The puck is about to drop for the Bruins as they begin their quest to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972. Lots of ground to cover in this week's mailbag, so let's get started.
The Bruins will leave Montreal after Game 3 against the Habs on Monday, opting for the calmer environs of Lake Placid, NY, site of Team USA's 1980 gold medal in men's hockey. Do you believe in miracles? Is Mike Eruzione walking through that door?
You can submit a question anytime for consideration in a future mailbag.
Question: There are many concerns over the capability of Claude to lead this team. There are also concerns over the remaining terms of his contract. Is there any possibility that Peter Chiarelli will replace Claude? -- Pat Ryan, ex- of West Roxbury, now Palmyra, Va.
KPD: Sure, always a possibility, and I think a very likely one if Julien fails to get his team into the Eastern Conference final.
Important to keep in mind here that Julien has averaged 101 points in his four years behind the Boston bench and he led the club to a 103-point finish this season, ostensibly without a No. 1 center.
All that said, however, I think every coach gets only so many attempts at getting the job done, and that Boston is different than, say, Nashville or Buffalo, where Barry Trotz and Lindy ruff have been on the job forever without winning big in the post-season. Anything short of eight post-season wins and I think Julien is gone.
Question: Why not sit Sean Thornton instead of Tyler Seguin? I love Thorney but not much fighting in playoff. They have McQuaid and Campbell to enforce, isn't Seguin a better threat? -- Stuart Gardner, Beverly
KPD: I follow the logic here, but I think the better case for playing Seguin would be to slot him ahead of Danny Paille, not Thornton, who played with great pluck and effectiveness over the last month, and collected a career-high 20 points. He's on a roll.
Seguin has a great skill set, specifically his shot and his speed, but he really must improve his courage factor. He doesn't have to be a contact player, but he has to be willing to take a hit and fight for pucks. Right now, he rates very low in both categories.
Question: In one of your recent answers you suggested that if the Bruins didn't re-sign Kaberle and with Ryder gone then they could perhaps sign Richards. Two problems - first, they don't have the cap space as Kaberle could only be signed this season because Savard is on IR and, assuming Savard is back next year, then Kaberle will use up Ryder's $4m. Second I can't see the Bs giving up a first and Colborne for a rental. Kaberle has to be re-signed otherwise PC looks foolish.
Capgeek shows cap space next year of $7.2m. With that they need to sign Kaberle, Recchi (again?), Marchand and a D. All of which means the B's won't have any cap space next year for any significant signings, never mind Brad Richards, without moving someone first.
What would you do to make the Bs a better team? And does it depend on how they fare in the playoffs. -- Gary in London, England, UK
KPD: OK, some streamlined math here:
Right now, removing Savard from the equation, the Bruins have 10 forwards under contract next season for about a $24 million cap hit.
Setting Kaberle aside for sake of discussion, they have five blue liners in the fold for about $15 million.
Add in the Rask and Thomas hits, a combined $6.25 million, and that puts the Bruins around $45 million for 17 players for 2011-12.
The cap next season is likely to be set around $62 million, which would leave the Bruins some $17 million to settle the rest of the roster.
I don't think Savard is ever coming back, which would leave that $17 million ''whole''. If that's the case, then they easily could sign Richards and Kaberle, their combined tickets probably no more than $12 million. If Savard returns, he carries a $4 million cap hit. Then it gets snug, becausee they still have to sign Marchand as that 12th forward and that would not leave money for Recchi.
So it all really comes back to Savard, right. And again, in my opinion, I think he'll opt to retire.
Question: Kevin, you have mentioned upgrading team speed as something that would help the B's. Is this more of an issue with the forwards or blueliners? It seems the Bruins have some speed up front (Lucic, Horton, Marchand, Peverley, Seguin come to mind) but their defense corp seems slow and unable to mantain proper position, angles, etc. against speedy forwards. The Habs and Sabres seem to give them fits when they play. -- William Raftery, Newport, R.I..
KPD: I don't think their lack of speed is profound, and you've correctly identified some good legs. But overall, I think it has to be better if this team is going to be a serious contender for a a Cup.
Speed alone guarantees nothing, and often even good players see their games break down when they try to play in a higher gear. So it's one thing to be fast, and something else again to be fast and effective.
We have to remember, too, that Boston's game plan is so centered on defense and defensive accountabilty, and that alone makes it more difficult for players to play at their highest speed. Defense does not prevent speed, but, in my opinion, it makes players mindful of executing with caution and some hesitation.
