Kevan Miller hasn’t resumed skating yet, but the veteran Bruins defenseman is happy to report that his twice-fractured right kneecap has mended and withstood his rigorous regimen of two rehab workouts a day, six days a week this summer.
“A long road,” said Miller, 31, reached by telephone this past week at his new offseason home just south of Denver. “That’s consumed my summer. And I don’t want to sound negative about it, because the knee feels great. I feel like a human and an athlete again.”
One of the league’s most fit and solid stay-at-home blue liners, the 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound Miller was on the verge of returning to work for the Stanley Cup Final when the kneecap fractured for a second time in some six weeks. With the Bruins holding a 2-0 series lead over the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference finals, Miller was performing dry-land exercises in Raleigh, N.C., eager to get on the ice later that morning, singularly focused on being penciled into the lineup for Game 1 of his first Cup Final.
“A day I would really like to forget,” he said, recalling how suddenly his hopes were dashed. “I’ll never forget the sound when it did break [for a second time]. I’ll never forget the feeling of it . . . like a balloon popped.”
The first fracture, which occurred in a crash into the boards in St. Paul on April 4 against the Wild, cracked the kneecap vertically. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital repaired it a couple of days later, noted Miller, and he progressed as expected, until he heard the stomach-turning popping sound while working out adjacent to the club’s dressing room in Raleigh.
“That would have been my first skate,” said Miller. “We had a good target date . . . and this was all subject to change, based on how my knee was feeling. I had full range of motion. The strength had come back. Swelling had gone down. Things were healing and on track. I was kind of warned, to make sure I was staying up on how things were feeling. Everything was great . . . and then . . . it was just too much too soon.”
His return hopes crushed, Miller only days later was in Vail, Colo., to undergo a second surgery, this time performed by Matt Provencher, the former chief of sports surgery at Mass. General and for years a regular face along the Patriots sideline as an attending physician. According to Miller, the new break ran horizontally across the cap, fracturing near one of the surgical screws installed in the prior operation, and presented a more complex rehab because of the natural force the quad muscle exerts on the kneecap.
Miller made the drive from his home in the Denver suburbs to Vail last Tuesday for his three-month checkup with Provencher, and departed the Steadman Clinic feeling like he’d been fed a pass for a clean breakaway from center ice.
“We are three months, one day . . . and four hours from surgery,” said Miller, the sense of relief and excitement clear in his voice. “It was a big date circled on the calendar . . . now I can start really progressing. The bone at three months is pretty healed. Obviously, I still have to be careful about what I do, but I can start to ramp things up and hopefully get on the ice here soon with the intention of getting back as soon as I can.”
Faced with an aggressive, punishing Blues forecheck, the Bruins desperately missed Miller’s physical presence in the Final. All conjecture, of course, but the series outcome might have flipped in Boston’s favor had the ex-University of Vermont standout been in the lineup from the start, able to offer more resistance to amped up Blues forwards whose mission from puck drop was to grind Bruins defensemen into pumice.
Miller only could watch from the sidelines, where he stood propped up on crutches.
“It still stings,” Miller said. “But I think the biggest thing now is to get back on the ice and contribute to the team again and really give the extra push to finish the job this time. I’m going on my ninth year with the organization. I put all my eggs in one basket with this team to win a Stanley Cup, and then to watch the team go to the Final and not be able to be a part of it . . . that’s been occupying my head space for the past [few] months.”
Miller expects to be back in Boston by the end of this coming week and ideally be cleared to return to skating in fairly short order. As for the timeline from there, Miller remains uncertain, though he expects he won’t be participating in drills when varsity training camp opens Sept. 12. He also can’t project if he’ll be ready for the Oct. 3 season opener in Dallas.
It is shaping up as a big season for Miller, not only in terms of finally resuming his livelihood, but also how his performance will factor into a new contract. His current four-year pact, for a total $10 million, was signed in 2016. He is on course to become an unrestricted free agent next July 1.
“Absolutely, every year’s a big year,” he said. “I’ve had a really good career with Boston. I love it there. It’s a place that my family and I have grown truly to love. One of the reasons I signed back in the first place was that we had the opportunity to win — I had conversations with [general manager Don Sweeney] and [team president Cam Neely] and a number of the guys and said, ‘Hey, guys, we have a really good core group here.’ We still do. I think you saw that last year.”
