Patrice Bergeron

Previewing the 2019-20 Boston Bruins

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Worse, but only marginally so. Marcus Johansson provided a nice boost to Boston’s depth scoring as a rental, and now he’s gone. But, really, for a team that was as competitive as the Bruins — and has been as competitive as long as the Bruins have managed to be — this was a manageable offseason.

Strengths: The Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak remains in the conversation of best lines in the NHL, and plenty put them at number one, period. They dominate games not just by scoring in buckets, but by hogging the puck to a staggering degree. That trio likely stands as the biggest reason why the Bruins deployed an explosive power play last season, but Torey Krug deserves credit there, too. Being able to keep Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo in the fold should help the Bruins be strong on defense (for the most part). Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak was a strong goalie pairing last season, and David KrejciJake DeBrusk have created an effective second line duo that doesn’t always receive the credit it deserves.

Weaknesses: There’s little sense ignoring the threat of Father Time, as plenty of key scorers and both Bruins goalies are on the wrong side of 30. The Bruins must also keep an eye on Zdeno Chara, and not just because he’s at risk of missing parts of the early season with injuries. He’s slowing noticeably, so the Bruins can’t get too sentimental. It’s not outrageous to worry if the Bruins might go back to being a little top-heavy again.

[MORE BRUINS: X-Factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Bruce Cassidy’s seat should be as cool as the other side of the pillow, with his greatest dangers coming in practice.

That said, the Bruins have high hopes, and if they falter, there might not be a ton of patience. We don’t know how long this team’s window of contention may stay open, what with so many key players battling the aging curve. It’s also worth noting that ownership is changing from Jeremy Jacobs to his six offspring, so there’s a mild risk of the Bruins turning into an NHL answer to “Succession.”

I’d rate it as a two (or maybe three) out of 10.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle, and Tuukka Rask.

Marchand is always interesting. Sometimes, because he’s performing at an all-world level. Other times, it’s because he’s being hockey’s most obnoxious troll. Plenty of times, he’s both.

In Coyle’s case, he gets a fuller taste of life as a member of the Bruins after getting his feet wet coming in around trade deadline time. This is a contract year for Coyle, so a lot of money is on the line, and it’s tough to say what kind of price tag he’ll demand.

Rask has occasionally been the scapegoat when things go a little sideways in Boston. That’s the life of a $7 million starting goalie. Fair or not, if Rask stumbles to begin 2019-20, people will wonder about the psychological aftershocks of a tough Game 7 loss against the Blues.

Playoffs or Lottery: The Kings have shown us how a few players can seemingly age overnight, and a proud team can plummet all the way down to the cellar. The mileage on Rask, Bergeron, Krejci, Chara, Halak, and even Marchand should not be ignored, particularly after a deep playoff run.

Still, this Bruins team was fantastic last season, and should be very strong again. Matching last year’s deep run is unlikely to be easy thanks to a formidable Atlantic Division, but the playoffs are a good bet.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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 get another major bargain with McAvoy contract

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Over and over again, the Boston Bruins find ways to sign core players at stunning discounts. They pulled off another steal with budding star defenseman Charlie McAvoy on Sunday.

Remarkably, they signed McAvoy for slightly less than what the Blue Jackets gave Zach Werenski. McAvoy’s contract is for three years, with just a $4.9 million AAV. That’s … incredible value.

Like with Werenski, it’s structured in a way that can make a future contract hefty, and open the door for eventual UFA status. But for a team that’s focused on now as much as the Bruins happen to be, this is even better. It also makes affording Torey Krug‘s next contract feel a lot more feasible. Also, Cap Friendly points out that McAvoy needs more time to reach UFA status than Werenski and Timo Meier, two players who’ve set a standard for how many RFAs approached negotiations this offseason.

When people try to beat up on the Maple Leafs for their expensive top guys, they often (almost unfairly) bring up Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak only costing about $20 million combined – less than John Tavares and Auston Matthews put together. This could be another contract people cite when they shake their head in awe at what the Bruins have done.

(Now, they just need to make sure not to give away any contracts to the likes of David Backes.)

About the only knock on McAvoy, 21, is that he’s dealt with some injury issues. Beyond that, he’s a really well-rounded defenseman, one who’s been instrumental in extending Zdeno Chara‘s career.