Question: How would you assess Julien's ability to make in-game adjustments? I know "The System" will keep the Bruins competitive and will get them to the playoffs, but they don't seem (to my untrained eye) to plan a strategy on an opponent-by-opponent or game-by-game basis. What you see is what youget. It seems to me that this gives an advantage to the opponent when it comes to preparation. Should this team have more flexibility offensively...especially in the playoffs? Sometimes it seems the game dictates the need to throw caution to the wind. I have not seen the B's do that, and when other teams have, they seem to be successful against us. -- Shawn, Foxboro
KPD: Sounds to me like we're on the same page here. Julien has simple, easy-to-comprehend system and, when executed to its fullest, it adds up to success.
However, he is very reluctant to break from his method of rolling four lines. Sometimes, I wonder if he would go to five lines...dress three blue liners and 15 forwards. Just kidding, of course, but he is nothing if not consistent.
Personally, I would be far more willing to try different line combinations on nights when the ''jump'' just isn't there. I would also favor a three-line approach, and roll in the ''extras'' only as needed, if needed.
But I only write games for a living, which makes my way only one of imagination, doesn't it. Julien's Boston team have averaged 101 points pers eason since his arrival here. Obviously, his system works. We just haven't seen it work behond a seventh game of the second round.
Question: I am reading the questions from fans-----came up on the one to name a trophy for the Great Orr -- how about for the best +/- man? -- Claudio Ronchin, Lively, ON, Canada.
KPD: I suppose this works, but it fails some in that Orr was much more than a plus/minus guy, and frankly, we paid the stat almost no attention in his playing days. The numbers weren't made public, in fact.
So....still open to suggestions here. One reader thought the way to go might be to award ''The Orr'' to the highest-scoring defenseman each season. Any votes there?
Question: I am a long time Bruins fan hatched from the excitement of the Bobby Orr era. Today, I am much more of a fan of the college game than professional hockey. The skill level is high, there is plenty of passion and grit, and no one is breaking out in fisticuffs to set a tone.
Similarly, the Vancouver Olympics showed that it is entirely possible to have a riveting hockey contest on a large ice surface without pugilism. What a concept.
My belief is that the NHL (and people like Mike Milbury) have it all wrong. Many other team sports that move an object around grip their fans with style and skill, not fighting and violence designed to intimidate. European hockey used to emphasize passing and skating which I find far more interesting than players trying to emulate Roman gladiators.
My question to you is: do you believe the NHL will ever have the courage to offer a product that is less violent, less prone to lead to serious injury? I am convinced that doing so would be in the best interests of the sport, players. -- Henry Nichols, Pownel, ME.
KPD: I have to admit, for the first time in my 50 years of watching the sport, I am beginning to have some second thoughts about fighting. Do I still like it? Absolutely. Count me among the knuckledraggers, of whom there are many in the stands and throughout the ''fan'' ranks.
What worries me is that it's now clear some players are getting hurt in fights, and I don't recall them getting hurt to this degree. Some of these injuries are concussions, and I think we have to pay attention to all brain injuries.
But, to your question, no, I don't think the league any time soon will dial the fighting tolerance down to zero. For one simple reason: it sells. You may not like that, but I don't think you can argue it. The league believes, as do I, that fewer fans will support the support if it is stripped of fighting. You might counter that new fans would come aboard because the fighting is gone, but I don't believe that, and I don't believe anyone on the team or league management sides believes it either.
Keep in mind: the Roman gladiator attraction went on not for decades, but for centuries. People like seeing other people fight. They like it when it's real, and even when it's make believe. And while I can understand someone choosing not to watch fighting, or not supporting a sport that tolerates it, I think it is each sport's right to deal with it how it may.
Question: Isn't it time for Julien to hit the road? Ya, ya it was a 100-point team this year, but the Bruins DO have a lot of talent and who's to say another coach couldn't have done the same? I'm just so tired of his suffocating, defense-first, monotonous, robotic coaching. I think he's a dinosaur and the Bruins would be so refreshed with a young, dynamic, creative coach. I see nothing remarkableabout Julien's coaching and the power play appears to be beyond his comprehension. You have all these skilled players passing the puck around the boards looking completely befuddled as to what to do. There is no design, no movement. If anything kills the Bruins in the playoffs it will be the inability of the power play to contribute. Please, Mr. G.M., dump Julien (and Ryder). -- Ron in Toronto, ON, Canada
KPD: Another country heard from: Canada.
