sweeney, General Manager of the Boston Bruins, is a lock to be one of the many GMs to voice his displeasure with the rule and how it’s being evaluated.

It is unclear what the NHL will do (if anything) to change the challenge process. The most likely scenario is that the NHL will hear out its General Managers now and see how the current year progresses with the rule. If the on-ice ruling has a significant hand in how a game ends this year, the NHL will have more pressure from the public eye to make a change. Unfortunately, the NHL and its fans will have to wait until March for an actual revision. Even so, a new rule may not go into effect until next season. The NHL needs to educate its fans, referees, and organizations on all scenarios that come from the offside challenge. The calls need to be consistent and free of mistakes. The NHL comes down to a game of inches and a crucial call can create a controversial outcome.

Check out our new Black N’ Gold Prospect Podcast episode 6 that we recorded on November 17th, 2019! Our BNG Prospects Pod can be found on the same RSS Feed as our original Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast, which can be found on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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