Offseason acquisition Brent Burns raises the expectations in San Jose

Expectations are pretty high in San Jose these days. Back-to-back trips to the Western Conference Finals will do that for a team. Then in the offseason, they went out and acquired the best defenseman they could get their hands on when they traded for former Minnesota Wild all-star Brent Burns. It didn’t take long for people to start asking Burns if he was feeling comfortable with his new team.

“Is this a chemistry question?” Burns said with a laugh before his second game. “Do I feel like a Shark? I have all the gear. I hope so. Yeah, it’s going to take a while, but it’s been great.”

Good thing it’s been a good start with his new teammates, because he signed a 5-year contract with San Jose before playing a single game. It was a big life decision for a guy who was only a year away from unrestricted free agency.

“It was pretty easy,” Burns said about the decision to sign an extension. “Me and my family didn’t know much about the city or the organization for that matter. I knew that it was tough to play against them and they had a great team. But right after we got traded, it can be a pretty devastating thing for somebody. The organization was just awesome. It almost takes me back to when I was 18 and pumped up to get one-piece sticks for the first time! The organization does everything they can to make sure you are ready to win—that’s all you have to care about. So it was a pretty easy decision once we started to see all the little things the team did. It was a no-brainer.”

Now that he’s in San Jose for the next six seasons, Burns should start getting used to the expectations. They’re the only team in the league that has been to the conference finals in each of the last two seasons. Before that, they were the #1 seed in the Western Conference before bowing out to the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs. The team has plenty of talent all over their roster—but until they take the next step in the playoffs, there will always be doubters (whether its warranted or not).

With Burns, the organization adds even more talent to a team that sent more players to the Olympics than most countries.

“Another puck-moving, active defenseman in the rush,” Sharks’ head coach Todd McLellan said. “[He has a] Great shot. Huge man, he’s our biggest defenseman and can play physical. In and around the blue paint, we feel that we’re stronger in that area.”

He’s not the only player who can play in the tough areas of the ice. Douglas Murray knows his way around the crease as well—and he’s excited about Burns joining the team.

“He’s an elite player,” Murray said. “He brings that extra dimension offensively and he has a big body too. He’s physical. Danny Boyle has done the heavy lifting as far as offense, so it’s great to have another high-end, top defenseman as well.”

Expectations are sky-high for the Sharks each season. Another trip to the conference finals may be a great season for most teams around the league—but it’s only the first step for San Jose. Not only do they want to make it back for the third straight season, but they want to break through this season. Everyone around the team has hopes that this could be the year it finally happens.

“I think he’s a big piece to the team,” Sharks play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn said about Burns. “If you look at the teams that win the Stanley Cup: last year, Zdeno Chara—a big defenseman. You go down the line of teams that win the Cup and almost every team that wins the Cup has that big-time, big man on the back end. Taking nothing away from Dan Boyle, he’s a tremendously gifted player with and without the puck, but he doesn’t bring the size.”

Pacific Division foes know that Burns is going to fill a big void for one of their rivals. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle says Burns brings something the Sharks were missing last season.

“I thought that they had missed Rob Blake type of player and they look to have that element back on their backend,” Carlyle said. “That’s what Brent Burns brings. He’s a big man that can move, he jumps in the rush, big shot, plays big minutes, so I think that’s their mandate [for bringing him in.]”

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan expounded on Carlyle’s take:

“Maybe more with all due respect to Blake, because he has younger legs and can go a little bit more,” McLellan said. “But the same shot, the same tenacity, not quite the same maturity level obviously, but he does replace some of those assets lost when Blake retired.”

Carlyle and McLellan aren’t the only ones who think Burns can bring the “Rob Blake” presence either. Sharks play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn admitted that he thinks the team actually found an upgrade when asked about Burns replacing Blake’s productivity:

“With them not having to play together as a pair,” Hahn continued, “it gives the Sharks two sets of D [pairings] now that can truly dominate on the ice. That’s an element that even when Rob Blake was here, we didn’t quite have. No disrespect to Rob, but he was at the end of his career. We’ve never had this element that Brent Burns gives us with Boyle on one pair and him on a second pair. It makes us WAY tougher to match-up against.”

Take note: people around the Sharks think they’ll be “way tougher” to match up against than last season. This is a team that finished with the second best record in the Western Conference, won the Pacific Division crown for the fourth consecutive season, and eliminated both the upstart Los Angeles Kings and perennial power Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs.

We’ll know how much better they are when April and May roll around. But if they are, the Eastern Conference better start preparing themselves.

Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

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On Thursday night, TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Pittsburgh Penguins may have some interest in Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk.

The Penguins have been looking for another center since the departure of Nick Bonino in free agency this summer, so them being interested in him makes sense.

