Stanley Cup Final Preview: X-factors for Bruins, Blues

Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.

With all of this time off until Round 4 begins, PHT’s covering all the skirmishes of Bruins – Blues.

Of course, the danger in drilling deep into the numbers and potential matchups is that you might obsess over “on paper” and forget certain human factors that might swing things as much as a hot power play or a shutdown defensive performance.

Let’s consider some of the X-Factors of this series, and no, mutant superheroes are not involved … although Patrice Bergeron might have Wolverine’s healing powers.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The inevitable rest vs. rust question

Most of the time, I’d roll my eyes and make other dismissive gestures about rest vs. rust.

In many cases, rust is merely used as an easy way to explain a defeat that has more complex, existential explanations. After all, it’s easier to cope with thinking “Ah, if only we were on the top of our game” rather than considering the possibility that the other team just mopped the floor with your team.

The Bruins’ 11-day rest does kind of push the envelope, though.

Chiefly, will Tuukka Rask cool off after not tracking pucks in a playoff situation for almost two weeks? He was absolutely on fire, and all the scrimmages in the world can only do so much to prepare you for a Blues team that’s looked like a buzzsaw at times during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

All that tape

Maybe rest vs. rust should morph into three r’s, as you can add another factor: research.

While the Bruins didn’t know if they’d face the Blues or Sharks until Tuesday, May 21, Bruce Cassidy and his crew have had all that extra time to scout for weaknesses and tendencies regarding their opponents. If their video staff is really on point, you’d think that Boston may enjoy some subtle schematic advantage from getting extra opportunities to break down tape.

Interestingly, while rust might be a challenge for Bruins goalie Rask, that additional research could present a hurdle for rookie Blues netminder Jordan Binnington.

Rookies face challenges in adapting to the NHL, yet the reverse is worth noting: opponents haven’t had as many reps to expose weaknesses. That’s especially true in the exhausting grind of the postseason. If Binnington has some flaws to his game, the Bruins have had the rare luxury of gaining more opportunities to find those issues. For all we know, a few quirks could equal a tide-turning goal or two; maybe the Bruins can score on a wraparound where Jamie Benn and Roope Hintz barely didn’t in Game 7 of Round 2?

Health

All things considered, the Bruins and Blues seem as healthy as anyone can reasonably expect after three rugged rounds of playoff hockey.

Still, the best reasonable expectation for playing at this level into June is that you’re basically wearing so many ice packs it looks like you’re in a full suit of armor.

Frankly, teams aren’t particularly eager to divulge injury information, so we can only speculate about how healthy Zdeno Chara really will be if he can play in Game 1, and so on. So, yes, it’s interesting to see a sparse list of injuries beyond, say, Vince Dunn, but we really don’t know who’s playing at a level far below full-strength.

And, yes, 11 days provides a lot of time to heal — relatively speaking. Plenty of injuries suffered this time of year require longer than that, however, if they don’t demand surgery altogether. For two physical teams, the behind the scenes work of training staffs could be pivotal, even if they do everything they can to keep the rest of us oblivious about such ups and downs.

Bruins’ power play

Click here for a full breakdown of special teams, but it needed to be said: Boston’s power play is so powerful, it could swing the entire series.

Shenanigans

One thing that could bleed into the special teams discussion is if/when the teams get under each others’ skin.

Will Brad Marchand bait the Blues into taking foolish penalties, or might he shoot himself in the foot in trying to do just that? Does David Backes have some zingers regarding the team he once captained?

It seems like the Blues’ power play has gotten back on track, with at least one power-play goal in three straight games, and four during that span. So while Boston’s man advantage is the most dangerous, St. Louis could also make the Bruins pay if Marchand’s antics become a double-edged sword.

***

Ultimately, the 2019 Stanley Cup Final will come down to which players deliver, and if the coaches can put those players in the right situations to succeed. Rask and Binnington both have the capability to turn the series on its head with great play, too.

Don’t be surprised if the above X-factors make an impact, too, though. I mean, what’s really even the point if there are no shenanigans?

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better special teams?
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better defensemen?
PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.

Edler inks two-year extension with Canucks

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Scratch another potential name off the unrestricted free agent list.

