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One last look at a disappointing Bruins season

David Pastrnak was put on the fast track, but he still has issues slowing him down.USA Today Sports

All the Black-and-Gold principals are now accounted for following Wednesday’s postmortem at TD Garden involving owner Jeremy Jacobs, CEO Charlie Jacobs, and president Cam Neely. Six days earlier, general manager Don Sweeney and coach Claude Julien dissected the season and forecast what is to come.

Some bullet points from one last examination of the 2015-16 Bruins:

■   The organization repeatedly referenced the young players the Bruins incorporated into their lineup as a factor in the transition.

“There were some listless moments [in 2014-15] when the team, in my opinion, really for a lack of a better term, didn’t have the heart that we had seen in years prior,” Charlie Jacobs said. “That came back. I think some of the youth Donny was able to inject into our roster reflected some enthusiasm, frankly, that we hadn’t seen in a while. And it was refreshing.


“Mind you, that doesn’t mean we’re not all sitting here disappointed about the outcome. But it was a change, and I think, by and large, a change for the better.”

The Bruins had two players on entry-level contracts play 41 or more games: David Pastrnak and Colin Miller. So did Washington: Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson. Some of the other young Bruins (Frank Vatrano, Joe Morrow, Noel Acciari, Seth Griffith, Alex Khokhlachev) weren’t good enough to play in half the games. According to quanthockey.com, the Bruins had the seventh-oldest roster in the league (27.697 years old).

■   Tuukka Rask didn’t play to his threshold. That doesn’t mean the Bruins will trade their ace goalie.

First, Rask’s performance is a reflection of his defense. If it improves, so will Rask’s play.

Second, only Calgary and Carolina are clear-cut chasers for a No. 1 goalie. The Bruins would not receive equal value in exchange for Rask.


Third, by not declaring him untouchable, the Bruins are pushing Rask to be better. They’ll compound this by giving him a legitimate partner, not below-average backups like Jonas Gustavsson and Niklas Svedberg.

“I think Tuukka Rask is an excellent goaltender,” Sweeney said. “He’s driven to win. He’s been part of a winning organization and with Olympic experience. I believe he’s a damn good goaltender. I’m not inclined to be giving that away.”

■   Sweeney could spend his entire career chasing Dougie Hamilton’s replacement. The Bruins never had a big, mobile, and smart right-shot defenseman like Hamilton since Sweeney joined the front office in 2006. They may never land a similar commodity.

They reacted emotionally to Hamilton’s decision not to sign instead of logically interpreting it as what it was — a 22-year-old kid being heavily influenced by helicopter parents. This is the drawback of having a Hall of Famer as the team president and a 1,000-gamer as the GM. Neely and Sweeney interpreted Hamilton’s trade demand as spitting on the Spoked-B, the logo both of them once proudly pulled over their heads.

Had they taken a breath, two things would have happened: They could have matched an offer sheet, or they could have waited out Hamilton until the fall. Instead, they took offense to the kid’s actions and booted him out.

The top two hockey operations executives for three other franchises played 200 or more games for their current organizations: Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy (Colorado), Paul Holmgren and Ron Hextall (Philadelphia), and Trevor Linden and Jim Benning (Vancouver).


■   Doug Houda was dealt a bad hand. The 10-year assistant coach, sacked by the Bruins, was liked and respected by the defensemen he managed. It wasn’t Houda’s fault that a group of so-so blue liners played to their level. But the Bruins required a cosmetic change to a defense that was poorly built.

The defensemen played hard for Houda. He did a good job of managing their shifts, designing the pairings, and getting the matchups the Bruins preferred. Houda should not find it hard to land his next job.

■   The Bruins should have practiced more patience with Pastrnak. But their cap situation in 2014-15 helped convince them to accelerate the teenager’s NHL career by at least one season because of his entry-level contract.

Pastrnak’s 10-17—27 rookie season set the bar too high for 2015-16 when he still had bad habits to correct in the AHL: unreliable defensive positioning, flagging engagement on the wall, carelessness with the puck.

Pastrnak’s skill and enthusiastic personality should help him rebound as a third-year pro. But two years of jagged development have not set him up well for 2016-17.

“David Pastrnak is a great example of a player that we’re going to have a tremendous amount of patience with and Claude has patience with,” Sweeney said.

Video: David Pastrnak on 2015-16 season

■   The bosses did not hesitate to slam former GM Peter Chiarelli without bringing up his name.

Neely on Sweeney’s commitment to communication: “Throughout the course of the year, Don and I had conversations on a regular basis. That’s one of the things that’s been refreshing. Don likes to talk hockey, not just with me, but with Mr. Jacobs, Charlie, the coaching staff, all the coaches, all the players.”


