Report: Boston Bruins Sign Undrafted NCAA Defenseman Ahcan

( Photo Credit: Dan and Margaret Hickling | uscho.photoshelter.com )

By: Will Montanez | Follow me on Twitter @Willfro3

The Bruins have reportedly come to terms on an entry-level contract with Jack Ahcan. The deal would most likely be for two years, consistent with similar college UFA’s. Ahcan, a five-foot eight-inch, left-shot defenseman, was playing for St. Cloud State University prior to the school’s cessation of on-campus and sports activity due to the spread of SARS-CoV-2. He had led the Huskies as team captain through 33 games during the 2019-2020 season, his senior year.

Ahcan has logged seven goals to compliment 18 assists from the Huskies’ back-end. His point total is good for third on the roster and first among his peers along the blue-line. Through his four years at St. Cloud State, Ahcan accumulated 21 goals, 103 points and a plus 13 rating in 144 games. He became the third defenseman in team history to earn 100 or more points and has set a record for blue-liners with 82 assists. Aside from his offensive production, Ahcan has proven to be a key piece to the Huskies indicated by his reputation in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

 

The Minnesota native has received numerous awards for his efforts in the NCHC including being named Defensive Player of the Week three times and earning a spot on the All-NCHC Second Team in both 2018 and 2019 as well as the 2016-2017 All-NCHC Rookie Team. He was also a part of the United States World Junior Championship Team that won Gold in 2017 as a teammate to current B’s star Charlie McAvoy.  His efforts on the ice and intangibles off of it have not gone unnoticed among NHL teams.

Although undrafted, Ahcan has been invited to several teams’ development camps in order for scouts to gain a closer look at the player and to give him a glimpse of what it takes to be a professional athlete. He participated in camps with the Los Angeles Kings in 2017, Columbus Blue Jackets in 2018 and the Colorado Avalanche in 2019, but was either not offered a deal or elected not to sign in each of those years. His offensive mindset and vision, skating ability and no-quit attitude have frequently been highlighted as his key traits.

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Ahcan’s listed height and weight put him in the category of “diminutive;” a four-letter word in the NHL that helps to explain why teams have passed on him in drafts and have played coy on offering contract opportunities to the collegiate senior. Even in the modern NHL, size is considered a factor and most certainly for the defense as they often are expected to bring an in-your-face, physical element to dissuade some of the most highly skilled players in the world from treading on those dangerous areas inside the house. In spite of his size, Ahcan’s strengths of excellent vision, skating, and leadership qualities are typical of a Bruins college UFA signing.

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Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has implemented a system of fast neutral- and defensive- zone play that emphases protecting the slot and crease while aggressively pressuring attackers when outside of that zone to regain control of the puck to transition play quickly into the other end of the rink. General Manager Don Sweeney has done his best to acquire players to develop that will fit that mentality in the draft and in free agency. The team has additionally made his character a key consideration for prospective players and those leadership qualities have influenced signing decisions on other players like Karson Kuhlman in 2018 and Nick Wolf earlier in March 2020. Ahcan’s on-ice successes are indicative of his ability to conform to all of those requirements, both in two-way, decisive play and team-building intangibles.

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Regardless of what happens for the rest of the NHL’s regular- and playoff- seasons, Ahcan will have an opportunity to join a defensive-corps that will be in flux on the left flank in the fall of 2020. He will face stiff competition from the B’s current prospects and will most likely see duty in Providence for the Bruins’ AHL affiliate. If the season is restarted when normalcy has returned to the US and the world, he may get an opportunity to join the Providence Bruins on run for the playoffs and the Calder Cup this calendar year. Regardless of when he’s able to don a black and gold sweater for either team, Bruins’ management and fans should be happy they were able to secure a quality prospect for essentially nothing as they hope that he can develop into an impact player at the highest level.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 171 that we recorded below on 3-23-20! 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’ Top-Six: Best Regular Seasons Of All-Time

( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

By: Will Montanez | Follow me on Twitter @Willfro3

The B’s sealed a tightly contested win over with a shutout effort on Tuukka Rask’s 33rd birthday on March 10, 2020. With that win, they summited the 100 point threshold for the third season in a row, the sixth time in the past decade and the 24th time in their illustrious 95 years of competition. With the NHL’s hiatus in response to coronavirus fears, the team remains the only franchise to post that many points in the current season that finds itself in jeopardy. In honor of the team’s achievement, we’ll take a look at the top-six best regular seasons in franchise history.

The NHL’s schedule has changed through time as teams have been added to and dropped from the League. The points awarding scheme has also changed, progressing from different formats to the current two-point system that features the dreaded loser point. To avoid controversy, it is best to consider points percentage as the key indicator of dominant seasons since it normalizes for games played and how points are doled out to teams in the case of overtime, ties, shoot-outs and the like. With this criteria in mind, let’s see how the current iteration of the Black ‘n’ Gold compares to the great teams of yore.

6.) 2013-14 Boston Bruins; Pts Percentage: .713

( Photo Credit: Steve Babineau | Getty Images )

This is the position that Bruce Cassidy’s 2019-20 squad would claim if the season had officially ended today. The regular schedule has not yet played through and may be canceled or altered in some way, so it must be omitted from the all-time lists until the dust settles. The sixth-best season in B’s history, therefore, goes to Claude Julien and his post-Seguin-trade roster.

