The Bruins held a brief end-of-season news conference at the Garden Thursday, which had club owner Jeremy Jacobs, son Charlie Jacobs, and team president Cam Neely reaffirming that the club’s fans are great, Boston is a hockey town, and the boys will be back in 2012-13 to give it the ol’ Cup try.
In other words, same ol’ same ol’, other than the senior Jacobs courageously professing that the Cup is “on loan’’ for a year and surely will return to the Hub of Hockey next spring.
Close your eyes, hockey fans, and you can hear a Sarah Palin “You betcha!’’ echoing in the West End wind.
Not that anyone expected more than that, of course, because news conferences are hardly the place for team honchos to muse over boo-boos, missed opportunities, and truncated championship runs.
Truth is, the Bruins could have and probably should have erased the Capitals in Round 1, and even a half-decent power play would have made that possible. But the power play was an abysmal 2 for 23, which left general manager Peter Chiarelli lamenting the “parity’’ throughout the league and the narrow margin between winning and losing in today’s fast-paced, salary-capped NHL.
All true. Yet, two or three more timely power-play strikes - in a series that had all seven games decided by a single goal - would have meant at least another round or two of playoff hockey around here, and it was Neely who ultimately noted that the club’s man-advantage was “static,’’ which is polite terminology for “ossified.’’
Good power plays, even when they don’t score, move the puck quickly and authoritatively around the defensive box, with the five-man unit making quick reads and decisive passes, or mixing in finesse one-touch relays or clever redirections.
When a power play is on, the puck looks light. That is not how the Bruins do it. Their power play is predictable, methodical, stale, the puck sliding like a curling stone.
When Marc Savard was in residence (more on him later), he quarterbacked the power play from the right corner or half-wall, his quick stick and lightning reads proving the secret sauce of success.
Here is a good power play by Neely’s definition:
“I watch a lot of other hockey and a lot of other power plays. What I see is a lot of movement, getting pucks down low, getting them to the net.
“I think that’s important, but . . . a lot of movement. Make it more difficult for the penalty killers. That’s an area, when I look at good power plays, that’s what I see is coming out of it.
“Confidence, too. When your power play is good, your players have a lot more confidence. You know, they try different things. When you go out there and you are not as confident in your power play, it will show if you don’t have the confidence to do what you want to do.’’
One way to create effective movement is for a point man to scoot deep down his wing, the opposite point man to shift over to his spot, and for the winger on that latter point man’s side of the ice then to fill the point he has vacated. The Bruins did some of that, and might have done more if it paid off, which goes back to Neely’s comment about confidence. When nothing works, confidence remains low and production nonexistent.
The last two years of playoffs have shown that the Bruins either have to find Savard’s equal at quarterback (Tyler Seguin is the lone in-house candidate) or find a new way of doing business, getting players in motion, creating passing lanes and looks at the net. Neely touched on that latter point when he said the club needed a “philosophical difference of how we look at the power play.’’
Translation: The coaching triumvirate of Claude Julien, Geoff Ward, and Doug Houda has had the better part of two seasons sans Savard to get the power play out of bankruptcy. It was a near-miracle that they won a Cup without one in 2011. They whiffed again on making a remedy in 2012, and in the end, it translated to a first-round knockout.
If it remains bankrupt next season, leading again to a quick postseason dismissal, Neely and Chiarelli will do more than talk about “tweaks.’’ If the fix isn’t in, one or more of the coaching staff will be out.
“We got away with it last year,’’ said Neely. “This year it bit us in the butt.’’
COMING TO A HEAD
Owner’s view of concussions
We’ve killed a lot of trees and devoured space in The Cloud in recent months chronicling the game’s culture of violence and how a number of NHLers - including the concussed likes of Bruins Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton, and Adam McQuaid - have paid the price of that culture.
With that in mind, I asked Jeremy Jacobs Thursday if he could provide a snapshot of how the owners felt about the issue. He initially offered the familiar refrain, one espoused by commissioner Gary Bettman, that the NHL has been proactive in regard to head injuries and part of the issue now simply could be that there is “more of an awareness’’ about concussions.
But it isn’t just awareness or better diagnostics that has left players with addled brains and shortened careers. So I asked Jacobs again if he and his fellow owners were concerned.
