Boston Bruins: Larger Than Life

Full disclosure: This series has little, if anything, to do with stats, facts, or analysis of the Boston Bruins. It will not include an in-depth monologue on whether or not so-and-so will re-sign with the Bruins.

Rather, this series aims to put a face on the fanbase by highlighting the fan stories that started and continue to grow the fanbase, to tell the stories in which hockey became larger than life and instilled something intangible in the hearts of fans all over the world.

Last time around, we were interviewing @jensrud95 on Twitter. This time, we are interviewing Brett (@HockeyBender11 on Twitter).

Brett is a 28-year-old Bruins fan who grew up in Massachusetts. To anyone remotely in tune with the big 4 sports world (MLB, NFL, NHL, and MLB), it’s a well-known fact that Boston is a sports city. Therefore, it should take few people, if any, by surprise that, like so many others living in Massachusetts (just under 50 miles south of Boston, in fact), Brett fell in love with hockey.

A humble beginning

When asked about how he became involved with the sport of hockey, Brett explained that while it was always important to him (having grown up in Massachusetts), there was a larger element at play: “I have two older brothers, and we had a pond in our backyard that we used to skate on every winter. …we probably were out there, with all the neighborhood kids, from, you know, you get out of school, and then you come in for dinner then you go out until . . . the lights had to cut off. So, it was really just something that we just flocked to. Just me, and a bunch of my neighborhood kids, my brothers.”

For Brett, it wasn’t just about the neighborhood kids, who were undoubtedly a huge influence. Rather, “My brothers were probably my biggest influence in getting into it. …I would get all of their equipment, all the hand-me-downs, unfortunately, because I’m the youngest.”

Like every diehard fan, there was a moment where the sport and the team became something more than just some guys on ice. Whether that “moment” is a collection of small things all combined together, or the first time hearing a skate scrape the ice, something gives. For Brett, it was more a collection of small things. When asked what the moment was, Brett explains, “I’d say when I was about 7 years old, that’s when I really was doing more of a learn to skate program and skating with my brothers. And I just fell in love with it. I love the feeling of being out there, you know, the wind going through your ears, and face, and it was just something really cool, really addicting, and just brought a lot of joy.

Later in the conversation he continued, “…like many sports, I think it’s the ultimate team game. . . only successful teams are the ones that genuinely care about each other. I experienced that through playing in middle school, playing in high school . . . So it’s things like that. It’s just, you know, it’s many things. It’s memories that last a lifetime.”

No Stranger to Success

Of course, growing up in the Boston area anywhere in the last 20 years has been a road paved with championships galore, but that doesn’t mean that a title can’t be a favorite moment. In fact, for a team like the Bruins, the championship was, maybe, just the beginning. On this, Brett shared, “The best memory is, you know, seeing them win the (Stanley) Cup in 2011 . . . , it was just such a great memory because . . . they’re the ones who I really wanted to see win a championship in my lifetime. . . You know, the Patriots had won three Super Bowls by then, the Celtics won a championship two years prior, the Red Sox had won two championships, and they were the ones that were kind of like the black sheep of the family, so to speak. They would get close, but they would never get it done, and to finally see them win it in 2011 . . .I basically said to my parents, ‘I can die happy now, I’ve seen all of my favorite sports teams win a championship.’ So that was the best one.”

It isn’t just the success that draws fans in, Brett would suggest. Instead, he makes it more tangible, more personal. For him, it’s about connecting with a team who works hard, about a city identifying with their team: “. . . The city kind of identifies with [the Bruins] I think more than the other teams. You know, Boston’s kind of . . . blue collar . . . you work really hard, you do the right thing . . . you punch in, you work hard, you do what you can. And a lot of the players . . . the 3rd and 4th liners, the ones who would . . . get the scraps, or hit a lot of people . . . really worked really hard. They’re the ones that, to this this day, still, I think are the most popular Bruins in history. Guys like Shawn Thornton or Milan Lucic . . . they don’t take a night off, they work their butt off, and those are the ones that really get taken in. Especially to a city like Boston.”

