Mike Shalin's Working Press: Brickley sees question marks for BruinsBy MIKE SHALIN
October 05. 2017 11:53PM
The Bruins opened their season Thursday night and when it comes to knowing what’s going on with the B’s, you talk to NESN’s Andy Brickley.
We sat down with him during the preseason to get his look at a team that barely made the playoffs, lost in the first round and then really didn’t do anything during the offseason.
“Company line — draft and develop. That’s what they did,” Brickley said prior to a preseason game. “I think they explored some areas where they know they need help and those areas that they need help will be in camp from their young players just yet, but they believe that they have drafted and they have stockpiled and can they accelerate that maturation process and fill the weakness that they have this season? That would be the best-case scenario.
Which makes the 2017-18 season, Bruce Cassidy’s first year as the full-time coach, yet another question mark.
Brickley, a refreshing color man who doesn’t say “we” and “us,” has four basic areas of concern: a shortage of left-handed defensemen, a backup goalie, the young guys developing and securing one of the three automatic playoff bids in the Atlantic Division.
“Could they have gone out and gotten an experienced left-shot defenseman to make sure that they don’t have a hole in that position, as (Zdeno) Chara gets a year older and a lot of pressure’s on a guy like Torey Krug?” said Brickley, a UNH product. “Would it have been nice to go out and get a guy like (Karl) Alzner perhaps? Maybe. But not at that price and not at that point in their career.
“That’s one area. Backup goaltender. Are they convinced that (Anton) Khudobin is the guy? The reason that they went out and signed him to a two-year deal was to expose him in the expansion draft and if he didn’t get taken, they felt they had an insurance policy? He had a good experience when he was in Boston previously — and then you saw what happened in the first half (of last year). Is that enough of a question mark that should have sent them out and gotten an experienced guy you would have a little bit more trust in, so Tuukka (Rask) plays the appropriate amount of games? They could have done that, but they opted to do what they said they were committed to do. So that’s the company line.
“I expected them to do at least one transaction to support the core that they have and allow a little more time for these young players to be what they need to be to fill the holes that they have.
Asked if the biggest problem is scoring or defense, Brickley didn’t hesitate, saying, “Scoring.
“(David) Pastrnak, (Brad) Marchand. You’re still looking for two wingers inside your top six that can score goals. I like (David) Backes on my third line. If Backes is on your third line, that tells me you have a good team. Now you’ve got mismatches on that third line. Now you’ve got good mismatches on that third line and that third pair of D that they’re going to go against. But he was forced to play top-six wing minutes where he’s not as his best.
“I admire his accountability, saying, ‘I could be better, I need to be better, I didn’t have a great year,’ but I think he’s playing out of position — and I think he does, too. He’s willing to do whatever it takes and that’s why they went and got him and that’s why they gave him the contract because they had lost some of that in their room, with the guys that they had lost over the last three years. So they put a premium on that. But if he’s your third-line center … so, again, it comes back to the young guys.”
(Backes will be out at least 3-4 weeks with diverticulitis, it was reported on Thursday, and is undergoing treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital.)
“The Bruins this year, it’s all up to the young kids,” said Brickley. “They have to accelerate their learning curve and their development curve so that they can not only make the Bruins but be productive. Making it’s not good enough. They have to be productive. Frankie Vatrano can make the team but he’s gotta be productive.”
As far as the defense, Brickley said, “Let’s come at it from this angle: You have four righties that probably all deserve to be in the lineup. (Adam) McQuaid, (Kevan) Miller, I think they both deserve to play. I like what they bring as far as that snarl as well as defensive ability. And I want to see (Charlie) McAvoy in there playing big minutes and I want see (Brandon) Carlo get even better this year. All four should be in the lineup and that means somebody’s got to play the off side. You really only have two left-handed style defensemen.
“We don’t know what we’re gonna get from (Anders) Bjork. We got an idea. We don’t know what we’re gonna get from (Jake) DeBrusk. We have an idea. A guy like DeBrusk is right on schedule for what he is.
“Here’s my other concern, my last concern: The goal should be top three in your division; guarantees you a playoff spot. They were able to do that last year. But I saw other teams within the division, in my opinion, get better in the offseason. Tampa had more wins than Toronto and didn’t get in the playoffs last year. I think Tampa’s going to be better this year. Just getting (Steven) Stamkos back is going to make them better. In conjunction with where the young guys are, that left shot defenseman, who’s my second goalie, other teams in the division getting better, those are my four concerns.”
Here and there
Hanley Ramirez, on the bench for the start of the ALDS, hasn’t lived up to his leadership role, according to Pedro Martinez. With David Ortiz gone and the team needing a leader, Martinez said, “Hanley hasn’t been that guy, Hanley is not reflecting the same energy he was showing last year. The team is different this year. Very little to rely on when it comes to being that guy. … The four starting wild card pitchers worked a TOTAL of 7 1/3 innings, yielding 20 hits and 15 earned runs. …Correction: Wednesday’s column had the Patriots allowing 61 points in the first three games of last season. It was the first FOUR games. Sorry about that. …
Finally, new Marlins owner Derek Jeter backed off the firing of the popular Tony Perez, Andre Dawson, Jeff “Mr. Marlin” Conine and Jack McKeon. Smart move.
Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.