“There’s been some speculation as to who might be available as to players who aren’t and Matt Duchene probably isn’t a great fit financially for the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Dreger said during the Insider Trading segment. “But Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens, his name has surfaced. We shouldn’t be overly surprised by that, again given the fact that more often than not Galchenyuk seems to be in the doghouse there and given the play of the Montreal Canadiens as of late, perhaps there’s a fit there that could make some sense.”

Galchenyuk has been as enigmatic of a player as we’ve seen in the NHL over the last few seasons. Two years ago, he scored 30 goals for Montreal. Last season, he was top 10 in league scoring when he suffered a knee injury in Los Angeles. When he returned to the lineup, he clearly wasn’t the same player.

Things haven’t been rosy under head coach Claude Julien, either. During lasts year’s playoffs,  The 23-year-old found himself as the fourth line left winger. He finished the postseason with three assists in six games.

To say that Galchenyuk’s been in the dog house under Julien would be an understatement (most of the time, he fully deserves to be there).

It hasn’t gotten much better this year. After a slow start, he found himself back on the fourth line. But with the Canadiens struggling out of the gate, Julien decided to put Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin together against the Kings on Wednesday night. The line didn’t produce any offense, but Galchenyuk seemed to be a little more engaged than he had been in previous games.

As inconsistent as he’s been, there’s no denying that he’s a rare talent. When he’s playing well, you’ll notice his vision, quick hands and his quick release. He’ll never be an excellent two-way player, but other teams may be willing to put up with his defensive shortcomings more than Montreal has been willing to.

So, what does Pittsburgh have that Montreal could use?

Realistically, we know that the Penguins have a bunch of untouchables (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Matt Murray aren’t going anywhere). They still have other pieces that could be used to get Galchenyuk out of Montreal.

First, the Canadiens would either have to hold on to some of his $4.9 million cap hit, or they’d need to take salary back because Pittsburgh only has $2 million in cap space.

Secondly, Montreal could use a puck-moving defenseman and/or more offense. Would the Pens be willing to sacrifice a blue liner like Olli Maatta to add another center? That’s what it might take to get a deal done.

But again, Montreal isn’t exactly loaded with offensive talent. Can they really trade one of their best offensive weapons without getting a forward back? GM Marc Bergevin is in a tough spot (mainly because he put himself there).

Would Pens GM Jim Rutherford be willing to make Jake Guentzel available, too? He’s been solid for the Pens and his entry-level contract comes with a cap hit of just $734, 167, which makes him even more valuable to the defending Stanley Cup champions.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all unfolds. The longer Montreal’s struggles last, the more likely they are to want to shake things up.

Galchenyuk has his issues, but he seems like the perfect buy-low candidate right now.

Video: Coyotes’ Luke Schenn scores in his own net during loss to Stars

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As you may have heard, things haven’t been going well for the Arizona Coyotes this season. Yesterday’s 5-4 loss to the Dallas Stars dropped their record to 0-6-1 in 2017-18.

Arizona actually jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the game, when Derek Stepan opened the scoring 5:50 into the first period.

Dallas’ Jamie Benn got that goal back less than a minute later on the power play. Unfortunately for Arizona, the bleeding didn’t stop there. Less than a minute after Benn scored, Radek Faksa was credited with the go-ahead goal to give the Stars a 2-1 advantage.

The thing is, Faksa’s stick wasn’t the last one to touch the puck before it went into the Arizona net. It was Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn that had that honor.

That’s a tough break, but that’s just the way the puck’s been bouncing for them this season.

PHT Morning Skate: 5 things Jagr did in the NHL before Gaudreau, Monahan were born

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–Currently there are four players with a Latino background in the NHL. Those players are: Auston Matthews, Max Pacioretty, Matt Nieto and Al Montoya. Fear the Fin wrote an interesting story about NHL teams not doing enough to market to fans from different backgrounds. “Besides the Sharks, several other teams could be making efforts to reach out to an untapped Latinx market. Dallas, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, hell, even the New York teams have millions of fans that aren’t being reached because of some old, racist idea of what a hockey fan should look like.” (fearthefin.com)

–Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka was fine $5,000 for a high-sticking incident with Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on Wednesday night. (NHL.com)

–The Calgary Flames have been an all-or-nothing kind of team so far this season. They’ve had a games where they scored six goals and five goals, but they’ve also been shut out twice. They’re heading in the right direction. (flamesnation)

–Garth Snow was hired by the Islanders in 2006 and he’s made enough mistakes to last a lifetime, but ownership still seems to believe in him. This is a huge year for Snow. If he’s capable of re-signing John Tavares though, maybe ownership’s decision will be justified. (SNY.tv)

