Bottom six forwards are gritty. Bottom six forwards are tough. Bottom six forwards are no longer bottom six forwards. Bottom six forwards are now players who would have been previously kept in the American Hockey League so as to not impede with their development.
"He's a skill guy, why should I play him 10 minutes a night?" is a statement I imagine a lot of National Hockey League general managers have said since the dawn of time. And I imagine it's a collection of words that's been tossed around the offices at TD Garden the past few years, enabling a coaching staff so petrified of youth to continue suppressing budding talent down I-95 South and into Providence.
With Shawn Thornton - a fourth line hero that will live on in Boston folklore - gone, and a pair of experienced merlot stalwarts, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell, treading downward in 2013-2014, it would appear now is as good a time as any for a change in Beantown's grind-line culture.
The Carl Factor
Financially, the Bruins are a mess. Perhaps no other team(s), with the exceptions of maybe Chicago and Philadelphia, are as tightly hugging the cap ceiling quite the way Boston is. Dennis Seidenberg and Chris Kelly combine for a $7 million cap hit, and blooming youngsters and restricted free-agents Reilly Smith and Torey Krug remain unsigned due to Boston's -$809,143 in cap space, according to Cap Geek.
Kelly, hampered by inconsistency and injuries in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, respectively, was a tremendous asset during the Bruins march to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final but hasn't been able to capture his brief third line dominance since. It's a shame, because Kelly is a good player and I'm sure he plays a beneficial role inside the B's locker room, but for $3 million you can find better value. Especially when you consider that Kelly, 33, is a potential fourth line player. That's a lot of money for minimal minutes - and yes, I'm aware that Kelly kills penalties. Bear with me, I'm going to address that below.
Kelly's two-way game is his strongest asset, and it's an asset that everyone's favorite Carl - Soderberg - possess as well. Soderberg's contract expires at the end of the upcoming season and losing him, considering his off-ice cult value and on-ice production, would be a humongous blow to a team trying to keep with Los Angeles and Chicago and Pittsburgh when it comes to being at the tippity top every year. Soderberg will get somewhere around $3 million to $3 million and change depending just how Carl he goes this winter. Freeing up Kelly's now stomach-turning salary allows Chiarelli the luxury of potentially employing a Krejci-Bergeron-Soderberg trio down the middle for at least a few years. Find me a better unit of centermen, and I'll buy you an ice cream - as long as that ice cream is under $4.
Soderberg held a prominent penalty killing role back home in Sweden, eating up shorthanded ice time with both of his Nordic clubs; Malmo Redhawks and Linkoping. Since arriving in Boston, Soderberg hasn't worked on the penalty kill - at least to my knowledge, I was only able to look at a minimum of 50 minutes of ice time for penalty killers on Hockey Analysis. Even if he has skated shorthanded, it hasn't been nearly enough to prove much of anything. Unless his first time out there he burst into tears, curled into a ball and remained motionless until the next stoppage in play, I don't see why Claude Julien shouldn't experiment with his 6-foot-3 Swede killing penalties. I mean, at one point in time Claude let Jeremy Reich kill penalties, so there's nothing he can say that would warrant ignoring Carl's previous defensive duties.
I get annoyed when people say that Ryan Spooner is Krejci's replacement, thus allowing the dazzling Czech to gallop freely to another arena in another city that won't appreciate just how good he is. I do, however, think Spooner/Spoons/Mr.Spooner Is My Father's Name, Call Me Ryan has a bevy of upside and deserves a full season in Boston. Enough of this shuttling between the Dunk and TD Garden - the kid needs to stay, Peter.
Spooner had 11 assists in 22 games last year, while performing emergency call-up and replacing-an-injured-Loui-Eriksson duty. He scored 46 points in 49 regular season games with Providence, and notched 6 goals and 15 points in 12 AHL postseason contests. In 151:03 of NHL ice time, Spoons collected a 56.1 CF% in 5-on-5 close situations, higher than those posted by Campbell, Paille, Thornton and the ever frustrating Jordan Caron.
|R. Spooner||G. Campbell||S. Thornton||D. Paille||J. Caron|
|CF% (5-on-5 Close)||56.1%||48.0%||49.9%||49.0%||51.2%|
|QoC% (5-on-5 Close)||48.6%||49.0%||49.5%||49.4%||48.8%|
Another year older, one would naturally expect for Spooner, 22, to continue trending upward and being able to compensate if his QoC% were to slightly bump - that is, given he does assume "fourth" line minutes. I put fourth in quotes because, in my personal opinion, Boston is lucky enough to potentially deploy 3A and 3B lines. After all, they aren't being anchored down by an enforcer whose best offensive talent is slapshots that stop play and ensure a faceoff in the offensive zone.
