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Bruins should target a Rick Nash upgrade in free agency

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Unfortunately for the Boston Bruins, Rick Nash was … well, Rick Nash during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Fair or not, the typical narrative stuck. Nash generated a mountain of scoring chances (39 shots on goal in just 12 games), but connected on precious few, finishing with three goals and two assists for five points. It says a lot about his career-long playoff woes that his 7.7 shooting percentage during this run was actually a bit better than his career mark of six percent.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Nash is far from the only player outside of the first line (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak) who fell short of the mark, but he stands out as being a guy who’s unlikely to return considering his expiring contract. Whether they bounce back or not, guys like David Krejci and David Backes are locked down through 2020-21.

[Lightning eliminate Bruins in Game 5]

Ultimately, Bruins GM Don Sweeney should look to free agency and ask himself: “Who can give us a little more than Rick Nash and other depth players?”

An unclear window

The Bruins deserve a ton of credit for drafting and developing some real gems in Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, and Charlie McAvoy. Even so, the Bruins are powered by some players whose windows of dominance could start to close. Brad Marchand will turn 30 on May 11. Krejci and Bergeron are both 32. Backes is 34. Zdeno Chara is still somehow a top pairing defenseman at 41.

Some aging curve questions are scary, and doubling down with a free agent can be really scary. That said, you never know when your window will close as a contender; the Bruins would be wise to take their best shots over the next season or two.

Intriguing wingers

The Bruins could very well get a younger version of Nash in some free agents who bring some size and skill to the table.

There’s a decent chance that Evander Kane will not hit the market, but if he does, the Bruins could conceivably be a good fit considering all of the veterans they have on hand. Kane isn’t the only interesting option, either.

James van Riemsdyk stands out as one of the more interesting fits. While there’s some risk that JVR could be the next Bobby Ryan (a consistent 20+ goal guy who was once cheap who could then sign an albatross deal), but the American winger has shown that he can score, even when he’s receiving minimal ice time. That said, van Riemsdyk is already 29 and hasn’t always been the most prolific playoff point producer, either.

Like Kane with the Sharks, it’s unclear if James Neal or David Perron will be back with the Vegas Golden Knights, but both are interesting considerations for Boston. Neal could add even more snarl to a lineup that already includes Backes and Marchand, not to mention his ability to score goals with remarkable consistency. Perron, meanwhile, would be the slicker option, and possibly the cheaper one?

Centers

Let’s get this out of the way first: any team with a shot at John Tavares should do what it takes to make it happen, even if it calls for creative trades. The Bruins are no exception, though it’s tough to image Tavares wearing the spoked B.

Another tough-to-imagine scenario: the return of Joe Thornton. That would be fun, though, wouldn’t it?

Now, the Nash example calls more for winger comparisons, but who’s to say that the Bruins wouldn’t dip into the market for a mid-level center? Such a gameplan could be fruitful if management believes that Krejci could be liberated by a Claude Giroux-style move to the wing, or more advantageous matchups as a third-line center. Among other ideas.

Paul Stastny would be intriguing.

He’s not the sexiest scorer, but Stastny is a strong two-way player. It’s tough to imagine the Jets being able to afford re-signing him considering that they’re going to have to give big raises to Connor Hellebuyck, Jacob Trouba, and Patrik Laine going forward. There’s quite a bit of risk with Stastny being 32, but he makes some stylistic sense, too.

The funniest idea

Hey, Leo Komarov is a pending UFA, and he obviously has chemistry with Marchand …

(Ideally) cheaper options

Generally speaking, NHL teams are better off exploiting the bargain bin instead of taking big swings. The Bruins have seen that firsthand, as the Backes deal is one they’d almost certainly want to take back. Many of the above ideas are expressed while realizing that, eventually, those contracts will probably be a headache.

Boston may instead be better off going short-term or cheaper, possibly with more than one signing.

Patrick Maroon‘s value should be interesting to follow. Will a team overpay for a big guy who can score a bit, or will his solid work with New Jersey go under the radar?

The Bruins might be better off going after Maroon or fellow short-time Devil Michael Grabner. Thomas Vanek is another interesting consideration. While he’s become a notably one-dimensional player, Vanek showed that he can really boost a team’s offense. In a specialist role, Vanek might excel, and the Bruins should keep an eye on him if the market is tepid.

***

Look, players usually hit free agency in the NHL for a reason. These are players who, for whatever reason, end up being deemed expendable.

The Bruins and other teams must look at free agency as finding the cherry on top, rather than some cure-all. Rick Nash fell short of that mark, but maybe one of these options could make the difference?

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.

Boucher, Chiarelli, and a year of strange NHL decisions

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This has been a tough year for those who want NHL teams to hold people accountable for baffling, terrible decisions.