On Thursday morning, the Vancouver Canucks announced that they had signed veteran defenseman Alex Edler to a two-year contract extension. The deal comes with an annual average value of $6 million. Edler and fellow Swede Loui Eriksson are tied for the highest cap hit on the team.

This deal appears to make sense for both sides, as Edler will be fairly compensated financially and the Canucks didn’t have to give a 33-year-old player with a long injury history a third year on his new contract.

According to Sportsnet’s Rick Dhaliwal, this deal might include a no-trade claude but the Canucks could still opt to leave him exposed in the expansion draft.

“Alex is important to our team and has played as the cornerstone of our defence throughout his career,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said in a release. “He’s a leader with tremendous experience, plays important minutes and contributes to every part of our team game. We’re very pleased for Alex and his family that he’ll continue his career as a Vancouver Canuck.”

Edler had 10 goals and 34 points in just 56 games with Vancouver last season. Although he’s always been effective, he’s missed at least eight games in each of the last six seasons. He hasn’t suited up in all 82 games since the 2011-12 season. But it’s easy to see why Benning wanted to keep him in the fold.

Besides the fact that he’s still a good player, he’s also one of the key veterans on a team that features many young players like Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and others. Having that veteran presence around the ice and in the locker room can only help the Canucks going forward.

You know who must be thrilled about this news? Jake Gardiner. The Maple Leafs defenseman is set to become a free agent on July 1st, and with Erik Karlsson and Edler off the board any team looking for a puck-moving defenseman will have to open up the vault for Gardiner’s services. Sure, Gardiner was going to get paid no matter what, but the fact that there’s one less defender on the market won’t hurt his case.

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.

How should Oilers approach Puljujarvi situation?

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Oilers general manager Ken Holland has been on the job for less than two months, but he already has a major fire to put out. What will Holland do about Jesse Puljujarvi saying he doesn’t want to be an Oiler anymore? This should be fascinating to watch.

On Wednesday, Puljujarvi’s agent, Markus Lehto, told Sportsnet that his client isn’t interested in playing another game for the Oilers. To make matters worse for Edmonton, Lehto went on to say that the 21-year-old forward would continue his playing career in Europe if the Oilers decided not to trade him to another NHL team.

It’s fair to say that the Oilers have mishandled Puljujarvi’s career to this point. It’s not Holland’s fault that the previous regime kept the young Finn in the NHL and AHL as an 18-year-old, but he’s here picking up the pieces of this mess. The former fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft had just eight points in 28 games with the Oilers in his first year. He also suited up in 39 games in the minors (he had 28 points).

Clearly, Puljujarvi wasn’t ready for what the Oilers threw his way at that time. The organization didn’t do a good job of assessing whether or not he was ready for North American hockey and the North American lifestyle. Allowing him to continue developing in Finland would’ve been the wise choice. Instead, they’ve allowed him to bounce between the NHL and the AHL over the last three years. Last season, he put up just nine points in 45 games.

So what can they do to salvage this situation? Holland knows that the other 30 general managers in the league can sniff out a desperate situation when they see one. But it doesn’t sound like the veteran GM will panic or allow anyone to force him into making a bad deal.

“At the end of the day, if you can do a deal that makes sense for the Edmonton Oilers, you do it,” said Holland. “If you can’t, you go over (to Europe) and watch him play, and hopefully he scores a lot of goals over there.”

Obviously Holland doesn’t want to see an important asset head over to Finland, but he has to say the things he said so that he doesn’t paint himself into a corner. Let’s be realistic though, Puljujarvi is still young and his upside is still sky-high, but he isn’t as valuable as he was when he was 18 years old. Even if he won’t admit it, Holland knows that. Nobody would give up a top five pick to acquire him. That’s reality.

So Holland has to make sure that he gets an intriguing asset(s) back that could help the Oilers immediately or in the very near future. Yes, Holland is just starting this new gig, but Oilers fans are fed up of being patient. They’ll be looking for some positive results as soon as next season. And if you’re Holland, you probably want to make Connor McDavid happy as quickly as possible. Turning Puljujarvi into an asset that can help you soon enough would be a good start. On the flip side, he’s definitely worth more than an average prospect or a middle-round pick. There’s a balance that interested teams will have to find if they’re going to make a deal with the Oilers.

