Kampfer/By S. Bradley

This year has been a great time for TheBruinsBlog.net and a pretty good stretch for the Bruins (minus that playoff collapse thing no one wants to talk about).

So I wish all of my readers a Happy New Year today, and close out 2010 with one more mailbag before the 2011 portion of Boston’s schedule gets underway.

Here it goes:

David writes: How do you think Steven Kampfer will work out this season for the Bruins? Do you see him lessening their need for a puck-moving defenseman or is he just a short-term replacement?

MK: Kampfer has been excellent since coming up from Providence. The thing that impresses me most is that not only is he talented and does things other Bruins defensemen can’t, but he never gets discouraged even after he makes a mistake. Plus, he rarely panics even if his first or second attempt to break out of the zone is deterred by a forechecker.

At this stage of his career, he’s obviously not an NHL No. 2 yet. But I think we’ve seen improved play from Dennis Seidenberg since the veteran has been paired with the rookie. You combine Seidenberg and Kampfer with a healthy, solid Andrew Ference and suddenly Boston has a solid supporting cast for Zdeno Chara. If Johnny Boychuk can raise his level, the Bruins might have just enough offense and defense from their back end to get by.

I think the Bruins will always be searching for another puck-mover, but Kampfer’s arrival and his effect on the rest of his defense corps partners has made it less necessary for general manager Peter Chiarelli to make any type of panic move before the deadline.

Luke writes: How good are the Bruins prospects looking? Is the team set up for sustained success? What do you think is going to happen when Mark Stuart returns? Kampfer is playing really well, and giving the team the puck-moving from the back end that it so desperately needs. It’s going to be a tough decision.

MK: Well, let me tackle your second question first while we’re on the topic of Kampfer. As the rookie is up on emergency recall, technically he has to be sent down once the Bruins have six other healthy defensemen.

Now, the way he’s playing the Bruins would probably want Kampfer to stay and could easily do that by just assigning him and recalling him. However, Kampfer is on an entry-level deal with bonuses built in, as opposed to Adam McQuaid, who’s on his second pro deal and makes a flat $575,000. So there might be cap restraints that prevent Boston, which is right up against the maximum, from keeping Kampfer without moving someone else.

Remember, Kampfer doesn’t require waivers to go down, but McQuaid does. So it’d be a risk to send down McQuaid. And the way Daniel Paille has been resurrected, it’s unlikely Boston would try to sneak him down to Providence either. Kampfer might be ticketed for even more P-Bruins seasoning once Stuart’s back.

As for your second question, Jamie Arniel seems to be the most consistent prospect in Providence. We saw him briefly in Boston and he could translate into, at worst, a third-line forward. Joe Colborne and Matt Bartkowski have gone through growing pains in the AHL, but that’s to be expected and why the Bruins weren’t relying on either guy to contribute in the NHL this season.

In the junior ranks, Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner have both played very well for their OHL clubs.

So, yes, it seems the Bruins have reinforcements on the way in the next couple years.

Horton/By S. Bradley

Cory G. writes: Nathan Horton has shown great skill this season with his size and laser shot, however, as evidence by his output over the last 17 games, do you think he’s slipping back into his well-documented habit of falling off the map for weeks at a time? I really don’t think the Bruins need another Michael Ryder-esque (although he is playing above average this year so far) player. Do you see Chiarelli poking around out there for another scoring winger with an expiring contract (a-la the Coyote’ Radim Vrbata or Panthers’ Chris Higgins) to add speed and scoring touch on the wings?

MK: First off, let’s just say this about Horton. Florida and the atmosphere there obviously did not cause his passion problems. He has played in front of a sold-out crowd every game at TD Garden, and some nights he seems out to lunch. Nonetheless, he is definitely Boston’s most skilled finisher, even if he doesn’t show it every night.

The Bruins can live with his scoring 25 goals if he picks up other areas of his game, which he showed signs of against Atlanta. This is just the nature of players like Horton and Ryder. Sure, you’d like more bang for your $4 million, but they’re streaky scorers who sometimes do absolutely nothing and sometimes look like world-class talents. With the Bruins’ cap situation, they’re going to have to live with that and hope their hot streaks and cold streaks don’t overlap too often.

Head coach Claude Julien takes heat for not being tough enough on guys like this, but more often than not he finds a way to coax something positive out of them. Remember, after a dreadful regular season Ryder was one of Boston’s best players in the Buffalo series last spring.

And lastly, just like Ryder seemingly re-finding his chemistry with David Krejci, I think Horton will blossom a bit more once Marc Savard is back at the top of his game.

The Bruins might kick the tires on a couple wingers that could add depth for the playoffs, and I like Higgins, but moving money to make a deal — like the Bruins would have to do — is difficult during the season.

Doug D. writes: Could you briefly explain the differences in the job descriptions of the GM and the President in the Bruins organization?

MK: It’s pretty easy, Doug. Cam Neely, as president, has the final say on everything business and hockey in the Bruins’ organization. The general manager is in charge of the hockey side of things, but answers to Neely. Chiarelli is the one working the phones for trades, dealing with the pro and amateur scouts and all that jazz. But it’s doubtful Chiarelli is going to acquire a player without Neely’s seal of approval. By the same token, if the Bruins want to introduce something new for their fans at the arena, sell a Bruins product or promote the team a certain way, Neely will be influential in that process as well. Neely, of course, answers to ownership much the way Harry Sinden did for decades.

PCL wrote: With the trading block rumors surrounding him, do you think the Bruins have any interest in Nicklas Bergfors? He doesn’t fit head coach Craig Ramsay’s system in Atlanta, so he most likely fits into the Claude’s, as they’re polar opposites. He has great offensive potential and might be able to be picked for cheap.

MK: I agree that Bergfors has some excellent offensive gifts and would probably fit Boston’s system better than Atlanta’s. But at 23 and still under team control (he’s just a restricted free agent next summer) for some time, I doubt he’d come cheap. The Thrashers would probably want an NHL player, and a pick or mid-level prospect, for him and they’re not the type of team to add payroll (CapGeek.com has them 29th in total salary). Unless they expanded the deal to include other players, or another team, I doubt the Bruins and Thrashers would be able to work together on that.

Jim writes: I heard you say on a few occasions that the Bruins lack speed. So how would you improve their team speed? What positions would you look to upgrade speed wise?

MK: Obviously, the Bruins would use more speed on the wings and on defense. Kampfer has been a huge help, and as Tyler Seguin grows into a pro he’s going to change the team’s speed tenfold. It might not be popular right now because of how well they’re playing, but if I was Chiarelli I would be exploring trades with the likes of Ryder and Blake Wheeler to bring in a similarly compensated player, but one that gets the job done with more speed. Trading when a team is going well and players are at their best is always the best approach. Of course, as we all know and as I’ve stated above, the Bruins’ cap situation restricts them from doing much at all. So it’s unlikely we’ll see a real injection of new speed this season. And it seems that Chiarelli is quite all right with that anyway.