That controversial blockbuster brought in Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson from Dallas and then General Manager, Peter Chiarelli, further bolstered the win-now group by signing Jarome Iginla, Carl Soderberg. The coaching staff identified two talented young defensemen from the franchise’s system to add to the back-end when Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug proved they were ready for the Show after strong training camp and playoff appearances respectively.

In spite of an injury-riddled season for many of the team’s regulars, indicated by their 202 man-games-lost, the Bruins remained competitive throughout the season. The team went on a 12 game run, with only one game going beyond extra time while outscoring the opposition 47 to 17 late in the campaign. When all of the games were wrapped up, the Bruins found themselves atop of the League in points with 117 and in the top three of both Goals-For and -Against. Aside of team success, Tuukka Rask captured the Vezina Trophy and Patrice Bergeron was awarded the Selke Trophy as he posted his first 30+ goal season since his concussion in 2007.

5.) 1973-74 Boston Bruins; Pts Percentage: .724

( Photo Credit: Hockey Hall of Fame | http://www.hhof.com )

After capturing their second Stanley Cup title in three years, the Bruins’ organization saw a widespread change. Gone were names like Gerry Cheevers and Derek Sanderson as they left the organization in favor of the NHL’s competitor, the World Hockey Association. In spite of those departures, the team still held star players like Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and John Bucyk who helped post stellar offensive numbers throughout the season. Backstopped by the tandem of young Gilles Gilbert and veteran Ross Brooks, the team finished with the third-best save percentage in the League helping to maintain a complete team.

The ’73-74 Bruins went on a tear from November 8, 1973, to December 20, 1973, during which they posted a 16 game unbeaten-streak that featured two ties. Bruins finished their regular season first in the league with 113 points and saw several individual awards earned by their players. Most notably, Phil Esposito captured the Art Ross, Hart and Ted Lindsey awards and would have clinched the Rocket Richard had it been doled out at the time.

4.) 1971-72 Boston Bruins; Pts Percentage: .763

( Photo Credit: sportsecyclopedia.com )

The beginning of the decline for the Big Bad Bruins core and they finished first in the league with 119 points. Again led by Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, the Bruins were an offensive juggernaut finishing first in the league in goals-for. While there were not any lengthy win- or unbeaten-streaks, the team finished with the fewest losses among the active teams.

Numbers seven and four finished top-two in scoring among skaters and received individual accolades. Orr has bestowed the honors of both the Hart and Norris in the same season while Esposito finished with the most points in the League culminating in his third Art Ross.

3.) 1938-39 Boston Bruins; Pts Percentage: .771

( Photo Credit: sportsecyclopedia.com )

This Bruins team featured ten Hall-of-Famers, three of which have their numbers hanging in TD Garden’s rafters. As geopolitical tensions rose in Europe and the Pacific, the Boston Bruins ran roughshod in their newly donned black and gold uniforms. The team managed to upgrade in the net when previously acquired Frank Brimsek supplanted Tiny Thompson in the crease passing the baton from one Bruins great to the next.

The team finished first in overall League standings, goals-for, and goals-against. Roy Conacher finished first in goals and Brimsek won the Calder and Vezina for rookie of the year and best goaltender in the League. The famed Kraut line began to grow into their potential and helped propel the Bruins into a winning streak of eight games over the last eight tilts of their regular season to secure the team’s position atop of the leader boards.

2.) 1970-71 Boston Bruins; Pts Percentage: .776

( Photo Credit: Boris Spremo | Getty Images )

The peak of the Orr era, this squad set multiple offensive records and saw several notable players register career highs. One such mark is Phil Esposito’s 76 goal, 152 point effort, which still stands as the highest for both metrics in franchise history. Those efforts fueled a season where the Bruins logged a total of 399 goals, 108 more than the second most accumulated tallies by the Montreal Canadiens.    

With the League’s most potent offense and solid defense and goaltending, the Bruins dominated during the regular schedule. This dominance was exemplified by a 13 game winning streak between February 23, 1971, and March 20, 1971. Further, they did not lose a game by more than three goals during the entirety of the season. Individually, Bobby Orr claimed his second consecutive Hart trophy and third straight Norris while Esposito collected his second Art Ross.

1.) 1929-30 Boston Bruins; Pts Percentage: .875

( Photo Credit: Hockey Hall of Fame | http://www.hhof.com )

This Bruins team is the granddaddy of them all and represents the single best regular season in franchise history and the highest winning percentage on League record. With the legendary coach Art Ross at the helm, dominating offensive contributions form Cooney Weiland and Dit Clapper and a Vezina-winning performance from Tiny Thompson the Bruins laid waste to the League for the entire regular season. During their rampage, they lost a piddling five times and posted a 17 game unbeaten streak with their lone tie of the season included. That streak was good for 39% of the entire schedule.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 170 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!!

Bruins Legend Turns 72

( Photo Credit: Parrysound.com )

By: Will Montanez | Follow me on Twitter @Willfro3

On March 20, 1948, Arva Orr gave birth to a sickly child that the family would name Robert. His spark and grit pulled him through his questionable early goings and carried on during his youth as he established himself as a young phenome in the sport of hockey against bigger and tougher opponents.  Bobby Orr would impress at every level of competitive hockey and roused interest from the Boston Bruins at a young age.  Eventually, Orr would go on to sign with the Bruins, citing their rebuild and his desire to be a part of a ground-up project.