Spooner, especially after witnessing the Montreal Atlantic Divison Semi-Final matchup last May, can provide a more offensively-themed game during limited time, opposed to Campbell - that's the point I'm trying to make here.
Though, there is the strong possibility Spooner flirts with the open wing position(s) on the third line. Which, if he does, opens the door for Alex Ksaddgjodasohfaohdaohoashfo (Khokhlachev) to make a case for a full-time roster spot. Much like Spooner, Koko is very skilled offensively but, unlike Spoons, was a Corsi blackhole in his stint in Boston - which was a lone game against New Jersey. Even then, how often could we associate Campbell with Corsi blackhole last year? The correct answer being "a lot."
Not Fully Abandoning Experience
(((((all im saying about ville leino is that he's probably better and definitely cheaper than dan paille)))))— ryan lambert (@twolinepass) September 5, 2014
Hockey Twitter's most skilled troll, Mr. Lambert, surprisingly makes sense a lot of the time. So - brace yourself for some self-loving here - when the Bruins invited Ville Leino to training camp and I thought to myself "hey, that's not a half bad idea" and then I saw the above tweet from Lambert, I felt pretty good about myself. I've grown a lot from the kid who wanted the Bruins to trade Zdeno Chara for Sheldon Souray after their ignominious collapse against Philadelphia in 2010. Now before you go ahead and strip me of any credibility - if I even have any?- you should know that I was 16, and very stupid. Any who, I posted that tweet for a reason - it's right. Leino's contract with the Sabres was a laugher, arguably one of the worst free-agent contracts given out in some time - by a team other than the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Much of Leino's criticism was directed at his lack of offensive output (46 points in 137 games). Though, as UMass-Lowell's most abrasive alumni points out, Leino brings something else to the table; a surprisingly strong possession game.
((((ville leino had a better score-close relative corsi than all but five bruins forwards last season))))— ryan lambert (@twolinepass) September 5, 2014
Leino, too, put up these strong numbers playing for a Sabres team that should have competed in the AHL, not the NHL. Last years Spooner would have earned big minutes in Buffalo, I assume, because after all Cory Conacher and Marcus Foligno played top-six minutes. With Leino playing against a 50% QoC, it should play into consideration that his production will likely improve from both; A. a stronger supporting cast, and B. slightly easier assignments on the ice.
Taking up Paille's role for, and I'm guessing here, roughly half the cost, opens up an imporant $800,000 toward the resigning of Smith. The Bruins need Smith - after all, he is their second line right wing and only 23 years old.
Florek And Fraser
Honestly, you can't go wrong with either one replacing Thornton on the right side of the former merlot line. They have a combined cap hit of $1.25 million and both proved more vital to Boston during the playoffs than the ladder. Both are big bodies (Fraser at 6-foot-2, Florek at 6-foot-4) and neither are afraid to throw their weight around.
Are they heavyweights? Absolutely not, but neither is Campbell - who hasn't won a fight since that Tom Pyatt elbow-guard-massacre a few years ago.
In a time where the league is trying to cut down on fighting, I bring this up for the simple reason that this is, as cliche as it sounds, Bruins hockey. Look at some of Boston's skill guys; they're tough, rugged players. People, it seemed, sprinted to the Tobin when Thornton left town because they feared the Bruins would go "soft". You don't need enforcers to win - that's probably the worst myth that still creeps into hockey media nowadays. Los Angeles, for example, doesn't look to Kyle Clifford for fights nor offensive output, but rather his mix of physicality and ability to maintain puck possession in limited minutes.
Florek and Fraser are both strong controlling the puck and have shown they can hang with the big boys. Oh yeah, and they're cheap and young too. That's pretty important, what with that salary cap thing being a pain in the ass.
Cunningham, Gagne, Kearns and Lindblad
Gagne and Kearns bring experience, while Cunningham and Lindblad are young and home-grown - if that means anything to you(?). The elders are sleepers for the illustrious 13th forward role, whereas Lindblad and Cunningham will be fighting their tails off for a crack at bottom six minutes.
I didn't want to leave these guys out, hence the tiny paragraph. Though I want to see Kearns make the team out of camp, I can't really buy into any of these four playing a major role during the season; or at least in its early stages.
The Point Of This Rambling
Fourth lines are evolving, much like the game itself. I'm sure you already knew that but I was bored tonight and felt like writing as I watched the Colts choke away a first half lead against the Eagles, and with it my Week 2 fantasy matchup. Ho hum, woe is me, etc.
Stats came from a bunch of different places: ESPN, Hockey Analysis, Cap Geek, Bruins.com and Eliteprospects.