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Wild add another pricey investment in Jason Zucker

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The Minnesota Wild handed Jason Zucker a comparable five-year deal to the one Matt Dumba received, which makes a lot of sense since the situations were very similar.

While Dumba’s five-year contract comes out to a $30 million total (and $6M cap hit), Zucker receives $5.5M per year, or $27.5M overall. The team confirmed those details, along with his salary in each season, in case you needed a late-July reminder that a lockout could come in 2020-21 (throws confetti).

Like Dumba, Zucker enjoyed a true breakthrough in 2017-18, forcing a big expenditure from the Wild. Also like Dumba, his contract is mostly reasonable, and much of the grimacing comes in looking at the bigger, less promising overall salary structure.

In a vacuum, this is perfectly fair, and there was really only so much new GM Paul Fenton can do about holdover mistakes like the twin cringe contracts for Ryan Suter and especially Zach Parise.

No doubt about it, Zucker saw a significant spike in production this season.

The 26-year-old crossed the 30-goal barrier for the first time (33 goals) and blew away his previous career-high of 47 points, collecting 63 in 82 games. Especially worrisome types might see his 14.9 shooting percentage as a red flag even beyond that huge jump in production.

On the other hand, Zucker can only take advantage of the opportunities he’s given, and his numbers are awfully interesting.

To start, he enjoyed a fairly odd (yet impressive) first leap in 2014-15. During that season, Zucker pitched a “Cy Young” ratio of goals and assists at 21-5 in 51 contests. After a tough 2015-16, Zucker bounced back in 2016-17, and has been rising since. He’s generated a least 21 goals in three of his past four seasons since becoming an NHL regular.

Beyond that, it sure seems like he could be a true two-way gem, which is a comforting thought in case his offensive production slides. Zucker generated strong possession stats relative to his Wild teammates this past season, which was the second in a row where he was relied upon to start more of his shifts in the defensive zone rather than on offense.

All things considered, this seems like a pretty fair price for Zucker, as the two sides avoided salary arbitration. It’s fairly comparable to the deal Nino Niederreiter received, so Minnesota gets some nice two-way players on term. That’s not groundbreaking stuff, but it’s solid work.

The problem is that, when you zoom out, the Wild don’t seem like the greatest value as a team spending very close to the cap.

[Pondering the Wild’s ceiling.]

Signing Dumba and Zucker to their five-year deals counts as “the price of doing business,” and the same can be said for Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund. Some of those deals will probably look like bargains, and the same rings true for Devan Dubnyk‘s affordable rate and the bargain Minnesota enjoyed with Eric Staal (though Staal’s entering a contract year).

Simply put, any misstep feels like plodding on additional Legos thanks to the difficulties of carrying $15M for Parise + Suter until 2024-25. Spending almost $3M for Marcus Foligno, risking $5.5M on an aging Mikko Koivu, and other decisions are tougher to stomach when the margin of error is small.

So such concerns tend to trickle down to guys like Dumba and Zucker. Their deals are fair, but they’re not necessarily cheap, so any stumbles get magnified. It chalks up to the negative domino effect of bad deals during the salary cap era.

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.

Bruins seek balance between enjoying rest, staying sharp ahead of Cup Final

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When the puck drops next Monday for Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m. ET; NBC), the Boston Bruins will have had 11 days of rest.

Following their seven-game Round 1 series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins have only needed nine games to reach their third Cup Final since 2011. All that rest will certainly bode well for a team with an average age of 27.3 and seven players north of 30 years old. 

But will it be too much time off?

The Bruins and Tuukka Rask have won seven in a row and played dominant hockey over the last two rounds. They would love to maintain that level of sharpness, but that will be difficult to do so with a week and a half between games. Bruce Cassidy gave his players Friday and Saturday off following their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, but it’s since been back to business as they await to find out their Cup Final opponent.

“We have a plan on how we’re going to go through this week, balancing practices with days off,” Cassidy said on Sunday. “We are going to meet with the veteran guys who’ve been through it. We talked about scrimmaging. Will we do it at night? Prepare like a game or have it in the morning? We’ll talk to people outside the organization.”

Some of those outside people include the New England Patriots, who know a thing or two about winning championships after dealing with lots of downtime between games.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Zdeno Chara, who missed Game 4 due, was back at practice on Monday with “no issues,” per Cassidy. While he keeps himself in great shape, his 41-year-old bones certainly have welcomed the extended time off. Cassidy said the injury that forced him to sit wasn’t serious, which was a relief for a Bruins team that has relied on him to play over 22 minutes a night this postseason.

A nine-day break between Rounds 1 and 2 allowed John Tortorella to organize a full scrimmage for his Columbus Blue Jackets players after they earned the time off by sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning. That could be an option for the Bruins to not lose their edge.

“In the short term, it’s really beneficial for our group,” Cassidy said. “We’ve been pedal to the metal here, mentally and physically, for a while. I do believe in the short term it will help us a lot. Then it’s incumbent upon us to simulate the best we can with what’s going to be required going forward.”