And still for Brett, and for many fans, there’s one player who stands out. For him, it’s Bergeron: “…he was kind of unexpected success because he was drafted, I believe, in the second round in 2003, and that was probably arguably the deepest draft in terms of skill. And he was a 17 year old kid, couldn’t speak a lick of English, but he had a great rookie year, and then he just picked it up in Providence during the lockdown in 2004. And . . . he showed . . . grit, he showed toughness, and he showed pure skill, and it’s a reason he’s probably one of the more popular players in the league today. And he goes up for the award for the (Frank J.) Selke Trophy every year.”

From One Fan to Another

Despite their success, Brett knows all too well the anguish that comes with being a hockey fan, most notably meeting that disappointment head on in June, when the Bruins lost in game 7 to the Saint Louis Blues.

So I asked him what it’s like to be a Bruins fan. He got candid: “Oh, boy. It’s stressful. . . .it might just be the whole Boston mystique over the last 20 years. You know, we’ve had a lot of success, but Bruins fans for a very long time were very upset with ownership in the late 90s, early 2000s, I would say. . . Mainly a lot of stress growing up, but, for some reason, we just always continue to go back, and just, hopefully there was one time where they could make a deep playoff run and change things up.”

While the hockey world will always be anything but predictable, there is a crew of crazed fans who keep coming back, and new fans joining the crew. For them, Brett had a bit of advice to give. For a new fan, he says, “Never stop gaining new knowledge about the game, be like a vacuum.” As someone who played, his encouragement to new players was, “Be patient, work hard, and enjoy the time you have on the ice.”

Hockey will never just be about some guys on ice. Thanks, Brett, for helping to remind us why.

A final, more personal note:

As I’m sure you’ve heard, our founder Josh has made the tough decision to close down Puck77, so this will be my last post. I just want to say that I fully support his decision, and want nothing but the best for he, his fiancée, and Izzy. I had the pleasure of meeting them in Boston earlier this year, and they are some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.

The people I have worked alongside with, the editors, and especially Josh, have made my introduction to the world of sports journalism an adventure I won’t forget.

I cannot say enough positive things about Josh. He was there at the drop of a hat, and was so flexible with me despite my busy schedule.

He went above and beyond for this site, and I hope that it’s something nobody ever takes for granted. The thing about an undertaking like this is that the front product just shows a small portion of the work. Josh put in loads of work behind the scenes that most of us will never know the fullness of. That level of commitment is admirable.

Thank you, Josh, for giving us a voice in the sports world.

I’ll miss Puck77, but what an adventure it was so be a part of it. Forever thankful.

All the best to all of you,

Kate

player profiles from hockey-reference.com

Would Milan Lucic Benefit From Going Home?

Despite the NHL draft and Free agency day still quite a bit away, rumours are heating up all across the league. One of the biggest names being floated around is Milan Lucic of the Edmonton Oilers.

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Lucic, 31, is coming off a career worst season with the Edmonton Oilers. He sported only 6 goals and 14 assists in 79 games. Lucic signed a big 7 year, $42 million  contract with the Oilers back in July 2016. Lucic’s contract hasn’t helped the Edmonton Oilers’ cap issues.

So I pose the question, would a fresh start be good for Milan Lucic?

In recent weeks, rumours have been planted about a potential swap. It appears that the Vancouver Canucks have been talking to the Edmonton Oilers about a one for one trade. The rumoured trade is:

To Edmonton Oilers:

Loui Eriksson (3 yr/$6 million AAV)

To Vancouver Canucks:

Milan Lucic (4 yr/ 6 Million AAV)

Now I know what many may be thinking, why do this? Well, here are couple of reasons.

Cap Relief for both teams

As many know by now, the Oilers cap situation is not in a good spot. At the moment, the Oilers have 9 million in cap space, but they have quite a few pending RFAs.