What would ensue was an illustrious career in the NHL that has been recounted and shared through generations of hockey players and fans. Orr’s aggressive, up-tempo playing style revolutionized the defensive position and influenced the many greats that have laced them up since. He set numerous records, some of which stand until this day. Although his career was shortened to nine full seasons and parts of three others due to injuries he sustained, the legacy that Orr left in Boston and for the sport of hockey lives on and here are just a few of his accomplishments by the numbers.

132

The current record for most points in one season by a defenseman. Paul Coffey came close during the 1985-86 season but fell shy of matching it by one point.

102

The current record for single-season assists by a defenseman. Orr posted these totals along with 37 goals through the 1970-1971 season.

100

Orr became the first player in the history of the NHL to log 100 or more assists in a single season on April 3, 1971, when he notched a primary helper on a third-period goal by Ken Hodge in an 8-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

40

The number of seconds it took Orr to score the overtime Cup clincher against the Blues ending the Bruins’ 29-year championship drought.

30

Orr became the first defenseman in league history to light the lamp 30 times in a single season when he scored his second goal of the game against the Minnesota North Stars in a 5-0 win on March 22, 1970. He again became the first defenseman to reach a goal threshold when he scored 46 goals in 1974-75 season, breaking the threshold of 40.

9

The number of hat-tricks Orr scored during his career. It remains a record among NHL defensemen. He tallied his first set of three in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks on December 14, 1968, and his last against the Washington Capitals in a tilt on March 22, 1975. The Bruins were undefeated in those games with one tie.

6

The number of consecutive seasons in which Orr posted 100 or more points. This figure set the record in 1975 which was tied in 1980 by Guy Lafleur and has since been surpassed but remains the high-water mark for NHL defensemen.

4

Orr received four major awards during the 1969-1970 season: the Hart, Norris, Art Ross and Conn Smythe awards. Only one other player has accomplished the same feat: Alexander Ovechkin in the 2007-08 season.

( Photo Credit: Hockeygods.com )

2

Orr led the league in scoring twice. Once in the 1969-70 season and again in 1974-75 campaign. He remains the only NHL defenseman to receive this accolade.

1.39

In his injury-stunted career, Orr notched 915 points in 657 NHL regular-season games. He remains ranked fourth, all-time, in points per game behind three forwards: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mike Bossy.

( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

While there are many other accomplishments not represented above, Orr’s performance on the ice speaks for itself and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979, immediately after his mandatory three-year waiting period was completed. He became the youngest member to be included at the tender age of 31. Since his retirement from hockey, Orr became a player agent and after several mergers with other firms, he formed the Orr Hockey Group in 2002 which has represented or currently represents many star players including Connor McDavid. Orr frequently participates in current Bruins’ events and remains a symbol of pride for hockey lovers in Boston and around the world. Happy birthday Bobby Orr and to many more healthy years ahead!

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 170 that we recorded on 3-18-19 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’ Top-Six: Best Deadline Transactions

By: Will Montanez | Follow me on Twitter @Willfro3

Black N Gold Hockey Podcast website is proud to announce a new, recurring series in the rotation of entertaining articles: The Bruins’ Top Six.  In honor of the passing of the 2020 NHL trade deadline, the inaugural listing will be on the Bruins’ best Trade Deadline acquisitions of all time.

As part of the NHL’s “Original Six,” the Boston Bruins organization has a long and storied past. The hockey club has been in operation since 1924 and has participated in over 6,500 regular-season games, earning post-season appearances in 72 of those years. The crew went through all recorded trades that the Bruins participated in thanks to documentation by NHL Trade Tracker to pick the best and most influential Trade Deadline transactions made by the club. First things first, the trade must have occurred within six weeks of the NHL trade deadline of that year so readers will not find big trades such as the one that brought Cam Neely to Beantown.

6.) Dennis Seidenberg Poached from Florida

( Photo Credit: NBC Sports Boston )

Regular Season (Playoff) Stats with Bruins: GP – 401, G – 23, Pts – 117, +/- 54 (GP – 50, G – 2, Pts – 15, +/- 14)

The Bruins acquired Dennis Seidenberg before the Trade Deadline in 2010 from the Florida Panthers along with Matt Bartkowski for Byron Bitz, Craig Weller and the Bruins’ second-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Following the 2004 – 2005 lockout season, Seidenberg became an NHL full-timer with the Philadelphia Flyers.

A bit of a journeyman, he played for three teams in the span of five seasons due to various trades. Seidenberg was seen as a defenseman who would help better balance the D-corps by playing with Zdeno Chara on the right side of the rink. Matt Bartkowski ultimately failed to grab a spot with the Bruins and none of Bitz, Weller or 36th overall pick in the 2010 draft and current Providence Bruin, Alex Petrovic played any meaningful minutes for Florida.

Seidenberg played 17 games in that first season but was injured and missed the entirety of the playoffs which featured the historic collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers. The following season, Seidenberg became a household name in New England as he notched career highs in all offensive categories and helped lead the B’s back-end during the run to the Stanley Cup by logging 27:38 minutes of ice-time over all of the Bruins’ 25 games.

Behind only Chara, Seidenberg’s ice-time trailed the Captain by a mere second per game. The trade locked in one of the key pieces to the championship team in 2011. He also scored at least one goal from center ice three seasons, so that alone should get him into the top-six.

