Tuukka Rask

Bruins’ Don Sweeney wins GM of the Year Award

Don Sweeney took over as the Boston Bruins’ general manager in 2015 and has guided them to three straight playoff berths and a 49-24-9 record in 2018-19. On Wednesday night during the 2019 NHL Awards, his efforts were acknowledged with the GM of the Year Award.

A panel of NHL exclusives, print and broadcast media, as well as the 31 GMs annually give the award “to the general manager who best excelled at his role during the regular season.” Though the award focuses on the season, the voting does take place after the second round.

Sweeney made two significant moves before the trade deadline, acquiring Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle. Though the two had a limited impact during the regular season, they provided valuable secondary scoring during the Bruins’ run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

One of his big moves though came before the campaign when he signed goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a two-year, $5.5 million contract. That move played off beautifully for the Bruins as Halak was an ideal backup in 2018-19. He took the pressure off Tuukka Rask during his early season struggles and allowed Boston to use their starting sparingly enough that he was fresh for the postseason.

Here is the full results for the 2019 vote:

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

How different will Bruins look next season?

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The Boston Bruins were within one win of taking home the Stanley Cup this year, but in the end it simply wasn’t meant to be. As disappointed as they must be, they still put together an incredible season and postseason in 2018-19, and they have something they can continue to build on in the near future.

Yes, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are both over 30 and, yes, Zdeno Chara is 42 years old, but there’s enough talent there that they may go on another championship push as soon as next season. General manager Don Sweeney will have to get creative in order to improve his team, but he’s found a way to add to this roster every year.

The Bruins have about $14.3 million in cap space heading into the offseason. Re-signing Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo will likely eat up a good chunk of those available funds though. They also have to decide whether or not they want to bring back Marcus Johansson, who they acquired from the New Jersey Devils right before the trade deadline. Danton Heinen will also be a restricted free agent, while Noel Acciari is scheduled to become a UFA on July 1st.

For Sweeney, the issue isn’t just re-signing potential free agents this year, it’s also about projecting ahead to next summer when Jake DeBrusk will be an RFA and when Torey Krug and Charlie Coyle will need new contracts. There was a lot of trade speculation around Krug throughout the season, but do the Bruins really want to move him after the postseason he just had? Probably not.

In the end, Sweeney can’t sit around and do nothing, and he probably won’t. So what can he do to make this group better?

Boston is set up in goal with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Assuming McAvoy and Carlo are back, they’ll have eight defensemen under contract next season. So, unless Krug is moved, you’d have to think that they like the way their defense looks heading into next season.

One area where they can improve, is scoring depth. As we saw throughout the Stanley Cup Final, David Krejci and DeBrusk were relatively quiet. Krejci is now 33 years old, and he’s the highest paid forward on the team at $7.25 million (there are two years left on his deal).

Also, finding someone to take on David Backes‘ contract would be huge (two years remaining at a cap hit of $6 million). Sweeney would have to give up some kind of asset to make that happen though. Buying out Backes isn’t really an option, because he would cost $5.67 million on the cap next season and $3.67 million the year after that. They need someone to take him ofter their hands for a draft pick and/or a prospect.

If the Bruins can make the money work, they’ll likely be in the mix for a number of big-name free agents on July 1st. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them make a run at Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, or even Kevin Hayes, who is from Dorchester, Massachusetts. If they keep the perfection line together, they need to find a way to address the second line so that they can remove some of the scoring pressure on Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

So there’s a good chance the Bruins will look similar to the group that just went to the Stanley Cup Final, but don’t be surprised if they add a piece or two up front in an attempt to get themselves over the hump next year.

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.

Conn Smythe voting results shed interesting light on O’Reilly, Rask

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What a difference Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final makes.

Heading into Wednesday’s winner takes all contest, PHT wondered if anyone else had a chance to win the Conn Smythe, what with Tuukka Rask‘s numbers towering over everyone else’s stats. I thought that Rask deserved it even if the Boston Bruins lost. The Bruins did lose, and it turns out that Rask didn’t get a single first place vote. Oops.

