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NHL Hot Stove 2012: How to Improve the Power Play

The Bruins' power play could sure use this guy again.
The Bruins' power play could sure use this guy again.

The Bruins' power play, for all the grief it took, was 15th in the NHL last year. Not great, but certainly not awful. However, the perception seemed to be that the power play was a very "feast or famine" unit, and that was certainly evident in this year's playoffs, as the Bruins went a woeful 2 for 23. In the latest installment of Stanley Cup of Chowder's Hot Stove series, we look at how the Bruins can improve the power play. So, suffice to say, there's room for improvement, and it's an area that the front office has already targeted.

1. Find a #1 Power Play Center.

David Krejci is a good skater, a very good passer and an elite stickhandler. Yet, for reasons that boggle the mind, Krejci is just not anything special as a power play performer. Last year, he averaged 3.62 power play points per 60 minutes. That put him behind both Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly, as well as Tyler Seguin. It put him 115th in the NHL, among forwards that played at least 60 games. To be fair, Krejci probably was better than the 115th best power play forward in the NHL, as a few of the guys above him are guys who had some fluke power play time (Kelly is among those). Still, I doubt there are a lot of #1 centers below him on the list.

And this was not a fluke. In 2010-11, Krejci averaged a miserable 2.16 power play points per 60 minutes. In both 2009-10 and 2008-09, he had 3.98. We have sufficient sample size to demonstrate that David Krejci, for all his gifts, is average at best on the power play.

If only it were as simple as turning Patrice Bergeron into the #1 power play center. Alas, Bergeron hasn't been any better. He posted a 4.03 this year, 2.61 last year, 2.27 in 2009-10 and 4.32 in 2008-09. He's not the answer, either.

The guy who IS the answer is, alas, someone who's never going to play hockey again. Marc Savard was an elite power play performer, and it's hardly a coincidence that the power play went downhill the moment Savard could no longer run the #1 unit. Savard posted better than 5.5 points per 60 minutes each year from 2007-8 through 2009-10, was in the top 20 in the NHL twice, and was 36th the other time (taking out the fluke guys, he probably ranked in the top 25).

Short of a medical miracle, Savard's obviously not the answer, but looking at his production does help us to at least isolate one of the big problems: Boston needs a legit PP1 center. One possibility is a name I've mentioned before, albeit not in the most favorable way: Patrick Marleau. Marleau has been steadily hovering around the 5 PP points/60 minutes for the last three years. He'll be 33 when next season starts, but his numbers aren't suggestive of a steep decline; he should have another couple good years in him. He's been steadily over the 50% mark on faceoffs, so the Bruins wouldn't see a big dropoff there. There may be other reasons not to consider Marleau, but he's sure to be available, probably at a discount, he's only got two years left on his contract, and he's definitely someone who could upgrade the power play.

If the Bruins want to make a move on the cheap, an interesting option would be Olli Jokinen. (I'll pause for a moment so Tom can post the famous Olli waffle picture in the comments...okay, you're back, good.) As with Marleau, there are perfectly good reasons not to consider Jokinen; he's got a well-earned rep for being soft, he's got a history of wearing out his welcome, and there are probably good reasons why he's about to head to his 7th NHL team (and that doesn't count two separate stints with the Flames), yet has made the playoffs only once. But the Bruins have turned softies into toughies before; hell, Claude Julien got Phil Kessel to care about defense on at least an intermittent basis. Plus, Jokinen will probably come cheap, and he can definitely provide power play punch. He had an awesome 5.82 points per 60 minutes this year, and 5.15 the year before. The Bruins could use him as the third line center and roll three legit scoring lines with Peverley and Pouliot on the wing.

Want to swing for the fences? What about putting in an offer for Evgeni Malkin? No, he wouldn't come cheap (if at all). I can't even imagine what Pittsburgh would want in trade (maybe Krejci and Seguin? Krejci, Marchand and Hamilton? I don't know), but they might be on the verge of making some major moves with that team. There are already rumors that Jordan Staal will be on the block, but he doesn't give the Bruins anything that Bergeron doesn't already provide, and is even worse on the power play. If they're willing to move Staal, a core player, maybe they'd want to sell high on Malkin, who probably deserves to win the Hart Trophy this year.

