Brad Marchand

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Bruins go from Nash trade rumors to loss, Bergeron injury

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There are times when the Boston Bruins have looked downright unstoppable. Saturday serves as a harsh reminder that things can change in a heartbeat, or at least that the threat is basically always hovering.

Consider this: earlier today, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Bruins were becoming frontrunners to trade for Rick Nash. Such a deal is still plausible, although John Shannon (also of Sportsnet) reports that Nash’s $7.8 million cap hit could cause some challenges, even this late in the season.

Either way, the Bruins’ outlook seemed shiny: they’re already a tough team to deal with thanks to an absolutely bear (sorry) of a top line in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. The B’s have been so impressive, they even seem to be a threat to win the Atlantic.

(UPDATE: Nash has been dealt to the Bruins.)

Things went sour in multiple categories hours later.

The Bruins lost to their hated rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 4-3. That game ended in regulation, and the decisive goal brought about everyone’s favorite hockey thing: a goalie interference review. This didn’t go in Boston’s favor, and while some shrugged their shoulders, Tuukka Rask wasn’t thrilled:

With that, the Atlantic Division thing seems far less promising. To start, the Lightning managed a 4-3 shootout win. Even worse, the Maple Leafs took second place in the Atlantic by beating Boston.

If that wasn’t enough, the most integral part of the Bruins’ dominance is in danger. Reporters including NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty noted that Patrice Bergeron was seen in a walking boot:

On the bright side, all three situations could still turn out nicely for the Bruins.

  • The Bruins might actually be more justified in going after Nash if Bergeron’s a little banged up. Granted, a more severe injury might leave them more conservative at the deadline.
  • Games in hand make optimism easier to come by in the Atlantic positioning races. The Lightning have 87 points in 62 games played while the Maple Leafs are at 83 in 64. The Bruins are at 82, yet with only 59 games played, there’s plenty of time for the B’s to either regain home-ice advantage over Toronto or even push for the top spot in the division.
  • As you can see from Haggerty’s tweet, Bergeron’s issue might not be too bad, either.

So, this isn’t a doom and gloom situation for the Bruins, but it still stands to mention how bumpy things became for at least a while there. The B’s have to hope that most of this stuff sorts itself out, Nash or not.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

Stamkos, Hedman fight for Lightning during same period

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Your results may vary, but from here, novelty carries a lot of weight when it comes to noting an NHL fight.

Two superstar Tampa Bay Lightning players dropped the gloves in the same period against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday, and while neither showing was especially boisterous or violent, the rarity really drives the point home.

As that tweet spoils, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman were the Bolts players who got a little testy in this one.

First, Stamkos went after Karl Alzner in defense of running mate Nikita Kucherov (see the video above this post’s headline). Some might argue that this was less of a fight and more of an aggressive hugging, but it’s still an unusual sight. According to Hockey Fights’ listings, Stamkos has only fought on two other occasions in the NHL: against Brad Marchand (2014-15) and Nik Zherdev (2008-09).

Hedman, meanwhile, dropped the gloves despite a considerable height advantage over Brendan Gallagher. You can see a portion of that fight in this GIF:

While this might explain the anger:

This would be Hedman’s sixth fight.

Theory: Lightning players are just as anxious as the rest of us to see if they’re going to land Erik Karlsson.

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.

The Buzzer: Tuukka Time isn’t running out

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Players of the Night:

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: Remember when people thought Tuukka Time was running out? Rask stopped 28-of-29 against the Flames in a 2-1 overtime win for the Bruins on Monday. Rask, according to Sportsnet Stats, is now 20-2-2 with a 1.83 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage and two shutouts in his last 25 games, 24 of which has been starts.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: Rinne stopped 36-of-38 to help the Predators back into a tie first place in the Central Division. Rinne, who has won three of his past four starts, picked up his 30th win of the season, the seventh time he’s done so in his career, and fourth season in a row.

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker notched two tallies in the game, his second and third goals in his past two games, to help the Wild to a much-needed win after dropping their previous two contests.

John Gibson and Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson left after the second period with a lower-body injury. He made 13 saves. Miller came in for a relief stint and stopped 20 third-period shots for the rare combined shutout, just the second occurrence in team history.