5.) Local Boys Swapped in Deal for Charlie Coyle

( Photo Credit: YouTube )

Regular Season (Playoff) Stats with Bruins: GP – 84, G – 17, Pts – 40, +/- 32 (GP – 24, G – 9, Pts – 16, +/- 8)

The B’s flipped promising forward Ryan Donato and a conditional pick that ultimately became a fourth-round selection in the 2019 Entry Draft to the Minnesota Wild for center and East Weymouth native Charlie Coyle. Originally drafted by the San Jose Sharks 28th overall in 2010, Coyle was the Wild’s centerpiece in the trade for Brent Burns in the 2011 off-season. Coyle broke into the league during the 2012 – 2013 season while splitting time between the NHL and AHL and never looked back the following year as he proved himself an NHL regular.

Donato came out of the gate quickly for Minnesota but has since shown the same defensive and effort related issues that plagued him in Boston. The pick in the deal was exchanged to Carolina in order to help Minnesota move up to the second round so that they could draft Hunter Jones, a goalie prospect in the Ontario Hockey League.

Since the trade, Coyle has proven to be a versatile top-nine forward that helped the cement the Bruins’ depth chart up the middle of the ice.  He has played spot time at wing in various line combinations. Despite an underwhelming early tenure that saw him post two goals, six points and a minus two rating, Coyle turned it in on in the 2019 playoffs scoring some big goals, particularly in the second round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, ultimately potting nine tallies that were tied for most on the team.

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Coyle is a serviceable player and seen as a stop-gap in Boston, evidenced by his five-year contract extension that will see him in the Black n’ Gold until 2026. He will help man the middle lane for the foreseeable future, as the Bruins transition from Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to players like Jack Studnicka and John Beecher.

4.) Ray Bourque Given a Chance to Win

( Photo Credit: Globe Staff Lane Turner )

Regular Season (Playoff) Stats with Bruins: GP – 1,518, G – 395, Pts – 1,506, +/- 493 (GP – 180, G – 36, Pts – 161, +/- 14)

All-time great Ray Bourque was mercifully traded to the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche from a wallowing Bruins team that he dragged to mediocrity along with Dave Andreychuk for Martin Grenier, Samuel Pahlsson, Brian Rolston and a pick that eventually become Martin Samuelsson.

Grenier and Samuelsson never really put it together in the NHL, Pahlsson was jettisoned by B’s management in the first season of the millennium to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks where he helped the franchise capture an NHL title in 2007, Rolston carved out a solid career but left the Bruins following the lockout, save for a brief reunion in the 2011 -2012 season. On the other side of the ledger, Andreychuk left Colorado following the 2000 playoffs and Bourque led the star-studded roster to a Championship in 2001.

This trade entered the annals of folk-legend, in part because it exemplified a management team trying to find a way to get a long-time and faithful soldier to the promise land as repayment for years of loyalty and dedication while the organization continuously failed to put contending pieces together. The Bruins limited themselves to the best of the NHL teams of the time and took a below market-value return to make the move happen. The gesture would become synonymous with the relationships that management and core players develop in the Bruins organization even through the present day.

3.) Fresh Start for Adam Oates

( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

Regular Season (Playoff) Stats with Bruins: GP – 368, G – 142, Pts – 499, +/- 22 (GP – 42, G – 11, Pts – 48, +/- -18)

Following a contract dispute between the St. Louis Blues and star center Adam Oates related to perceived discrepancies in pay, Blues management offloaded the disgruntled Oates in exchange for Boston’s Craig Janney and Stephane Quintal. Before the trade, Oates had been a key cog in the Blues’ offensive machine for two seasons, helping Brett Hull to Rocket Richard awards in both years.

Despite the reports of Oates’ malcontent demeanor, the Bruins acquired him to help provide offensive pop and complement stars like Cam Neely and Bourque. Janney established himself as an above-average playmaker as he bounced around the league and Quintal ultimately played a stay-at-home role in more than 1,000 regular-season contests with six different teams.

In each season Oates was with the team, the Bruins made the playoffs despite Neely’s injury-plagued decline in the first half of the 1990s. He led the league in assists during the season in which he racked up his career-high in points with 97 and 142 respectively. Oates signed a lucrative deal with the Bruins, but again felt he was underpaid.

When his contemptuous dealings with B’s brass began, they elected to rid themselves of the headache and traded him to the Washington Capitals during the ’96 – ’97 season. Oates was a star in his own right and a 21-time nominee for the Lady Byng award, but his relationship with management, in general, was anything but gentlemanly. This served only to leave a blemish on the talented forward’s legacy.

2.) Carol Vadnais Reinforces Big Bad Blue-Line

( Photo Credit: NESN.com )

Regular Season (Playoff) Stats with Bruins: GP – 263, G – 47, Pts – 181, +/- 67 (GP – 39, G – two, Pts – 21, +/- 12)

Prior to the 1972 playoffs, the Bruins determined that they would need additional depth on their blue-line behind their top pair of Bobby Orr and Dallas Smith. The club entered and won a bidding war with the Montreal Canadiens for the right to acquire the California Golden Seals’ Carol Vadnais and Don O’Donoghue in exchange for forward Reggie Leach and defensemen Rick Smith and Bob Stewart.