Neely on the Bruins’ shortage of drafted and developed players: “We look at some of the better teams that are playing right now, you can count their drafts, and it’s upwards of 10 or 12 players, 13 players in their lineup that they’ve drafted and developed.”

Charlie Jacobs on the cap crunch: “We had leveraged our future to the point where something had to change last summer. We made the change and we’re righting the ledger, if you will, by stocking our team back up with prospects with the ability for cap flexibility to make the proper moves going forward.”

That Neely and Jacobs repeatedly deferred blame to prior problems underscored their insecurity about their post-Chiarelli problem-solving approach. This did not go unnoticed in Edmonton, where Chiarelli caught wind of his former employers’ comments.

“I’m proud of my record in Boston,” Chiarelli said. “I’ve turned the page. Maybe they should, too. All my focus is on the Edmonton Oilers.”


Hextall employs a steady hand

It would have been easy for Flyers GM Ron Hextall to jump into the trade market before the Feb. 29 deadline. He had wheeled Luke Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier to Los Angeles for Jordan Weal and a 2016 third-rounder on Jan. 6. Michael Del Zotto played his final game of the season on Feb. 13 before undergoing wrist surgery. By deadline day, the Flyers had been pushed back into ninth place, 3 points behind No. 8 Pittsburgh.


Instead, Hextall did nothing. He believed in the group he had assembled to push down the stretch. He didn’t send out any of his top prospects for short-term reinforcements that may or may not have helped the Flyers make the playoffs. Hextall brought up Andrew MacDonald, the bad contract he had buried in the minors.

In retrospect, standing pat was one of the smartest moves Hextall has made.

As a player, Hextall was a fiery, emotional, and spontaneous goalie. As an executive, he has been nothing of the sort. Seven years of apprenticeship under Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles taught Hextall to be patient, stick to a plan, and be confident in the process. Once caught in repeated tail-chasing cycles under predecessor Paul Holmgren, the Flyers are already benefiting from Hextall’s guidance.

Hextall knows the Flyers’ Cup-contending window is in several years, when youngsters such as Ivan Provorov, Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, Travis Konecny, and Travis Sanheim ripen. By then, Shayne Gostisbehere should be in his sweet spot. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Sean Couturier should still be productive players. The tough contracts of R.J. Umberger and Mark Streit will have expired. Rookie coach Dave Hakstol will have gained critical NHL experience.

So as much as Hextall would have liked to accelerate the process short-term, he stuck to his vision. It’s why his hiring on May 7, 2014, was one of late owner Ed Snider’s sharpest transactions.

General manager Ron Hextall appears to have the Flyers on the right track.Matt Rourke/Associated Press


Blue Jackets are looking spent

Columbus has five assets any franchise would want: an ace goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, three up-and-coming defensemen in Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, and Zach Werenski, and a go-to, ring-winning left wing in Brandon Saad. They are foundational pieces of a championship team.

The trouble that president John Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen face is the inability to surround the young core with complementary players, especially at center. They have themselves to blame because of the liberal opening of their checkbooks.

Next year, the Blue Jackets will have $21.35 million invested in Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Hartnell, and David Clarkson. Fourth-liners Jared Boll and Gregory Campbell will carry a total cap hit of $3.2 million.

Collectively, it’s too much for a team that traded away No. 1 pivot Ryan Johansen for Jones — a good trade, for sure, but one that created an opening the Jackets might not be able to fill without shedding salary.

It’s possible that Alexander Wennberg, the team’s first-round pick in 2013, develops into a top-two center as a third-year pro in 2016-17. But the Jackets don’t have other young pivots ready to contribute next season. They’ll have to consider the trade market to acquire down-the-middle help. But Kekalainen has tied his hands because of the money sunk into their forwards.

The most concerning task is how to re-sign Jones, restricted as of July 1, to the long-term extension he deserves. It could be a $6 million annual payday. That’s cap space the Jackets will have to manufacture by sending money out.


Bruins’ approach has a fan fuming

Reader Steve Tompkins of Jamaica Plain has skin in the game. Tompkins owns a full-season Bruins package for two seats in Section 311, which he splits with his brother and a friend. Tompkins purchased the package in 2008 following Game 6 of Bruins-Canadiens in the first round. As such, Tompkins has as much right as anyone to steam about Cam Neely’s proclamation that the 2015-16 Bruins, while not a Stanley Cup-contending team, should have made the playoffs. “Admitting your main objective was only to have been in the playoffs — that is a small-market mentality,” Tompkins wrote in an e-mail. “And as a season ticket-holder paying premium-market prices, being sold to me as a premium-market product, and incurring the league’s highest price increases over the last two years, that’s bogus.” In March, Tompkins renewed for 2016-17, partly because of the possibility of making the playoffs. After another failure, Tompkins said, the upcoming season will be his last. “It’ll be interesting to see what enticing deals they offer next March. But it’s just no longer worth it,” he wrote. “They’re managing the team in the best interest of the front office, not in the best interest of the team as a whole.”

