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PHT Second Round Preview: 10 things to know about Bruins vs. Lightning

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The second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has some absolutely massive matchups.

The top two-teams regular season teams in the NHL — the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets — are meeting in the Western Conference.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, with their superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, are meeting in the Eastern Conference.

Then there is also the other Eastern Conference matchup that will feature the third-and fourth-best regular season teams when the Boston Bruins meet the Tampa Bay Lightning, starting Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.

This series will have five of the top-30 point per game players in the league from the regular season. It will have top-line defensemen in veterans Victor Hedman and Zdeno Chara, and young stars in Charlie McAvoy and Mikhail Sergachev. It will have a Vezina Trophy finalist in Andrei Vasilveskiy and a former Vezina Trophy winner in Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins ended up winning the season series by taking three out of the four games and needed to get through a seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first-round to get here.

The Lightning won the Atlantic Division and earned the top-spot in the Eastern Conference then easily dispatched the New Jersey Devils in five games.

It should be a great series that has the potential to go the distance. Here are the 10 key things you need to know about it.

Schedule

Surging Players

Bruins: When you look at the young talent on the Bruins’ roster it’s kind of crazy to think back to the 2015 draft when they had three consecutive picks in the middle of the first-round and look at the players they didn’t take with those picks and who went right after them. Kyle Connor. Mathew Barzal. Broek Boeser. At the time, the Bruins’ selections were criticized and left a lot of draft observers a little underwhelmed. The jury is still out on two of their selections, but nobody should be questioning the Jake DeBrusk (No. 14 overall) given what he has done this season. After scoring 16 goals and adding 27 assists in his debut season with the Bruins, he has been sensational for them in the playoffs with five goals and two assists in their first-round win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, including two goals in their Game 7 win.

Lightning:  How could it be anybody other than Nikita Kucherov? After finishing as the second-leading scorer in the NHL during the regular season he had an absolutely monster first-round performance against the New Jersey Devils, finishing with five goals and five assists in the five-game series. He recorded at least one point in each game and had three games with multiple points. He has been one of the best playoff performers in the NHL during his career to this point.

Struggling Players

Bruins: It would not be the playoffs if it did not feature Rick Nash doing a lot of things except actually scoring goals and recording points. He is the king of being so close in these situations. He had one goal and one assist in the first-round against Toronto and probably should have had more. He might need more in the second round if the Bruins are going to keep winning. As always, it is not that he is a total non-factor in these games. He is getting shots, chances … he just can not score. At all. We go through this every postseason like clockwork. It is truly remarkable.

Lightning: A surprising stat from the first-round from the Lightning side of things is that they scored 18 goals in their five games against the New Jersey Devils and Victor Hedman did not factor into one of them. Zero goals. Zero assists. Only once this season did he go more than four games without recording a point (he had a seven-game pointless streak very early in the season). He still played shutdown defense, but it is his offensive production to go along with that shutdown play defensively that makes him one of the league’s elite player. He probably will not be held off the scoreboard much longer.

Goaltending

Bruins: It seems that no matter what he does Tuukka Rask is always going to be under an intense microscope in Boston. Overall his career postseason numbers are outstanding. He has taken the team to the Stanley Cup Final once before. But he has also had some objectively bad games in big situations. Game 7 against Toronto gave everybody something to argue about because he did enough to get the win but also finished with ugly individual numbers. He managed only an .891 save percentage in the series. That sort of performance may not get the job done against Tampa Bay. He needs to be better, and he has a rather lengthy track record in his career to suggest that he can be.

Lightning: Andrei Vasilveskiy earned himself a top-three spot in the Vezina Trophy voting this season for leading the league in wins, shutouts, and finishing with a .920 save percentage. He seemed to cool down the stretch a bit — perhaps a little fatigue setting in due to a heavy workload and his first year as a full-time starter? — but he really came back strong in the first-round of the playoffs, posting a .941 save percentage against the Devils. The competition gets a little tougher in the second round against a Bruins team that has more than one real threat to score.

