The Phil Kessel trade to the Maple Leafs from Boston has been a heated topic of debate for both teams all season long. You’ve got Bruins fans insisting they didn’t need Kessel to win games ranging to Leafs fans saying they don’t care about the first round pick the team gave up to get him. As the teams square off tonight for the final time this season, it stands to reason that both teams could end up being big winners and losers in the end.
For Boston, it’s clear that they miss Kessel’s offensive ability more than anything. Patrice Bergeron is the team’s leading scorer with 50 points, meanwhile Kessel is the Leafs top man with 55 points including 30 goals. The Bruins may not know that Kessel has been that good for the Leafs this year because in their five games head-to-head Kessel has been held to just one assist.
As for the first round pick, many Bruins fans have visions of a top three pick but with Toronto firmly in the role of spoiler, the Leafs have played better of late winning six of their last nine. While their final four games come against Eastern teams looking to get in the playoffs, the Leafs are in a spot where closing out the season in a big way could conceivably put them closer to 10th in the draft rather than 2nd overall and thus making Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli a bit less excited.
Do the Bruins miss Kessel’s offense? In a huge way, yes. While Patrice Bergeron has had a bit of a resurgence this year, I’d bet the Bruins would love to have a 30 goal scorer right about now as they try to secure a spot in the playoffs. While the playoffs is the goal for the Bruins, it would look pretty awful if they missed out because they just didn’t have enough offense to get there and their top goal scorer from a year ago is playing for someone else because the team opted to not pay him while wasting money on other failed projects (hello Derek Morris).
The other side of this though is how ugly would things look in Toronto without Phil Kessel? Kessel has been their lone offensive go-to guy and one check at their current roster’s stats says that the Leafs would be Edmonton Oilers kind of bad if they didn’t get Kessel.
Steve Stamkos began to practice again on Tuesday and he was back out there on Wednesday and Thursday, which some might interpret as him being close to returning. It seems premature to say that definitively.
“It could be weeks. It could be months,” Stamkos said of his timetable, per ESPN. “That’s the tough part.”
The problem isn’t getting back into game shape after undergoing vascular surgery in early April. He feels he’s already close to reaching that objective. The issue is that Stamkos is on blood thinners, which prevents him from taking any contact. It remains to be seen how long he’ll be on blood thinners.
For what it’s worth, Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy underwent the same surgery and was out for two months and the original timetable provided on April 4 for Stamkos was one-to-three months. So based on that, it sounds like it would be surprising if he returned anytime soon.
Will Patrice Bergeron join Bob Gainey as the only players to have ever won the Selke Trophy four times?
That’s a distinct possibility after the Bruins center was named as a finalist along with Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler and Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar.
The Selke Trophy honors the league’s top defensive forward and for three of the last four years, that distinction has gone to Bergeron. However, Kesler and Kopitar have been popular with the voters of this award as well.
Kopitar has finished second in the voting in each of the previous two campaigns while Kesler won back in 2011, though he finished outside of the top-five in each of the last three years prior to the 2015-16 campaign.
Among the trio, Kesler excelled this season on the draw with a 58.5% success rate, which was good for second in the league among forwards who took at least 200 faceoffs. Bergeron was up there too, winning 57.1% of his draws while Kopitar posted a 53.5%. Meanwhile, Bergeron ranked seventh in the NHL with 67 takeaways compared to Kesler’s 39 and Kopitar’s 43. Where Kopitar stood out was in plus/minus as he finished second in the league at plus-34. Kesler was plus-five and Bergeron was plus-12.
Kopitar similarly led the trio with a 57.4% Corsi For versus Bergeron’s 55.9% and Kesler’s 52.9%.
Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik missed half of Washington’s first round series, but he’s back in time for the opener against his former team.
Orpik last played on April 18 and was regarded as questionable going into tonight’s contest against Pittsburgh. He’s expected to be paired with John Carlson throughout the contest.
Washington’s other projected pairings are Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen as well as Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt.
Orpik was limited to 41 games during the 2015-16 regular season, but when he did play he averaged 19:48 minutes per contest. He also recorded 125 hits and 102 blocked shots despite missing half the season. The 35-year-old blueliner got his start with Pittsburgh and played in 703 regular season contests with them and an additional 92 postseason contests. This is his second season with Washington.
Thomas Vanek hopes he’s not bought out, but his rough 2015-16 campaign has made that a possibility.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher certainly isn’t ruling it out, but at the same time he also presented an assessment for Vanek that was in a way more of a mixed than negative review.
“I thought Thomas in October and November was arguably our best forward – or certainly played as well as any body on our team,” Fletcher said, per the StarTribune. “He seemed to lose confidence. But I thought he really shot the puck well and did a lot of great things early. And there’s no question he pressed after that and then got banged up. He’s a goal scorer and we need to find a way to score more goals. Our cap situation is much better this year.”
That last point is particularly relevant given that a buyout essentially boils down to missing out on the chance of Vanek bouncing back in exchange for some short-term cap relief. To put figures on it, buying out Vanek would save Minnesota $5 million in cap space for the 2016-17 campaign, but then it will cost Minnesota $2.5 million in 2017-18, per General Fanager.
With Vanek in the books, the Wild are projected to consume $63.8 million in cap space next season and that figure doesn’t including pending restricted free agents Jason Zucker, Jordan Schroeder, Zac Dalpe, Matt Dumba, or Darcy Kuemper. If the 2016-17 ceiling is $74 million, as has been previously suggested, then it seems reasonable to believe that Minnesota can lock up its RFAs, keep Vanek, and still have some flexibility left over to engage in other changes over the summer. Although obviously gaining an extra $5 million would make it easier for them to make more sizable moves.
“I’m much more comfortable with our flexibility this year than last year. It’s going to give us more options,” Fletcher said.
The plan is for Fletcher to take a couple weeks before deciding on what to do with Vanek.
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