Last Wednesday, the Bruins placed Marc Savard on Long Term Injury Reserve. He joined linemate Milan Lucic on LTIR, with an expected time on the shelf of 4-6 weeks. With the Bruins languishing at .500, members of Bruins Nation panicked. They wondered how far back the B’s would fall in the standings. Would the Bruins be anywhere close to the top of the Northeast Division when these two returned? Who would score? Would the Bruins be in competition with themselves for the first overall pick in the draft?
Well, three games since the movement of their best skill player and blossoming power forward, the Black and Gold have picked up five of six points, coming behind for a regulation win over Nashville, going toe-to-toe with Philly the next night in a shootout loss and then storming back on Saturday for a miracle shootout ‘W’ in Ottawa. Taking a deuce from a lesser Western Conference team, snagging a point from a rested rival and earning a big division win is a good start to live without Savvy and the Serbian Nightmare.
Yet, it’s an off day for the Bruins, the second of four in a row, and it appears as if the desire to tinker with the team and reinvent the wheel has not taken the day off.
The Carolina Hurricanes put old friend Stephane Yelle on waivers today and immediately the Tweets were flowing as if they were Alex Ovechkin shots. Somewhere in Canada, Mrs. Yelle is printing out postings from around the innerwebs claiming how her baby boy is the savior or the Bruins’ penalty kill issues or how Stephane’s leadership and overall “experience” is the final piece of the puzzle to solving the issues on Causeway Street.
Now, the issue of Stephane Yelle’s importance the 2008-09 edition of the Bruins is unquestionable. He was as reliable a fourth-line center and penalty killer a team could want. He blocked shots, forechecked aggressively and was arguably the most dependable guy on draws late in games. If the Bruins had brought him back this year, seeing him lineup with Shawn Thornton and Byron Bitz would have been a welcome sight.
However, the brass did not bring him back, instead investing a few more dollars in Steve Begin. So far this year, Begin has performed admirably in his assigned role, causing trouble in the corners for defensemen, winning his share of faceoffs and standing up for teammates when needed. On top, he has six points so far, including goals in two of his last three games.
Some of the B’s bloggers I pay attention to see Yelle as a cheap, experienced way to solve Boston’s penalty kill issues. Yelle makes the league minimum $550,000 so cheap is a very good adjective for Yelle. He is in 14th season so experienced and veteran also are correct. Yet, while at face value it is easy to clamor for Peter Chiarelli to claim Yelle, adding him to this roster comes with costs.
1.) Stephane Yelle is a center. Right now, the Bruins have Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Begin as pivots with Vladimir Sobotka also lining up there. In a month or so, Savard is back with Sobotka the odd man out. Trent Whitfield is a center who has played many years in the AHL and is capable of playing third or fourth line minutes if needed in an emergency and makes the same salary as Yelle. If the Bruins were faced with Whitfield as a long-term solution, I would pay for Yelle’s flight from Carolina to Boston.
2.) However, why are people quick to dismiss Sobotka and fellow call-up Brad Marchand? In his three games, Sobotka has crashed around like the little ball of rage he is. Last game, he popped seven hits on the Senators – a team high. Followers of the Bruins have waited for him to take on a bigger role with the big club, and this month-long slot as third-line center is a great opportunity for him to show he can play the cycling, puck possession game so desired by Claude Julien while still harassing behind the far goal line. Marchand, one defensive lapse in Philly aside, has not looked out of place riding shotgun with Patrice Bergeron and Michael Ryder. He picked up his first point in his first NHL game and has done what is required – making smart moves with the puck and taking shots when able. After three games he is even despite averaging 15:00 of ice time.
3.) The one major area associated with the desire to have Stephane Yelle come back to Boston is to fixing the shorthand struggles. The B’s are 24th in the NHL in killing penalties, allowing 10 power play goals against in 41 opportunities. Yes, Yelle is a proficient penalty killer with his ability to win faceoffs and to block shots. So is P.J. Axelsson and I don’t see many people sending smoke signals to Sweden for his return. Much like a pitcher’s ERA or a goalie’s GAA, special teams numbers are skewed this early in the season. Eight of the 10 goals allowed on the shorthand by the Bruins came in the first five games of the year. Since then, the B’s are 14-of-15, including 8-of-8 over the last three games. I am no math major, but 8-of-8 is pretty good, right? Now that Tim Thomas has his game rounding into form, and new additions to the main PK rotation like Begin, Bitz and Wheeler are getting used to the system, there may not be a need to rush to change.
4.) It is always easy in times of struggle to revert back to what is familiar and comfortable. Faithful followers of the spoked-B remember fondly Yelle leading the penalty kill last year when the Bruins were the best team in the East during the regular season. Purveyors of the waiver wire and transaction column in the daily paper see a name they recognize and are ready to drop a young player who is performing well to add a guy who was cut by the fourth-worst team in the conference. This isn’t Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston, Bill Guerin, Joe Thornton, or even Aaron Ward – all ex-Bruins who would be welcomed, if not needed, additions to the locker room. This is no disrespect to Yelle, but teams in the NHL are more inclined to go young with a role like his if possible. 20-odd games of full-fledged NHL time for Sobotka or Marchand is more important to the Bruins right now than plugging a hole with a veteran. Crazy thing is, if Yelle was put on waivers last Sunday, maybe Chiarelli thinks about adding him before Daniel Paille. Or, if this was February and the so-called PK problems still plagued the B’s, snagging Yelle or a player of his ilk is an absolute no-brainer. But in October, with 72 games left? A move like this would be similar to the baseball teams signing Jesse Orosco every year because he was a lefty reliever. Why not see if your young guy can do it first before going back to the scrap heap?
The Massachusetts Lottery Presents: Thanks Phil!
With the New York Islanders’ win over the Hurricanes last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team left in the NHL without a win. In fact, besides an OT loss on opening night to the Canadiens, the Leafs have only come as close as a one-goal loss in a 2-1 loss to the Senators. The pride of Canada have scored 15 goals over their eight games while allowing 35. All this adds up to a four-point lead in the race for the top spot in the 2010 NHL Draft for the Bruins. Rumors out of Toronto have a possible Nov. 3rd debut for Phil the Thrill. Hard to see the addition of Kessel changing too much in Toronto’s favor. He may increase the goals for, but as all Bruins know, he probably won’t want to risk injury to his hip again with a trip to the danger area known as the defensive end. Bruins should have the maximum number of ping pong balls locked up by the Olympics.