One player the Bruins desperately need to maintain his sharpness is Tuukka Rask, who’s posted a .945 even strength save percentage and two shutouts in 17 games this spring. They longest he’s gone between starts this season was from Jan. 19 to Jan. 31 after suffering a concussion against the New York Rangers. His recovery time was aided by the fact that the Bruins had their bye week right after the injury occurred, so the 31-year-old goaltender only missed one game.

The Conn Smythe frontrunner has been locked in this postseason and playing at a level that is reminiscent of the Bruins’ 2013 run to the Cup Final.

“When he was concussed, I think he missed quite a bit of time then came back and played well,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “He’s in a really good place, a really good place mentally and physically and his routines. He’s gone out game days. In the past, he hasn’t. He’s gone out for specific reasons. I think he’ll continue to do those things. It’s just the game, to get into the flow of the game and speed of the game you can’t ever simulate, so there will be challenges, certainly. Tuukka is in a really good place, and I expect him to return there.”

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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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.

Pro women hockey players form union in step toward league

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — More than 200 of the world’s top female players have taken the next step toward a viable professional league by forming a union.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Association said Monday the paperwork was filed Friday.

The women had announced this month their pledge to sit out the upcoming season in North America after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League abruptly shut down this year. That leaves only the National Women’s Hockey League, which took back control of the Buffalo Beauts on May 8.

The PWHPA says in a statement the association will help players coordinate training needs and opportunities and develop sponsor support.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Torey Krug putting together impressive postseason

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Over the last few seasons, there’s been a lot of uncertainty surrounding Torey Krug‘s long-term future with the Boston Bruins. It appeared as though they weren’t sure whether or not to give a smaller offensive defenseman a long contract extension. But his performance this postseason may make this picture a lot clearer.

We know that Krug can move the puck and create offense from the back end. Over the last three seasons, he’s put up 51, 59 and 53 points (his points-per-game number has improved in each season). There’s not many defenders that are capable of putting up numbers like that at this level.

Krug has also had a ton of success in the playoffs throughout his career, as he’s posted 40 points in 55 career games in the postseason. Last year, he managed to be a point-per-game player in the playoffs with 12 points in 11 contests. This year his numbers are down slightly (he has 12 points in 17 games), but this year feels different (in a good way).

The Bruins are four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, and Krug has been a big part of that. Not only has he contributed offensively, but his pairing, with Brandon Carlo, has acted as a shutdown duo for the Bruins. So Krug isn’t just being used in an offensive role.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In 219 minutes of ice time with Carlo this postseason, the 28-year-old has a CF% of 53.62 percent, a HDCF% of 54.17 percent and a SF% of 52 percent. Those are some solid individual numbers for Krug. He’s also had an incredibly positive influence on his young defense partner. Carlo’s overall CF% in the postseason is 51.54 percent. With Krug, that number climbs up to 53.72 percent. When he’s not on the ice with Krug, the number drops to 45.93 percent. So as valuable as Carlo’s been during this run, it’s clear that he’s much more effective when he’s next to Krug (all numbers provided by Natural Stat Trick).

No matter what happens in the Stanley Cup Final, Krug has opened some eyes around the league. Now, can the Bruins get him signed to a long-term deal? He has one year remaining on his current deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020. If he’s making $5.25 million on this deal, you’d have to think that he’s going to get a raise on the next deal.

Both McAvoy and Carlo will need new deals this offseason (McAvoy will make more than Carlo), so it’ll be interesting to see how much money they’ll have left over for Krug.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: How Blues turned season around; Questions for Hurricanes

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• How much does sweeping your opponent in the conference final help the team heading to the Stanley Cup Final? (The Hockey News)

• Ryan Dadoun breaks down what went wrong for the Detroit Red Wings this season. (Rotoworld)

• ESPN sheds some light on who the biggest winners of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are as of right now. (ESPN)

• The St. Louis Blues were in last place as of Jan. 2, but here’s how they were able to turn things around. (Sportsnet)

• The Bruins have to find a way to deal with this long break they have before the Stanley Cup Final. (WEEI)

• The Montreal Canadiens should try to sign Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner to an offer sheet this summer. (Montreal Gazette)

• Should the Washington Capitals give Andre Burakovsky a qualifying offer? (Washington Post)

• Many teams should go after Golden Knights defenseman Colin Miller including the Philadelphia Flyers. (Broad Street Hockey)

• Here are five big questions surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes this offseason. (News & Observer)

J.T. Miller has emerged as an important piece of the Ryan McDonagh trade. (Tampa Times)

• The TSN Trade Bait board has plenty of potential targets for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Leafs Nation)

• The Rangers have a lot of depth on defense, so they have to figure out how to break up that logjam. (Blue Shirt Banter)

• What can the Penguins get for Olli Maatta? (Pensburgh)

• If a team decides to offer sheet a restricted free agent, it could easily be the Colorado Avalanche. (Mile High Hockey)

• Taking a goalie in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft usually isn’t a wise move. (Sinbin.Vegas)

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.