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Nearing the halfway point of the season, the Bruins' needs are coming more into focus. With some salary cap flexibility, and plenty of assets, what might Peter Chiarelli do to improve the team?
At this point in the season, we've got a pretty good idea of what the Bruins have, and what they lack. Now, a 20 game sample is ordinarily not enough to make a judgment call as to what your team needs. In a normal year, it's just under 25% of a season. Hot and cold streaks that would balance out over time are way too prominent in such a space. However, in a shortened season like this one, a 20 game sample size represents 42% of a season, and thus, like it or not, the time has come to make that judgment call, particularly when that sample size confirms some of the things that we could have already reasonably expected.
So what does the team need? First, an upgrade on Chris Bourque. No, there's no need to pile on here; we all know Bourque isn't a good hockey player. Claude Julien knows it, Peter Chiarelli knows it, and deep down, in places he won't talk about at parties, Ray Bourque knows it. But dammit, he raised that boy from a baby, taught him how to skate and nothing, not even an inconclusive DNA test, can take away the fact that they're family. And yet, I digress. The funny thing is: Bourque has, in one sense, done his job. Among Boston's regular power play forwards, he leads the team in points per 60 minutes, with a commendable 4.92. You don't believe me, do you? Fine, check it out. The proof's here: Chris Bourque is good at something.
The problem is that Bourque is bad enough at 5 on 5 hockey that it cancels out most of the value he has as a power play specialist. Bourque continues to rock one of the worst Corsis on the team, though to his credit, he's no longer in Shawn Thornton territory. If a player is just holding his own at even strength and not killing you, you can live with that. Bourque has been a drag on the third line, however. Even with some improvement over his awful start, it's not enough.
You might make the case that Bourque's erstwhile linemates deserves more of the blame than they're getting. And you'd be right. Chris Kelly, improbably, has been worse without Bourque on the ice than he has with him, at least in terms of Corsi. With Bourque, Kelly has a Corsi For percentage of 55.9% (meaning that 55.9% of the available shots are on the opposing net). Without Bourque, that drops to 48.6%. Rich Peverley is pretty much at parity with and without Bourque (55.3 with, 56.1 without). These gaps between the with and without Bourque are steep declines from earlier this year, meaning that Bourque is getting marginally better. That said, both Kelly's and Peverley's goal differentials go way up without Bourque, and Kelly at least has the excuse of insanely defensive zone starts (36.4% offensive) to partly justify his lousy Corsi numbers. We know that Clutchy McCageface and Raptor Jesus are good hockey players, and it's easier to write off their recent performance as a slump.
The third line has been crummy as a whole this year, and Bourque is the only variable that's changed. It's not hard to see why Claude Julien has been using Daniel Paille on the third line more. Even so, while putting Paille on the third line is the proper short-term move, it still amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul. Paille is better served as a good fourth liner and PK specialist than he is a third liner. To that end, an upgrade on the third line remains a priority.
So who's available? The Daniel Alfredsson rumors have been kicking around. And as we all know, any useful Senator who becomes available has to be considered, since Peter Chiarelli is the only alumnus from that front office who has been able to hold down steady employment with another NHL franchise. Although Alfredsson said he couldn't see that happening, what the hell was he going to say? He's Ottawa's captain, it's not like he can say "yeah, I'm kind of waiting for Craig Anderson's insane performance to come back to earth so we can hit a 6 game losing streak, and then I'll ask for a trade to Boston." Well, Danny, if that's what you're thinking, you're halfway there. Alfredsson is not the player he once was, obviously; he's got a meager 11 points so far, and with fairly soft ice time. But he's historically been a fine power play producer, and like many of his teammates, he's suffering from some bad puck luck; his shooting percentage is 8.0, down from a career average of 12.8. If he comes available, the Bruins need to act.
