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Friday, April 13, 2007

Douglas Flynn Grades the Defense
Bruins 2006-07 Report Card
Part I: The Defense

The 2006-07 season is in the books, which means it’s time for the Bruins Insider to take a look back at what went wrong, and a look forward to what is in store for the club next season. Over the next few days, I’ll look at each section of the club – defense, forwards, goaltending and coaching/management – by breaking down each individual player’s performance this past year, assessing the unit’s overall execution and looking ahead to the outlook for next year. First up is the defense.

Individual Grades:

Aaron Ward; 6-2, 215. Age: 34
2006-07 stats: 80 games, 4-12-16, 75 PIMs, minus-11; 20 games, 1-2-3, 16 PIMs, minus-8 with Boston
2007-08 status: Signed for $2.75 million
Veteran stay-at-home defenseman was added at the deadline to help shore up Boston’s play in its own zone. Ward helped, but that proved a task beyond the abilities of any one man. Still, Ward provided some steady play (188 blocked shots), a physical presence (200 hits) and some much-needed leadership both on and off the ice. Those leadership abilities should become even more prominent next year when Ward is with the club for a full season.
Grade: B+

Mark Stuart; 6-1, 209. Age: 23
2006-07 stats: 15 games, 0-1-1, 14 PIMs, plus-7
2007-08 status: Signed for $942,000 (plus rookie bunuses)
It was a limited sample size, but an impressive performance from the 2003 first-round draft pick who split time between Boston and Providence for the second straight year. Stuart didn’t get a lot of chances to show what he could do with the big club, but he made the most of his opportunities. He finished with the best plus-minus on the team at plus-7 in three stints in Boston. He was a plus-2 in three straight games in his second call-up, and was even or plus in all four games of his final recall despite the Bruins being outscored 13-6 in that span. He had 22 hits and 16 blocked shots and committed just three giveaways in his 15 games with the big club.
Grade: B+

Andrew Ference; 5-10, 189. Age: 28
2006-07 stats: 70 games, 3-12-15, 97 PIMs, plus-5; 26 games, 1-2-3, 29 PIMs, minus-2 with Boston
2007-08 status: Signed for $1.235 million
Another late addition added some needed grit and energy to the blue line. Ference isn’t the biggest guy on the ice, but he plays bigger than his 5-foot-10, 189-pound frame, as evidenced by his 114 hits, 85 blocked shots and 97 penalty minutes (which included three fighting majors). He won’t provide a ton of offense or be a top pairing guy, but he’ll stand up for his teammates and make sound decisions in his own zone.
Grade: B

Bobby Allen; 6-1, 215. Age: 28
2006-06 stats: 31 games, 0-3-3, 10 PIMs, minus-1
2007-08 status: Unrestricted free agent
There weren’t many feel-good stories in this dreary Bruins season, but seeing this Hull native finally make it up to the NHL for regular duty after five years in the minors was certainly a highlight. Allen proved he belonged too. He’s not flashy, but he played a smart positional game and made the most of his time on the ice, averaging more than a hit and a blocked shot per game, collecting 32 hits and 34 blocks in his 31 games.
Grade: B

Andrew Alberts; 6-4, 219. Age: 25
2006-07 stats: 76 games, 0-10-10, 124 PIMs, minus-15
2007-08 status: Restricted free agent (2006-07 salary of $661,000)
One of the few physical players on the Boston roster from the start of the season, Alberts racked up 156 hits, 112 blocked shots and a team-high 124 penalty minutes. That last figure included five fighting majors, as Alberts was one few Bruins willing to shed the gloves when necessary. The results weren’t always pretty when he did, but the effort was appreciated. The rest of his game suffered through some peaks and valleys, which isn’t unusual for a young defenseman in just his second pro season. He’ll never be a big offensive producer, but he has to stay more consistent in his own zone and avoid costly stretches like the 21-game span in Jan. and Feb. when he went a minus-15.
Grade: C+

Dennis Wideman; 6-0, 200. Age: 24
2006-07 stats: 75 games, 6-19-25, 71 PIMs, minus-10; 20 games, 1-2-3, 27 PIMs, minus-3 with Boston
2007-08 status: Restricted free agent (2006-07 salary of $473,000)
At just 24, this second-year NHLer was put in a tough position when he was forced to learn a new system on the fly in Boston after coming over from St. Louis at the trade deadline. Wideman has ability and offensive upside, but right now is a work in progress prone to youthful mistakes. Three points in 20 games wasn’t enough to offset the defensive lapses.
Grade: C-