Special Teams

Bruins: The Bruins had some of the best special teams in the NHL during the regular season, finishing in the top-five in both power play and penalty kill. The power play was dominant in the first-round against Toronto, converting on eight of its 23 chances. The penalty kill struggled a bit going 11-for-15 against the Maple Leafs, though that is probably too small of a sampling to get overly concerned.

Lightning: Like the Bruins, the Lightning had a dominant power play during the regular season, finishing with the third-best unit in the league. Also like the Bruins that unit was great in the first round, and it wasn’t just the usual suspects finding the back of the net. Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde combined to score four of their five power play goals against the Devils. The key matchup in this series will be the Lightning’s penalty kill — one of the worst in the league during the regular season — against Boston’s power play.

Fancy Stats

Bruins: The Bruins were a dominant 5-on-5 team during the season when it came to possession and shot metrics, finishing the regular season as a 53.2 percent Corsi team (second best in the league) and then came back in the first-round and just absolutely crushed the Maple Leafs in those categories. Goaltending made the series the close. Little better play from Tuukka Rask or a little worse play from Frederick Andersen in his wins turns that series into a laugher.

Lightning: Similar story for the Lightning when it comes to their ability to control the puck and the shot shares. Their Corsi mark was seventh best in the league during the regular season and they were all over the Devils in that area in the first-round. With Vasilevskiy playing great for the Lightning and neither Devils goalie able to consistently withstand the Lightning attack the series was over quickly.

Injuries

Bruins: The big one here for the Bruins is the same one that it has been for a while. Defenseman Brandon Carlos, a 20-minute per night player, has been sidelined since the end of the regular season with an ankle injury that is going to cost him the rest of the season. Patrice Bergeron may not be entirely 100 percent after missing Game 4 in the opening round with an upper-body injury but he did return for the rest of it and had three points (one goal, two assists) in the Game 7 win.

Lightning: The Lightning are entering this series pretty healthy, at least when it comes to injuries that could potentially keep someone out of the lineup.

X-Factor For Bruins

Charlie McAvoy had a magnificent rookie season for the Bruins, stepping right into the lineup and immediately becoming a top-pairing, impact defenseman when he was healthy. For as good as his regular season, he had some struggles in the opening round, recording just a single assist in the seven games. He wasn’t necessarily *bad* in the first round against Toronto, but he also wasn’t the same player he was during the regular season. In other words, he has shown that he has another level he can get to. If he gets back there in the second round, look out.

X-Factor For Lightning

Ryan McDonagh was the headliner in their latest big trade with the New York Rangers, but when it is all said and done we might be remembering that deal as the J.T. Miller trade. Miller was kind of the forgotten player in that deal but he has been incredible since coming over to the Lightning, scoring 10 goals and adding eight assists in 19 regular season games then contributing four points in the five-game series against the Devils. He is a pretty consistent 20-25 goal, 50-55 point forward. Just another offensive weapon up front for a team that is already loaded with them.

Prediction

Bruins in 6. This obviously has the makings of a six-or seven-game series. They are two of the best teams in the league, they have loads of talent — both veteran and young — all over their lineups, they both have goalies that are capable of stealing games, and they are just evenly matched from top-to-bottom. The Bruins took the season series winning three out of the four games and I think that continues in this series. Have liked the Bruins team all season and they have been my pick to come out of the East for a while now. Sticking with them.

More:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
10 things to know about Golden Knights vs. Sharks
• 10 things to know about Penguins vs. Capitals
• 10 things to know about Predators vs. Jets

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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.

Trade: Flames get Lucic; Oilers receive Neal

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Call it a “change of scenery,” or probably most directly, trading problems. Either way, Alberta rivals the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers made a truly resounding trade on Friday, with the main takeaway being that Milan Lucic goes to the Flames, while James Neal is bound for Edmonton.

Yeah, wow.

Multiple reporters indicate that it’s close to one-for-one, although there are a few minor tweaks to consider.

The Calgary Herald’s Kristen Anderson reports that the Oilers are retaining 12.5 percent of Milan Lucic’s salary, which translates to $750K, while Edmonton is also sending Calgary a conditional third-round pick in 2020. It’s not clear yet what those conditions are.