In Dallas, it sounds like Brendan Morrow might be on the block, with the Bruins a logical suitor. This one makes a lot less sense to me, though. First, like Alfredsson, his production has been a bit disappointing against unimpressive competition (though he's got a fairly high percentage of defensive zone starts). But unlike Alfredsson, he doesn't have an unsustainably low shooting percentage to blame. In fact, Morrow is shooting an unsustainably high 19.2%. He's got just 26 shots in 22 games, and his shot totals have been steadily trending downward over time. Second, Morrow does almost nothing to help the power play; he hasn't been above 4 points/60 minutes on the man advantage in four years. He looks, to me, like a player in significant decline. Alfredsson is also a player in significant decline, but the difference is that Alfredsson's peak was a hell of a lot higher than Morrow's; he can afford to lose more and still be productive. Morrow would still be an upgrade on the third line, but not as much as you'd think, and even though his 34 years of age might suggest otherwise, he's likely nothing more than a half-season solution.
With the Flames struggling, Jarome Iginla's name has come up. However, Pierre LeBrun thinks the Bruins aren't interested, though he walked back from that today. The price tag for Iginla would probably be a lot higher than Alfredsson or Morrow; the Flames have stunk for quite a while now and have never pulled the trigger on a deal. That tells me they'd only deal him if they're bowled over with an offer. With a PDO of 967, Iginla is also having some bad puck luck, but has been productive with 16 points in 20 games, and continues to contribute on the man advantage (3.88 P/60).
Much has been made of the meeting between Peter Chiarelli and Paul Holmgren during the Penguins/Flyers game a couple weeks ago. The Flyers sit at 9th in the East, just a point out of 8th, but the 8th place Rangers have three games in hand on them. However, the Flyers are 2 points out of 7th, and the Devils are falling like Hugo Chavez's body temperature. So it's probably a stretch to suggest that they're considering a fire sale. Daniel Briere has been rumored to be on the block, as the Flyers could use some long-term salary cap relief, but at 35, with a cap hit of $6.5 million each of the next two years, he's probably not someone Chiarelli would be interested in. After an injury-riddled start to the season, the Flyers probably wouldn't mind unloading Scott Hartnell's 6 year, $28.5M deal, but the Bruins already have one scoring left winger who spends way too much time in the penalty box, and I'm not sure they need another.
The Bruins could also stand an upgrade on the fourth line, and again, one suspects they know this; why else would they take a gander at Jay Pandolfo? Thus far, the rumor mill has been quiet with regards to a move on the fourth line, as the third line has been the priority. Acquiring an upgrade on the third line and pushing Daniel Paille back to his more familiar fourth line would help, but they still have gotten poor play from Greg Campbell and atrocious play from Shawn Thornton. I'm willing to give Campbell a pass to this point, but there's no reason to suspect that Thornton is going to suddenly get better.
Actually, moving Bourque to the fourth line in Thornton's place might be a worthwhile experiment, as long as he could make the move to the right side. True, that would rob the Bruins of a lot of physicality, but it would keep Bourque around as a power play option, where he has been valuable, and it would improve the Corsi numbers on that line significantly. Despite what hockey commentators try to tell you, sacrificing grit for skill is usually a good tradeoff. Bourque hasn't been good this year, but he's been a damn sight better than Thornton. They could keep Thornton around for those games when they need a
guy they can lose for 17 minutes and not miss policeman on the ice. Another option might be bringing up Ryan Spooner, who is looking increasingly like he's too good for the AHL. A fourth line of Paille-Campbell-Spooner (again, the right winger on such a line would be a left shot) would have ample skill to make up for the lost grit.
Outside the organization, a guy I might look at for that role would be Marcel Goc. The Panthers are, of course, awful. Goc has actually played in all situations for the Panthers, and has faced the toughest ice time on the team (best Corsi quality of competition, second least favorable zone starts). But he's played fairly well, with one of the better relative Corsi's on the team, and is signed to a fairly reasonable $1.7M deal this year and next. That's a touch high for a fourth liner, but it's hardly insane.