If they don't want to make a move at all, perhaps the thing to do is move Seguin to center. At 4.09 points per 60 minutes, he was better than Krejci and Bergeron, and unlike those guys, he has not even hit the prime of his career yet. Seguin has tremendous potential and really showed it this year. He could easily become an elite player next year. While such a move would create issues on the wing, where Boston already has some question marks, if those can be addressed (see: Parise, Zach), the simplest solution might well be the best.

In any case, a change up front is needed. But, there's one place where it's not...

2. End the Fixation with Acquiring Puck Moving Defensemen

It's not so much that acquiring a PMD is a bad thing as it is an unnecessary thing. Boston already has plenty of offensively gifted defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk (who boasts a slapshot that might be second only to Chara), and coming soon, Dougie Hamilton. Tomas Kaberle didn't fit help the power play because all they ever asked him to do was fake a shot and pass it back to Chara. Joe Corvo didn't fit for mostly the same reasons. The problem was not with the players, but with the tactics. You know what? That probably deserves its own discussion...

3. Change the Tactics.

(If you want to subtitle this "Fire Geoff Ward", feel free.)

Anyone who's watched Boston Bruins hockey over the last few years knows exactly what's coming when the Bruins get the man advantage. If you're new here, welcome! Here's what you will see 9 out of 10 times on the Bruin power play: the puck will be dumped into the offensive zone, and if Milan Lucic or Nathan Horton wins the battle in the corner, they will pass it back out to someone else, who will in turn pass to Zdeno Chara. Chara will pass it to the other point. The identity of the player on the other point is irrelevant, because he will look around for a moment, possibly fake a shot, and then pass it back to Chara, who will unleash his 108 mph slapshot. Hopefully, the puck will go in, or create a juicy rebound, or break an opponent's ankle. Far more likely, it will be gloved by the goaltender, and we'll go to a face-off, where the Bruins, if they win the faceoff, will repeat the process.

You're never going to believe this, but opposing defenses have a pretty good idea what to do in that situation. There's very little movement on the Boston power play. When you're playing five on four, somewhere, there should be an open shot, and that open shot should, in turn, cause the defense to move to compensate for the opening, which should create an even better opportunity elsewhere, and so on until the defense is completely broken down, and you score a goal. A good power play creates chaos in the defense. Boston's does not.

Ideally, that initial shot should be closer than 60 feet from the net, yet this fixation on a setpiece power play revolves around Chara's slapshot. Yes, I can understand that if Chara doesn't get to unleash a monster slapshot a couple times a game, he probably threatens to break things in the locker room, and you have to take that sort of thing seriously. And yes, Chara is an elite power play defenseman, as shown by his awesome 5.48 PP points/60 minutes this year. However, it seemed like the Captain's points came in bunches. To be a more consistent power play, the Bruins need more movement. When they had Savard, this was less of an issue; Savard consistently put the defense off-balance. In effect, Ward had two excellent weapons at his disposal on the power play: Chara's slapper, and Savard's passing. It would be impossible not to have a strong power play, given that. Now, Savard's gone, and they've become exceedingly reliant on Chara's slapshot to create chaos in the defense.

Still, warts and all, the power play might have been good enough if the Bruins had been a little luckier in the injury department...

4. Get Healthy

You know who Boston's two best power play forwards were this year? Rich Peverley and Nathan Horton. Peverley led the team with 4.29 PP points/60 minutes and Horton was second with 4.16. They combined to miss 61 games, and Horton missed the entire playoffs. Small wonder that the power play struggled so mightily against Washington. Horton had 6 power play goals, third on the team, and missed about half the season. It's not hard to imagine that a healthy Horton improves the power play and maybe swings that series.

Injuries are hard to plan for. When you lose two of your top scorers, there's not much that can be done. The Bruins patched the holes as best they could. Peverley made a full recovery, of course, but Horton's future is still in doubt. It's hard to imagine the Bruins having the cap space to add a top 6 winger AND a PP1 center, so if they want to drastically improve the power play, they'll probably have to make a choice: gamble on Horton getting healthy, and acquire someone like Marleau, or pursue Parise and go with the centers they have. Parise is no slouch on the power play himself, having consistently been among the Devils' best power play performers prior to this season (he was above 5 PP points/60 minutes in both 2009-10 and 2008-9).

So, the options are there for the Bruins to upgrade the power play. However, returning the same cast of characters and the same tired tactics will likely result in a continuation of what we've seen the last couple years: a woefully inconsistent power play that fails to produce when it's needed most.