Thursday, February 14, 2013 Updated: February 15, 4:14 AM ET
Is it time to lock up Tuukka Rask?
By James Murphy ESPNBoston.com
The Bruins are off to their best start in franchise history, but that doesn't mean everything is perfect for the Black and Gold and their fans. There are still reasons for concern and curiosity -- namely the power play, Tyler Seguin's performance, third-line production and what the Bruins might do with their $8 million in cap space.
Once again we try to answer your burning Bruins questions:
Q. Can the Bruins' power-play struggles be resolved with the players currently on the roster or do they need to make a move for a player who can help out on the PP? -- Justin H (Canberra, Australia)
Tuukka Rask has the Bruins off to the best start in franchise history.
A. Justin, if I had the answer to that question, I'd be working for the Bruins and maybe making more than Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien. But alas, I am not, and to be honest, at this point I am surprised they haven't hired someone to solve this nagging issue. Two seasons ago, I thought for sure the Bruins would replace assistant coach Geoff Ward, whose duties include the power play, but Ward is valuable in many other ways, and the Bruins chose to keep him. However, I wonder if instead of looking for new players to solve the issue -- and I know this was suggested before -- why not bring in a "power-play specialist" such as Ray Bourque or even bring down Cam Neely from the front office and get him out there showing the team how to create traffic in front on the man advantage? Or look outside the organization? Maybe a different and fresh perspective would help.
Q. You think the B's will use some of their new cap space for trades or more to re-sign guys currently on the team? -- Matt H. (Hanover, N.H.)A. Matt, I believe it will be a combination of both. As Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com recently reported, the Bruins currently are talking with Tuukka Rask and agent Bill Zito about extending the Finnish netminder's contract, so some of that cap space is likely allocated to Rask. The Bruins also have some unrestricted free agents to deal with in July, namely Nathan Horton and Andrew Ference, and I believe Boston is taking a wait-and-see approach with them. But that being said, Chiarelli has proved before he's not shy about wheeling and dealing to improve his team for the playoffs, and according to multiple sources, he is already working the phone to see what's out there. We're going to hear the name Jarome Iginla linked to the Bruins and multiple other teams, but as of now, the Flames captain hasn't indicated he would waive his no-movement clause. It would be a hefty cost (maybe David Krejci as a starting point) to acquire Iginla.
Q. Any thoughts on what the third line needs to do to pick things up? I know it's easy to point the finger at Chris Bourque (and he's obviously struggled some), but Chris Kelly has looked off to me, too. I just haven't been impressed with his game so far. -- Vic (Charlestown, Mass.)
A. Vic, I agree with you that the third line hasn't been good enough yet and also on that Chris Kelly and Chris Bourque can improve as well. That being said, if that line hadn't produced 47 goals last season when Benoit Pouliot was with Kelly and Rich Peverley, would we all have expected that much offense from them? The job of the third line is primarily defense and right now, I think that's what they need to focus on first to improve. All three players are a minus and that is not good from a line you depend on to match up against other teams' top lines and prevent goals from the opponent. Once they get that straightened out I am sure the offense will come.
Q. I've been impressed with Khudobin (granted, it's only two games). What is his contract status and do you think the B's will try to hold onto him? -- Kelly C. (The Cape)A. Kelly, Anton Khudobin is an unrestricted free agent next July. I know the Bruins were high on him coming into the season and you're right, his first two starts have been solid. I would imagine if that continues they will bring him back if they can. If Rask gets it done as the starter, Khudobin and Niklas Svedberg would battle for the backup spot.
Q. Tyler Seguin really seems to be struggling to me. I know he's had some bad luck mixed in, but I see a player that is knocked off the puck way too easily, stays on the outside too much and just isn't enough of a factor right now (I guess all of that being said, he is leading the team at plus-8). What are your thoughts on his play so far? -- Billy J. (Portland, Maine)A. Billy, I feel like this is the 2010-11 season all over again but obviously Tyler Seguin had more of a reason to be struggling as a rookie. After his breakthrough season last year though, expectations were high coming into this season as they should be. I agree with everything you say about Seguin's game right now and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see his playing time continue to decrease if he doesn't find his game soon. The funny thing is for the first 7-8 games I actually had no issues with Seguin's game, as I thought he was playing more of a complete game and, ironically, his defensive game was better. But since he scored his second goal at Montreal on Feb. 6, I feel his whole game has suffered. He seems to be waiting for the play to go into the offensive zone and isn't making that extra push to make that happen. Claude Julien has defended him plenty of times already this season but Seguin may find that changing soon and wind up back in Julien's doghouse.
Q. I saw some comments from Ference about wanting to stay in Boston. Do you think he'll get a new deal with the Bruins? I know he's not flashy, but he's solid and you know what you're going to get. -- Nathan (Boston)
Chris Bourque seems to be having a hard time getting his feet under him.
A. Nathan, I'll be very up front and say that I'm not crazy about Andrew Ference. I think he is overrated and benefits greatly from Claude Julien's system. That being said, he is a good teammate and a leader in the dressing room. But I think so far this season his flaws are being exposed. One also has to wonder why he hasn't been extended already. While off-ice issues and politics shouldn't matter, don't think for one second that the fact Ference is a vocal member of the NHLPA and that Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is seen as the unofficial leader of the NHL owners isn't playing a role in this after the lockout. If Ference's poor play continues then Jacobs can use it to hide behind the real reasons he doesn't greenlight Chiarelli to re-sign him.
Q. What are the chances Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli gets a LW before the end of the trade deadline? I'm thinking about players like Iginla, Whitney, Weiss or someone else. Also is there any chances of acquiring Bobby Ryan without giving too much in return? -- Marco Scichilone (New Brunswick, Canada)A. Marco, I think Chiarelli will definitely make a major push for a scoring left winger or forward but the price is going to be high. If you want Bobby Ryan or Jarome Iginla or anyone like that I think the conversation starts with Tyler Seguin or Dougie Hamilton and that will immediately be rejected by Chiarelli. So then it will have to start with David Krejci or maybe Brad Marchand. You won't be able to get Iginla or Ryan for less than that. However, if you're talking Stephen Weiss or Ray Whitney (I don't think he is available at this point), then maybe you can package a lesser roster player and a prospect and/or draft picks. Weiss might even be available for prospects and picks and not a roster player. One thing is for certain, though: Chiarelli has plenty of cap space and that will, as he said, put him "in the game" for anyone if he is willing to deal the required parts.
Do you think the Bruins will try to get a long-term deal done with Tuukka Rask during the season? As much as people want them to go out and make a big trade, I'd rather have them use their money to lock up Tuukka. --
KJ (Arlington, Mass.)A. KJ, First off, hello to a fellow Arlington native if you are one, and if not, I hope you like my hometown! As for your question, I mentioned above that it has been reported that the Bruins and Rask are already working on an extension so I do believe that it will happen. I also agree with you that it should happen. I view Rask as the future between the pipes and have since I first saw him play when he came to the organization and was playing in Providence. He should be a Bruin for a while.