ESPN Bottomline 2.0

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Night in the Life: Audubon Circle

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bruins Have A Carrot To Chase

The Bruins are trying to regain that magic touch.

You know the one. Remember November and December when the denizens of the Spoked B left tire tracks over the rest of the league en route to one of the greatest starts in franchise history?

That was a team that had something to prove. They were motivated to prove that not only were they better than the team that squeaked into the Eastern Conference playoffs as the eighth seed, but also much improved from the previous post-lockout teams, which were utterly horrendous.

They played with spunk and pluck, a chip on their shoulders. No deficit was safe, there was no amount of goals they could not make up (not that they had to, with Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez dominating all comers).

Then the new year turned and these Bruins got complacent. The young guns hit a bit of a wall and the veterans went into auto-drive. It did not come back to bite them at first, given their 8-3-2 January, but the signs were there. Example: Losing a two goal lead to the lowly St. Louis Blues in the final five minutes before eventually dropping the game in a shootout at home on January 19th.

The Blues game turned out to be a precursor for two months of droll, uninspired effort and sometimes outright boring hockey. The schedule turned against them as well, as they faced a stretch at the end of January and the first half of February which brought them contests against every single Eastern Conference foe who held the five spots directly beneath them in the standings.

They handled it well enough, but after the two-week grind that culminated in the much-anticipated match-up against the West leading San Jose Sharks, the Bruins have gone into hibernation.

The trade deadline has brought a little life to this team and it seems that once again they have something to play for, as head coach Claude Julien has dangled a new carrot in front of his players: The Presidents’ Trophy which goes to the team with the most points in the NHL at the end of the regular season.

“We had a good talk about it. Claude told us ‘guys, this Presidents’ trophy is a special thing, it’s something you always remember if you win it,’” center Marc Savard said after Thursday’s 5-3 win against the Ottawa Senators. “We know we’re only a point behind the West division and we had a chance to jump back ahead and we did that tonight.”

“I just think we’ve got to give ourselves something to motivate us and to aim for, and I told them, why not us?” Julien said. Why shouldn’t we be giving ourselves a goal, and maybe that’ll help us focus on those games coming up and not allow us to get in a comfort zone, and say, well, it doesn’t matter if we play .500, we’re going to be in a playoff position. We want to be the best we can, and that’s one way of motivating ourselves.”

The players were not happy with the Ottawa win. They came out hot, scored three quick (if quirky) first period goals then added another in the first minutes of the third. Then they made some mental mistakes that allowed Ottawa back with two quick tap-in goals to make the game more tense than it needed to be in the final minutes before Phil Kessel broke away on an empty net in the final minute.

Sloppy, careless play that almost cost them a win that should have been a blowout.

“Keep in mind that we can play better than that,” goalie Tim Thomas said. “That is a team that’s not going to make the playoffs and we just skidded by.”

It was almost like the Blues all over again.

To get the chip back on their shoulder Julien has challenged them to reach for the trophy, it is theirs for the taking.

It just might work. As they have shown over and over this season, angry Bruins are the best Bruins. Just ask the Dallas Stars, Anaheim Ducks or Montreal Canadiens, all who have lit a fire under the Bruins at one point this season, only to get trounced (physically and score-wise) each time. These guys might get motivated to think of themselves as not just one of the best, but THE best and it would be affront for anybody else to hoist the regular season trophy.

The veterans are preaching a steady approach as they espouse the game-by-game approach, getting the entire teams’ heads screwed on for playoff success.

“Obviously (the Presidents’ Trophy) is important, but even more important is going into the playoffs on a positive note, playing good hockey. I think tonight was a step in the right direction, but we still have a lot of work to do,” P.J. Axelsson said.

Aaron Ward echoed those sentiments.

“I mean I know it’s something to shoot for, but I think that maintaining absolute home ice is goal enough for us. I think it should be where we set our sights and that’s exactly our focus,” he said. “Presidents’ trophy is great, but we as a team need to remedy our problems and going in on an upswing into the playoffs. Those are the things we have to worry about right now.”