I do understand that this does only buy the Oilers an extra year of cap space, but that one year can make a huge difference. If they can move Lucic, they’ll have 6 million in additional cap space in time for July 1, 2022. Come July 1, 2022, there will be several elite players hitting the free agent market. P.K. Subban, Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel, Patrice Bergeron, Johnny Gaudreau, Tomas Hertl, Colton Parayko, Nick Leddy, Rasmus Ristolainen and Evgeni Malkin will become free agents. So, having that 6 million in space will be very handy for Ken Holland

Also keep in mind, I’m sure both Ken Holland and Jim Benning both may consider retaining salary for both players, meaning essentially they would potentially absorb up to 50% of the current contract in order to remove the players from their rosters.

A Change Of Scenery Can Benefit Both Players

Sometimes a change of environment can help a players mindset. If a player is closer to home, it could impact their play. Essentially, it is a reset for both Eriksson and Lucic. Eriksson has been vocal in the past about his troubles with Canucks head coach, Travis Green. Stating in an interview with Hockeysverige (translated by TSN), Eriksson states: I and the coach do not get together a hundred [percent] and it is difficult when I do not get the same trust that I received from all the other coaches I had during my career. Of course it is tough on that front.

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In short, it seems as if GM Jim Benning, may have to ship the 33 year old Swede out of British Columbia. I’m sure many people are wondering, why Edmonton? New Oilers head coach Dave Tippett has had Eriksson as a player before (2000s with the Dallas Stars). Under Tippett, Eriksson was not exactly a superstar, but did have a 36 goal campaign in Dallas in Tippett’s final season as coach. Perhaps, a reunion for Tippett and Eriksson could help rejuvenate Eriksson’s offensive production.

On the other hand, Lucic had expressed interest in going to Vancouver back in 2016, but chose Edmonton instead. Should Lucic move back home to British Columbia, he could serve as protection for the younger players such as Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes. A similar example of this is the role that Matt Martin had when he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Martin provided protection for Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander during his stint in Toronto.  

Many Canucks fans might not be overjoyed with the thought of Lucic coming to Vancouver and playing bottom six minutes. Keep in mind that Lucic still has some upside and could be an asset. He’ll be entering into a new system and perhaps he’ll mesh well with Travis Green. Plus, Benning might be able to pry a draft pick or another piece to even out the deal. 

What Will Happen?

In short, will this deal happen? Possibly. Will it be just a one for one deal? We don’t know. With the offseason not that far away and teams trying to get out of cap trouble, we could see a trade come very soon. Maybe, it’ll come on draft night. 

stats from hockey-reference.com

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers: Ken Holland to the Rescue

It was widely reported on Sunday that Ken Holland is expected to accept the GM position for the Edmonton Oilers.

Let’s take a look back at Holland’s time with the Detroit Red Wings, and see if he can fix the Oilers.

Director of Amateur Scouting (1987-1994)

When his playing career ended with the Adirondack Red Wings, Holland took a post in the Wings scouting department. He served as an amateur scout for Western Canada. His work did not go unnoticed, as he was promoted to Director of Amateur Scouting after just two years.

Some of his highlight picks as Director of Amateur Scouting include Chris Osgood, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Federov, Keith Primeau, and just for fun Wes McCauley (the league’s most famous referee).

Assistant General Manager (1994-1997)

In 1994, Holland was promoted to Assistant General Manager under Jim Devellano and Scotty Bowman. Together the trio built the team that culminated in a 1997 Stanley Cup Championsip.

Upon the completion of the 1997 season, Ken Holland was promoted to General Manager, while Devellano became the Senior Vice President and Alternate Governor and Bowman remained the Head Coach.

General Manager (1997-2019)

The era of dominance was just beginning in 1997. Detroit would make the playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons, beginning in 1990. They won the Stanley Cup 4 times (’97, ’98, ’02, and ’08) during that stretch. It is an unprecedented streak that will be very difficult to match in the post-expansion era. As we know, all good things must come to an end, and the glory days came to a screeching halt in 2017.

It was at that point that many wondered what it would take to rebuild the Wings, considering their aging contracts that carried a heavy cap hit. With contracts like Henrik Zetterberg ( 2YR, $6.1M), Mike Green (1YR, $5.375M), and Johan Franzen (1YR, $3.9M), the Red Wings were forced to bring in Steve Yzerman to clean up the dire cap situation.