Nobody wins if a talented youngster leaves the NHL to return to Finland. The Oilers would be missing out on a decent return for him and another team would be missing out on possibly adding a 6-foot-4 winger with offensive upside. All sides should find a way to make this work in North America.

So if you’re Holland, the plan should be simple. If you get a respectable offer from another team, you pull the trigger on a trade and you accommodate a young man who has been mishandled by a previous regime. If you don’t, let Puljujarvi go back to Europe. Maybe he’ll go there and have a change of heart at some point, but that should be the last resort.

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: Luongo’s future; What Perry meant to Ducks

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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.

• Take a look back at the Dallas Stars team that won the Stanley Cup 20 years ago. (Dallas News)

Tomas Hertl cemented himself as a top-line center in 2018-19. (Fear the Fin)

• The Nashville Predators should seriously consider trading their first-round pick this year. (Predlines)

• One long-time NHL scout believes that the 2019 draft class is one of the deepest in recent memory. (Winnipeg Free Press)

Kevin Hayes‘ new contract with the Flyers complicates things for the Vegas Golden Knights and pending RFA William Karlsson. (Knights on Ice)

• Corey Perry gave the Ducks organization everything he had. (OC Register)

• Could Joe Pavelski be a good fit for the Colorado Avalanche? (Mile High Sticking)

• Jason Botterill’s first two drafts with the Buffalo Sabres have gone pretty well. (Die by the Blade)

• Can the Penguins accomplish everything they want to do this offseason without trading Phil Kessel? (Pittsburgh Tribune)

• There are still moves for Rangers GM Jeff Gorton to make at the draft. (Blue Shirt Banter)

• Cardiac Cane makes a case for the Hurricanes to trade Brett Pesce. (Cardiac Cane)

Jesse Puljujarvi would be a great addition for the New Jersey Devils. (Pucks and Pitchforks)

• Joel Bouchard did a good job with the Canadiens’ AHL team last season. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• The Bruins are unlikely to buy out veteran forward David Backes this offseason. (WEEI)

• Will Roberto Luongo keep playing next season? He’s reportedly expected to give the Panthers an answer soon. (NHL.com)

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.

Watch Kenan Thompson’s fantastic NHL Awards monologue

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While the Adam Sandlers, Steve Martins, and Chris Rocks of the world are the most famous people to come from “SNL,” the performers who were “lifers” land among the most talented. Kenan Thompson is one of those performers who stood the test of time, much like Darrell Hammond and Tim Meadows.

So, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising just how great Thompson was as a host of the 2019 NHL Awards, but either way, he knocked it out of the park on Wednesday.

It says a lot about the quality of the show that, even deep into the telecast – award shows are long, basically always – people were still laughing and smiling. From the emotions of Carey Price surprising a young fan, to Robin Lehner‘s speech about mental health, to the bonkers segments with “Tony Babcock,” the show had a little bit of everything.

And Thompson’s fantastic monologue really set a fun tone with legitimately great jokes.

Considering that the NHL wouldn’t want Thompson to go scorched earth like Norm MacDonald did during that unforgettable ESPYS appearance, this was a great mix of funny and wholesome.

Though, that’s not to say that there weren’t any spicy zingers.

  • Watch as the Tampa Bay Lightning go stone-faced when Thompson makes a great barb about the Bolts getting swept.

Actually, it was mainly Andrei Vasilevskiy looking displeased. Also, notice Nick Foligno grinning widely in the background. Hmm, I wonder why he might enjoy that joke?

  • Enjoy the juxtaposition of many hockey people generally not reacting to jokes while their significant others laugh like the rest of us.
  • Enjoy some great deep cuts, from jokes you’d be more likely to expect, to a really creative bit about The Pope Mobile being a penalty box on wheels, and the Pope getting five minutes for “cross-checking.” (Thompson deserved cheers, not boos, for that one.)
  • Also, Thompson has a point about the Blues using “Gloria” instead of the actual Blues.

Overall, the 2019 NHL Awards are going to be a tough act to follow. Here’s hoping Thompson gets to try it in 2020, because he (and basically everyone else involved, Jillian Fisher was a great addition, too) did a truly fantastic job.

While it’s not quite at the same level as Thompson’s monologue, the cold open included John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and Laila Anderson (!), so you might enjoy it, too:

More: Rounding up the NHL Awards.

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.