Hockey Notes

Debating the merits of the self-contained roster

By Kevin Paul Dupont
April 3, 2011

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The deal that sent Bruins Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler to Atlanta at the end of February pulled two “originals’’ out of Boston’s lineup. Stuart was a first-round pick (21st overall) in 2003 and Wheeler, after initially being chosen as a first-rounder (No. 5 overall) by Phoenix in 2004, turned pro with the Bruins upon signing as a free agent out of the University of Minnesota.

All of which leaves the Bruins today with only five players who entered the league as Boston draft picks. The subset consists of, by order of draft selection: Tyler Seguin (2), Patrice Bergeron (45), Milan Lucic (50), David Krejci (63), and Brad Marchand (71). (Aside: Shouldn’t Marchand surrender that No. 63 sweater to the true 63, Krejci?)

A review of all 30 NHL game rosters this past week found that the Bruins now are at the bottom of the totem pole for drafting players and retaining them on the varsity. Please note that using game rosters slightly skewed the picture in that players such as Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not to mention Edmonton’s Taylor Hall, could not be included because they are sidelined by injury. The exercise provides an imperfect snapshot rather than a complete representation of how organizations assemble their playing assets.

Nonetheless, of the 600 players who suited up, 274 were “originals,’’ in that they either were drafted by their clubs or signed as free agents out of college, juniors, minors, or Europe. That last free agent group, by the way, accounted for only 16 players leaguewide.

The Bruins, with only those five originals, ranked above only the Calgary Flames, who had four (Lance Bouma, Mikael Backlund, Greg Nemisz, and Mark Giordano). The other clubs very short on originals included Montreal, Phoenix, and Tampa Bay, all of whom had six.

The clubs that ranked best at drafting players, promoting them to the NHL, and keeping them were Buffalo (14), Nashville (14), New Jersey (13), Detroit (13), the Islanders (13), Colorado (12), and Ottawa (12).

Draw whatever conclusions you wish from all that.

Of those five clubs short on “original’’ talent, the Bruins, Lightning, Coyotes, and Canadiens are in playoff positions. The Flames are poking around the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference, but likely will miss for a second straight season, despite an impressive resurgence after the holidays.

Among the seven clubs with game rosters rich in their own stock, the Devils, Islanders, Avalanche, and Senators will wrap up their 2010-11 season next weekend, all of them DNQs. It’s important to keep in mind here that their high number of on-the-job draft picks reflects, in part, their regular-season failure. If the Senators were prepping for the playoffs this week, some of the draft picks now in the NHL assuredly would be in the minors.

It’s clear, however, that the Bruins, in part because of the Stuart-Wheeler trade that brought Rich Peverley to Boston, lag well behind the league average (slightly more than nine) for getting their own picks in the game and keeping them in the fold.

Focusing solely on the draft as an organization’s lifeblood for talent and keeping those players around, the Bruins are on the anemic side. The trade of former top pick Joe Colborne (16/2008) to Toronto in the Tomas Kaberle deal won’t help the number. Nor, it seems, will Zach Hamill (8/2007), who is wrapping up his third pro season in Providence and looks as if he won’t progress beyond the Wanna-B’s.

There are no guarantees, in any draft or in any sport, but organizations need No. 8 picks to become impact NHLers.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, reviewing the snapshot tally Friday, noted the franchise’s recent record in identifying other clubs’ draft picks and developing them as key franchise components. To wit: Tuukka Rask (Toronto/2005), Adam McQuaid (Columbus/2005), and Steve Kampfer (Anaheim/2007). None was a Boston pick, but each was identified, obtained, developed, and brought to market by the Bruins.

“In an ideal world,’’ acknowledged Chiarelli, “you’d like to have players come up through your system, and it’s what I’ve tried to do, we’ve all tried to do. At the same time, you want to win, of course. We’ve made trades to do that, and in some of those deals we’ve moved our own picks and, sure, you’re always trying to find that balance. Overall, I think we’ve drafted well.’’

As for that number of originals standing at five, he added, “It doesn’t concern me. I think you have to look at it as part of the whole exercise of team-building, and the draft is one of all the options. When we try to reinvigorate our lineup, whether that’s through draft or trade, I’m OK with either.’’