“Of course we are,’’ he said. “It’s not just the Bruins’ problem. It’s [Sidney] Crosby and other icons in the sport who have been hurt, as well as role players.
“There’s not an easy answer to it. I don’t have an answer, but . . . we have the best minds that deal with hockey focused on this. There is a lot of work going on. And there are universities that are being funded to look into it.
“I get solicited from the medical school at the University of Buffalo and I imagine the medical school in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. They’ve got a number of people that are focused on this. Nobody’s come up with the answer.
“We’ve got football doing a similar-type study and other sports are doing similar studies on head injuries. I think we are out in front of everybody else on this, but whether we are going to come up with a quick answer on this, I don’t know.
“This is a very fast game on a very hard surface, and we are seeing some of the results of it.’’
Approximately an hour after Jacobs spoke, Savard, now back living in Peterborough, Ontario, made a rare radio appearance, chatting with Scott Laughlin and ex-Bruin Phil Esposito on SiriusXM Radio. The 34-year-old Savard sounded slightly more upbeat than he has in recent months, but he continues to be frustrated by memory loss and other concussion-related issues.
“You have a good day,’’ he said, “then that’s followed by a bad day, and it’s like you are starting all over. At the end of the day, I was born to be a hockey player, and I’ve definitely missed it.’’
By Savard’s eye, the league should be “black and white’’ in how it deals with the headhunters. For instance, a player who targets an opponent’s head should be suspended automatically for, say, six games.
His own experience and that of others, said Savard, “makes you worry about the future of everybody. It just takes one bad decision by someone to put someone in an awkward position.’’
Savard said he remains under the care of a Toronto physician, his return to hockey unknown.
“That’s still far down the line,’’ he said. “Right now, the biggest thing is my health and feeling good on a daily basis. So once I get over that, that decision will come.
“But right now, I don’t see anything in the near future.’’
Kelly lands on his feet
Paul Kelly, forced out as executive director of College Hockey Inc. a few weeks ago, is back in the lawyer business after signing on last week with the prestigious Jackson Lewis law firm. The one-time head of the NHL Players Association will aid Jackson Lewis in its collegiate and professional sports practice group - acting as counsel for colleges, universities, and pro franchises. A longtime litigator, Kelly gained fame by putting the notorious Alan Eagleson behind bars for the myriad misdeeds he perpetrated during his tyrannical run leading the NHLPA. Years later, Kelly was appointed to the top NHLPA job, only to be run off in a bizarre coup connected to Eric Lindros and a band of his buddies. All in all, great get by Jackson Lewis, although hockey as a whole is not better served by Kelly’s departure.
Bottling up the Oil
Game 3 of the Capitals-Rangers series Wednesday lasted into triple overtime, the Blueshirts winning it, 2-1, on a Marian Gaborik strike. Total time: 114:41. Only three of 95 shots (3.15 percent) found their way by goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Triple OTs are nothing new to playoff hockey. Ditto low scores. But the read here is that too much of the game now, even with the fuel-injected carburetor wide open, is weighted toward defense and goaltending. The Lords of the Boards would be wise to consider ways for goal scoring to be an expected part of the game rather than an act of near-divine intervention. Asked how he felt a new-age rendition of the powerhouse Oilers would fare in today’s game, Bruins president Cam Neely said, “It’s a good question. I think it’s coached so differently. What surprised me, when I started traveling with the team back in ’07, was that as soon as we got on the plane, coaches pulled up laptops and they started dissecting the game right then. And I remember Terry O’Reilly used to carry this little VHS video player and the screen [was tiny], and he dissected that way. Now it’s so much different; they really dissect the game, and it’s a lot easier to coach not getting scored on than it is to coach how to score a goal. So what I think you are seeing across the league is goalies are different, they are bigger, they are more athletic, the game is coached differently - they have the tools to coach it differently. So to your point about a team like Edmonton, you know, teams and coaching staffs are so good at trying out how to shut a team down. I think it would be hard to create that kind of offense again.’’