–The NWHL is set to start their third season. Unfortunately, a number of Olympic Stars won’t be returning to the league this year. On the bright side, there’s a number of young stars that are ready to take the next step. (victorypress.org)

–Colorado Avalanche fans had a lot of disappointment to deal with last season. They were the worst team in the NHL by a mile, which is making their fans appreciate the little things this season. The Avs have been fun to watch early on this season. (milehighsticking.com)

–The Buffalo Sabres are finally returning home from a road trip, but they’re returning home with a number of injuries. Jacob Josefson, Zemgus Girgensons, Josh Gorges, Zach Bogosian, Justin Faulk and Robin Lehner are all banged up. That should open the door for training camp standout Seth Griffith. (buffalohockeybeat.com)

–Teams get pretty creative when it comes to team building activities. The Washington Capitals, for example, went to  an FBI Academy in Stafford County, Virginia. This kind of looks like fun. (russianmachineneverbreaks.com)

–The Blue Jackets are off to an incredible 5-1-0 start. They’ve won four games in a row and things are looking good for them right now. Despite the great start, there’s still things that could be going better in Columbus. Oliver Bjorkstrand still hasn’t scored, the special teams has been lacking and they can’t seem to win face-offs consistently. (thehockeywriters.com)

–Fanragsports take a look at how each of the head coach’s on new teams are doing in 2017-18. Gerard Gallant has exceeded expectations with Vegas, John Stevens has done a remarkable job in Log Angeles, Ken Hitchcock’s reunion with Dallas has already had ups and downs, Travis Green and Bob Boughner are holding their own in Vancouver and Florida, and Phil Housley and Rick Tocchet have both struggled with Buffalo and Arizona. (fanragsports.com)

–The Toronto Maple Leafs have been excellent at even-strength, but their special teams have helped carry them over the last couple of years.  Jeff Veillette of faceoffcircle.ca looked at the penalties they’ve drawn versus penalties that are called against them. They do well with holding calls, but they struggle when it comes to stick discipline. (faceoffcircle.ca)

Jonathan Drouin is more than just another hockey star in Montreal. The 22-year-old was traded to his hometown team this summer and he couldn’t have been more excited. He tried to get away from all the distractions that come with playing hockey in Montreal, but he couldn’t get away from all the fans. (Sports Illustrated)

–The Calgary Flames moved Jaromir Jagr to a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Jagr did a lot of damage in the NHL before his two new linemates were even born. For example, he won two Stanley Cups before they took their first breath on earth. (The Score)

The Buzzer: Celebrating genius of McDavid, Bergeron, Karlsson

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Player of the Night: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Nico Hischier collected two goals and an assist in a blistering effort as the Devils beat the Senators in overtime. Erik Karlsson almost ruined things for New Jersey with three assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched an impressive 43-save shutout as the Lightning edged the Blue Jackets. Ben Bishop narrowly kept Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan from even bigger nights, yet each player scored two goals and one assist apiece in a slim Stars win vs. the Coyotes.

Even Bergeron’s teammates made some waves.

There were great choices for player of the night, but ultimately, Bergeron’s return to the Bruins lineup stands tallest. He scored a goal and three assists, soothing injury-bummed Bruins fans as part of Boston’s victory against Vancouver.

Bergeron didn’t ease right in. He won half of his draws, fired six shots on goal, and almost logged 21 minutes of ice time. Maybe he can hold things together for Boston?

Highlight of the Night: Connor McDavid‘s ridiculous assist

This post goes into greater detail on that and Edmonton’s win, so we’ll just stick this GIF in here because you need to see it either way:

OK, but to avoid an overly redundant buzzer, check Hischier here, David Pastrnak‘s great goal, and Mikhail Sergachev‘s big night. And, as a bonus, Will Butcher must have nodded to Karlsson after sending this ridiculous outlet pass:

Outstanding.

You know what? Enjoy Bishop robbing Derek Stepan as a bonus bonus.

Misc.

Click here for Erik Gudbranson‘s hit and fight. Zack Kassian‘s hit on Ryan Hartman is mentioned there, but just in case you missed it, here it is one more time:

Factoids of the night

Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators continued their hot streak by blanking the Flyers. Rinne enjoys a milestone moment:

Two impressive bits regarding how dominant McDavid and Karlsson have been:

Scores and more

Bruins 6, Canucks 3 (more)

Devils 5, Senators 4 [OT] (more)

Islanders 4, Rangers 3 [SO]

Predators 1, Flyers 0

Lightning 2, Blue Jackets 0 (more)

Oilers 2, Blackhawks 1 [OT] (more)

Blues 4, Avalanche 3

Hurricanes 2, Flames 1

Stars 5, Coyotes 4

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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