If Anderson and others are correct, that means the trade boils down to:

Flames receive: Lucic, 31, minus $750K per year. That puts Lucic at $5.25M, with his contract running through 2022-23. Calgary also receives Edmonton’s 2020 third-round pick, if conditions are met.

Oilers receive: Neal, 31, who has a $5.75M cap hit that runs through 2022-23.

As you can see, the two players remain very similar in both cap hit, term, and even age. The Flames save $500K in cap space, while the Oilers add $500K, as Puck Pedia confirms.

Of course, when you’re talking about contracts teams largely want to get away from, it’s often about more than just cap hits. There are some significant ins and outs to that side of the discussion, including Lucic’s deal being essentially “buyout proof.” Neal, meanwhile, would be easier for the Oilers to buy out, if they decide to do that after an audition with the team.

On Saturday, PHT will try to wade through the variety of paths the two teams could take, whether it means sticking with Lucic and Neal respectively, or going for a buyout or trade. For now, let’s consider where they are in their careers.

Lucic’s tough times

After a productive first season in Edmonton where Lucic scored 23 goals and 50 points in 2016-17, Lucic plummeted down the depth chart and in production. This past season was rock bottom, as Lucic scored just six goals and 20 points in 79 games.

The bet on Lucic, some might say in part leading to the dreadful Taylor Hall trade, stands as one of the landmark gaffes of Peter Chiarelli’s Era of Error in Edmonton. It was clear that both the player and team needed to part ways, so now there’s at least peace in that regard.

A bumpy path for Neal, and brutal times in Calgary

Whether you like Neal – a player who absolutely goes over the line at times, when he loses his cool – or not, it’s tough not to feel for him after the last several years.

He was traded from the Stars to the Penguins in 2011, scapegoated a bit out of Pittsburgh on his way to Nashville in 2014, then scooped up by Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft, only to sign with the Flames (possibly in a relatively lukewarm free agent market) last summer. Now this trade sends Neal to Edmonton, making this the 31-year-old’s sixth NHL team, and his fourth in his past four seasons. Players as productive as Neal – aside from last season’s meltdown – rarely become journeymen like this.

Honestly, should we just get his nameplate ready for the Seattle [Unfortunately Not Supersonics] right now?

Despite that upheaval, Neal had been a guy who could score goals nonetheless. He peaked with 40 during his best days with Malkin in Pittsburgh (an 81-point output in 2011-12), but he sniped in multiple climates, generating 20+ goals in 10 consecutive seasons.

And then this Calgary season happened.

Neal never clicked with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, as Elias Lindholm instead took that plum gig. Neal slipped lower and lower in the lineup, sometimes becoming a healthy scratch, and ended 2018-19 with Lucic-like numbers (though in fewer games), as Neal managed only seven goals and 19 points. He was also an all-around disaster, as you can see from RAPM charts via Evolving Hockey that argue that, in some ways, Lucic was actually better last season, as Lucic at least wasn’t as much of a defensive disaster as Neal. Faint praise, but still:

Better times ahead, maybe?

Again, it’s easy to forget that both wingers are 31.

That’s not a great age to be when your contract looks inflated, but there’s also a chance that maybe both could turn things around, at least to some degree. With Neal closer to more productive seasons than Lucic, he’d seem to be a more likely candidate, especially if his rifle of a shot pairs nicely with Connor McDavid‘s all-world playmaking.

But both players have a shot at positive regression. Neal’s five percent shooting percentage from 2018-19 marked the only time in his career that he’s been below 10.4 percent, while Lucic shot at 6.8 in 2017-18 and 8.1 in 2018-19, compared to his career average of 13.5 percent.

Modest rebounds wouldn’t guarantee that either Neal or Lucic sticks around in their new climates. Improvements might just make each forward easier to trade, and more palatable to keep around while looking for trades. There’s simply a lot of room for “to be continued” elements to this move, from buyouts to trades and more.

***

As discussed above, there could still be twists and turns in these sagas, and some of those possibilities will be examined on Saturday. Yet, at this moment in time, this seems like the rare trade win for the Oilers. Maybe this is the start of a positive pattern now that Ken Holland is GM?