You are not alone in your frustration and I think you've hit the most salient point here wtih the dysfunctional power play. If Julien doesn't get 'er going, then his team will be gone early from the playoffs. And an early playoff exit, I believe, will lead to a coaching change.
That's not to cast Julien as an inefficient or ineffective coach. He's solid at what he does. But it's clearly time for him to prove that his way of coaching, motivating and managing can add up to 16 post-season W's.
Question: Do you have any idea what the NHL considers a "hit"? There are numerous hits on every shift, yet at the end of the game the stat for "hits" for each team is shown to be approx. 9-12 or even less? This can not be right! NESN does not show this stat but it is shown when I watch other games either on CBC, TSN, Turner, or FOX. -- Bob, Pittsburgh, Pa.
KPD: Without getting too technical or wordy about what defines a ''hit'', I think most of us could agree to this standard: we know it when we see it.
That said, here's the main issue in keeping count: the off-ice officials who record these hits around the 30 NHL cities differ in their opinion of what is and what is not a hit.
To be honest, I've seen many games where the final tally for hits by each side far exceeeds the 9-12 that you're quoting. But, no argument here that it's a very ''squirrely'' number, just because of how it varies from city to city.
Question: Would Bruins trade Seguin to Edmonton for the first overall pick plus a 2nd rounder and Cogliano? -- Steve in Toronto, ON, Canada
KPD -- Yes. No question. Done deal.
Question: As the Bruins get busy preparing for the Canadiens, here is a quote from Claude Julien:
"They're a good team. Let's not kid ourselves here," said Claude Julien. "They've got good speed. They've got players that are pretty skilled. They've got a great goaltender. That's what we're competing against. I don't know about what we have to prepare ourselves against more than what we have to prepare ourselves to do. That's what we're doing. We're getting ourselves ready. It doesn't matter who you're going to play. You better hope your team is at its best. Simple as that."
Considering Julien has a bit of a stigma with regard to not adapting well to opponents' style of play (i.e. Game 7 playoff losses to Philly and Carolina in recent years), what do you make of Julein's comments? In a town where we are lucky enough to witness Belichick adapt his team's style of play and game-plan strategies that neutralize opponents strengths - Claude seems to be at the opposite end of the coaching spectrum. You simply can't play one system against every opponent and expect to win, correct? Coaches have to be able to adapt - and what's frightening here is that the Julien doesn't seem to be preparing his team for that possibility - instead he leaves the team unprepared for changes that might be necessary mid-series. --Lou in Boston
KPD: Specific to his quote: I think he's merely trying not to give the other side any bulletin board material for the playoffs. Standard practice, praise your opponent, not generate any motivation out of thin air.
As for you summation of his Julien's coach style, to quote another coach in town (see: Foxborough), it is what it is.
Question: Many fans have questioned the Jacobs commitment to winning here in Boston. The amount spent on player salary was always an issue, but now with the cap and http://www.nhlnumbers.com everyone can see what they are spending on players.
But what about coaching and scouting? And budget on their AHL and ECHL teams and player development? Is there a way to compare the Bruins to other NHL teams on an ongoing basis? -- Dave Prach, Sudbury
KPD: I can't produce numbers here to compare Boston's expenditures on these very important areas. However, my feeling is that they by no means skimp.
Spending really hasn't been an issue for the Bruins ever since moving into the more lucrative new Garden on Causeway Street. They spend. In fact, in some cases they've overspent, and that sometimes has been a problem. Case in point: paying Martin Lapointe to fill a ''franchise player'' role that he had no shot at filling.
Question: I have been rehabbing after a stroke last December and have missed a lot of Bruins news.My question is, how did the bruins breass pass up getting Brad Boyes back during the trading period? He was a really good player for us and can't imagine why they let him go to Buffalo. I was shocked whenever I heard that he was with Buffalo. What happened?-- Ily in Lynn
KPD: First off all, here's wishing you a full and speedy recovering.
Great kid, Boyes, among my favorites ever to walk into the Boston dressing room. But once he was dealt out of here for Dennis Wideman, he it was clear Boyes didn't fit the ''tough-to-play-against'' style that GM Peter Chiarelli has tried to implement here ever since his arrival in June 2006.
I suppose that could change, and perhaps Chiarelli will see a need down the road to mix in a wider variety of players and playing style. But for now, I don't think they see him fitting their prototype.