By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
When the Bruins headed out west for what could be their biggest road trip in terms of gauging where the team is against some of the clubs considered to be Stanley Cup contenders, they brought along the hottest goal scorer on the planet at any professional level, Frank Vatrano. Vatrano, who has 31 goals in his last 31 games for the AHL’s Providence Bruins, was apparently brought along because of concerns regarding center David Krejci’s health. When Krejci proved fit enough to play on Monday night to play in San Jose against the Sharks, Vatrano was summarily shipped back to the baby B’s.
It is a move that has many scratching their heads.
How a guy who has been so dominant in the minors doesn’t get another opportunity to prove he is NHL ready for a team that gives regular ice time to the likes of Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly is mind boggling. Monday night against the Sharks, the third line – which includes Hayes and Connolly along side Ryan Spooner – was horrendous. All season long Hayes has shown that his primary talent is making his 6’ 5” frame disappear, and Connolly will be lucky if he can become the next Danny Paille someday.
Whether it is head coach Claude Julien, or general manager Don Sweeney making the call, it really doesn’t matter. It is asinine to think that either of those two players don’t need to at least spend a night or two watching from the press level, while you check and see if Vatrano can add some offense to a line that was downright offensive, as you head into the playoffs.
Neither Hayes nor Connolly has done anything in their short time in Boston to lead anyone to believe there is another level to either of their game. Hayes, in particular, is more times than not simply useless. He rarely scores, and he more rarely takes the body. In essence, he is Hal Gill playing the wing. And while Connolly will at least throw his weight around, he couldn’t pick a corner if the net was the size of a soccer goal.
It is very likely come playoff time – if they are to go on any kind of run – the Bruins probably will have to win games 5-4 more often than 2-1. No matter how much Claude tries to bunch it up in the defensive zone; he doesn’t have the players on his blue line to shut down playoff quality offenses no matter how good his system may be.
With the season coming to a close and the team fighting for first place and home ice – not that it would really be an advantage this year, anyway – why not try to add to the bottom six of your forward group with a guy that is so hot he could score in a convent?
Developing players who are pushing for jobs at the NHL level is exactly what the Bruins will need in order to shorten the rebuild that they are currently in. Vatrano is doing just that. To ask him to travel with the team cross country without even getting an opportunity to play in place of players who are giving you absolutely nothing, makes about as much sense as it does to trade Johnny Boychuk for what you paid for Connolly a week before the season starts – none.
I think even the most fervent Bruins fan would agree that it would take an act from the hockey gods for the B’s to win the Cup this season. Entering the year, the team was viewed as a bubble team at best to make the playoffs. Yet, through superb coaching and on the backs of players like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, in particular, they have somehow put themselves in a position to contend for the Atlantic Division.
What the organization should be doing is integrating players who have pushed their way through the system – which Vatrano has done this year – and expose them to what NHL hockey down the stretch and into the playoffs is all about. What they shouldn’t be doing is giving undeserved ice time to veteran guys just because they are veterans.
Frank Vatrano has earned the right to at least be given a look in the Bruins line up. Just because he didn’t grow up in Dorchester, or he wasn’t a top 10 pick in the draft, shouldn’t change that.
Why Sweeney and Julien had the kid make the trip to California only to practice, then sent him out on the next flight to Providence the following morning, only they know. Perhaps, they were trying to add to the team’s frequent-flyer miles.
Whatever the reason, it simply doesn’t make sense. However, if they continue to play the likes of Hayes and Connolly over a guy like Vatrano, they may just be using those miles to head to Florida to play golf come the third week in April.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.