TELL US HOW YOU REALLY FEEL
Milbury, analytics are not a good fit
Be it in the studio alongside Keith Jones in Stamford, Conn., or in a broadcast booth with the likes of Mike Emrick, ex-Bruins defenseman Mike Milbury is about to embark on his 13th season as part of NBC’s NHL coverage.
“Kind of like Pumpsie Green, I guess,” said Milbury, alluding wryly to the late Red Sox infielder, “every team needs a player who can play a few positions.”
The ever-blunt Milbury, 67, fills a more versatile broadcast role than the more narrowly defined life he led on the Boston blue line for a dozen seasons (1975-87), which had him cast in a stay-at-home and slug-it-out role (1,552 penalty minutes in 754 games).
During his tenure with NBC, Milbury has been the guy in the cast most likely to say whatever pops into his head, albeit with a tiny bit more self-restraint and censoring than his ex-coach, Don Cherry, who made a fortune the last 30-plus years as Canada’s premier loose cannon during NHL broadcasts.
For the upcoming season, the NHL plans to mine a massive amount of player data through its new Puck and Player Tracking system. Just how NBC or any of the league’s other broadcast entities plan to integrate the data treasure trove remains to be seen. Milbury sounds like a guy who still would prefer to wrap his hands around an opposing forward’s neck than to, say, dive into a fresh load of numbers about puck possession or speed of the puck as it rockets off a player’s blade.
“I have zero interest in it,” Milbury said this past week, reached by telephone at his home in the Boston suburbs. “I know they’re counting on it, but I’ve made my feelings known. No thanks. I mean, every move measured and calculated . . . what the [bleep] is the fun in that?! I guess I could be wrong, and there’ll be something in all of it that will catch my eye, but . . . ”
Far more interesting, Milbury believes, are the things that the game’s commentators have attempted to bring viewers for decades, before analytics crept into all sports like an aggressive case of crabgrass, dandelions, and grubs.
“Things like, you know, why is Bruce Cassidy making a line change at a certain point in a game?” said Milbury, who was once the Bruins coach making those kinds of decisions. “How is a team adjusting its power play or forecheck . . . what are a player’s strengths? That, for me, is the fun of it. Now we’re going to be talking about equations based on that? Come on, really?”
The numbers, Milbury concedes, can be yet another useful tool in player assessment. Just don’t let them bog down the broadcast or fool people into thinking they offer a better assessment than the trained eye.
“Give me more Bart Bradleys,” said Milbury, summoning the name of the late, great Bruins scout, whose initials are forever stamped on the deal that brought Cam Neely to Boston via trade in 1986. “Bart would stand up in a meeting and say, ‘Forget it, that guy’s just another up-the-fence guy’ — someone not very good with the puck . . . frankly, like me,” said Milbury. “Or he’d rate a guy ‘NFG’ — no [bleeping] good. Some of the numbers will be fun to look at, I suppose, but it’s still all the human elements that make the game interesting.”
Looking into Bruins’ future
Fun recent exercise by The Hockey News, projecting the makeup of team rosters for the 2023-24 season.
A speculative and risk-filled proposition, considering the relative short time span of player contracts (and often careers). For instance, the Bruins currently have only Brad Marchand under contract beyond the 2022-23 season. That could change soon, provided GM Don Sweeney can satisfy restricted free agent defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo with contract extensions (Dec. 1 is the deadline for both).
The Hockey News’s forecast for Boston’s 2023-24 roster:
Marchand-Jack Studnicka-David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk-Patrice Bergeron-Charlie Coyle
Danton Heinen-Trent Frederic-Zach Senyshyn
Jakub Lauko-John Beecher-Anders Bjork
Matt Grzelcyk-Connor Clifton
A few random observations about your 2023-24 Bruins:
■ What, no Zdeno Chara? Sorry, not buying it. Big Z will be 46 as that season begins, and let’s not forget Chris Chelios was 47 when he suited for his final twirls in 2009-10. Chelios retired No. 1 in games played (1,651) for NHL blue liners. Big Z enters 2019-20 with 1,485 games — seventh all time for defensemen. The bet here: Chara won’t boogie back to Bratislava until he owns the mark, and it’s conceivable he bumps his career total upward of 1,750 in the intervening four seasons. The all-time mark: Gordie Howe (1,767). Want to bet against Big Z chasing down Mr. Hockey?