Vadnais would anchor the B’s second pair for the rest of that season and support a successful cup run during the year. He would play another solid three years and change until he was traded to the New York Rangers in 1975. Smith and Stewart fell to relative obscurity and Leach became a star forward in the National Hockey League, although with the Philadelphia Flyers after his time with the Golden Seals.

Since the trade dealt a future prolific scorer in Leach for an understated defenseman, its sometimes considered a poor one for the B’s. This is with the luxury of hindsight and retrospect. Vadnais, who passed away in 2014, was a steady presence on the Bruins blue-line for a team with eight 20-plus goal-scoring forwards that wanted to win now and had a need elsewhere on the roster. Pundits like to talk about which team won a particular deal, but at the heart of every hockey trade, both teams ought to be winning.

Although the Seals wouldn’t hold on to the asset, one of the futures they dealt for did turn out and the Bruins received the support they desired for the playoffs. In this regard, Vadnais represents a near-perfect deadline acquisition; he was meant to bolster the back end for a playoff run that culminated in a Cup win. He did just that and even stuck around for a few years after.

1.) Mentorship and Experience in Mark Recchi

( Photo Credit: ICON SMI )

Regular Season (Playoff) Stats with Bruins: GP – 180, G – 42, Pts – 107, +/- 14 (GP – 49, G – 14, Pts – 16, +/- 30)

In March of 2009, the Boston Bruins swapped Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff for Mark Recchi and a second-round pick. This Chiarelli move would prove to be a shrewd one, as Mark Recchi would play valuable top-six minutes en route to a Stanley Cup two years later and the pick would be packaged with other minor pieces in the above Seidenberg trade. Karsums and Lashoff would both fail to become full-time NHLers with the former eventually bolting to the KHL in 2010 and the latter mostly toiling in the AHL while bouncing around continents.

Mark Recchi signed two team-friendly, one-year deals with the Bruins during the 2009 and 2010 off-seasons. Under head coach Claude Julien, he was ultimately assigned to line 1b duty with non-other than current top-line players Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron forming a defensively sound combination that was able to contribute offensively. Aside from his on-ice contributions, Recchi had a profound effect on the team’s chemistry and locker room environment. Bergeron credits him with becoming the leader he is today. 

While his performance on the ice was limited in comparison to his previous achievements, he helped to set the tone for the 2011 Championship and the continued excellence demonstrated by the organization’s core players before riding off into the sunset with the Cup in his saddle.

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!!

Bruins Should Go All-In At The Trade Deadline

By: Will Montanez | Follow me on Twitter @Willfro3

 

The Boston Bruins fancy themselves contenders for a National Hockey League title which would see them the first group to have their names etched into the Stanley Cup for the decade. Most of the hockey world would agree with their position seeing that as of their February 16th, 2020 win against the New York Rangers, they sit atop of their division and the League’s standings with 84 points on the back of a 36-11-12 record. However, the Tampa Bay Lightning have rebounded after a brutal start and sit only 3 points behind and the Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be finding their groove. The path to the Eastern Conference Finals most likely features one of the star-studded teams in blue and white so the Bruins may as well swing for the fences before the Trade Deadline on February 24, 2020.

The Bruins lay claim to the Leagues 5th worst Expected Goals For (xGF) in the league. While this is partially offset by a stellar 3rd place position in Expected Goals Against (xGA) the fact of the matter is that both of their division rivals sport more potent offenses, especially the deep forward corps of the Lightning. More notably, the Lighting feature a similar defensive profile and it’s reflected in their numbers. This means the B’s will be in it for a forward, as so many are predicting. Why stop there though? The Bruins should buck expectation and bolster their top-nine by being aggressive and grabbing two… at least.

Why Not Have it All?

In upgrading their forward group, the consensus is that the B’s are gunning for Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers. If they miss out on the deadline prize, the pundits proclaim, then they will settle for secondary rental options like, Kyle Palmieri on the New Jersey Devils, Ondrej Kase in Anaheim, or Ilya Kovalchuck who they could have had for the cost of a roster spot and .0002% of Charlie Jacobs net worth (read: essentially free). Candidates are becoming fewer and farther between as Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman and Jason Zucker have all found new homes in the past week. The trade price of Kreider has been previously been reported as a first-round round pick and a top prospect and may have increased since, per Pierre Lebrun.

That’s a nice chunk of change, no doubt in a draft year that scouts are proclaiming will yield a deep crop of young talent, per the contributors at The Hockey News. The market on the other forwards has likely been set by the Toffoli deal that saw the Kings bring in Tim Schaller on an expiring contract, a good prospect’s signing rights in Tyler Madden, a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL draft and a conditional fourth-rounder contingent on the Vancouver Canucks signing the 28-year-old right-wing. If those prices hold and the teams are still looking to sell, the B’s may possess the currency to deal for Kreider and one of the “second-tier” options, specifically Kyle Palmieri.

What Would the Prices Translate To?

Consider a total trade package consisting of the Bruins’ 2020 first-round pick, a roster player such as Danton Heinen and prospects such as Urho Vaakenainen or Trent Frederic for the Blueshirt’s Chris Kreider. Is that a palatable rental arrangement if you’re Don Sweeny? Alternatively, you have a package similar to a 2020 second-round pick and Jakob Zboril, Jakub Louko or possibly even Zach Senyshyn for one of the second-tier options. Which would you pick? Again, the answer is both. Let’s delve into the reasons why.