A more specific, perhaps more accurate measure, Chiarelli conjectured, might be found over a full season, totaling the days the franchise’s own draft picks remain on the roster. In that case, Boston’s number would improve this year because Stuart and Wheeler would be included.

Perhaps the most interesting number of all in last week’s review is that 14 in Buffalo. During the 2004-05 lockout, the Sabres essentially wiped out their amateur scouting department, shifting to a system that has front office employees scrutinizing game tapes of college, junior, and European hockey. Sure looks as though the tale is in the tape.

The move to wipe out amateur scouting in Buffalo was viewed around the league as penny-pinching at the time, and led to a number of longtime scouts leaving Buffalo, including Jim Benning, now one of Chiarelli’s assistant GMs. Now, with that 14 hanging there (some of whom were drafted in the Benning regime), we have to ask whether the Sabres were skinflints or savants.

Little progress with Savard Marc Savard remains home in Ontario, still plagued by postconcussion syndrome, and isn’t much improved after his latest concussion, Jan. 22 in Denver.

“I’ve spoken with our doctors here who saw him recently,’’ said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, noting Savard’s visit with the club’s medical staff here a couple of weeks ago. “They described him as somber. He’s still suffering PCS, with some memory loss.

“Overall, I’d say there has been slight improvement, some progress, but he still has a very long way to go.’’

Savard, 33, will continue to return to Boston every few weeks for checkups. Whether he ever plays again remains a question that won’t be answered for months. He suffered two concussions within a span of 10 months, and it was clear upon his return to the lineup this past December that his speed and stick skills weren’t the same.

“For now, the process is the same,’’ said Chiarelli. “We’ll see where he is moment to moment [during checkups], and we’ll see where he is over a longer period of time.’’

One encouraging bit of news: According to Chiarelli, the depression symptoms that Savard experienced late last summer and into the fall have not returned.

Matchup stirs the memories If the Bruins draw the Rangers in the playoffs, it will be the first such matchup since Round 1 in 1973, the year after Bobby Orr & Co. clinched the Stanley Cup on Madison Square Garden ice. In ’73, the Bruins started the postseason at home and essentially ceded the series by opening with back-to-back losses (6-2, 4-2). Two of Boston’s goalies in the series, Eddie Johnston and Jacques Plante, never suited up again in Black and Gold. Ross Brooks, who played one period between the pipes, never again saw postseason action. The Bruins returned to the finals in ’74, and Gilles Gilbert handled all the action (16 games). Plante, never again to play an NHL game, headed back to Canada, taking with him the car the Bruins provided him, intended only for the length of his stay in Boston. “The car was gone!’’ recalled Nate Greenberg, then the club’s one-man public relations department. “Much to the consternation of my boss, I might add.’’ That being then-GM Harry Sinden, of course. Ultimately, a Garden worker was handed a one-way air ticket to Toronto, where Plante left the car in a parking lot, and the shiny new Dodge was driven back to Causeway Street.

Ax still grinding away P.J. Axelsson returned to Sweden last week after a three-game visit to Causeway Street, and hopes to be back this summer with his entire family. “I love it here, I really miss it,’’ said the ever-smiling Axelsson. “I’d really like to come back here to live. My wife, too, she misses it.’’ Axelsson has two years remaining on the four-year pact he signed with Vastra Frolunda upon the end of his Bruins deal in 2009. For the first time, he’ll play this season on a club with his brother, Dick Axelsson, a 2006 Red Wings draft pick. “It will be fun to be on the same team,’’ said P.J., who, at 36, is 12 years older than his brother. “Because he’s so much younger, we never got to do that.’’ According to P.J., Dick is unlikely to fulfill his wish of making it to the NHL. “No, I think he’s pretty much given that up,’’ he said. “It’s been a while since they drafted him, and let’s face it, Detroit’s a pretty good team.’’ P.J. said he would like to continue in hockey once he retires as a player, but is unsure of what path to follow. “Haven’t given it a thought, really,’’ he said. One press box wag noted that he’ll need a serious wardrobe upgrade once out in the job market. The one-time top penalty killer was wearing a pair of stylish, and no doubt expensive, torn and tattered jeans. “No way, I’m not giving these up,’’ he said. “These clothes keep me young.’’