Take it from the top
Looks like the bedraggled Canadiens (Cupless since 1993) took a solid step forward with the hiring last week of Marc Bergevin as general manager, replacing the recently fired Pierre Gauthier. Bergevin, 46, was originally drafted by the Blackhawks (No. 60, 1983) and finished a long career with nearly 1,200 games, including a season-plus on the Whale back line at the start of the ’90s. He’ll be a breath of fresh air (and a healthy dose of humor) in a city that defines itself by hockey, sometimes to the point of near-masochism when things aren’t coming up all bleu-blanc-rouge. Often noted during the Habs search for a new boss: the need to hire someone with NHL playing experience. Curious, considering that six of the last eight teams to win the Cup were directed by GMs without a single game in the bigs: Boston (2011), Peter Chiarelli; Chicago (2010), Stan Bowman; Pittsburgh (2009), Ray Shero; Anaheim (2007), Brian Burke; Tampa Bay (2004), Jay Feaster; and New Jersey (2003), Lou Lamoriello. The exceptions: Detroit (2008), Ken Holland (four NHL games on his résumé) and Carolina (2006), Jim Rutherford.
Penguin deal might not fly
Some chatter in Pittsburgh and Edmonton that the Oilers could surrender their No. 1 pick in next month’s draft for Penguins center Jordan Staal. Makes sense in many ways, although Staal, for all his talent and pedigree, has averaged but 42 points in his six years in the league. Granted, he has to share ice time with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but he has yet to deliver on his franchise tag. He also is on target to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2013. Hard for the Oil to surrender the No. 1 for a guy who could turn out to be a one-year loaner. More sense: flip Staal to Toronto for Phil Kessel.
Wait and see on Hamilton
Neely on whether he thinks stud defense prospect Dougie Hamilton will crack the Boston roster from the start of 2012-13: “It’s tough to say. I want to see him at camp. I want to see him in games against NHL players. We all know that he’s got the skill to be an NHL defenseman. It’s a matter of, is he going to be ready this year? And that’s something we aren’t going to find out until training camp.’’
Saying ‘buy’ to Gomez?
The same day Bergevin was hired as the CH boss, rumors sprouted that the Habs were about to buy out Scott Gomez (cap hit: $7.357 million for two more years). Per the CBA, buyouts are designated for the two-week period leading up to July 1 free agency (small exceptions for clubs with players in salary arbitration). If the Habs eventually trigger the buyout, the lingering hit to their cap will be $2.45 million over four seasons. That’s approximately the cost of a third-line winger, which is about how Gomez has performed the last two seasons.
They weren’t missed
Gutsy move in Nashville, where GM David Poile and coach Barry Trotz couldn’t stomach the off-ice antics of valued forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, suspending both for Game 3 of the series with Phoenix after losing Games 1 and 2. None the worse for their departure, the Predators responded with a 2-0 win in Game 3.
Names to consider
If the Canucks cut bait with coach Alain Vigneault, he’ll be among the many candidates Bergevin considers for bench boss in Montreal (with Randy Cunneyworth demoted to assistant coach, pending the hire). Others on the not-so-short list: Marc Crawford, Michel Therrien, and Bob Hartley.
Travelin’ man Rick Dudley could end up as one of Bergevin’s top lieutenants. Duds, currently part of Toronto’s front office, spent a few years working with Bergevin in Chicago prior to the reshuffle there pre- and post-2010 Cup . . . Sharks ownership issued a statement Wednesday noting that the club’s first-round knockout was “unacceptable’’ but leaving GM Doug Wilson at the wheel. No word yet whether Todd McLellan remains as coach. The bigger issue: whether to move pricey front-liners Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Maybe one to Toronto, one to Montreal? . . . Rangers coach John Tortorella on why he has become increasingly short with his postseason comments to the media: “I’m sorry, I’m not a guy who wants to converse during the playoffs.’’ League bosses and minions in New York talk endlessly about the need to sell the game throughout the US. Most GMs, coaches, and players get it. To have Torts disdain the process so utterly, right there on Broadway, does zero to promote the league brand. Unnecessary black hole of contempt . . . P.K. Subban went for a big hit on Luca Sbisa, and connected, during an exhibition game last Sunday in World Championship play. But Subban came out on the short end, injuring a knee. He caught a flight home for Habs doctors to examine him . . . Senators coach Paul MacLean told “Hockey Night in Canada’’ that Daniel Alfredsson will return to Ottawa next season, be it as a player, coach, or front office understudy. To which I say, why not all three? And that goes double for Nicklas Lidstrom in Detroit.