Highlights of the Night:

Poor Erik Karlsson:

Brad Marchand uses his head for some good:

The Chronicles of Rittich:

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Wild 5, Islanders 3

Capitals 3, Sabres 2

Bruins 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Predators 5, Senators 2

Kings 3, Blackhawks 1

Ducks 2, Golden Knights 0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Why Rangers’ McDonagh is worth steep trade price

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During this weekend’s Saturday Headlines segment on Sportsnet, Elliotte Friedman noted that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins might rank as frontrunners for New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh.

That mention constituted just a tiny portion of the segment, as players’ names were batted around, yet McDonagh’s name captivates for a number of factors. If you want to dig deep into possible costs for McDonagh, Blueshirt Banter has a great, detailed rundown. As Joe Fortunato mentions, the Rangers don’t need to trade McDonagh, so that could help them fetch a steeper price.

While it wouldn’t be possible to know what the true asking price would be until we saw a deal come to fruition, I’d wager that McDonagh would probably be worth it, especially compared to the reported demands the Ottawa Senators have for Derick Brassard. If you’re talking about only a slight premium price for McDonagh (a top pairing defenseman, something incredibly tough to trade for) versus Brassard (a respectable center, which is valuable but not as rare), it becomes that much easier to stomach a hypothetical McDonagh deal.

[Rangers acknowledge rebuild, avoid Alain Vigneault questions]

Why, you (maybe) ask? Well, allow me …

McDonagh is affordable

There will come a time when McDonagh gets his money. He’ll be part of a defenseman gold rush lead by Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty, also featuring gems like McDonagh, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Ryan Ellis. Some of those guys might sign extensions before their deals expire after the 2018-19 season, yet they all may influence how the crowd gets paid.

That’s certainly a concern for a team wanting to recoup some of the costs of trading for McDonagh by re-signing him, but as it stands, it’s better to be cheap now rather than never.

McDonagh’s an absolute steal at $4.7 million through this season and 2018-19. That makes him more affordable during this looming trade deadline, and easier to work in next summer, particularly if the cap rises as expected.

McDonagh might be a rare player who gets better after a trade

In a lot of cases, a big name struggles after a move. There are plenty of potential explanations for that, from off-ice (dealing with distractions like finding a place to live) to on the ice (chemistry with linemates, a different coach, a less fancy team jet if you’re Mike Modano).

Allow me to wager that McDonagh might actually flourish on a strong team like the Bruins or Lightning, or really any contender that could use someone like him (which, honestly, is just about any contender, especially if they move players along with futures in a trade).

Last season and for some time, McDonagh was chained to Dan Girardi. You can reasonably speculate that such an assignment limited McDonagh in some ways; check this ghastly HERO chart or merely note that the Rangers bought out Girardi, essentially paying him not to play for their team any longer.

This time around, McDonagh’s been lining up most often with Nick Holden only slightly less often than being on the ice at the same time as Henrik Lundqvist, according to Natural Stat TrickVia this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, you can see that Holden might be limiting McDonagh, too.

So, a buyer could look at acquiring McDonagh two ways: by imagining how much he might flourish with a more capable partner or by realizing that he might be able to drag someone limited along. It’s more fun to imagine the flourishing idea, but both scenarios bring value.

The window could always close

The Bruins are flying high in part because young players are stepping into notable roles, but let’s not forget how recently this team seemed like it was getting old and declining. Zdeno Chara is 40, Patrice Bergeron is 32, Tuukka Rask is 30, and even Brad Marchand is 29. Each of those four key players have a lot of mileage on them relative to their age; as we’ve seen with the Blackhawks, regression can close in on a roster with cruel speed.

For all we know, this might be the best rendition we’ll see of these B’s for some time. Maybe it’s best to take a swing for the fence?

The Lightning, on the other hand, seem set for years with a fresh core. Steven Stamkos feels like he’s been around forever, yet he’s still only 27.

That said, the salary cap could make it tough for the Bolts to retain this current surplus. Most obviously, superstar Nikita Kucherov won’t be a nigh-offensive $4.76 million bargain much longer; his deal expires after 2018-19. Why not load up now?

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You can apply similar logic to a vast array of contenders, with the main limitation being whether or not said teams can muster the assets the Rangers would demand for McDonagh. We’ve seen big trades fall flat before, but there’s a strong chance that the talented, versatile blueliner could really move the needle.

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.

Patrice Bergeron keeps driving the Bruins; Does he have an MVP argument?

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The Boston Bruins continued to roll on Wednesday night by pretty much embarrassing the New York Rangers in their building by a 6-1 margin.