Still addicted to the idea of grit on the fourth line? Fine. This would almost certainly never happen, but I would make an offer for Patrick Kaleta. Oh shit, I went there. Yeah, Patrick Fucking Kaleta. The Sabres need to rebuild, but they're short on tradeable assets; they'd have to pay someone to take Ville Leino or Drew Stafford off their hands, and Thomas Vanek would fetch a nice return, but due $7.1M next year, it might be a tough sell for a lot of teams. But Kaleta is signed to a not-terrible $1.25M this year and the next two. He's been a zero offensively (literally, 0 points) and after the Brad Richards incident, they might have the cover to deal him if they think it's time for a shakeup. Moving the popular (within the 716 area code, at least) Kaleta would certainly qualify. Kaleta draws 3.5 penalties per 60 minutes, best in the NHL. That's an insanely valuable skill, especially for a team that employs Milan Lucic and therefore finds itself shorthanded an awful lot. Lucic, Chara, Marchand, Kaleta...this would be the most hated team since the late 70s Flyers.
The third place the Bruins need to seek an upgrade is defense. The third pair has been a disaster. Monday's loss to Montreal laid plan Boston's problems on defense: when they don't have Zdeno Chara, they are very vulnerable. Boston has one phenomenal defenseman, three that are varying shades of adequate, and two that are not good. And the two that aren't good share ice time. Ference and McQuaid have acted as millstones around their teammates; they have two of the three worst Corsis on the defense, despite pillow-soft ice time. Dennis Seidenberg's Corsi is worse, which is somewhat odd considering he's been glued to Corsi studs Dougie Hamilton and Johnny Boychuk (248 of his 318 minutes have been with those two), but again, Seidenberg has a track record of being a better player than that, and in any case, he has much more defensive responsibility.
The obvious name is one who is no longer be available by the time you read this. Roman Hamrlik was waived by the Capitals, and as yet, has not resurfaced elsewhere. At a prorated $3.5M, he's not absurdly priced and could obviously be had for a song. Hamrlik led the Caps defense in Corsi last year, no mean feat on a team that employs Corsi machines Mike Green and Dmitri Orlov, and did so against relatively tough ice time. At 38, Hamrlik can no longer log huge ice time, but on this team, he won't have to; the Bruins have two ice time sponges in Chara and Seidenberg. If Jack Edwards can forgive Benoit Pouliot, surely he could do the same for Hamrlik. (Update: the Rangers have apparently claimed Hamrlik.)
At the moment, there's not a ton of great options out there. Buffalo has a wealth of young defensive talent waiting in the wings, and would like to move one of their established guys, but there's not really a fit. Their defense's Corsi numbers are funny to look at; Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Sulzer have been so much better than everyone else that they practically break the metrics. I wouldn't want Andrej Sekera's contract, and I wouldn't want anything at all to do with Robyn Regehr.
Columbus might be interested in dealing Jack Johnson, but the Bruins are probably not looking to take on a long-term contract like his, and in any case, Johnson remains very overrated. I still think Adrian Aucoin is a guy they could consider from that team, however.
Mark Streit would be an inviting target, but he's been talking contract extension with the Islanders. If talks falter, perhaps he could be an option, but I suspect he's sticking around Uniondale/Brooklyn for the next few years. Lubomir Visnovsky would be a more logical target, since one assumes he's only reported to the Islanders so he could run the rest of his contract and sign elsewhere next year, but he's played extremely well, leading the defense in Corsi (albeit with some relatively soft ice time) and providing some phenomenal power play punch. Visnovsky isn't exactly a stay-at-home type, but then, the Bruins are giving soft ice time to Ference and McQuaid and getting nothing for it. If you're going to give someone soft ice time, it might as well be someone like Visnovsky who's actually going to produce.
Mike Komisarek is on the block in Toronto and maybe the Bruins...okay, I can't even keep a straight face while typing that.
The Avalanche are looking to move a defenseman, but that unit isn't exactly chock full of quality. I doubt they would part with Tyson Barrie, and Erik Johnson gets paid too well to play on a third pairing.
Once again, the solution to this problem could be internal, not external. Torey Krug is playing extremely well in Providence, and it might be worth giving McQuaid some time on the 9th floor to see if Krug can improve the third pair play. It's hard to imagine it getting a whole lot worse.
So there you have it: trade for Daniel Alfredsson and Patrick Kaleta, and pick up Roman Hamrlik. Problems solved! No need to thank me, Peter, I'm just happy to help.