Presidents’ Trophy, home ice, getting back on track. The Bruins can say what they will. Carrot or no, the boys need to get back in their game, or it could be a much shorter spring than they were hoping for.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Little Love for VCU

I cannot help but wonder where the NCAA Selection Committee will put my Virginia Commonwealth Rams in their seeding hierarchy on Sunday. Here are my thoughts.

Based on RPI, VCU is # 51 in the country. If the tournament worked on the basis that RPI is where you are supposed to be slotted in the tournament, that would make VCU the third ranked of four # 13 seeds. Think of it, 65 teams, 14 spots between 51 and 65. Four numbered seeds per bracket. So, RPI 65-61 (with the play-in game) are #16 seeds and so on.

But, with conference automatic bids, RPI in seeding gets thrown out the window because teams with much lower RPIs than 65 get into the tournament. Hence, the top mid-major conferences, such as the Colonial (CAA) where VCU comes out of, should be considered at the top of the list of the automatic mid-major qualifiers, thus moving them up the seeding list. If we figure an eight to ten team bump up it puts them around the early forties, in terms of strength of seeding. Using the formula from before, we eliminate another two sets of numbered seeds and come up with a probable number: 11.

There are other things to consider when thinking about seeding mid-majors.. Prestige of schools that do make it, star power and potential attendance draw. VCU does well in all of these aspects, with Eric Maynor adding star power and prestige (given his recent history in his sophomore season as the dagger that killed Duke in the first round). Same thing when thinking about Stephen Curry at Davidson, who should still probably make the tournament as an at-large and take a #12 seed.

If VCU is kept in a semblance of local on the east coast or the south, then their fans will come, no doubt about it.

Now, let's think in reverse. If it is proper to claim that VCU will be around the third ranked # 11 seed, then they should play the second ranked # 6 seed. If we go purely by RPI that would mean VCU would be looking at, right now, a first round matchup with Dayton, who currently sit at 22 in the RPI.

Since Dayton is another mid-major, albeit a very good one, I do not see the selection committee putting them together in the first round. Look for a sexier matchup in the general RPI vicinity, for instance, Illinois, Clemson or Tennessee.

Still a couple days to go and these numbers could jump all over the place, but if VCU ends up playing one of those four teams in the first round, remember who told you so first.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Number One Fan

Alright folks. 

Going to do a little pitch for you here, bear with me.

There is a new sports social networking site called Number One Fan. They have, in their good graces, decided to let me be a columnist for them.

So, I ask you, if you choose, to sign up for Number One Fan (at and create a profile them choose me as your teammate. That way you will get all the feeds of everything that I do for the site, from game breakdowns, blogs and "locker room articles."

If you do sign up for the site, make sure you find me under the "Columnists" tab. Send me a message letting me know that you signed up and I will do the rest. Then, enjoy the content on the site. There are some pretty good writers getting established there and the site is up-and-coming. It may not seem like a lot now but give it a month or so and it will be at full tilt.

Remember though, you can only find my State of the Red Sox Nation: Spring Report 2009 at I told Benjamin Edwards that I would keep that to him exclusively, so I am.

Have fun with Number One Fan, looks like it could be a lot of fun.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reinforcements on the Way?

My second favorite thing to do when breaking down NHL action (after analyzing line make up) is trying to figure out trade deadline action. With the Bruins an up-and-down squad recently it seems that something in Boston has to give.

More precisely, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is going to have to give. It is the only way he is going to get help for the stretch and the playoffs.

Boston has found itself on top of the Eastern Conference standings with a strong team, but the deficiencies are starting to creep up. They could not score on the road trip (except for the 5-1 game in Carolina) and their youth might be becoming a detriment to sustained play off success.