Protecting their assets

The Canucks signed Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko to an entry-level contract last Wednesday. Demko will start his pro career in the AHL this fall. There wasn’t much left for Demko to chase as a collegian. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. He won the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s best goalie. He posted 10 shutouts as a junior. It was time for the second-rounder to move on. But Demko’s signing underscores the reality that few NHL teams will allow their top prospects to stay in school for four seasons following their draft year and risk losing them to unrestricted free agency. Demko became the fifth Eagle to leave early, joining junior Steve Santini (New Jersey), sophomore Alex Tuch (Minnesota), sophomore Adam Gilmour (Minnesota), and freshman Miles Wood (New Jersey). Nobody wants to be like Nashville and watch a high-end pick like Jimmy Vesey walk for nothing.

Taking the Maple Leafs to school

Reader Marc Rubin questions why the Maple Leafs locked up Morgan Rielly to a six-year, $30 million extension, a transaction endorsed in this space last week. “I believe you and Leafs have made a huge error in assessing Rielly,” Rubin wrote in an e-mail. Rubin, a statistics professor at Southern New Hampshire University, cites the Leafs’ home-road splits and Rielly’s performance within those games. According to Rubin, the Leafs are 60-51-12 at home the last three years and 37-71-15 on the road. In 120 career home games, Rielly has 62 points (0.51 per game) and a plus-3 rating. On the road, Rielly has 30 points (0.26 per game) and a minus-49 rating. “Minus-49 in 116 games is hard to do,” Rubin wrote. Rubin also noted that Rielly was credited with 58 hits, down from 98 in 2014-15 and 96 in 2013-14.

Hip checks

The Stars are familiar with femoroacetabular impingement, David Krejci’s hip condition that the Bruins will address via surgery. Since 2014, four current Stars have undergone similar procedures: Jamie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin, John Klingberg, and Ales Hemsky. At the start of camp in 2014-15, the Stars asked all their players to undergo X-rays to determine whether they were at risk of FAI, which can manifest itself in groin discomfort and be misdiagnosed as a strain. Approximately 70 percent of the Stars who underwent X-rays showed risk of FAI. It is a common condition among hockey players because of the repetitive stress of skating.

Leaving town

Barring glitches, the Springfield Falcons will play in Tucson next season, leaving Massachusetts without an AHL franchise. On Tuesday, the Coyotes announced their agreement to purchase the Falcons with intent of moving the team to Arizona. Seven years ago, there were three Massachusetts teams: Springfield, Worcester, and Lowell. But the movement to locate AHL teams closer to their parent clubs has led to their departures.

Loose pucks

Jonas Hiller’s NHL career is most likely over. The former Calgary goalie signed a three-year contract with Biel of Switzerland’s National League A on Tuesday. Hiller went 9-11-0 with a 3.51 goals-against average and an .879 save percentage for the Flames in 2015-16. The 34-year-old’s falloff was one reason the Flames failed to make the playoffs. While Hiller returns to his native country, the Flames will chase a No. 1 goalie, with James Reimer being their target . . . After collecting 10 goals and 20 assists as a Boston University freshman, Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson has raised expectations for his sophomore season. If the center continues to develop at his current pace, the Terriers believe he will turn pro after one more year. Forsbacka Karlsson was one of the Bruins’ three second-rounders in 2015 . . . The NHL did the right thing by suspending Chicago’s Andrew Shaw one game for using a homophobic slur in Game 4 against the Blues. The Blackhawks did not. The team should have parked Shaw for an additional game. It would have been a powerful zero-tolerance message for an inexcusable action . . . Gregory Campbell served as a studio analyst for NBC Sports for two nights. Last year, Shawn Thornton took some shifts in the same role. Former fourth-line running mate Daniel Paille is already preparing to accept NBC’s call next year.

Second winded

The Capitals’ Braden Holtby tied the NHL record for wins in a regular season with 48, just the seventh time ever a goaltender has recorded at least 45 victories. As the previous six instances showed, that success is hard to carry over into the postseason — five times, the goalie had a losing record in the playoffs.

Compiled by Sean Smith

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.