Zdeno Chara

Renewing the Hate: Boston hosts Montreal again tonight

To some, the first Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins game since the controversial Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty hit will be unimaginably full of hate. Yet most know that the two franchises have been marinating in dislike for each other for so long that, to some degree, this won’t be too special.

After all, they’ve been hammering on each other year after year since their rivalry began in 1924.

Still, tonight’s game will certainly capture the attention of the NHL’s disciplinary brash, who must hope that the contest won’t devolve into an ugly series of fights and attempts for retribution.

On one hand, the passion might be turned down a notch or two because the game will take place in Boston rather than Montreal. That being said, the fact that Bruins forward Mark Recchi called the Canadiens out for “embellishing” Pacioretty’s injuries brings the hate right back out again. (Joe Haggerty writes that Recchi knew exactly what he was doing when he made those comments.)

While there will be a little extra dash of distaste for tonight’s game, the bottom line is that it should have a large impact on the Northeast Division title situation. The Bruins currently hold a three-point lead atop the division with two extra games in hand, but a regulation win by the Canadiens would bring that within one. Montreal has won nine of the two teams’ last 11 regular season games, so their chances of closing some of the gap are solid.

Andrew Ference took the “just another game” approach when he discussed tonight’s contest with Haggerty.

“We prepare for it to get the two points, just like every other game,” said Andrew Ference, who has played in dozens of Habs-Bruins games over the last five seasons. “That’s the reality of it. It’s not good for writing, but that’s the way it is. They are all intense games when you see the same guys over and over again, and if you happen to be tight in the standings then those games are always intense.”

As for adventure and excitement, the Bruins don’t crave these things against the Habs.

“Everybody talks about revenge and what’s going to happen – and the build-up,” said Milan Lucic. “I’m sure they’re saying the most important thing for them is getting the two points, and I’m sure for them the most important is getting the two points because they’re right behind us in the standings.”

“That’s the only thing in mind for us: to create more of a separation between us and them. All of our focus is going into the game and building on what we did [against the Devils, a 4-1 win on Tuesday night].”

So, from Boston’s perspective, the big points on the line should limit the amount of shenanigans going on. Checking in on the Montreal side of things, Habs Eyes on the Prize writes that fans have lost respect for Recchi while Hockey Inside/Out forecasts a “calm” game between the two teams.

A good recent example of a game that lacked the revenge that many expected was the first game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Bruins after Matt Cooke’s career-threatening hit on Marc Savard. Aside from Cooke being forced to fight once, it was a pretty flat encounter dominated by Pittsburgh.

So if you’re looking for a festival of fisticuffs, it might be wiser to consult the second most recent contest between the Habs and the Bruins. That’s not to guarantee that things won’t get out of hand – especially if the result gets lopsided early. But there’s enough at stake between the two squads that settling scores will take a backseat to expanding or decreasing Boston’s division lead.

Either way, it’s certainly one of the games to watch tonight, though.

Is Rickard Rakell worth $4M per season to the Ducks?

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates during a game against the Vancouver Canucks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks have two significant restricted free agents they still need to take care of, and Hampus Lindholm is easily the most important name to cross off the list.

(Seriously, the analytics community pegs him as a budding star, so the Ducks should probably lock him up for as long and cheap as possible.)

While Lindholm is a must-sign, Rickard Rakell‘s situation is more interesting since it presents a murkier risk-reward debate.

Elevated ground

Rakell broke through in 2015-16, scoring 20 goals and 43 points. He blew away all of his previous numbers while logging more than 16 minutes per game.

His agent Peter Wallen told the OC Register that the team and his RFA client “I think we will find common ground for a solid agreement,” yet one must wonder if Ducks management is trembling at the gamble ahead.

That report ponders a long-term deal that would net Rakell around a $4 million cap hit, something that the Hockey News backs up.