The Cap Situation is Getting Murkier

On the Bruins’ current roster, eight players will need new deals or replacements.  This figure does not include Kevan Miller’s expiring contract, as he seems destined to spend the entirety of this season on the Long-Term Injured Reserve list, taking him to free agency.  This situation leaves approximately $18M to distribute over 8 players, two spots of which represent the player with the second-highest Time on Ice on the Penalty Kill and a back-up goaltending position that has become of increasingly more important to the B’s, if not to all teams across the league. Obvious new deals include the resigning of Torey Krug and Jake Debrusk, which will most likely eat $11 – $12 million of that for at least the next few years.  With only six million in cap space, the Bruins will have to, most likely, replace Zdeno Chara, Joakim Nordstrom, Jaroslav Halak, potentially Matt Grzelyck and almost certainly one of Karson Kuhlman, Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen. 

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None of this considers a David Backes buyout or retained salary trade, which is to say one way or another, the Bruins will be carrying dead cap space immediately after the Matt Belesky and Dennis Seidenberg money was to come off the books. With so many question marks in the future, why not take stock of what’s important to the organization (also known as Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and potentially John Beecher), identify your roster’s weaknesses today and deal from a position of strength to address them for a long run? The deals on the highest-profile trade targets are expiring after the season allowing for cap flexibility to either resign home-grown players, re-sign the acquired players or dip into the free-agent market.

The Core is Getting Older (For Real This Time)

The remnants of the 2011 Cup-winning team are all into their 30’s. Brad Marchand, the youngest of the bunch, is 31 and will be 36 when his deal expires. Chara will most likely not be resigned, whether he wants to hang ‘em up or not, and will become an Unrestricted Free Agent at the ripe age of 43. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask round out the veteran leaders. All of these players still fill irreplaceable roles on the squad, no matter how much flak Krejci and Rask take from the local supporters. If management wants to give their team the best chance to win, it’s today because tomorrow doesn’t look great according to statistics.

Below, one can inspect the average values of players’ Expected Goals For +/-, which is an aggregate number of Expected Goals-For and -Against – a stat based on comparing shots generated or yielded in specific locations with league-wide shooting percentages from those locations at even strength –  for the seasons including and between 2014 – 2015 and 2019 – 2020. Included were only those players who played in 25 or more games in each of those seasons and the data was split between forwards and defense. The trend is quite clear. (All Stats aggregated from Hockey Reference and manipulated by the author as described above).

Along with the bulk of the line, one can clearly identify the downward trend for both groups of skaters. Anomalies occur on the two extremes of age where we see individual performances from the likes of Connor McDavid and Jaromir Jagr, indicating well-above-average skill, at ages with few samples dominate the averages. That the B’s core skaters are still on the good side of this curve is a testament to their quality. Even the oft-maligned Krejci has proven to be the team’s best option on the 2nd line in the 1b role. As seen below, however, their implied effectiveness is slowing down.

Everyone understands the physical beating that Chara, Krejci, and Bergeron have taken in support of the organization’s success. Brad Marchand will only follow that script as he accumulates more years, games and negative attention from opposing defenses. Expected goals for is not an end-all, be-all number, there are other reasons Jagr is no longer in the League, but it is a solid indicator of a player’s contribution to the team. This regressive trend punctuates the point that if the team is going to win with these players, this year might as well be their year.

Bruins Thin on the Wings

Beyond players named David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand who comprise 66% of the highly touted top line, the team’s biggest weakness it on the wing. This weakness is of the physical variety and in terms of their underlying performance. Much has been made about the Bruins’ apparent lack of size against opponents like the Washington Capitals, the Tampa Bay Lightning and last year’s Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues. The places where that differential is most important though is exactly where you need your wingers to spend most of their time: the corners of the offensive zone and around the opposing netminder’s crease. Heinen isn’t terrible at controlling the puck in those tight spaces and Bjork’s board play has improved by leaps and bounds, but in reality, physical size is still a variable that needs to be considered in a high octane contact sport. Here we see how the Bruins’ wingers compare to the teams of the Eastern Conference that are either in or in striking distance from a playoff position by team average (excluding goaltenders) and then the average of their defensive players.

No question, the Bruins wingers are at a size disadvantage, particularly when considering the opposing teams’ defensive players. Boston’s presented figure is actually lifted by the inclusion of Sean Kuraly who ordinarily plays center but his found himself on the wing for parts of this season. It isn’t enough to have a willingness to go to the net or engage in battles; one must possess that tenacity but also the physical traits that will prevent the player from being shucked off of the puck or out of inside position. The big prize of the deadline, Kreider will add physical size and not sacrifice much if not anything in regards to foot speed. Palmieri might not swing the numbers on size but he provides excellent offensive prowess and aside from the top line wingers, the Bruins lack impact forwards that don’t man the middle of the ice.

Boston’s wingers, broadly sport poor possession metrics, indicated by their Fenwick-For Relative, which is a measure of how a player impacts unblocked shots. Outside of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, only three wingers that have played at least 25 games (outside of Karson Kuhlman who was on the shelf for most of the first half of the season) are influencing the flow of play in a positive manner and all of those forwards have a metric below one suggesting they do not have much of an impact. The average for that group in the 2019 – 2020 season is -1.9 against the average for all forwards on those same playoff teams of .3. Against wingers on that group of teams over the same time period, the average Fenwick-For Relative is .1. Less to be sure, but by and large, all of the forwards on teams in the East expected to make noise are having a positive impact on possession or at least, not a negative one.

