Pressing question: How will Boston’s defense hold up?

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One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

The Bruins have to hope the kids are alright, because Zdeno Chara can only do so much.

That’s the situation at hand for Boston as it looks to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second consecutive year, starting Friday in an opening-round series against Detroit.

Chara is one of the league’s best defensemen, and it’s not a coincidence the Bruins’ fortunes started to turn shortly after he came over from Ottawa eight seasons ago.

That said, he’s now 37 and has endured a grueling stretch that dates back to the start of the condensed 2013 campaign.

As alluded to earlier, the B’s went to last year’s Cup Finals, meaning Chara had a shortened summer. Despite that, Boston has continued ply him an average of 24:39 minutes per game this year — and that was on top of his stint in the Olympics with Slovakia.

He’s performed superbly under the strain, but will it catch up to him? The possibility is higher now that we’re in the playoffs, where the intensity of the games increases and the Bruins are likely to ask Chara to play even more.

The Bruins have to hope fatigue won’t start to become a factor, because they’re missing the safety net that is defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. Though not at Chara’s level, Seidenberg is a solid blueliner, a veteran presence and someone that can be trusted to step up in the postseason. With him out with a torn ACL/MCL, the B’s defense after Chara does have some question marks.

Boston’s attempts to fill the Seidenberg void were largely unsuccessful. It did acquire Andrej Meszaros and claimed Corey Potter off of waivers at the deadline, but those are complimentary defensemen rather than guys you want to lead in critical games.

MORE: Latest Bruins news, analysis from CSN New England

As a result, the Bruins need to hope their young blueliners will help carry the load. That includes 25-year-old Matt Bartkowski, 20-year-old Dougie Hamilton, and 23-year-old Torey Krug.

All three received some playoff experience in 2013 and held their own, with Krug in particular sticking out, but this time will be different. They’ve established themselves as important parts of the blueline during the regular season and will consequently be asked to log significant minutes in key situations during the postseason. If Chara does start to show signs of wearing down, the young trio that will need to take on even more responsibilities.

If they can pull that off, the Bruins will have managed a seamless change of the guard on the blueline from the core of veterans that won them the Stanley Cup in 2011 that included Chara, Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Tomas Kaberle, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid, to a new generation that will potentially carry Boston for years to come.

That shift to a new generation is necessary, even if injuries have forced the process to accelerate, but these changes often involve growing pains. The cost of the transition might end up being a quick exit from the playoffs in 2013 — despite their regular season success.

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

PHT Morning Skate: Marc-Andre Fleury’s ‘thank you’ letter to Pittsburgh

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–Sean McIndoe provides a list of 12 teams that are facing a high amount of pressure this off-season. The Canadiens still need a center, the Caps need something to get over the hump and the Avs need to shake things up after having one of the worst seasons in recent history. (Sportsnet)

–Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has moved on from the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it’s pretty clear that he won’t forget his years there. Fleury mentioned all of his best memories in a “thank you” letter to the people of Pittsburgh. “So thank you, fans. I wish I could put into words how much of an impact your support has made on me and my family. We have become Pittsburghers.” (The Players’ Tribune)

–The Hockey News handed out some of their own (made up) awards for the 2016-17 season. The Mario Lemieux Award, which is given to the best player in the NHL, went to Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. The Wayne Gretzky Award, given to the league’s most valuable player, also went to McDavid. (The Hockey News)

Scott Darling has moved from Chicago to Carolina this off-season. As of right now, he doesn’t have his old no. 33, but he’s working on getting it from forward Derek Ryan. The goalie even tried having open negotiations on Twitter. In the end, they were able to get something done. (BarDown)

–The Boston Bruins didn’t make a ton of noise during the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, as they just kind of seemed to fly under the radar. Beat reporter Joe Haggerty handed out draft grades for each of the team’s selections. First-rounder Urho Vaakenainen only fetched a B-minus. (CSN New England)

–Teemu Selanne found out he was going to the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday. His incredible career got going with a legendary rookie season that saw him score 76 goals and 132 points. Both those marks are records for rookies and they’ll probably never be surpassed. (NHL.com)

Report: Capitals keep Connolly for two years, $3 million

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Earlier on Monday the Washington Capitals did not extend a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Brett Connolly. Even with that decision there were indications the team was still looking to re-sign him before he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

On Monday night the team reportedly did just that.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie the Capitals have agreed to terms with Connolly on a two-year contract that will pay him an average annual salary of $1.5 million per season.

