Philly Sports Live

What We Learned: How to fix the Boston Bruins, LA Kings (Puck Daddy)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it. Over the last five seasons, the team that has had the puck more than any other — 54.8 percent of the time, in fact — is the Los Angeles Kings. In fourth place — at 52.7 percent — is the Boston Bruins. Neither made the playoffs this year. One thing this certainly does not present is any sort of reason to think that possession stats are in any way not predictive, not worth tracking, etc. Yes, we acknowledge that results in the NHL predicated heavily upon luck (some 40 percent of point totals over the season come via things you can’t control) but by my count that still leaves 60 percent of results which are based upon repeatable skills like possession. Sam Ventura, who helped start War on Ice, actually had a great quote the other day about how important it is to rely on the underlying numbers whenever possible to judge teams: “Even if hockey is 90 percent random, smart teams would do whatever they can to gain an advantage in that remaining 10 percent.” Indeed, the Kings were the best possession team in the league again this season, and Boston was 11th in this regard, but having missed the playoffs seems likely to cause a lot of introspection. One thing that would be devastating to either club’s chances going forward is if they buy into the myth — as the Sharks did last year, to their great and prolonged misery — that something is fundamentally lacking in the way they approach the game. For Los Angeles, this is obvious. They became the first team since the introduction of the asinine three-point game became available to simultaneously lead the league in possession and miss the playoffs. Already, rumors swirl about unrest in the room, and there’s likely to be some roster attrition this summer simply because it’s looking like the salary cap might go down if players don’t use the escalator. But the odds that a team can be this good and not make the playoffs for the second year in a row are more or less nil. The odds that a team can win just three out of its 18 games that go past regulation are also just about nil. This was a season of horribly unfortunate bounces counterbalancing the 12th best possession season since the 2005-06 lockout. Darryl Sutter is staying and that the players may not be too fond of his rhetoric is immaterial; as long as his systems keep producing possession outcomes like the Kings have seen the last several years — and there’s no reason to believe it wouldn’t unless there’s some significant roster turnover for some stupid reason — then this is a team that can continue to have success for a long time. Dean Lombardi should do all in his power to keep his roster as-is, with the exception of jettisoning, say, a Mike Richards contract if he can, because it really is one of the three or four best in the league. People want to chalk this up to age but the average Kings player (27 years, 63 days) is actually younger than the average Flames player (27 years, 133 days). Which team is considered the young up-and-coming club in the league again? People also want to blame the amount of tread that’s worn off the tires in LA behind three straight trips to the Conference Final at least, and if you want to believe the wear and tear from playoff games three years ago is still plaguing them now, well then the good news is they’re going to be resting from mid-April to mid-September. If anything, that might make them Cup favorites, right? As for the Bruins, though, the “what to do?” answers are less clear. Unlike the Kings, there would be not a single eyebrow raised if Peter Chiarelli, Claude Julien, or both were fired, or if there was a massive roster overhaul. The argument is that Chiarelli built a team for a style that doesn’t work in the NHL any more, and Julien deploys the players he’s given in a rather unsatisfactory way, and that a number of high-priced players underperformed. All of these are true to one extent or another. The foibles of the Chiarelli/Julien era are obvious to those who’ve paid the slightest bit of attention. The former overvalued players who had no business getting long-term, big-money extensions. The latter then played those players in situations that they never should have seen. Thus, everyone is criticized for not performing. Let’s just take a few fer-instances here to illustrate the extent to which Julien in particular mismanaged his roster: The Bruins’ TOI per game leader at even-strength this season was Dennis Seidenberg, not Zdeno Chara. Seidenberg carried a negative corsi number this season — which should be just about impossible on a Julien-coached team — and is demonstrably not good enough to play difficult minutes at this stage in his career. If you want to argue that Chara didn’t lead the team in ice time because he’s 37, then that’s reasonable. So why didn’t Dougie Hamilton (54.9 percent corsi against much more difficult competition) get the nod over Seidenberg (48.2 percent)? Then you look at the forward numbers. Why did Patrice Bergeron finish with fewer minutes per game than David Krejci, Carl Soderberg, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Loui Eriksson, and Reilly smith in that order? Are we arguing that they had to save him for the PK? Alright, that’s easy to understand to some extent, but if you have a possession monster — we’re talking 58.2 percent, seventh in the league among all forwards with at least 500 ES minutes this year — and he’s only seventh on your team in ice time, you’re making a big mistake, especially if Carl Soderberg is second on the team. Then there’s the continued use of the fourth line of Chris Kelly, Dan Paille and Gregory Campbell. These are three bad hockey players. But because of Chiarelli’s bizarre fascination with bottom-six guys who don’t make obvious defensive mistakes (but still never have the puck ever in their lives) they make a combined $5.9 million against the cap. You can buy three fourth-liners who are actually good at their jobs on the open market for like $1 million apiece. People saying Tuukka Rask ‑ probably the best goalie in the league over the last three seasons — makes too much money are out of their minds if they look at this roster, find that these three forwards plus Seidenberg make $9.9 million total to be possession black holes, and say, “Well a goalie who is a guaranteed .920 every year makes $2 million more than he should!” are out of their minds. And guys did underperform. No two ways about it. Milan Lucic only had 18 goals this season, marking the third straight year in which he didn’t break 25. Reilly Smith had 13, and somehow got a big raise