Phil Kessel has recently rediscovered his scoring touch, but the young wing still does not play a spirited two-way game and is responsible for giving up as many goals as he scores. He may suffer from Alex Kovalev syndrome. He is quiet in the dressing room (at least with the media) and as a restricted free agent he will probably want upwards of $4 Million to stay in Boston.

David Krejci has gotten into his own head and his production has suffered, thus the Bruins have suffered. When Boston was steam rolling the league it was Krejci and veteran Marc Savard killing opponents as they butter-churned them through their top two lines. Chiarelli has said that there is no way the Bruins will trade Krejci but his fade down the stretch necessitates some extra pop in the Bruins’ top six.

A quick look on who could be traded from the Bruins that could bring in reinforcements.

Kessel – For the aforementioned reasons as well as the fact that he is Boston’s biggest chip. His youth (still only 21) makes him relatively inexpensive ($850,000 cap hit this year), thus giving the Bruins leverage is they have to eat some money in a trade. If Chiarelli is looking for the big fish, this is his most attractive piece of bait. Look for him to go only for someone like Chris Pronger or the equivalent.

Mark Stuart - I like Stuart. He is a solid defenseman and has recently eclipsed his career high for goals with five. Overall though, the Bruins have some depth on defense (with Matt Hunwick on the roster being scratched through most of February and Matt Lashoff in Providence). He is also making $1.3 Million this year, which may be a touch high for a guy who sits at fourth or fifth on the defensive depth chart.

Stuart has a brother in Atlanta (Colin), so a trip south may not be out of the realm of possibility.

I conducted an impromptu survey of the press box the other day and when I mentioned Stuart to a veteran reporter he said, “they would trade Stuart and maybe some guys in Providence if they were trying to trade three nickels and a dime for a quarter. Otherwise, I don’t think so.”

Manny Fernandez – The strength of this team all year has been in goal. Recently though, that has meant Tim Thomas, as well it should be. Fernandez is another in the locker room who seems a little moody and as an unrestricted free agent the Bruins might be wise to see what they can get for Fernandez.

At the same time, I do not think that Chiarelli would do something so stupid, unless he was blown away by a deal. Some Bruins fans have been clamoring for Tuuka Rask (who pitched a shutout in his only game in Boston this year) to back up Thomas, but I do not see it.

If we look north we find the perfect example of why the Bruins should hold onto Fernandez in the form of Carey Price. “Jesus” Price, just a little older than Rask, has crumpled under the weight of being The Man in Montreal. With the expectations of Boston higher than ever (considering the success of all the other franchises in the city, including their building mate Celtics) it would not be prudent to put Rask in a situation where his psyche could be derailed. Goalies tend to be head jobs in the first place, best not mess with them more than normal.

Peter Schaefer – Five words: Get rid of this contract. $2.1 Million this year and $2.3 next year? Chiarelli needs somebody to take this from him so he can have more flexibility for this deadline and the overall roster next year.

Chips to trade-
There is a glut of kids in Providence that have value. To name a few: Vladimir Sobotka and Martins Karsums (both of whom are actually with the Boston right now). Matt Lashoff, Zach Hamill, Kevin Regan, Martin St. Pierre.

So, who do the Bruins focus on in any potential trade. Three names to watch:

Keith Tkachuk – St. Louis Blues - Veteran leader and scorer, also a Boston legend from his times at Boston University. Provides the top six depth that the Bruins need and a left handed shot that would help the Bruins on the power play and enable them to move Blake Wheeler back to his natural side, probably paired with Patrice Bergeron on the third line.

Martin St. Louis – Tampa Bay Lightning – Almost the same type of argument as Tkachuk, except for the BU stuff. Exciting player that could really jump start the Bruins, especially with Krejci’s fade.

Pronger – I was talking with Darryl Houston-Smith from and he said, “If you put Pronger and Zdeno Chara on the same team then you could just throw each of them out there every shift and just grind teams into submission. That is how you win Stanley Cups.”

Check back on Wednesday to see analysis on any moves the Bruins make.

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