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Chara out for Bruins, no Spezza for Sens in Saturday game

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The Boston Bruins defense already might have felt scatterbrained on Saturday following the stunning news of Dennis Seidenberg’s season-ending injury, and now they’ll be without all-world asset Zdeno Chara, too.

On the other end of the ice, the Ottawa Senators won’t have a guy Chara and Seidenberg likely would’ve been tasked with shutting down: Jason Spezza.

The Bruins announced that Chara, 36, is day-to-day, but they didn’t specify what exactly is bothering the gigantic blueliner. Spezza, 30, is dealing with a lower-body issue.

The Big Z is one of the league’s sturdiest defensemen despite a rugged style; according to the Hockey News’ listings, he hasn’t sat out a game since missing a pair of contests with a leg injury back in late 2011.

It’s not the only loss for Ottawa, either, as stay-at-home defenseman Chris Phillips also has a lower-body injury (specifically a left foot problem) that will keep him out of the lineup.

The precise severity of the issues for the two teams’ stars is unclear, yet it seems like both squads may limp into 2014.

Four teams that would make sense for Jacob Trouba

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 27:  Jacob Trouba #8 of the Winnipeg Jets in action against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on March 27, 2014 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The big NHL news over the weekend came when the agent for Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba announced on Saturday night that his client, still unsigned as a restricted free agent, is requesting a trade from the team so he can put himself into a better position to fully develop as a player.

The Jets responded by saying that they are working to resolve the matter but are going to operate with the team’s best long-term interests in mind, and that they still view Trouba as a long-term piece of their team. As we have seen over the past year, trade requests don’t always turn into a trade, even in situations where the player-team relationship seemed beyond repair as was the case with Jonathan Drouin and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But if the Jets do end up making a trade, Trouba should be an attractive player to several teams around the NHL. He is still only 22 years old, is years away from unrestricted free agency, is already a very good player, and has the right handed shot teams covet on the blue line. Players that fit that description do not come available very often.

Let’s take a look at four potential spots that could make the most sense for Trouba.

The Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks would be an interesting spot because it’s not like they need an upgrade on their blue line, because it’s already a pretty good group. But this is still a destination that would make some sense. Here’s why: The word out of Winnipeg over the weekend is that the Jets’ asking price for Trouba is going to be a comparable defenseman to Trouba that also happens to be a left-handed shot. Part of the reason Trouba is requesting a trade is that he is right-handed and the Jets already have a couple of right-handed shots on their roster. The Ducks have that exact defenseman in Hampus Lindholm. And it just so happens that, he too, is still an unsigned restricted free agent.

Boston Bruins: Now we start getting into the teams that really do need somebody like Trouba. Once one of the top defensive teams in the NHL, the Bruins’ defense has now become their weakest link because of the talent they have lost (Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton) and the players that have gotten older and are simply no longer the players they were in recent years (Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg before he was bought out this summer and became a free agent). Making matters worse is the Bruins really haven’t done anything to address this is a meaningful way over the past two years and coach Claude Julien’s approach to fixing it seems to simply be “play better.” You know what helps teams play better? Having better players, and Trouba would absolutely be a fit here.

New York Rangers:  Another team whose defense taken several steps backwards over the past two years has, especially when you compare it to the unit that was on the ice in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. Anton Stralman is gone, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are getting older and slowing down, and this past summer they lost the one puck-moving presence they had on their blue line when Keith Yandle went to the Florida Panthers. The obstacles for the Rangers when it would come to completing a deal like this would be finding the assets to make the deal, because they have already traded a ton of draft picks and prospects in recent years, and salary cap space. The Rangers do have a young left-handed defenseman in Brady Skjei, but he is not at Trouba’s level, even though both are 22.

Colorado Avalanche: After a couple of disappointing seasons the Colorado Avalanche are now entering the post-Patrick Roy era. They still have a promising group of young forwards that should be the foundation of a playoff team, but they still have some major question marks and holes on their defense. Until those get addressed it is going to continue to be a struggle for the team to return to the postseason. The downside here for Trouba would be that, like the Jets, the Avalanche do have a couple of right-shot defensemen on their team (Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson), and they do have a ton of money invested in them. If Trouba’s goal is to go to a team that doesn’t have a surplus of right-shot blue liners so he can get a bigger role this might be a problem. But there is also an argument to be made that Trouba is already better than both of Colorado’s guys, and at the very least, better than Johnson.