out of it. Bergeron led the team in scoring with just 55 points. Marchand’s 24 goals was the best total. None of this is good enough for a team this strong on paper, and major changes are coming as a result. But this was also a foreseeable circumstance as the Bruins have overzealously tried to go defense-first for years. Trading Tyler Seguin is certainly the signifier here, but this is and has been an organizational philosophy for years. Who could have seen a poor offensive year coming? Probably everyone. The Bruins’ offense dropped off 0.6 goals per game. They were unlucky in a lot of ways, but this was very foreseeable. Moreover, it’s worth noting that this was, again, the year in which Chiarelli knew his team was going to struggle because of the cap situation created with last year’s all-in push on the Cup that didn’t work out at all. The Bruins won’t carry a huge cap penalty next season, and when combining that with what is, you’d hope, a major roster purge,  (And when does team president Cam Neely, who has largely escaped blame but tried to instill his 1990s-hockey beliefs from the top down, to the team’s detriment, get some stick for this decline? If Julien can be brought to recognize that the way he manages his bench doesn’t work, then that’s all well and good. He’s a proven coach whose systems still work when he uses players wisely. And so it’s up to Chiarelli to take his favorite broken toys away. And if that happens, then it’ll be the playoffs in Boston again next season and all this will be forgotten. But those seem like big ifs, and as a result, one must necessarily have far less optimism that the Bruins turn things around before the Kings do. Neither situation, though, screams for major changes. What We Learned Anaheim Ducks : The Ducks are the top seed in the West and their reward is playing a surprisingly good and imposing Jets team . Haha I love the playoffs. Arizona Coyotes : The only more appropriate way for this season to have ended was Mike Smith getting called for diving, then giving up six on 24 shots. This 38 of 40 stuff isn’t characteristic at all. Boston Bruins : Before the end of their game, the Bruins were eliminated from playoff contention. Then they had to slog through a stupid shootout anyway . Buffalo Sabres : Have you guys seen this “ Mike Babcock to the Sabres ” rumor that was floating around for the last few days. Good lord, how asinine. Calgary Flames : Sam Bennett picked up his first NHL point just 33 seconds into his career. Which is a pretty good start. He made the whole thing happen with a strong forecheck. Carolina Hurricanes : Eric Staal is eligible to sign an extension starting July 1. Whether he gets one is another matter entirely. Chicago : They’re gonna make me pick a winner in this series and it will be impossible to have any kind of certainty about either team doing anything in the first round. Nashville could win in four. Chicago in seven. Or vice versa. Neither would be surprising. What a weird year. Colorado Avalanche : “ Multiple reasons for season gone bad .” Guess how far down you have to go in this article to find “They’re an awful possession team.” Trick question. It didn’t come up. Columbus Blue Jackets : Columbus closed the year 11-0-1 in their final 12 . Fans were thrilled with it. This might actually be turning into a decent hockey market after all. Dallas Stars : How about Jamie Benn winning the Art Ross — albeit with just 87 points??? — with a hat trick and four-point night despite Tyler Seguin being out of the lineup. Bananas finish to do it, too. Detroit Red Wings : “ Wings have reasons to feel good entering playoffs .” Yeah, like, maybe no one’s told them who they’re playing. Edmonton Oilers : Getting a career backup from a team with strong overall goaltending numbers has really worked out great for the Oilers before so I don’t see why it wouldn’t do so again. Florida Panthers : The Panthers are still looking for a bailout on their lease at BB&T Center. Most recent proposal was for the county to let them out of paying $78.4 million. “The Panthers have not threatened relocation, but co-owner Doug Cifu has referred to the franchise’s operating losses as unsustainable.” Well then. Los Angeles Kings : Happy trails to Robyn Regehr, probably the best NHLer Brazil will ever produce . Minnesota Wild : Cool, another playoff series that’s impossible to predict confidently . Conference III, man. Montreal Canadiens : Yo, Carey Price has a sub-.900 save percentage against the Sens over the last three seasons. Nashville Predators, America’s Favorite Hockey Team : So the Preds signed Stevie Moses, and at one year and $1 million , it’s not any kind of major risk. And yup, Moses led the KHL in scoring this year with 36 goals in 60 games. Would it also surprise you to learn he shot 18 percent this season? Reset your expectations for him breaking double digits in the NHL accordingly. New Jersey Devils : Can you imagine sitting down to write this garbage with a straight face? Man that’s embarrassing. New York Islanders : This is a tough way to blow home ice . Tough to be as confident about the Isles these days. New York Rangers : This might be the first time in a while we can count on a healthy Ranger team . And they’re probably getting a free pass to the second round, too. Ottawa Senators : This team is so fun and awesome. They were more than a dozen points back of the playoffs a few months ago, and they got in before the last day of the season. Just great. Philadelphia Flyers : If by “ talent ” you mean “good defensemen,” yes. Pittsburgh Penguins : When you’re talking about a guy’s long-term health instead of his game readiness any time soon, that is a scary proposition. Poor Kris Letang. San Jose Sharks : This is the first NHL goal for 29-year-old Bryan Lerg, in his first career NHL game. He’s a veteran of 353 career minor-league games. Pretty cool. St. Louis Blues : No one tell the Blues about their goaltending situation . Tampa Bay Lightning : Be afraid of this team . Both now and in the next four or five years. Everyone is good, everyone is like 24. They’re the fourth-youngest team in the league! Toronto Maple Leafs : How was your weekend , Leafs fans? Vancouver Canucks : This is a deeply saddening headline for hockey. Washington Capitals : Hmm is Barry Trotz a good coach ? I can’t tell. Winnipeg Jets : If the Jets even think about wearing their dark jerseys at home in the playoffs they can go straight to heck for all I care. That would be the dumbest thing imaginable. White out the damn MTS Centre, and include the damn players. Play of the Weekend Hell of a way for Mark Stone to secure that playoff bid. Great play, great finish. Gold Star Award