Check out how his RAPM charts at even-strength stack up against Werenski, via Evolving Hockey:

McAvoy made a resounding first impression during the 2016-17 postseason, making his NHL debut at that stage, and impressively logging 26:12 per playoff game. He then started strong in 2017-18, generating seven goals and 32 points in 63 games. This past season provided much of the same, as McAvoy scored seven goals and 28 points in 54 regular-season contests and delivering strong work in postseason appearances.

Again, the main concern is staying on the ice, as otherwise McAvoy’s passed his early tests with flying colors.

Cap Friendly estimates the Bruins’ remaining cap space at about $3.2M, and it’s possible that RFA defenseman Brandon Carlo might eat up all of that, or almost all of that breathing room.

This is fantastic stuff by the Bruins. Again.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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’ goal clear after Stanley Cup Final disappointment

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BOSTON — Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has one more tool available this year as he tries to take the team from Stanley Cup finalist to NHL champion.

Street cred.

Armed with a contract extension and an updated resume that includes an Eastern Conference championship, Cassidy is far removed from his days as the interim boss who failed in his first head coaching job and took over the Bruins in 2017.

“We did lot of good things last year, but didn’t reach our ultimate goal,” Cassidy said at the opening of training camp Thursday, a day after signing a multiyear extension that eliminated the chance he would be a lame duck this season.

“You look at our veteran group and we’ve got Stanley Cup champs, gold medalists, guys that have been captains in the National Hockey League, future hall of famers,” Cassidy said. “I think they’re hockey players and they know what’s at stake when the puck drops and when we get going tomorrow.”

After recording 112 points in his first full season on the Boston bench, Cassidy led the Bruins through a 107-point season and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final last season. They took a 2-1 lead over St. Louis – despite losing Game 2 at home in overtime – before the Blues won three of the final four, including a 4-1 victory in Game 7 at the new Boston Garden.

“We’re no different than St. Louis or Ottawa, to take both ends of the spectrum. It’s a new year, every team’s starting from scratch, we’re no different,” Cassidy said. “That’s our focus now is to put ourselves in the same position we were in last year.”

Cassidy was a first-round draft choice who played just 36 games over six seasons in the NHL and then turned his attention to coaching. He got a chance with the Capitals in 2002, at the age of 37, but lasted less than two full seasons.

When the Bruins decided to fire coach Claude Julien two-thirds of the way through the 2016-17 season, they turned to Cassidy, who was an assistant in Boston after five years in charge of the team’s AHL affiliate in Providence. The team was good enough (18-9) the rest of the way that he was given a three-year deal to stay on.

If Cassidy still had some convincing to do in the locker room after first- and second-round exits in his first two postseasons in Boston, he erased any doubts last year. The Bruins eliminated Toronto in seven games, Columbus in six and then swept the Carolina Hurricanes to reach the finals.

“The challenge now is to go all the way back down the mountain and climb it back up again,” forward Patrice Bergeron said. “That’s why we play the game. That’s why we love it. And I couldn’t be happier to do it with this group of guys.”

That earned Cassidy, who had one year left on his contract, an extension Wednesday . The team did not disclose terms of the deal, but Bergeron said he was glad to know Cassidy would be on the bench for four more seasons.

“I think that might help a little bit, that there’s some level of ‘street cred,'” he said Thursday, adding that he hoped it wasn’t an issue for the players. “We have a good respect going both ways.”

Who can challenge Alex Ovechkin for NHL’s goal crown this season?

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Alex Ovechkin has been the NHL’s most dominant goal-scorer from the moment he entered the league and has a chance to finish his career as the league’s all-time goal-scoring leader. Even if he doesn’t eclipse Wayne Gretzky’s mark of 894, there were still be an argument to be made that he is the best ever at putting the puck in the net when you account for the era they played in. He has already finished as the leading scorer eight times, including six of the past seven seasons.

It has become a foregone conclusion that he is going to score at least 50 goals and outscore everyone. This past season the gap closed a little bit as Edmonton’ Leon Draisaitl finished just one goal behind and John Tavares four goals back.

Will anyone be able to finally overthrow him at the top this season?

Let’s take a look at some contenders.

The top contenders

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs: They key for Matthews will be staying healthy. Over his first three years in the league he has scored at a 42-goal pace over 82 games. That is the good news. The bad news is he has missed 36 games over the past two seasons. He is just now entering what should be his peak years in the league and (if he stays healthy) might have a shot at 50 goals.