Team Europe’s next challenge: Beat the unbeatable

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Team Canada salute the fans following their 5-3 win over Team Russia during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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Team Europe has already done more than anybody expected them to do at the World Cup by reaching the Final thanks to their stunning overtime win against Sweden in the semifinal on Sunday.

Just getting to this point, after beating the United States and Sweden — two of the world’s biggest hockey powers — along the way is a major accomplishment that would have seemed to be a nearly impossible task just two weeks ago.

Now they have one more seemingly impossible task in front of them: Beat Canada.

And not just beat Canada, but beat them twice.

In only three games.

For any team in this tournament that would have been a tall task in the championship round. Not only does Canada bring an insanely deep roster to the table that has multiple MVP candidates, Norris Trophy candidates, and Vezina Trophy candidates on it, but their recent play on the ice matches the absurdity of the roster on paper.

They don’t just win, they dominate teams.

Since the start of the 2014 Olympics this is what Team Canada has done to its opponents in the two major best-on-best tournaments it has played:

  1. They are 10-0
  2. They have outscored teams by a 36-9 margin
  3. They are coming off of a semifinal game against Russia where they nearly put up 50 shots on goal in a regulation game
  4. They have allowed more than one goal in just two of those games, and more than two goals just once

The games haven’t even been as close as the final scores would indicate because the final scores haven’t always reflected the level of dominance on display. A one or two goal deficit against these guys and their style of play usually feels like a 50 goal deficit.

On paper, this seems like it should already be over before it even begins.

But the beauty of a short series is that even when the two teams don’t match up on paper, random things can happen, mostly because of the X-factor that is goaltending.

Right now Europe’s Jaroslav Halak is putting quite a story together in this tournament. He has helped underdogs knock off superior teams in the past when he gets on a roll like the one he is on now.

It is going to take all of that and more to help Europe beat Canada two times over the next week.

They have already done what seemed to be the impossible to get to this point. Now they just have to do what seems to be the impossible again.

Twice.

Jaroslav Halak carried Team Europe to the World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe celebrates a 3-2 overtime victory over Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Jaroslav Halak is doing it again.

He is taking an undermanned team, one that doesn’t match up with its opponents on paper, and carrying it to a level nobody expected it to reach.

He did it during the 2010 NHL playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when he helped a No. 8 seed upset that year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning team in the first round, and then the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round. The Canadiens were mostly outplayed in each series, but Halak was so good, and so dominant, that it didn’t matter. He was the single biggest reason his team reached the Eastern Conference Final that year.

He showed how much of an impact a hot goalie can make on a team a short series.

He is kind of doing it again this year at the World Cup for Team Europe as it is now in the championship series getting ready to take on Team Canada.

The team in front of him isn’t getting outplayed to the same degree that the 2010 Canadiens were in those playoffs, but Halak has still been his team’s best player and the biggest factor in its current success. His .946 save percentage through four games is among the best in the tournament, while his 37 save effort in the semifinal on Sunday was probably his best one so far (and that includes his opening game shutout against the United States).

The European team has its share of forward talent up front. Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in hockey and has been spectacular in this tournament. Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek are former 40-goal scorers in the NHL, while Frans Nielsen has always been one of the more underrated players in the league.

But the defense, even with a great player like Roman Josi, doesn’t really come close to matching some other teams in the tournament.

It has two players that don’t currently have NHL contracts (Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff). Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and has clearly slowed down from where he was a few years ago.

As a team, they have the oldest roster in the tournament, and based on their pre-tournament games it looked like they were going to be nothing more than a minor speed bump for the rest of their teams in their group.

Put all of that together and it put a ton of pressure on Halak to be on top of his game to give his team a chance to even stay competitive, let alone win.

He has done that and more so far in the tournament, and it is the single biggest reason the team that opened the tournament as the biggest long shot to win the whole thing (33/1) is in the final.

From a big picture standpoint Halak is not the best goalie in hockey. But sometimes in a short tournament all you need is a good goalie to get on a hot streak. And he is still capable of putting together those streaks that can carry a team, and he is doing it again in this tournament just as he did in the 2010 playoffs.

Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
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When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

In this case, anything did happen.

Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.