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B's must make changes to ensure happy returns.

Byline: Bud Barth

COLUMN: NHL

It would be foolish, of course, to suggest that the eventual return of Marc Savard and Marco Sturm is bad news for the Bruins. Just as it would be naive to assume that their return is all good news.

This is a double-edged sword that's being handed to the Bruins. Besides the salary-cap issues and the row of roster dominoes that Savard and Sturm could topple, there's the old issue of chemistry and the damage that can be done by tinkering with a finely tuned engine.

Granted, the B's are far from perfect right now, but except for this nagging little problem of being unable to score goals at home, all of Bruins Nation would have to agree that things are running pretty smoothly.

Certainly, there's going to be a period of adjustment when Savard and Sturm return, assuming the Bruins keep both of them on board. With Sturm having surgery on both knees the last two years, and at 32 approaching his more fragile years, will he slow down this juggernaut?

Or is it time to hand over his roster spot permanently to one of those promising young (and reasonably paid) studs in Providence? There are certainly plenty of choices, led by Jamie Arniel, who was yo-yoed up and down for one game this past week - which he didn't even dress for - after scoring six goals in 12 games for the Baby Bears, and Joe Colborne, who was 5-5-10 through 12 games for the P-Bruins as of Friday.

Savard is another story. He's arguably one of the top five playmakers in the NHL and, even if his reinsertion into the lineup forces some rocky moments at first, he's too good a player to drag a team down. The Bruins can only get better - considerably better - with Savard in the lineup, even if he's lugging around that $7 million salary and $4 million cap hit.

In terms of talent, it's easy to make roster space available for Savard and, if the B's so decide, Sturm. But the salary cap will force GM Peter Chiarelli to make some tough and, hopefully, creative decisions.

A couple of months ago, farming Michael Ryder to Providence looked like a brainstorm of Einsteinian proportions. But Ryder has really turned his game around. He went into last night tied for third on the team in points (4-6-10), and has been backchecking his rear end off defensively. Obviously, he feels the heat.

Providence doesn't look like much of an option anymore, unless the Bruins plan to stick Sturm down there and let him ride out this final year of his contract at $3.5 million. But there's some question about whether Sturm has a complete no-movement clause, which would prohibit a demotion, or a simple no-trade clause.

Assuming they're stuck with Sturm, that leaves Chiarelli with the only trade option. He can't involve Sturm or Savard because of (a) their no-trade clauses and (b) the damaged-goods tag that they'll wear until they play at least a handful of games to prove their durability.

Blake Wheeler seems to have the best selling points on the trade front - youth (he's only 24), size (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) and versatility (can play center and both wings). His drawbacks are that his contract is up after this season, though he'll still be only a restricted free agent if unsigned by July 1.

The Bruins don't really want to give Wheeler up, but with their wealth of young talent in the organization, plus two first-round picks in the 2011 draft, they certainly can afford to. The problem is that Wheeler carries only a $2.2 million cap hit, and they'll need to clear more space than that to squeeze in just Savard, let alone Sturm, too.

Too early to judge

Maybe we shouldn't panic over the Bruins' lousy start at home. Take away the "home" loss in Prague and Boston, going into last night's game against Ottawa, was actually 2-2-1 at the Garden - not very good, but it's still early.

Winger Shawn Thornton was asked after Thursday's loss to Montreal whether the Bruins have been a different team at home and on the road, where they are 6-1.

"Here we go," Thornton said with a pained smile. "No. I think obviously we won the last couple on the road, but I think we've played some pretty solid games at home, too, that could have gone either way, so... I don't feel we're any less prepared at home."

Thornton has a point. Though their goal production has lagged in Boston, all three of the Bruins' losses there were winnable - 3-2 to the Rangers, 2-1 to St. Louis in a shootout, and 3-1 to the Canadiens.

Plus, it has to be noted that two of those defeats - St. Louis and Montreal - came on the second night of back-to-back games after playing the first night on the road. Now, admittedly that's no excuse. These are professional athletes who should be in tough enough condition to handle such a task.

Besides, it seems to be a problem more of style than stamina. The Bruins seem to try to make the perfect pass and the perfect play at home, possibly to please the sellout crowds that have been flocking to see them, instead of just working hard and shutting everything else out as they do on the road.

That over-passing seems to be reflected in their power play, which is just 2 for 16 in the last four games at the Garden (before last night).

"I think that's probably true," Wheeler agreed after Thursday's loss. "I think, on the road, there's definitely more of an emphasis (on hard work) just because of the environment - you want to keep it simple and let the home team come to you, let them make mistakes and try to capitalize on those.

"I don't think we should play any differently at home or away. I think we're guilty of that, but home's where we've got to play our best. We've got to make this a tough building to come into."

Give NHL a gold star

Finally - a major sport that doesn't take its All-Star Game too seriously. For that, we should be thankful to the NHL and its refreshing revisions for the Jan. 30 game hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C.

This season, the captains for each team will choose up sides, just like kids in Canada used to do on frozen lakes and ponds. Here's how it will work:

Fans will pick six players, regardless of conference - three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie - in balloting that begins tomorrow and runs through Jan. 3. The ballots will feature 100 players, but fans will also be able to cast write-in votes.

The NHL's hockey operations department will name the remaining 36 All-Stars. That final group of 42 players will then select two captains for each team.

That will set up what the NHL is calling the 2011 All-Star Fantasy Draft on Jan. 28, two days before the game, which is on a Sunday. After a coin flip, the team captains will alternate selections from the full pool of players until they pick three goalies, six defensemen and 12 forwards - in any order they decide.

After the 21-man rosters are chosen, the teams will pick from a group of 12 rookies selected by the NHL's hockey operations department to fill out the rosters for the Honda SuperSkills competition, to be held Jan. 29. Each team will have six rookies participating in skills competitions, including Fastest Skater, Breakaway Challenge, Accuracy Shooting, Skills Challenge Relay, Hardest Shot and Elimination Shoot-Out.

It's a radical change from past NHL All-Star Games, and a breath of fresh air compared to those stale old baseball and basketball all-star events, which take themselves way too seriously.

Bud Barth can be contacted by e-mail at hbarth@telegram.com or bud.b50@gmail.com.

NAME: BOSTON BRUINS

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Marc Savard (2) Marco Sturm
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 14, 2010
Words:1332
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