Poll: Can the Boston Bruins repeat as Stanley Cup champions in 2012?

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While the Boston Bruins were far from some ragtag eighth seed going into the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, few people outside of the Massachusetts area expected them to beat the mighty Vancouver Canucks. It wasn’t really about the Bruins, either; most people gave Boston a reasonable amount of respect as they chose the Canucks based on their sterling regular season and improving play as the postseason went along.

Those expectations went out the window beginning in Game 3 at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, though. The Bruins played the Canucks tough in the two opening games of the series, but they showed that they more than belonged on the same ice sheet once the games shifted to their home. They used top notch defense from Zdeno Chara, historically great goaltending from Tim Thomas and an underrated (and diverse) offensive attack to dominate Vancouver 23-8 overall in the series while winning in Game 7.

Of course, after seeing the Chicago Blackhawks need a Dallas Stars defeat on the last game of the season to even get into the playoffs after dominating on their way to last year’s Cup, many wonder what’s in store for the Bruins. While it is impossible to predict how much of an impact aging (and having a new bulls-eye on their backs as defending champions) will have on the team, an earlier study of their off-season questions shows that Boston is in a good position for next season.

Here is an updated version of those thoughts:

Boston will just try to make some tweaks

The Bruins roster probably won’t see too many huge changes. That’s not to say they lack a tough choice or two, though. Let’s take a look at their biggest free agent questions, keeping in mind that the Bruins will likely have about $8.3-$11.3 million to work with this summer.

Note: money amount refers to what they made in the 2010-11 season while their free agent status (restricted or unrestricted) is also listed.

Brad Marchand ($821K, restricted) – The agitating rookie was strong in the regular season (18 goals, 41 points) and nearly essential in the playoffs (19 points in 25 postseason games) as he lead all rookies in points. Despite Tyler Seguin‘s explosive two-game burst, Marchand has still been the best rookie in Boston. He scored seven points in the seven-game Stanley Cup finals, most notably two goals and one assist in a Game 7 that won’t be forgotten anytime soon … and certainly not at the negotiating table.

Michael Ryder ($4 million, unrestricted) – Ryder’s offensive production hasn’t always been reliable, but when he’s hot, he’s a dangerous forward. He produced two nice playoff runs (17 points in 2011, 13 in 08-09) that should really improve his value. That 17-point output ranked him fifth on the team. The Bruins face a much tougher call about Ryder than many thought going into the postseason, for sure.

Tomas Kaberle ($4.25 million, unrestricted) – Not only is Kaberle an unlikely returnee, he probably damaged his free agent value substantially in his belly flop in Boston.

Since we last checked, Marchand went from “in line for a nice raise” to “primed for a really nice raise.” While he can walk the line of agitation and self-destruction, the Bruins probably won’t hesitate to open up their wallets for him. Ryder has a great shot too while Kaberle is, again, a goner.

Kaberle was supposed to plug perhaps the Bruins’ biggest hole: a power play QB on defense. Boston might have the cap space to go after an unrestricted free agent, although the market for scoring defensemen is pretty weak. Claude Julien might not be crazy with error-prone journeyman James Wisniewski and the team might not have been blown away by free agent Canucks such as Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa, either.

Conclusions (plus the poll)

The most important thing is that the Bruins’ big guns are locked up. Thomas has two years left on his deal, Chara will likely retire by the time his contract expires and the team’s useful forwards have at least one more year left. Let’s not forget that Seguin could also take off in his sophomore season either with a giant step forward (like Steven Stamkos) or perhaps in a more incremental way (like John Tavares).

Since they aren’t likely to suffer many major losses in personnel, the biggest question becomes very simple: do you think they’re good enough to win it all next year? Let us know if you think the Bruins will repeat as champions next year by voting in the poll below.

Report: Red Wings RFA Athanasiou could sign in Russia

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With training camp approaching, Andreas Athanasiou is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old forward and restricted free agent posted 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season in the final year of his entry-level contract with an annual average value of $902,500.

Based on a report Tuesday afternoon, traveling overseas to play next season could be an option for Athanasiou, one of the bright young forwards in the Red Wings organization.

Earlier this month, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the organization has made a “number of offers” to Athanasiou.

One of the issues facing Detroit right now is the salary cap, which the Red Wings are currently over by almost $4 million, according to CapFriendly.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

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National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.