Here again, the addition of both Kreider and Palmieri immediately addresses the need for wingers that help control play. They sport sterling possession metrics across the board and would lift the team’s ability to control play on both wings. If management is going to subject poor David Krejci to a revolving door of line-mates, they might as well keep that portal twirling and stick these two above average, in-their-prime players in there and hope for some magic. Don’t care for “fancy stats?” Well, Kreider would immediately rank 4th in points on the team while Palmieri would be 5th. They would bring a collective 45 goals on the season with little to suggest their production will slow down on a superior team headed to the playoffs.

Little Evidence that the D-Corps Needs an Upgrade

The Bruin’s defense has been one of the most under-sung successes of the year. In some ways, like goals-against average, defensive metrics can be a team stat incorporating efforts from the forwards and goalies in addition to the blue-liners. Regardless, the Bruins sport one of the best-expected goals-against metrics in the League and the 3rd best actual vs expected goals against differential, behind Colorado and Tampa Bay. Torey Krug is still one of the premier power-play quarterbacks, Charlie McAvoy has started to find twine, Brandon Carlo is reminding all who really follow the team that he isn’t some 3rd rate talent behind the B’s 14th overall pick in 2016 and the rest of the cast is providing great support both on five on five and on special teams. Furthermore, options on the trade market are dwindling as Marco Scandella and Brenden Dillion have both moved from selling teams to contenders.

In an ideal world, the Bruins would acquire a depth option to add to the top-6 defenders that would address some size concerns and perhaps take some pressure off of Chara and Carlo on the PK. This is not an ideal world however and there are other teams seeking to do the same. In such a case the Bruins management ought to focus on the primary roster weaknesses addressed above

Five on Five Scoring wins Championships

Gone are the days when B’s fans could tout that their team was “built for the playoffs.” This current roster relies far too heavily on the power-play to get into the win column and love it or hate it, the way that referees interpret the rules in the playoffs changes. Fewer penalties are called, period. One only needs to look at the Bruins’ game seven defeat in 2019 against the St. Louis Blues. The only penalty called was a mandatory puck-over-glass delay of game against Colton Parayko. Although there was plenty of physicality, clutching and grabbing the rest of the game, only the Blues managed to score the meaningful even-strength goals.

In order to accomplish that, you need a top-six set of forwards that will force opposing teams to make choices instead of shutting down one troika for the duration of even-strength play in the playoffs. Providing Krejci not one, but two, real offensive threats that will get to the danger areas and use speed and tenacity to provide him time and space is imperative to forcing hard decisions on even strength coverage. The positive impact on Krejci’s line alone would sure up the third line that has been relatively weak when compared to seasons between 2010 and 2013 where versatile options like Michael Ryder, Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, among others, combined to create fantastic checking lines with the ability to chip in on the score sheet. One of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak or Patrice Bergeron may win the Conn Smythe, but one player (or even all three) will not win the Stanley Cup.

If the Bruins are to return to the Cup Final for a second consecutive year, they must realize that they will face tougher competition than the year prior and ensure that they add reinforcements that will truly address their roster weaknesses. With salary cap uncertainty, flexibility will remain of the utmost importance so a rental option is likely to be considered. The core of the group is certainly deep into their back nine in terms of both time under contract and ineffectiveness. Their defense, while flawed in some ways, is the envy of all but perhaps 5 teams in the entire league and they are bolstered by proven, above-average goaltending. With all of these things considered, the B’s should go all-in on Chris Kreider and Kyle Palmieri (or someone who is available and similar) to address their weaknesses with conviction.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 166 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.

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Bruins Fail To Land Affordable Winger

( Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea | USA TODAY Sports | http://www.usatoday.com/sports )

By: Will Montanez | Follow me on Twitter @Willfro3

Tyler Toffoli has been traded by the Los Angeles Kings to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for former Bruin Tim Schaller, the signing rights of prospect Tyler Madden a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick dependent on if Toffoli resigns with Vancouver. The trade was announced by the Canucks’ official Twitter account at 8:50pm EST on February 18, 2020, six days ahead of the NHL trade deadline. The trade is the second by the Kings in advance of what will most likely be a fire-sale in the city of Angels and follows a deal that sent Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford to the Toronto Maple Leafs to address concerns around goal-tending and team toughness of the Canadian hockey club.

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Toffoli has registered 34 points, including 18 goals, in 58 games with the floundering LA team which seems content to book its ticket for best odds in the draft lottery later this year on its way to the golf course. Tim Schaller, the roster player going to the Kings, has posted 5-1-6 totals in 51 games with a -13 rating and clearly represents a bit of salary cap maneuvering and roster management by the Canucks’ top brass. He was undrafted but signed with the Buffalo Sabres organization in 2013. Following a year in the AHL and parts of two seasons in the NHL, he signed with the Bruins in the summer of 2016 and played in 141 regular-season games for the Black and Gold notching totals of 19-17-32 with a cumulative -11 and also appeared in all 17 playoff games over those two seasons. His current contract, which he signed with the Canucks in 2018, expires after the 2020 season and he will most likely walk to unrestricted free agency.