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.

Trouba gets seven-year, $56 million deal from Rangers

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The New York Rangers have locked up Jacob Trouba with a seven-year, $56 million contract.

Trouba saw his restricted free agent rights acquired by the Rangers last month from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for defenseman Neal Pionk and 2019 first-round pick (Ville Heinola). General manager Jeff Gorton added up front by bringing Artemi Panarin to Broadway on July 1, so you knew that they were going to eventually come to an agreement to keep the 25-year-old defenseman in the fold following the June trade as they bulk up for a run in 2019-20.

“They’re building a winner tends to be the vibe I’ve gotten,” said Trouba following the trade to New York. “They treat the players first class. It’s very first-class organization. I mean, it’s New York so you’ve got a big stage and they expect a lot out of their team. We want to ultimately get to the Stanley Cup.”

 

Earlier this month Trouba had elected salary arbitration and had a July 25 date scheduled. But that was merely a formality to allow extra time for both sides to hammer out a deal.

According to PuckPedia, $22 million will be paid to Trouba over the next three seasons via signing bonuses and he has a no-move clause from 2020-21 to 2023-24 and a limited no-trade clause in the final two years of the deal.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The ninth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Trouba has spent the last six seasons with the Jets, playing 408 games and recording 42 goals and 179 points. In 2018-19 he set a career high with 50 points, making him the ninth defenseman 25 or younger to hit that mark in the past three seasons.

Gorton still has work to do this summer in deciding whether to re-sign RFAs Pavel Buchnevich (July 29 arbitration hearing), Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo, while working around the salary cap, which after this signing puts them over the ceiling. This could end up leading to a trade of Chris Kreider, who’s entering the final year of this deal carrying a $4.625 million cap hit but owed $4 million in salary for the coming season. They also have a 48-hour buyout window later this summer as well even if they settle with Buchnevich before his hearing.

MORE: Jets were never going to get enough for Trouba

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Key defensemen enter contract years, possible free agency

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Despite being the most exciting offseason since PHT started in 2010, the NHL will probably always lag behind the NBA when it comes to stars moving in free agency.

Rudely, players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid don’t even flirt with drama, instead sticking with their teams by signing extensions, often almost at the first possible moment they legally can. Again, rude.

So, it’s important to get that disclaimer out of the way. Chances are, the fascinatingly robust list of pending free agent defensemen will narrow down, possibly starting before the 2019-20 season begins.

But, even so, it’s quite the list, and a lot of these defensemen will earn enormous, team-changing raises, whenever their next deals get signed.

And, hey, sticking with your team can still alter its course. Just look at how scary that Drew Doughty extension ($11 million AAV through 2026-27) seems today compared to when Doughty re-upped with the Kings in July 2018.

Let’s consider some of the most intriguing names, split by UFA and RFA designations. Cap Friendly’s listings were helpful in putting this together, and being that these lists aren’t comprehensive, you may enjoy digging deeper there to find even more.

Prominent UFAs

Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), Roman Josi (Predators), Tyson Barrie (Maple Leafs), Torey Krug (Bruins), Jared Spurgeon (Wild, more on them here), Justin Faulk (Hurricanes), Jake Muzzin (Maple Leafs), Justin Schultz (Penguins), Christopher Tanev (Canucks), T.J. Brodie (Flames), Sami Vatanen (Devils), Travis Hamonic (Flames).

The headliners of this list – particularly Pietrangelo and Josi – must have licked their chops when Erik Karlsson signed that mammoth eight year, $92M ($11.5M AAV) contract with the Sharks. Pietrangelo and Josi don’t boast multiple Norris Trophies, yet they might also be healthier than Karlsson when he signed his deal, so there could be interesting value debates.

Either way, Roman Josi’s borderline-insulting $4M won’t cut it after 2019-20.