Jim Benning is still the GM for the Vancouver Canucks. The Detroit Red Wings are bloated with hideous contracts, yet Ken Holland just received a contract extension. Marc Bergevin continues to learn the wrong lessons with the Montreal Canadiens as P.K. Subban aims for another deep playoff run for Nashville. There was some logic to the Carolina Hurricanes essentially firing Ron Francis, but after seeing this string of decisions, it makes that choice seem awfully arbitrary.

Thursday provided the latest slew of head-scratchers.

In maybe the worst call of all, the Edmonton Oilers announced that Peter Chiarelli will remain GM despite a parade of cringe-inducing trades.

Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson addressed the future in a puzzling press conference on Thursday. You can watch the full deal in this clip:

Oilers Nation transcribed it by way of fans feelings and emoticons:

Yep, just about right. The early indications are that the Oilers will stick with Todd McLellan as head coach, that they might not trade Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, and that off-season changes might lean toward the incremental rather than the monumental.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for those who seek a meritocracy, and for Oilers fans who’ve endured jokes about Taylor Hall, Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and other traded players who’ve flourished outside of Edmonton. There’s always the possibility that Chiarelli & Co. will learn from their mistakes, yet we’ve also seen many examples of NHL GMs “doubling down” on previous errors by handing out faulty extensions, refusing to cut their losses with waning talent, and maintaining a wrong-minded vision of what it takes to succeed.

More than a few people (raises hand) believe that the Oilers largely squandered Connor McDavid‘s entry-level contract. Instead of finding a GM with higher odds of surrounding a generational, spellbinding talent with the supporting cast he needs, the Oilers seem content to cross their fingers that Chiarelli will … suddenly figure things out.

Yikes.

The feeling that teams are acting irrationally only increases when you consider Guy Boucher’s predicament with the Ottawa Senators.

One can quibble with Boucher – there’s a sentiment that, while he can bring out early returns, his style might wear thin quickly – yet he’s not even a full 12 months removed from helping a flawed Senators team come within an overtime goal of landing in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Boucher isn’t the one who handed out bad contracts like the Bobby Ryan deal, yet Senators GM Pierre Dorion admits that he hasn’t decided if he’ll bring the bench boss back for 2018-19.

Even if Dorion brings Boucher back, he seems to hand out an ultimatum:

Wow. That’s really something considering that, while Dorion has the excuse of the Senators working under a budget, there are genuine questions about whether he deserves to be back.

A lot of this seems unfair and irrational, but maybe that’s just life and sports.

(At least we can enjoy the second night of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a time when we celebrate teams that tend to make more smart decisions than foolish ones. If nothing else, this is all good news for those teams.)

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Luongo on Parkland; Tocchet takes a leave of absence

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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.

• What do we think of Artemi Panarin‘s new hat? [Twitter]

Alex Ovechkin‘s parents pen him a letter after the Washington Capitals superstar notched career goal No. 600. [NHL.com]

Evgeny Kuznetsov adequately sums up Ovechkin’s feat: “Holy f— that’s a lot of goals.” [RMNB]

• Florida Panthers goalie and Parkland resident Roberto Luongo: “We need to keep talking about this” [ESPN]

• Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet is taking a leave of absence due to an illness in his family. Assistant coach John MacLean will take over coaching duties until Tocchet returns. [Coyotes]

Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators on the trade that nearly sent him and Erik Karlsson out of town: “I heard on Sunday it was done and somebody backed out at the last second. Karl and I were like, ‘pack it up’. We thought we were gone. That’s just the way it goes. Then you’re like, I’ve got to move again? I guess I’ll just wait and see how it goes in the summer. That’s all you can do.” [Ottawa Sun]

• What do you do when you’re a team with one “Hartsy” and you add another? Ask the Nashville Predators and Ryan Hartman and Scott Hartnell. [Tennessean]

• Speaking of the Preds, who’s going to stop them? [TSN]

• Is it time to worry about Andre Vasilevskiy’s workload with the Tampa Bay Lightning? [Raw Charge]

• As they cling to a playoff spot out west, the Anaheim Ducks are keeping an eye on the teams around them. [OC Register]

• Brian Gionta and Chris Kelly go from the Olympics straight into the NHL playoff race. [SI.com]

• The question facing the Carolina Hurricanes: What now? [Spector’s Hockey]

• Are scoring chances better than Corsi? [Maple Leafs Nation]

• A stick and jersey from Canadian women’s Olympic team players Sarah Nurse and Brigette Lacquette are heading to the Hockey Hall of Fame. [Color of Hockey]

• It’s bracket time! So why not take a gander at what the NHL playoffs would look like if it was done like March Madness. [On the Forecheck]

• Finally, as Ovi hits 600, let’s hop in the wayback machine for one of his best goals ever:

————

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.

Sharks reportedly making ‘serious push’ for Erik Karlsson

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Try to picture this: A blue line with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson on it. Together. That would be a whole lot of fun, wouldn’t it?