Tyler Madden is an unsigned, NCAA centerman who was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks 68th overall in the third round of the 2018 NHL entry draft. He currently plays for North Eastern University and sits atop of the team’s with leader-board in goals and points with 19 and 37 respectively. Although undersized at 5’11” and 155 pounds, the 20-year-old forward is considered a solid NHL prospect and helped the Huskies to a third consecutive Beanpot title on February 12, 2020. The rest of the package includes futures in a draft that is reported to be one of the deepest, if not sublimely talented, prospect pools in some time. This is a price, one would imagine, the B’s could have paid.

The Bruins Missed Out

Tyler Toffoli has the same point total as Jake Debrusk on an inferior team while possessing better underlying statistics. Toffoli would have immediately upgraded the Bruins in terms of size on the wing, goal-scoring ability, ability to possess the puck and drive play as represented by Fenwick-For Relative (a measure of a player’s impact on unblocked shot shares while on the ice) and would help bring balance to the top-six forward unit that most nights does not represent a potent even-strength threat. (All stats obtained from Hockey Reference.)

This upgrade would have preserved future cap flexibility in a year where the Bruins have no fewer than six potential roster holes to fill in the coming season and provided the reigning Eastern Conference champs with the forward depth they will need to compete against teams in the East like Tampa Bay and Washington that boast excellent defense each complimented by a robust group of heavy bodies that enable their coaches to roll four lines in all situations.  All of this at a relatively small cost.

The price paid by Vancouver can be translated as something similar to Danton Heinen, any prospect outside of Jack Studnicka and Urho Vaakanainen and the Bruin’s second pick in the 2020 draft.  Perhaps the B’s would have sweetened the pot in a similar way with an additional pick or dealt from their deep pool of defensemen in lieu of a prospect, Heinen or both. If one cannot see a trade like that as a fair deal, then that person is not ready to make any realistic trades to bolster the Boys’ chances in the playoffs this season. There are few things more readily apparent on this current roster than the lack of scoring beyond the top line and management failing to provide David Krejci a capable third member on his line. Specifically, a right-winger on his strong side with a shoot-first mentality.

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There are still options for the Bruins to seek as upgrades for their top-six. Names like New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider and Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils are being tossed about and can represent good additions to the team. While the Bruins’ recent willingness to deal with both of these clubs is noteworthy, it seems that they will have to pay a much steeper price than Vancouver did to bag the biggest name on the rental list or a former All-Star who is signed to another year with a reasonable cap-hit, especially after considering the escalating price for forwards like Jason Zuker and Blake Coleman. Sweeney and Co. may have missed out on the best value the market had to offer.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 166 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!!

Bruins’ Connor Clifton Assigned to Providence for LTI Conditioning Stint

( Photo Credit: Steve Babineau | NHLI via Getty Images )

By: Will Montanez | Follow me on Twitter @Willfro3

Connor Clifton, a right-shot defenseman for the Boston Bruins was assigned to their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, for the purposes of a conditioning stint on February 16, 2020. Clifton has been out of the line-up since he exited a December 29, 2019 game against the Buffalo Sabres and was subsequently placed on the injured reserve list on January 3, 2020. Clifton resumed full-contact practice with the varsity squad on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. The trip to Providence most likely represents an opportunity for Clifton to shake off the rust and also allows the Bruins salary cap and roster flexibility, as they are currently at the maximum number of skaters allowed.

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During this season, Clifton has mostly found himself on the bottom pair of the B’s D-corps with Matt Grzelcyk and serving as an occasional healthy scratch. While participating in 30 games he has accumulated two goals, 12 PIMS, 32 blocked shots, and 85 hits in 14:07 of average ice time per game (95.6% of which was spent five-on-five). He has been known to play the game with an air of recklessness which gave rise to the concept of “Cliffy Hockey.”  Compounded by his lack of production, Clifton’s possession metrics do not shine brightly.

Clifton has been attributed a Relative Fenwick-For Percentage (a measure of unblocked shots for and unblocked shots against) of -3.9, placing him at the bottom of the B’s defensive heap and implying that when he’s on the ice Tuukka Rask or Jaroslav Halak are more likely to see pucks headed their way than with any other D-man on the ice. His penchant for getting attempted shots through to opposing nets also ranks the worst among regular defense-men with a 38.5% shots through percentage.

Connor Clifton broke into the League during the 2018-2019 and featured in 19 of the Bruin’s regular-season games as well as 18 of their post-season games en route to the Stanley Cup Finals. While he registered a lone assist during the regular season, Clifton’s offensive contributions spiked a bit in the playoffs as he put up five points, including his first career NHL goal during the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.

While Clifton may have been surpassed on the depth chart by young buck Jeremey Lauzon and ranks worse across the board against sixth/seventh options like John Moore, his handedness and aggressive style still make him an attractive alternative for Bruce Cassidy to send on to the ice, in spite of his unwillingness to play Clifton on special teams. Boston’s defensive depth has been tested in the recent past so it’s doubtful that the men behind the bench and management are complaining about the decisions that must be made to accommodate the plethora of blue-liners vying for ice time. Clifton, meanwhile, hopes to fight his way back into a roster spot and add to the internal competition which should help keep the B’s back-end sharp.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 166 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!!