During last weekend’s All Star break Bruins Daily’s own Anthony Travalgia sat down with Jesse Connolly who is the Bruins beat writer for the New England Hockey Journal and discussed some topics surrounding the Bruins.
1) In the latest issue of your New England Hockey Journal magazine you posted some tweets from Bruins fans answering your question of which Bruins player has been the team’s Most Valuable Player thus far. In your opinion who has been the Bruins MVP to date?
You saw a pretty wide array of answers to that question, and I believe with good reason. From the dynamite goaltending tandem of Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas to the balanced scoring from all the forwards, it’s truly hard to peg one player that stands out – by leaps and bounds, at least – above the rest.
But if it were my decision to hand out the MVP award to one particular player, I’m giving it to No. 37. Patrice Bergeron’s attributes have been well-documented, but he simply does it all for the Black and Gold. As the current team leader with 43 points, the frontrunner for the Selke Trophy and owner of the fourth-most faceoff wins in the NHL, Bergeron’s widespread contributions make him deserving of the nod.
2) Obviously it’s been a successful run so far this season for the Black and Gold and it seems like they are going to continue this success all the way to the playoffs, and hopefully beyond, but has there been a Bruin who has disappointed you this season, maybe someone who has not lived up to his expectations.
I find it pretty astonishing that first-line forwards David Krejci and Nathan Horton both have an even plus-minus rating on a team with the best goal differential in the NHL, despite having combined for 71 points this season – most of which hasn’t been overly dependent on the power play.
In terms of falling short of expectations, I foresaw Joe Corvo having more offensive success in Boston. Before coming to the Bruins, he averaged a little over 11 goals for every 82 games played. This year he’s got just two, all of which came in a single game against Columbus. Obviously we haven’t seen Tomas Kaberle tear it up for either Carolina or Montreal since he left via free agency, but the B’s thought they’d found a better fit on the back-end with the not-so-gun-shy Corvo. So far, the results just haven’t been there.
3) The Bruins defense has been shaky of late. Many people believe that the Bruins system does a good job of masking the lack of defensive depth; do the Bruins need to make a move and acquire a defenseman prior to the trade deadline?
I certainly agree that Claude Julien’s system plays a big role in the success the team has had since he arrived back in 2007. But if there’s any area that may need some shoring up, it’s on D. At present, the Bruins top six is extremely solid when stacked up against the majority of the NHL.
However, one untimely injury could really make them unravel. We saw what happened with Zdeno Chara missing a playoff game last year, as Shane Hnidy found his way into the lineup and played only a handful of minutes. If the B’s catch a bad break, would they be confident with either Steve Kampfer or Matt Bartkowski stepping in for an extended period of time? Probably not. Because of that, I think it’s pretty likely they’ll target a reliable, veteran defenseman that could handle decent minutes when called upon.
4) The Tuukka vs. Thomas debate has been an interesting one of late, even more so after Thomas snubbed President Obama and some people across Bruins nation wanted Thomas shipped out of town. If both goalies continue the top tier play they have shown this season, who gets the nod when the playoffs start in April?
It’s a pretty interesting debate so far, especially when you consider the fact that both have shared time pretty equally over the last few months. But, barring some catastrophic meltdown either down the stretch or early in the playoffs, this simply has to be Thomas’ team going into the postseason. Shy of a few rough outings in January, the guy’s simply been spectacular since the start of the 2010-11 season. And after such a superhuman, Conn Smythe-worthy performance in the playoffs last year, I think No. 30 has done more than enough to earn a chance at guiding Boston to another title.
5) The Bruins have eight free agents after this season, including guys like Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Johnny Boychuk and Tuukka Rask. Which upcoming free agent do the Bruins need to sign the most?
Peter Chiarelli has been pretty proactive – as usual – this season, inking the likes of David Krejci and Rich Peverley to extensions, but he still has a good amount of work ahead of him when the offseason commences. If forced to rank one player above the rest, I think retaining Rask is the most paramount. Of course, the odds of him finding a way out of town are lessened by the fact that he’s a restricted free agent, but Chiarelli needs to not only determine a fair salary for the Finnish netminder but assure him that his time to truly shine isn’t too far off.
Running down the list of the other pending free agents, I think Zach Hamill will be moving on (if not moved at the deadline) and that this’ll be Corvo’s lone season in Boston (barring a big performance in the playoffs). I’m inclined to think Johnny Boychuk will be back, but with Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight all bound to be in the mix for jobs next year, not everyone is going to be sticking around.
Boston may wind up retaining both Greg Campbell and Chris Kelly, but I think they’ll end up choosing one or the other. Dan Paille has been more than serviceable, Benoit Pouliot has been – for the most part – a pleasant surprise and Shawn Thornton fills his role to perfection (and is practically engrained in this city), but there’s no guarantee any of those three will be back in Black and Gold.
6) As you already know I am a huge supporter of Chris Kelly. I love the way he plays the game, and his scoring touch this season has been a huge key to the Bruins depth at the forward position. Do the Bruins re-sign Kelly, and if so, at what price?
As I mentioned earlier, I think it’s going to come down to keeping one of Campbell or Kelly. On paper, they’re pretty similar players, though Campbell is three years younger. I still think Kelly is a vital part of this team and his offensive contributions in the early-going were huge, but he has slowed down of late with just two goals since Dec. 17.
Still, odds are high that he’ll hit the 20-goal mark by year’s end. Combine that with his defensive prowess and big role on the B’s penalty kill, and that should probably earn Kelly a moderate raise from his current $2.12 million cap hit – we’ll go with $2.8 million for the hell of it — whether in Boston or elsewhere.
7) The race for the Bruins leading scorer has been a fun one so far, and will only get better as the season winds down. If everyone stays healthy who will be the Bruins leading scorer at the end of the season?
I think you’ve got four legitimate contenders: Bergeron, Lucic, Krejci and Tyler Seguin, as they’re all within four points of each other. Any one of them could wind up pulling it off, but I think Horton’s concussion – however minor – might put a slight dent in the chances of Lucic and Krejci.
In the end, we’ll probably see Seguin and Bergeron finish 2011-12 in the top two spots. Given that they see so much time together during even-strength and power-play time, and subsequently factor in on each other’s goals, there won’t be a sizeable gap between them when all is said and done. Flipping a coin here (no exaggeration), I’ll say No. 19 pulls it out.
8) Final question here Jesse, will the Bruins repeat as Eastern Conference champions, and go on to once again win the Stanley Cup?
I wish I could confidently say one way or the other, but it simply takes so much to go right in order for a team to even make it to the finals. Look at last year, for example. If Montreal scores in overtime of Game 7, the Bruins’ brass probably would’ve blown up the team. If Philly didn’t have key injuries and goalies that couldn’t stop beach balls, maybe things would’ve turned out different. What if Pittsburgh had Sidney Crosby?
You could go on and on, analyzing key turning points and crucial moments, but the fact remains that the margin between victory and defeat is so slim. In order to make it through the gauntlet, you’ve got to be really good and sometimes extremely lucky.
However, I do think the Bruins have a great chance of making it through the East. Their biggest hurdle will be the Rangers. Brad Richards has given that team a really big boost and Marian Gaborik has been sensational this year. And given the fact that the Rangers – namely Henrik Lundqvist – always give the Bruins fits, I’m not 100 percent sure the B’s could make it past them.
If they do, however, they’re going to have their hands full with whoever comes out of the West, be it the Red Wings, Sharks, Blackhawks or (gasp!) the Canucks again. Regardless, this postseason promises to be another fun ride for Bruins fans.