Kadri’s six-year, $27-million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which pays an average of $4.5 million per season, is probably the upper limit of what Rakell is set to earn, while Coyle’s five-year, $16-million deal with the Minnesota Wild, an average of $3.2 million per season, is likely the low end. The most likely comparisons boil down to two players, then, with Rask and Backlund each having signed their current deals over the course of the past 13 months.

For a budget-conscious team like the Ducks, betting big on Rakell could be especially risky.

Cushy gig

If the 23-year-old does land a generous deal, he should send Bruce Boudreau a “Thank You” note or three. Rakell began a whopping 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2015-16, putting him in a great position to maximize his chances.

His most common skating partners were Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Sami Vatanen and Lindholm to boot.

One shouldn’t penalize Rakell for seizing his opportunities, but with a limited sample size of the young forward being a difference-maker, you have to wonder how much his value has been inflated.

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The OC Register explains the advantages of locking him up for a longer term (avoiding arbitration years, not having to risk an even bigger deal if Rakell pans out), yet a “bridge deal” might be the better way to go here.

Replacing Boudreau with Randy Carlyle was a polarizing decision, yet that the Ducks face some other tough calls this off-season.

Report: Blue Jackets on the verge of signing Sam Gagner

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Sam Gagner #89 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on before a face off against the New York Rangers on April 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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It sounds like Sam Gagner may determine his destination for 2015-16 in the near future.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Columbus Blue Jackets are close to signing Gagner to a one-year, one-way deal. Such an agreement might not be made official until Monday, according to Portzline.

After a bumpy season with the Philadelphia Flyers in which he spent some time in the AHL, Gagner must especially appreciate the one-way nature of his next contract.

The Blue Jackets aren’t the only team interested in the 26-year-old, as his name was also connected to the Vancouver Canucks:

It looks like the still-quite-young scorer will get a clean slate after bouncing around and being defined by a bloated contract originally signed with the Edmonton Oilers.

Remember when he broke one of Wayne Gretzky’s records during an eight-point night?

Gagner’s presence could make life easier for the likes of Boone Jenner:

It’s conceivable that Gagner could enjoy a nice rebound season if used in a specialized, protected role. The Blue Jackets may very well be the right fit.

… And on the other hand, the deficits in Gagner’s all-around game could at least provide some John Tortorella rage and entertainment.

Everyone wins.

Former Sabres forward Jochen Hecht calls it a career

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 01:  Jochen Hecht #55 of the Buffalo Sabres against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 1, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The Mannheim Eagles announced that German forward Jochen Hecht is retiring from hockey.

(It’s OK to be a little bewildered that he was still playing, just don’t be too mean about it.)

Hecht played 833 regular season games and 59 playoff contests at the NHL level, making his greatest mark as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

His last bit of NHL action came in 2012-13, when he scored 14 points in 47 games for Buffalo.

Since then, he wrapped up his career with the Mannheim Eagles, a team he’s sporadically played for since 1994-95.

Honestly, it’s weird to see Hecht in any sweater not related to German’s national teams, the Eagles or Sabres, even though the Blues actually drafted him:

Then again, he could also look odd in a certain Sabres sweater.

Apparently he got the NHL 16 Hockey Ultimate Card treatment:

Plenty of Sabres fans and reporters fondly remember Hecht, so here’s to a nice career.

Yes, it’s really happening: Vegas NHL team installs ice for first time

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Sometimes you just need a reminder that a remarkable thing actually is happening.

Saturday presented the latest evidence that the NHL coming to Las Vegas isn’t just a collective fever dream, as the still-nameless franchise noted that they’ve begun the process to install ice at T-Mobile Arena for the first time.

It’s not the prettiest picture, but it means a lot:

While setting up the first sheet of ice is a physical sign that things are coming together, the front office side will dictate the sort of team that eventually plays on it.

For more insight into that process, Puck Daddy takes a look at Murray Craven, who appears to be a key part of bringing things together … even if it’s difficult to nail down a specific title.