Star has dimmed a bit The Stars are in a scrum with the Ducks, Blackhawks, and Flames for the seventh and eighth seeds in the West. No telling what Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk would have secured had he opted to move Brad Richards at the Feb. 28 trade deadline. The slick pivot, then believed to be recovering from a concussion, needed until March 9 to get back to the lineup. He was a mediocre 1-5—6 in his first 10 games back — well off the pace that had him deliver 63 points in 56 games before the injury. Richards remains on target to be the most highly sought free agent when bidding begins July 1. Tough night Thursday for the Stars, 6-0 losers to the Sharks. Patrick Marleau led the way for San Jose with a pair of goals on 12 shots. The high for shots on goal this season is 14, by both Florida’s David Booth (vs. Boston Nov. 18) and Nashville’s Patric Hornqvist (vs. Dallas Dec. 28).

An urgent appeal If coach Claude Julien can’t suit up Michael Ryder for regular-season games, what does that tell us about the veteran winger’s chances for the postseason? “We need him,’’ said Chiarelli. “We need him to play the way he’s played before for us in the playoffs.’’ In 24 playoff games for the Bruins, Ryder is 9-9—18. “He’s got to get that back,’’ said Chiarelli. The recent benchings have been about trying to get Ryder to play with more urgency, something he has rarely tapped into during his Boston run. Think about it: Have you ever seen No. 73 get so much as aggravated out there?

Los Angeles at a loss Not that anyone needed a reminder, but the Kings’ bad luck in losing the services of their top two forwards, Anze Kopitar (73 points) and Justin Williams (57 points), tells us again that fate often negates all roster planning and engineering. The Kings had a 9-3-2 surge in March, including solid wins over Nashville, Detroit, and San Jose, but they will struggle to find offense with Williams and Kopitar out. Dustin Penner, after picking up a point in six straight games once he arrived from Edmonton, is the Full Thornton (0-0—0) in his last eight.

Defenses are down The Capitals, already without defensemen Mike Green and Tom Poti, might be without new blue liner Dennis Wideman long-term. Wides was nailed Tuesday by a Tuomo Ruutu check, leaving him with one of those nasty leg hematomas that led to the unraveling of Cam Neely’s career. The pool of blood in Neely’s leg, compliments of an Ulf Samuelsson check, ultimately ossified, leaving him with a restrictive mass there.

Loose pucks After being shut out in three straight (Buffalo, Boston, Washington), the Canadiens scored five times in splitting a pair with the Thrashers and Hurricanes. The drought lasted 199 minutes, 1 second, the longest dry spell for Les Glorieux since 1928 . . . Jacques Lemaire isn’t sure he’ll return to the Devils bench next year, and the betting is the 65-year-old will not be back. What then for New Jersey? No heir apparent, as there was when John MacLean took over (and then got hooked after a 9-22-2 flop out of the gate). The Devils were eagerly anticipating the return of Zach Parise last night against Montreal. Parise, sidelined since the start of November with a knee injury, is about to become a restricted free agent, and even with his low production (12 games, 3-3—6), he should bring big bids . . . Think the Blackhawks wish they had kept Antti Niemi in net? When you have an answer at that position, it’s best to hold on to the answer . . . After yesterday’s game, Blake Wheeler is 5-8—13 in 19 games with the Thrashers, bumping his yield to 16-24—40 overall. A slightly better pace for Wheels, but pretty much the same body of work. He’ll likely head to salary arbitration again, looking for a bump on his $2.2 million . . . Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke noted on NESN Thursday that his captain, Dion Phaneuf, barked at him earlier this year, letting it be known that the Blue-and-White need bigger forwards. They don’t have to be big, but if they are 40-regulars, then they must have the requisite snarl. Burke will have some $24 million available to tie up seven roster slots, including restricted free agents. Toronto still needs a No. 1 center, and that points to a rich offer to Richards. The RFAs include: Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur, James Reimer, and Luke Schenn . . . Old pal Marco Baron, Bruins goalie from the early ’80s, checked in via e-mail. Baron, who turns 52 tomorrow, lives in Switzerland, where he is a TV commentator for pro games. He’ll be working the TV gig in Slovakia for the World Championships April 30-May 15. “By the way,’’ wrote Baron, “the weather over here is in the [low 70s]. Not bad. More or less like Boston, I presume.’’ Yeah, more or less, just slightly to the less side.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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