The marquee names are the most intriguing, yet there are interesting situations as you go down a rung and more. And those are the players who are arguably more likely to sign with new teams.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Would Toronto be able to bring back even one of Barrie or Muzzin after next season? Are the Hurricanes destined to move on from Faulk, or would they instead keep Faulk and move someone else, like Dougie Hamilton? Players like Faulk, Schultz, and Vatanen could see their value shift in big ways depending upon how well or poorly they perform in 2019-20. Will P.K. Subban‘s arrival hurt Vatanen, or will the former Ducks defenseman thrive in a more relaxed role next season for New Jersey?

There are a lot of intriguing situations to watch there.

Notable RFAs

Josh Morrissey (Jets), Thomas Chabot (Senators), Samuel Girard (Avalanche), Mikhail Sergachev (Lightning), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), Darnell Nurse (Oilers), Brandon Montour (Sabres), etc.

These players don’t have the same leverage as they’re restricted, but it should still be interesting if there’s a ripple effect when the Jets have to pay Morrissey, and how strenuous negotiations could be between Chabot and the penny-pinching Senators. Tampa Bay’s really brought Sergachev along slowly, and you wonder if they’d be wise to try to extend him before a potential breakthrough?

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Again, extensions will kill some of the wildest daydreams by crossing names off the list long before July 2020. Don’t assume your team will happen upon a Pietrangelo or Spurgeon.

That said, there are certain “something has to give” situations. The Maple Leafs may know that they’re only getting Muzzin and Barrie for a limited time. The Bruins have a tight squeeze happening, especially with Charlie McAvoy still needing an RFA deal this summer.

Either way, teams should savor deals like Josi at $4M, because they won’t last much longer.

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.

Maple Leafs’ Marner mum on contract negotiations

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It’s not much, but for Toronto Maple Leafs fans willing to hang on anything said by still-unsigned restricted free agent Mitch Marner, it was at least something.

When Marner stepped in front of a crowd of reporters on Thursday, he did undoubtedly knowing what the first line of questioning would be. And the second, and the third.

When is he going to sign?

“Hopefully sooner than later,” Marner said. “I want to be there for the start of camp, so hoping something can get done then.”

From there, Marner steered those questions toward his agent as he threw on his best pair dancing shoes and showed he could sidestep with the best of them.

If you’re looking for a t-shirt slogan, “You have to ask my agent” is right up there with the best of them in Toronto these days.

 

“My agent and Kyle are doing it, and they’re going to figure something out,” Marner said.

One thing Marner made pretty clear is he wouldn’t be at training camp without a contract.

“Probably not,” he said. “There’s so much risk with that. It’s just something you don’t want to risk.”

What about an offer sheet?

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Marner whipped out the agent line once again, while saying he’s trying to stay out of all of that “stuff.”

So the uncertainty hasn’t affected you?

“None,” he said, before once again talking about his agent’s role in the negotiations.

What about fans’ concerns that you may not sign a contract with the Maple Leafs.

“I’m leaving all of that to my agent right now,” he said.

Those agents, man. Ruining Toronto’s summer for the second year in a row.

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Marner seemed unfazed by it all and appears to be enjoying his summer.

Why wouldn’t he? He’s about to get paid in a major way, but the Maple Leafs or any number of teams that would be willing to lavish cash upon him if given the chance.

Marner’s situation is one of several playing out this summer. He’s not the only big-ticket RFA without a deal so far.

Patrik Laine in Winnipeg, Brayden Point in Tampa Bay, Mikko Rantanen in Colorado are just a few others. It’s become commonplace for big names without arbitration rights on the RFA list to let negotiations span the summer, if not further.

Marner’s contract is only illuminated better because of where he plays. Dominating two national TV broadcasters on a daily basis in Canada.

And the fear in Leafs Nations is made only worse knowing all-too-well where this path can lead.

William Nylander‘s contract last summer dragged right into the regular season and Nylander and the Maple Leafs felt those effects throughout the season.

The same scenario with Marner would be worse, given he’s the team’s leading point-getter from last season.

A Toronto native, Marner said he’s well-accustomed to the media and said his phone has been shut off for much of the summer.

Like he said, his agent is running the show. Marner’s merely the main protagonist who has yet to be revealed in a complex script.

When he will is anyone’s guess.


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