It was a laughably one-sided affair that saw Henrik Lundqvist get benched midway through the second period and several Rangers defenseman get completely embarrassed. Sometimes on the same play. Keep in mind this was a Bruins team that played on Tuesday night and a Rangers team that, well, had the night off and came in rested. It was just a poor, poor showing by the blue shirts.

The win helps the Bruins gain some additional ground on the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the Atlantic Division — and the NHL — and brings them to within one point while still having a game in hand.

After Wednesday’s win Boston is now 27-4-4 in its past 35 games, which is just an absolutely ridiculous run.

Leading the way on Wednesday night, once again, was the Bruins’ dominant duo of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

They were reunited after Marchand served his recent five-game suspension and wasted no time picking up where they left off.

Bergeron scored a pair of goals in the win (one of them a shorthanded goal that was set up by Marchand) to give him 24 on the season and continue what has been a mostly wonderful season. Given how well he has played all over the ice he is starting to get a little bit of a push in the MVP discussion. Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said this week that Bergeron has been the best player in the NHL this season.

Is it something to take seriously?

Since this game was not even close to being competitive and was over from the middle of the second period, let us take a little bit of a dive into this.

It is not hard to see why Bergeron’s name would be entering into that discussion.

He centers the best line in hockey between Marchand and David Pastrnak and is the heartbeat behind one of the best teams in the league, a true Stanley Cup contender. He is a point-per-game player, one of the absolute best defensive forwards, and one of the top possession-driving players in the entire NHL.

There is nothing he does not do well.

But if Bergeron were to win the MVP award, or even end up as a finalist, history suggests it would require one of two things to happen over the second half of the season — either Bergeron would have to go on a torrid scoring binge that brought him among the league’s top scorers, or the voters would have to change the way they vote for the MVP award.

Does either of those things seem likely?

After Wednesday’s game Bergeron has 46 points in 47 games, placing him 37th among the league’s scorers. Obviously missing seven games earlier in the season has put him behind the rest of the pack a little bit, but even if you look at him on a point-per-game level he is 25th in the league. Still great, especially when you combine his all-around play and the impact he makes all over the ice, but still not what we see from a typical MVP contender.

I went back over the past 20 years and looked at all of the forwards that either won the MVP award or were in the top-three of the voting.

Only five of them finished the season lower than fifth in the scoring race and only three were outside o the top-10.

Two of them finished tied for the league lead in goals, while another led the NHL in points per game. Another one finished in the top-three in the goal-scoring race. Here is that list.

  • Teemu Selanne, a finalist in 1997-98, finished eighth in the points race … but finished tied for the league lead in goals with 52.
  • Alexei Yashin, a finalist in 1998-99, finished sixth in the scoring race
  • Mario Lemieux, the runner up in 2000-01, finished 29th in the scoring race … in a season where he only played in 43 games (this was his comeback season) and still finished with 76 points. He was the top point-per-game player in the NHL.
  • Jarome Iginla, a finalist in 2003-04, finished 16th in the scoring race but also finished in a three-way tie for the NHL goal-scoring lead
  • John Tavares, a finalist in 2012-13, finished 17th in the scoring race. He finished third in the goal-scoring race.

That is all pretty telling. Only three of them were outside of the top-eight, and one of those three was Mario Lemieux in one of the most baffling and mind-blowing seasons in NHL history.

In the eyes of the NHL awards voters (worth noting: I am one) you clearly have to be some sort of an elite scorer, whether it be as a goal-scorer or just a total point producer, to really get serious MVP consideration, and there is nothing to suggest otherwise. Just think of how many times people tried to call Jonathan Toews, a player whose skillset and production virtually mirrors Bergeron’s, the best player in the world because of his two-way play, and leadership, and intangibles, and whatever else you wanted to throw in there. Even at the peak of his popularity when his team was a Stanley Cup winning powerhouse he only finished in the top-five of the MVP voting once, and was never a finalist.

It’s just the way the voting goes.

As a voter, I can the see argument for Bergeron, and I would at least entertain it simply because of how good his line is, how good he is, and how I think he is probably the guy driving the bus for that trio (that is not to say Marchand and Pastrnak are not great players on their own — Marchand is a top-tier player in the NHL).

But there is still something to be said for being an elite scorer and having that ability. So for as great as Bergeron is, and as great as his season has been, history is not terribly kind for him when it comes to his MVP chances.

He might just have to settle for being the No. 1 center on a team that has a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.