So far this year, Gabe and I have determined that there are only two imperative Bruins games for which attendance is mandatory; the season opener against Pittsburgh and the first home game against Philadelphia. So, while I sleep off a hangover at a Bed and Breakfast in Maine, the sole responsibility lies on Gabe to stand in line at the Garden tomorrow and get tickets for these two games.
Growing up with a family from Philadelphia, I was a Flyers fan during the 96-97 cup run (I was also quite young). But, as a current Bruins fan, I think the only team that I hate more than the Flyers at the moment, is Montreal. Which, for all intents and purposes, I’ll ignore, because I will always blindly hate them; I’m even angry they are forcing me to watch the ceremony retiring Patrick Roy‘s number by scheduling it when they are playing the Bruins. A lot has been written about both Patrice Bergeron‘s and Andrew Alberts‘ concussions at the hands of the Flyers’ Randy Jones and Scott Hartnell, but now the focus has become the post-concussion syndrome faced by both Bruins; something Flyers fans have experience with, thanks to Eric Lindros (and now, Simon Gagne).
The Bruins lost Bergeron for the season after only 10 games, and Alberts managed to only play 35 games with his concussion, including two games in the playoffs. The Bruins clearly missed the 70-point potential and emerging two-way play of Bergeron, as well as the size of stay-at-home defenseman, Alberts. Even without them in the lineup, however, the Bruins were able to grind out enough points to earn the 8th playoff seed in the East, and the right to be the first of many teams to rattle the shit out of Carey Price. Bergeron’s production was obviously missed, as reflected by the Bruins’ anemic offensive production (212 goals scored, 27th in the NHL) and the hope is that he returns at full strength with renewed hunger. I believe we’ll see that this year, and all we can hope for is for him to stay healthy and not feel the potentially lingering after effects of a concussion.
The more interesting story, to me, is Alberts, who is coming into his fourth full year in the NHL, with his two-year contract expiring at the end of the season. In that dismal season of 06-07 under Dave Lewis, Alberts was a -15 with no goals and ten assists to go along with 124 penalty minutes, averaging 19:40 of ice time per game. His numbers for last year, in 35 games, were two goals and two assists with 39 PIM and an ATOI of 20:37. If we use that small sample size to project his year stats we are looking at approximately 5 G and 5 A with 90 PIM, although you have to factor in that Alberts was not 100%, due to the concussion.
However, the relevant number from last year is Alberts’ ATOI of 20:37. We know Zdeno Chara eats up minutes on the blue line (ATOI 26:50 in 07-08), but with Alberts out of the fold there is a large portion of minutes that need to be accounted for. In 06-07, after being traded to Boston, Dennis Wideman’s ATOI was 17:20. Last season, that number shot up to 25:09, factoring in the loss of Andrew Ference, and the inability of Matt’s Lashoff and Hunwick to stick on the NHL roster. Wideman’s play improved drastically while paired with Chara, a move that was partly facilitated by the rash of injuries on the Bruins blue line, and proved that, after this season, he could be a bonafide first pairing defender, and was rewarded with the contract extension of one. Mark Stuart also proved, in the absence of Alberts and Ference, that he was not only capable of handling a spot on the third pairing, but was also able to stay healthy, as he watched his ATOI jump from 10:23 to 15:22 while playing in all 82 games for the Bruins. Obviously, ice time does not indicate how well a defense is playing; ask the Bulgarian women’s hockey team, someone HAS to be on the ice.
Yet the defense functioned well as it learned Coach Claude Julien’s defense-first system. The top four Bruins defensemen (in terms of ice time) all finished with a plus rating: Wideman was +11, Stuart +2, Chara +14, and Aaron Ward +9. But these guys have had all year to get used to the system. While Alberts isn’t starting from the ground up, the potential after effects of his concussion give him an extra hurdle in understanding Julien’s system. Don’t get me wrong I like Alberts, he provides the stay-at-home physical presence that Wideman lacks, but it’s a similar skill set to other guys on the roster like Ward, Stuart, and Shane Hnidy. With Alberts being in a contract year, if he returns from injury and plays well through the first half of the season, would it be wise to put him on the trading block? We have seen that the defense can function without him (not necessarily that it would be better without him), but if we have young prospects who look promising, would it be worth it to ship Alberts out and give the younger guys some development time, especially if the playoffs are out of reach? If Alberts does have a quality season, he will be looking for a paycheck to reflect that, one which I am not sure the Bruins can, or should, offer.