It was initially reported that Ken Holland would remain with the organization as Presided of Hockey Operations, but that all changed when the Edmonton Oilers offered him a 5-year, $25M contract to take their vacant General Manager position.

Rebuilding the Oilers

Now the task for Holland becomes finding some help for the best player in the game, Connor McDavid. Edmonton will begin the season with ~$71M committed to 35 players. That gives them about $12M for the 15 available roster spots. That assumes that they are not able to offload the Milan Lucic contract, which is a difficult task without including a prominent trade chip.

Obviously, moving Lucic will be talked about a lot this off-season, but lets look at some players that actually have value on the trade market.

Trade Chips

Leon Draisatl, C/LW/RW

OK, put down the pitchforks and listen to me for a second. Do you ever expect his value to be any higher? He is coming off of a season that saw him score 50 goals and eclipse the century mark in points. His versatility would make him the most attractive trade target in recent memory, and yes, I know Erik Karlsson was traded last season. Gathering the resources from the trade to go along with the extra $8.5M of cap space could move this rebuild into the fast lane.

Oscar Klefbom, LHD

The return for Klefbom would not be nearly as high as Draisatl, but he is the easiest defenseman on their roster to trade. He has 4 years remaining at $4.1M per year. While he may not be best suited for top pairing on most teams, he is definitely a guy that can share minutes with the best in the league. His offensive potential makes him an attractive option for a 2nd power play unit. It helps that the Oilers have an abundance of Left-Handed Defensemen.

Jesse Puljujarvi, RW

Puljujarvi has never really found his footing in Edmonton. When pundits talk about players that could use a change of scenery, this guy’s name always comes up. He could be the sweetener Holland adds to move a bad contract.

Buyout Options

Again, most of you expect Milan Lucic’s name to show up in this section. Sorry to disappoint you, but it will not. I will reserve this section for realistic, financially responsible buyouts.

Sam Gagner, C/RW

The Oilers brought back Sam Gagner around the trade deadline in a player for player trade featuring Ryan Spooner. While Gagner showed upside (10P in 29GP), that is not what you need from a $3M player. Utilizing the Buyout Calculator on capfriendly.com, it would free up ~$2M if they chose to buy him out. I do believe Gagner could fetch something on the trade market, so this route would be a last option.

Adam Larsson, RHD

Quite possibly the biggest mistake in Peter Chiarelli’s tenure as GM of the Oilers, Larsson’s name is worse than anything you would hear at a sailor’s convention, in the eyes of Blue and Orange faithful. Larsson has not been a total failure for Edmonton, it’s just never easy to win a trade when the return wins league MVP. He has averaged over 21 minutes per night in his 3 seasons and still has a positive +/-, which is not easy in Edmonton. However, a buyout would save the Oilers $3.5M in each of the next two seasons.

Brandon Manning, LHD

Another lost trade by Chiarelli, Manning was eventually sent to Bakersfield and subsequently scratched from their roster. With one year remaining on his deal, I see no other solution than to buy him out. It would only equate to $1.3M in savings, but that is more attractive than $1.75M in unused salary.

Coaching Search

The Edmonton Oilers CEO, Bob Nicholson, made it abundantly clear in March that the next GM would have full discretion on the next head coach. As to who Ken Holland may target, there has been speculation already that Mike Babcock would be a candidate.

Obviously, this speculation would come up because of their time together in Detroit, but I find it unlikely unless the Dubas/ Babcock feud is real.

Another name to consider would be Dan Bylsma. The former Sabres and Penguins bench boss has ties to Holland, as he was hired as a Detroit assistant last season. He has experience coaching superstars and a championship pedigree. He would definitely be a splash hire that could rejuvenate the Edmonton faithful. This is just my speculation as to a possible candidate. I don’t think we will hear a true list of candidates until Edmonton makes the hiring official.

stats from capfriendly.com and hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals