(Originally posted on 4SportBoston.com )
Somewhat lost in the majesty and beauty of the Winter Classic at Fenway Park over New Year’s weekend was the first in what could be many attempts by the Bruins to revamp their offense heading into the final stretch of the season.
The B’s sent a flier out on 35-year old winger Miroslav Satan, who has been inactive this season after winning a Stanley Cup with the Penguins last year.
Obvious puns surrounding his surname have already been bandied about by writers, commentators, and bloggers throughout the hockey world, so I will save you from any more of those and focus on what this no-risk, possible high-reward signing means for the Black and Gold.
First off, the deal is for the rest of the season and will cost the Bruins roughly $350,000 on the salary cap, so there is no worry about this breaking the bank or ruining the Bruins’ chances of making a larger deal down the road. Instead, the Bruins have picked up a proven NHL scorer to add more than depth to the offense while not spending all of the cap room they have.
Mired in 26th place in the NHL in goals a game with an average of 2.50, the Bruins have counted on stellar goaltending too many times this season to pick up a faltering attack. Injuries were a big cause at the start of the season with Marc Savard and Milan Lucic (still out) missing considerable time.
Add in the trades of Phil Kessel and Chuck Kobasew and it is understandable that the B’s have had trouble scoring goals. Clearly, Peter Chiarelli was expecting Lucic to pick up some slack on the goal scoring front, but injuries have curtailed those hopes. Blake Wheeler’s struggle to take “the leap” in his second year hasn’t helped and the lack of goal-scoring from the defensemen is worrisome as well.
Chiarelli has been good at realizing when his team has issues and addressing them throughout his tenure in Beantown, and has made his latest move with the signing of Satan.
Over 13 seasons in the NHL, Satan has scored 354 goals and added 367 assists over 1,012 games. A third of his goals have come on the power play and he scored 20-plus goals in 10 seasons. He has some playoff experience, winning a Stanley Cup last year and playing deep in the playoffs three other times in Buffalo.
The downside to Satan is that he hasn’t played a game this year and he is 35 years old. It is hard to estimate how ready he is physically for an NHL grind. However, the Bruins don’t need him for 82 games plus playoffs; they need him for 42 games. Maybe the half season off helped refresh a body that played all the way into June last year.
Also, Satan was named to the Slovakian Olympic team last week, which indicates he is in some sort of shape capable of competing at a high level. Yes, the Slovakian team isn’t as loaded as Canada or Russia, but he wouldn’t have made that team if he wasn’t ready to lead it.
Yesterday, Satan said he would need seven to 10 days to be in game shape, so expect to see him take the ice for the first time somewhere in California when the B’s head out there for a trio of games. By that point, the Bruins should also have Looch back in the lineup and be running at as close to full speed as they can be.
This is a very shrewd move by Chiarelli, especially so if it pays off to the tune of 10-15 goals from Satan over the rest of the season. The best case scenario is that Satan slides into the left wing with Marc Savard for a bit and gives the dynamic playmaker a pair of options in Satan and Sturm. Satan spent some time running with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin last year, so he is capable of top-line duties if needed.
Satan also could play some on the power play if needed, but limiting those minutes may keep him fresh for five-on-five situations. The worst thing that can happen is he shows that there is nothing left in the tank. If that happens over the next month leading up to the Olympic break, the B’s still have time to make a deal for the big-time scorer they really need.
In Red Sox terms, this signing is similar to Theo Epstein picking up John Smoltz. Sure he is a bit older than you would like, but he also has a proven track record. If he gives you four months of what he has done for over a decade, perfect. If not, it is easy and painless to cut bait and regroup before the season gets away.
The other intriguing way to look at this move was brought up in the mainstream press by Kevin Paul DuPont in the Boston Globe today. If Satan doesn’t score a goal for the B’s this season, the least he has done is alert the struggling forwards to the fact that ice time and roster spots are not safe and are to be earned, not taken for granted.
It was a given that when Lucic came back that someone was going to move to the press box or down to Providence. Vladimir Sobotka seemed to be destined for that spot on the transactions page because Steve Begin can slide down and play center on the fourth line and because Sobotka is the only forward who can be sent to Providence without having to pass through waivers.
Now, with Satan on board, players like Wheeler and Ryder and Byron Bitz have to feel pressure to up their game over the next week. The B’s have four games over the next six nights beginning with the Rangers at Madison Square Garden tonight. Those three rightfully should feel some heat and Claude Julien expects heightened intensity and production from them.
If not, expect to see Wheeler or Bitz turn in their sweaters for nice suits for a bit. Competition, not complacency, breeds excellence. The front 12 haven’t had to battle for their jobs too often this season, now the pressure is on.
And, heck, if Satan—who will wear No. 81—comes on and succeeds, all those people who turned their Phil Kessel sweaters into signs of the devil will have new use for those jerseys.
Come on, you didn’t really think I would pass up at least one lame Satan = Devil joke, did you?