Jason York; 6-2, 202. Age: 36
2006-07 stats: 49 games, 1-7-8, 32 PIMs, minus-14
2007-08 status: Unrestricted free agent
A solid veteran whose presence in the locker room was important, York is a capable depth defenseman at this stage of his career, but was asked to do too much at times this year. No player is ever going to turn down playing time, so the fault lies more with the coaching staff, but York should not have been playing ahead of youngsters like Milan Jurcina and Mark Stuart for much of the season.
Grade: C-

Zdeno Chara; 6-9, 260. Age: 30
2006-07 stats: 80 games, 11-32-43, 100 PIMs, minus-21
2007-08 status: Signed for $7.5 million
First the positive – Chara led the entire league in ice-time with an average of 27:57 a game and set a career-high in points with 43. Unfortunately, he was being paid big bucks to be a defensive stopper and an intimidating physical presence, and failed to deliver either attribute on most nights. He was tied for 838th out of 858 players in the league this year with a woeful plus-minus of minus-21 and led the Bruins by a wide margin with 94 giveaways. He also led the team with 203 hits and had 134 blocked shots, but did not record a single fighting major all season despite ample opportunities to come to his teammates’ aid or set a tone for his club. He may have felt pressure to stay on the ice instead of in the penalty box, but he still managed to reach the century mark in PIMs with 45 minors and a misconduct. Could a couple of five-minute stints in the sin bin really have hurt the team that much? Even his offense evaporated as the club fell out of the race down the stretch, with just two goals and six assists in his final 31 games. The ice-time and early-season offensive production could have boosted the grade up a notch, but did Chara really show he deserved a C this year?
Grade: D+

Incompletes: Matt Lashoff (12 games, 0-2-2, 12 PIMs, minus-6); Jonathan Sigalet (1 game, 0-0-0, 4 PIMs, minus-2); Nathan Dempsey (17 games, 0-1-1, 6 PIMs, minus-2, UFA in 07-08)

Gone but not forgotten: Brad Stuart (48 games, 7-10-17, 26 PIMs, minus-22, traded to Calgary on Feb. 10); Paul Mara (59 games, 3-15-18, 95 PIMs, minus-22, traded to NY Rangers on Feb. 27); Milan Jurcina (40 games, 2-1-3, 20 PIMs, minus-5, traded to Washington on Feb. 3)

Unit Evaluation:

The Bruins allowed 289 goals this season. Only Philadelphia surrendered more in the entire league. The goalies and forwards certainly share in the blame for that, as does the coaching staff for the system they implemented and the front office who put this roster together. But any discussion of a team’s defensive deficiencies inevitably has to center on the blueliners, and collectively this group simply didn’t get the job done. They also didn’t contribute much in the offensive zone. Other than Chara, the rest of the defensive corps that finished the season in Boston combined for a total of four goals as Bruins this year. Just for comparison’s sake, Hal Gill, offensive juggernaut that he is, had six goals by himself this year in Toronto. While there were individual positives, Boston’s defense this year is proof that the sum is not always greater than its parts.
Grade: D+

Outlook for 2007-08:

With little space left under the salary cap and the top five defensemen either already signed or under control as restricted free agents, plus Stuart likely ready to make the leap to full-time duty in the NHL, don’t expect the Bruins’ defense to look radically different next year. That’s not to say there can’t be improvement. Having a training camp and full season together should greatly increase the chemistry and cohesion which suffered with the addition of three new defensemen in late-season trades. Youngsters Alberts, Wideman and Stuart should also benefit from the experience gained from having another pro season under their belts, while Chara will hopefully regain some of the edge he played with in Ottawa. Lashoff and Sigalet will have a chance to compete for a spot in camp, but both may be best served with another year of seasoning in the AHL, especially with so much youth already on the blue line. York will likely move on, but Allen could be a perfect fit as a seventh defenseman capable of filling in when needed. Having Allen on hand would keep the club from stunting the development of a youngster by sitting him in press box, and he should come at a cap-friendly rate.


Blogger Pekese said...

Agreed with for the most part, although I would give Ward and Ference lower grades since they both struggled in this terrible system. Both are solid stay at home defensemen who have good leadership.

4 goals from our defense besides Chara is just embarrassing.

Douglass Flynn of the Herald is one of the only concrete Bruins writers out there. He questioned Lewis' system a long time ago just like all of us.

1:15 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

well...Stuart scored 7 goals and Jurcina had 2 with the B's and 4 for the year scoring 3 times as many points as he did for the Bruinsin 10 less games... but we traded them

11:20 AM  
Blogger Pekese said...

Yes true Jim good points. I still think the production from the defense was just awful overall. It could have done better but playing in a system like this, how can anyone do better?

9:56 PM  

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