■ Bergeron, 38 by the start of 2023-24, would be entering his 19th season with the Bruins. He has three years left on his current deal. Would be great to see him out there, but right now I would be surprised to see him play beyond this deal.
■ Rask still on the watch, for a 17th season? Can someone please call in a well-ness check on the #TuukkasFault crew?
■ Hard to figure Jeremy Lauzon not being one of the six blue liners. The former No. 52 pick has played two seasons now in AHL Providence and was impressive in his 16 games last season with the varsity.
■ If Bjork hasn’t found a spot in the top six in the next couple of seasons, no way he is still here as a fourth-liner.
■ Hold it, no room at the inn for Sean Kuraly? Ridiculous. Unless he’s already been promoted to GM.
■ Still not a Russian in the entire field. Hold my vodka, OK? The Black and Gold never seem to find a good fit with Red Square.
The Sports Museum, dogged in its efforts to tamp down bullying in schools and playing fields, on Monday will stage its annual golf tournament at Andover CC. No lack of hockey names, most with Spoked B’s prominent on their résumés, will be part of the field, including Bruce Cassidy, Ray Bourque, Brad Park, Andy Brickley, Don Marcotte, Rick Middleton, Mike Mottau, Mark Mowers, and Glen Featherstone. Old pal Dave Goucher (“Bergeron! Bergeron! Bergeron!”) and yours truly will be out there, too, one of us best known to depart the course early for the health and welfare of the course superintendent . . . Other than Chelios, the five NHL defensemen with more games played than Chara: Scott Stevens (1,635), Larry Murphy (1,615), Bourque (1,612), Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564) and Phil Housley (1,495) . . . Kevan Miller has been one of Adam Oates’s acolytes for two years and praises the impact the ex-Bruin pivot turned skills coach has made on his game. “He has helped me so much, to be honest with you,” said Miller. “Probably saved my career a little bit. A lot of people see him as Oates the scoring coach or the shooting coach, but he’s so much more than that. I’m a stay-at-home defenseman, and it’s amazing how much his mind can translate into a position like mine. Video stuff. On the ice. He’s helped my game a ton.” . . . Bruins fans looking to take in training camp action can wait until Friday, Sept. 13, for what will be the first on-ice drills (provided no scheduling changes in the meantime). They’ll then continue to practice at Warrior Ice Arena through the weekend and open up their six-game exhibition schedule Sept. 16 vs. the Devils in Newark. The first home exhibition game: Sept. 23 vs. the Flyers . . . Was disappointed here with the announcement that Islanders Hall of Famer Denis Potvin stepped down from his TV analyst role on Panthers broadcasts. Sharp-eyed and opinionated on top of his credentials, the 65-year-old Potvin was always an intriguing “listen.” Also enthusiastic without being a blatant homer. Rare in today’s industry . . . Hard to find a more tantalizing nine-day stretch on the Bruins calendar than the Nov. 29-Dec. 7 run that will bring the following five clubs to the Garden: Rangers, Canadiens, Hurricanes, Blackhawks, and Avalanche . . . Mark Majewski, the longtime media boss for Boston College hockey up until a year ago, recently came aboard as Bruins creative director — for both the team and TD Garden. Smart hire. Long gone are the days on Causeway Street when Nate Greenberg for nearly a decade was the Bruins’ one-man PR “team” . . . The Bruins made no formal announcement, but a number of sources reported this past week that ex-Panther Alex Petrovic agreed to come to Boston’s camp next month on a tryout basis. The 6-4 defenseman was flipped to the Oilers late in the season but played only sparingly after suffering a concussion. He played under a one-year deal last season at $1.95 million. Likely would only catch on here, at less than a $1 million, if both McAvoy and Carlo remain without deals at season’s start.