That may have seemed farfetched a few months ago, but not anymore. According to TSN 1200’s AJ Jakubec, the San Jose Sharks are making a push to acquire Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators. TSN.ca’s Travis Yost backup up Jakubec’s report.

Before Sharks fans get too excited, the report also mentions that the “Bobby Ryan factor” is complicating things, which isn’t unexpected at all. Ryan has four years left on his contract that comes with a cap hit of $7.25 million, and the Sens want to include him in any deal involving Karlsson.

Any team adding Karlsson and Ryan would be taking on $13.75 million. That’s why any trade involving the Swedish defenseman would likely have to include a third party willing to take Ryan or at least a portion of his contract.

As for San Jose, they have quite a bit of money coming off the books this summer (Joe Thornton‘s $8 million, Joel Ward‘s $3.275 million and Jannik Hansen‘s $2 million), but they already have $24.17 million committed to their top five blue liners in 2018-19 with Burns, Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Brendan Dillon. Adding Karlsson would take them over $30 million, but that’ll be the least of their worries if they can make this trade happen.

The Sharks still have their first-round pick to use as a trade chip, but they have no picks in the second or third rounds.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

Senators seem to be in no-win situation with Erik Karlsson

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Imagine being an Ottawa Senators fan right now.

Now that you have done that for a second and hopefully resisted the urge to set yourself on fire, try to picture the situation that your favorite team is currently facing.

Less than one year removed from being a double overtime Game 7 loss away from being in the Stanley Cup Final, your team is now one of the worst in the NHL and doesn’t seem to have a terribly bright short-term future in front of it.

Your team does have one of the NHL’s best players in Erik Karlsson, a generational talent on defense that can impact the game in a way few defenders ever have.

That is good.

But now your team is in a situation where it probably won’t be able to keep him.

That is … less than good.

It is no secret that Karlsson, whose contract expires after the 2018-19 season, is going to want to become one of the highest paid players in the NHL (as he should be) and is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Senators are going to be able or willing to handle that demand. And even if they could, Karlsson has to actually want to re-sign there.

Are the Senators going to be able to build a competitive team around him? Is he going to want to commit to the team they might be able to build or are building?

Big questions that leave the team in the situation it is facing right now where it has to decide whether or not to trade him at some point before the end of next season.

There is already growing speculation that it could happen before Monday’s trade deadline.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie wrote on Wednesday that the Senators are at least open to the idea of trading Karlsson this season before the deadline, and that a potential deal could also include the Senators trying to package Bobby Ryan with him in an effort to dump the remainder of Ryan’s contract. That would not only severely limit the number of teams that could actually complete a trade, but it would also probably reduce the return they get for Karlsson.

At this point it’s all just talk and speculation, but it’s still a sad reality to consider for Senators fans.

Think about the message that sort of trade would send to your fans.

It would basically be: Hey, we can’t really keep the best player we have and maybe the best player you will ever see play for our team in your lifetime. Oh, and one more thing, we also took a slightly lesser return for him so we could dump another contract we can’t afford. Sorry about that.

It just stinks to even consider.

Having said that, if the Senators are going to do it, if they are going to trade Erik freaking Karlsson, this might sadly be the best possible time to do it.

Normally I am one billion percent opposed to trading players like Karlsson.

You can’t win without them. They are nearly impossible to acquire. You can rarely, if ever, get fair value for them back in return. It is worth paying them top dollar under the salary cap, even if it means you have to trim somewhere else around the edges to keep them. One truly great player is worth more than two pretty good players.

But if you think your chances of keeping the player are slim — whether because you can’t afford them or because they don’t want to re-sign with you — can you really risk losing a player like that for nothing?

If the Senators wait until the offseason or at some point into next season the return likely diminishes because the team getting him is only guaranteed to have him for one season (or less). Any team that trades for him now gets two potential Stanley Cup runs with him. His value is probably never going to be higher than it is right now.

If the Senators actually go through with it would be the type of move we don’t normally see at trade deadline time. The biggest impact players that have been traded over the past years (Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk, etc.) have been players that were already in the final year of their contracts. This is a player that is not only one of the best in the world, but still has term remaining.

In the end, it all just seems to be a no-win situation for the Senators.

Keeping him and hoping that he re-signs is a huge risk because losing him for nothing would be a devastating.

Trading him is a gut punch to your fans because you only get players like him every so often and you’re probably not going to get fair value back.

Waiting to trade him next season probably only lessons the return based on how much time the team trading for him is guaranteed to have with him.

But what other choice do the Senators have? There is nothing to suggest this season is a fluke for the Senators (if anything, the previous season was the fluke) and that better days are ahead. There is nothing to suggest they are going to make significant investments to build a better team around Karlsson in the next year to convince him to stay.

If these are the final days of Karlsson as a member of the Senators, it is a frustrating way to go out.

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.