He played the 2016-17 season on a one-year deal that paid him $850,000.

The 24-year-old Connolly appeared in 66 games for the Capitals this past season, scoring 15 goals and posting excellent possession numbers to make him a valuable depth player for a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy for the second year in a row. But after being held without a point in his first seven playoff games he found himself as a healthy scratch for the remainder of their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, being replaced by Paul Carey.

 

Trade: Vegas sends Marc Methot to Stars

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After being selected in the expansion draft Marc Methot‘s stay with the Vegas Golden Knights was a very brief one.

The veteran defenseman was traded to the Dallas Stars on Monday evening in exchange for a 2020 second-round draft pick and goalie prospect Dylan Ferguson.

Ferguson was just selection by the Stars this past weekend in the seventh-round.

It has been expected that Vegas would continue to deal players it selected in the expansion draft as it looks to build its organization from the ground up, and draft picks seem to be their desired return at this point in trades.

After making 12 selections this past weekend thanks to their many pre-expansion draft dealings, the Golden Knights have already started to stockpile future draft picks in several trades. They already have 11 draft picks, including three second-round selections, for the 2019 draft (which is still two years away) and already nine for the 2020 draft (three years away!). That total includes another three second-rounders in 2020 including the pick they just acquired for Methot.

They also have Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in 2020 in exchange for taking goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft.

As for the Stars, they are clearly looking to reshape their defense after taking a pretty significant step backwards this past season. They were 29th in the NHL in goals against.

In 68 games with the Ottawa Senators this past season Methot scored zero goals while recording 12 assists. He spent most of his time the past few seasons playing alongside Erik Karlsson. He might get an opportunity to play next to another Swedish star in Dallas if the Stars decide to pair him with John Klingberg.

Vegas picked a lot of veteran defensemen in the expansion draft with the hopes of potentially flipping them to other teams (Jason Garrison, Alexei Emlin, Clayton Stoner, just to name a few). If the return for Methot on Monday night is any indicator of what to expect, you should probably expect more future draft picks to come their way if they end up dealing any of them in the coming weeks.

Stability, Stanley Cup aspirations ‘a breath of fresh air’ for Mike Smith

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The Calgary Flames officially introduced their two newest players on Monday afternoon when they welcomed starting goaltender Mike Smith and defenseman Travis Hamonic to the organization.

The addition of Hamonic gives the Flames what should be an outstanding top-four on defense as he joins a blue line that already features Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton.

While that defense might be one of the better ones in the Western Conference, the Flames are hopeful that Smith can help solidify a goaltending position that was a major question mark this past season and a significant weakness for much of it.

It’s not only a big move for the Flames, but it also seems to be an exciting one for Smith as he goes from a team in a clear rebuild mode that hasn’t made the playoffs in five years to one that suddenly has Stanley Cup aspirations.

On Monday, Smith was asked about what it is like for him going from a team that was constantly surrounded by uncertainty off the ice and what it will be like to play for a team that wants to keep getting closer to a Stanley Cup.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” said Smith. “It’s something I have been begging for quite some time now. I am a competitor, and I want to win real bad. I feel like this move is an opportunity and a challenge and I am going to take it on full steam. I really respect this team, playing against them is always a challenge. I look forward to being on this side of it and helping this team be real successful.”

Smith spent the past six seasons in Arizona, compiling a .916 save percentage during that time. He is coming off of a 2016-17 season that saw him go 19-26-9 in 55 games with a .914 save percentage.

Flames goalies finished the season with a .910 mark as Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson spent most of the season splitting time in the crease. Neither goalie will be back this season making it the second year in a row they have completely overhauled the position.

With a defense that figures to be one of the best in the Western Conference and an offense led by young stars Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk the Flames are clearly in a win-now mode. That is going to put a ton of pressure on Smith to solidify the position. That pressure does not seem to bother him.

“The position calls for that,” said Smith, via the Flames’ website. “I’ve taken it upon myself to be that guy, every time I go on the ice.

“I’m one guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. I want to win so bad that sometimes it can work against me. I think, though, with experience in the league I’ve learned how to handle that, how to be a solid force back there. I think I can bring some leadership, be a calming influence back there.”