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: He was expected to challenge Ovechkin a year ago, especially after an 18-goal month of November. But his shooting percentage cratered for the remainder of the season and he finished with only 30 goals. He is too talented for that to happen again. Expect big things from him this season.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: Since Oveckin entered the NHL at the start of the 2005-06 season, only five players other than him have finished a season as the league’s leading goal-scorer (and only three of those five are still active). Stamkos is one of those players, and he has actually accomplished the feat twice. He is still one of the league’s best players, is on an offensive powerhouse team, and is coming off of a 45-goal season. He is always a threat.

The next tier

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: He is the best player in the world, but he is probably more of a playmaker than a pure “goal scorer.” Still, he has topped the 40-goal mark in each of the past two seasons and is entering the peak offensive production period of his career. He’s got a few 50-goal seasons in his future.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: His shot volume has skyrocketed the past two years and even finished with a league-high 385 shots on goal this past season. He’s a 40-plus goal guy and if he sees just a little bit of a spike in his shooting percentage to go with that added shot volume he could be capable of some special things.

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: He is one of the elite players in the league so he always has to be in the discussion, but I am not sure if he is going to be quite as dominant as he was a season ago.

The sleeper

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: He only needed 66 games to score 38 goals for the Bruins a year ago (a 47-goal pace over 82 games) and is quickly developing into an elite offensive player on a Stanley Cup contender. As long as he gets significant time next to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand he is going to be surrounded by All-Stars and put into a great scoring environment.

Maybe not as close as they were

Leon Drasaitl, Edmonton Oilers: He was the runner-up a year ago, finishing just one goal behind Ovechkin. He is a great talent, a great player, and plays next to the league’s best playmaker. I am just not sure if he scores on 20 percent of his shots again. That might drop him down a tier or two on the goal leaderboard.

John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs: His first year in Toronto produced a career high in goals (47) and his highest ever finish in the goal race. He has talent around him and is a great player, but like Draisaitl I feel like there might be a bit of a shooting percentage regression coming in his future this season. Even if that only knocks a few goals off of his total, that might keep him out of the race.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Chara admits he might miss Bruins’ season-opener

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A brand new season presents a clean slate for NHL players in many ways, but injuries can linger from 2018-19 (and before that).

The odds of something carrying over into 2019-20 only grow when you consider a team that played all the way through Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, as Zdeno Chara and the Boston Bruins did. Along with the figurative pain of falling to the St. Louis Blues, Chara is still recovering from the literal pain of a broken jaw and issues with his elbow, which prompted offseason surgeries.

It’s to the point that Chara isn’t absolutely sure he’ll be able to play in the Bruins’ season-opener (against the Stars in Dallas on Oct. 3), as the Boston Globe’s Matt Porter reports.

“I’m not sure,” Chara said. “I think I should be, but it’s a process of making sure there are no setbacks or any discomfort.”

The Bruins must be disappointed by that idea, yet honestly, maybe this is an opportunity as much as it is an obstacle.

Chara is 42 already, and has put a ton of mileage on his body already. The Bruins have to know that he’s close to the end of the line, so it might be wise to rest Chara in strategic ways, anyway. Even if he can play in Game 1, maybe you make it a policy to only have Chara play half of every back-to-back set, or continue to scale down his minutes. After all, the Bruins aren’t that far from seeing the Big Z retire (we think?), and at that point they’d need to replace those 20+ minutes on an 82-game basis.

And, really, the Bruins would be wise to occasionally rest many key players.

After all, that deep playoff run meant a shorter offseason, which meant less time to recover and/or train for 2019-20.

Chara’s the most obvious example of a player who should stand as an example of the Bruins following the NBA’s lead with “load management.” Patrice Bergeron has been in the NHL since he was 18, so you could call him an “old” 34 (even though he turned 34 in July), and he’s suffered through the sort of ghastly injuries that make you cringe once playoff runs end. David Krejci‘s odometer is up there at 33, and Brad Marchand‘s even sneaky-old at 31.

Yes, resting star players during the regular season might mean slipping in the standings a bit, which could mean playing a Game 7 against, say, Toronto on the road instead of at home. But, honestly, that extra freshness might be the difference in a tough series, and winning the Atlantic Division doesn’t look like an easy task in 2019-20.

No, Chara limping (or at least holding his jaw) through the beginning of this season isn’t a “good” thing. Still, if the Bruins take this as a catalyst to be forward-thinking, there could at least be an element of it being a blessing in disguise.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.