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Colageo: Boston Bruins’ Net Bears Watching



Boston Bruins

A goalie controversy is like a flu bug. You don’t want it anywhere near your room.

The Boston Bruins are not at the elephant-in-the-kitchen stage, but it’s been impossible not to notice since the March 8 trade deadline that Linus Ullmark is outplaying Jeremy Swayman.

Tyson Foerster’s late game winner marked the first time Ullmark had allowed three goals in a game since before the trade deadline. Since being hung out to dry March 2 on Long Island, Ullmark had allowed a total of six goals in his previous four games, going 3-0-1 before the desperate Flyers got two third-period goals to beat the Bruins on Saturday. By contrast – admittedly a small sample – Swayman since the trade deadline: 1-2, 4.00 GAA, .848 save pct.

The popular script had trended all season in the direction that Swayman, 25 and on the verge of a career-defining contract negotiation, is the future of the franchise. And Ullmark, at age 30 with a year remaining at $5 million, is on his way out.

I bought in far enough to argue in this space “why not now” so Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney could utilize Ullmark’s market value to address critical needs at the March 8 NHL Trade Deadline.

Jake DeBrusk was not going to net the Boston Bruins a do-it-all, left-shot defenseman like Noah Hanifin (who went to Vegas in a stunning trade), but a Jakob Chychrun type to ease the game for Charlie McAvoy would have been nice.
If you can’t get the D you need, a menacing forechecker would have been a worthy consolation prize.

Wherever else, the Stanley Cup playoffs are decided by inside ice. The team that takes it and denies it advances in the playoffs.

As constituted after the trade deadline, will the Boston Bruins take inside ice and deny it? Has Andrew Peeke, a right shot, changed your mind?

Coach Jim Montgomery’s solution – OK, experiment – has been to designate Brandon Carlo and Hampus Lindholm his shutdown pairing and hand the offensive role over to McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk.

This is why the Florida Panthers are such a difficult matchup for any opponent: Sasha Barkov, when healthy, is a beast. If he is playing with Sam Reinhart, a big, strong winger enjoying what should be a 50-goal season, that adds a physical matchup for a second D pairing not deployed to defend Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk.

The Panthers still have Carter Verhaeghe (who ended the Bruins’ season last year) and now have elbow winger Vladimir Tarasenko (whose career might be jump-started in a lineup like this).

Is Lindholm up to such a challenge? A little like Carlo, Lindholm has had bad luck with injuries at playoff time. The Boston Bruins absolutely need this pairing to play the hardest hockey of their lives and stay healthy doing so in order for their team to see May much less June.

Swayman, by the way, hasn’t been bad, he just hasn’t been as good as he had been all season to this point. The assumption here is his little dip is a blip, and the future has already been decided on second-floor Causeway Street offices. Playoffs will cause terrible mood swings in the land of the pundits, but common sense says Swayman will get his deal and he’ll get it from the Boston Bruins. Ullmark will go in a draft-weekend trade to a city not on his 16-team no-trade list, and there is no doubt the Bruins would love to get back into the first round.

It’s a Twilight Zone plight for Philadelphia Flyers stalwart Sean Couturier, who played through the game for a decade, drawing comparisons to Patrice Bergeron and earning a career contract with a $.7.75 million cap hit and an expiration date of 2030.

Only weeks after he’d signed the 2021 deal, his back gave out. It took two surgeries and almost two years to effectively repair a herniated disc and put his back on skates.

The team for which he had served as a gold standard for two-way, heavy hockey has finally found its way under a new management team led by Keith Jones and Danny Briere and especially coach John Tortorella. They might make the playoffs; it would be huge for the franchise the market (think 2007-08 Bruins).

Only one problem, Couturier is in Tortorella’s doghouse. After a third-period benching in Boston, the 31-year-old centerman was scratched twice in between that game and Saturday’s, in which he skated 13 minutes.

If his body is no longer able to match his intentions and keep the frenetic pace of the fast, young Flyers of Farabee, Foerster, Frost and Tippett, what then?

Do they buy him out? Would salary retention interest a team like the Boston Bruins? (Couturier is a left shot). He has a no-move through 2028-29 and a 10-team no-trade in the final year of his contract, and has said he remains intent on grinding this out.

General managers say 70% of extra-time games are ending in overtime, an upward trend that has convinced them not to mess with the shootout. They don’t want to see unintended consequences, which is understandable, given the developments in the game over several other 21st century fixes gone sideways.

Rick Nash, special assistant to now-ex Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen (fired on February 15), has been named Team Canada GM for the World Championships May 10-17 in Czechia.

Nash, despite touring the Original Six with stops in New York and Boston, is the Jackets’ franchise icon in retirement and is climbing the management ladder. Is there any doubt where this is going? Or to put it another way, how does the team’s recurring brain trust (i.e. John Davidson) sell the fans on going another way? If he considers it too soon to give Nash the hot seat, whoever gets the job will feel the breath of Nash on the back of his neck.

Another enforcer-era NHLer prematurely departed from this mortal coil: RIP Chris Simon, age 52. The former Avalanche tough guy skated five seasons in the KHL after his NHL days were over.

Peter Laviolette got career (regular-season) win No. 1,500 this weekend, and with 98 points and 11 games left the New York Rangers are looking like all that and a bag of chips. Now should the Rangers win the Presidents Trophy, does Lavvy get a sniff of the Jack Adams for Coach of the Year (as voted by the broadcasters), or is this still a two-horse race between Rick Tocchet and Tortorella?

I realize I’m beating a dead horse here, but Laviolette won 16 games for Carolina that were far more important than the 1,500 being celebrated. They should count, and given all the other postseason wins including two other runs to the Cup final, the 1,500-game milestone should have been celebrated sometime last season. I digress.

Quick: Name the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation 10 times at home or away this season.

Finally, in a battle of elite-level freshmen, Boston College’s Will Smith upstaged Boston University’s Macklin Celebrini in last night’s Hockey East Championship game at TD Garden. But watching the 17-year-old push the Terriers and keep his feet amidst post-whistle shoving from multiple directions was impressive. A sturdy specimen not unlike a young Sidney Crosby, Celebrini is go-through player who will make a great pro.

That puts a plot twist on the Rivalry of Comm. Ave. Smith was drafted fourth overall last year by the San Jose Sharks (16-46-8), who will have the most ping-pong balls in the draft lottery. It’s easy to see why Celebrini is the consensus No. 1 overall.

Answer: Boston Bruins.

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