Instead, Ryan O'Reilly took home the Conn Smythe, and the St. Louis Blues beat the Bruins 4-1 to win their first-ever Stanley Cup. Jordan Binnington outplayed Rask by a huge degree in Game 7, and PHWA voters understandably weighed that decisive game heavily.

ROR was a fine choice, but for those who like to peek behind the curtain, it might be interesting to look at the results. The PHWA released all of the voting results, with media members selecting a top three:

Jordan Binnington received five first-place votes, while Rask joined Alex Pietrangelo among those who received second-place votes. There’s one case of O’Reilly finishing third on a ballot.

The voting system worked out to where first place received five points, second was given three points, and third received one. Here’s how the totals panned out:

Totals (first place votes):

Ryan O’Reilly (St. Louis) – 78 points (13)
Jordan Binnington (St. Louis) – 46 points (5)
Tuukka Rask (Boston) – 21 points (0)
Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis) – 10 points (0)
Colton Parayko (St. Louis) – 7 points (0)

Interesting to see that Vladimir Tarasenko didn’t receive any votes. It isn’t too surprising that Brad Marchand didn’t get in the mix, either, although it’s worth noting that Marchand tied O’Reilly for the playoff points lead, as both finished with 23. It’s nice to see Colton Parayko get some votes, as he was fantastic during this postseason.

Overall, O’Reilly is a choice that’s easy to live with. If you’re like me, you tend to debate quite a few Conn Smythe victories over the years. (Jarome Iginla was robbed! Chris Pronger should have finished with one during his reign of playoff terror.) Honestly, this doesn’t really strike me as particularly out of line.

That said, it’s unfortunate that many will remember Rask’s postseason in a less than positive way. If you could somehow zoom out of a tough Game 7, Rask was still fantastic, finishing with a splendid .934 save percentage, far ahead of Binnington’s .914 save percentage.

Hot take: Rask would trade those stats for Binnington’s shiny new toy.

MORE BLUES STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Jay Bouwmeester finally gets his Stanley Cup
• Blues fan Laila Anderson gets moment with Stanley Cup
• Ryan O’Reilly wins Conn Smythe Trophy
• Berube helped Blues find identity after early-season struggle
• Blues latest team erased from Stanley Cup drought list

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.

Lightning early favorite to win 2020 Stanley Cup

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We’re just hours removed from the St. Louis Blues’ first Stanley Cup in franchise history and we already have a favorite for next year’s champions.

The early odds through the world’s largest Las Vegas sports book, Westgate Sportsbook, has the Tampa Bay Lightning sitting pretty at 6/1 odds.

The Lightning were the favorites on the ice this year after a 62-win season that tied an NHL record for most victories during the regular season. But Tampa received a shock exit in Round 1, getting swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Vegas Golden Knights follow closely behind at 7/1. Vegas, like Tampa, was bounced in Round 1 by the San Jose Sharks, but boast a team that now includes Mark Stone, who signed a big-money extension when he was acquired at the trade deadline in February. And it’s safe to assume, given recent history, that the Golden Knights will be looking to improve further this offseason.

Three teams sit at 10/1 odds, including this year’s Stanley Cup runners up in the Boston Bruins.

Boston lost in Game 7 to the Blues on Wednesday but will have the same core and the same goalie in Tuukka Rask heading into next season. They also have some good, young talent and could do well by keeping Marcus Johansson, who joined the team at the deadline.

The Colorado Avalanche, who pick at the No. 4 spot at the 2019 NHL Draft, join the Bruins at 10/1, as do the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This year’s Cup champs?

The Blues, who were in last place in the NHL on Jan. 3, are at 14/1 to repeat this season’s result.


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

Blues’ Binnington goes from castoff to Stanley Cup champion

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Jordan Binnington‘s storybook ride from fourth stringer to Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was fueled by a few free meals.

The best came last weekend at Brio Tuscan Grille, one of his favorite spots as St. Louis began to feel like home.

”They were good to me,” Binnington said.

Binnington has been so good for the Blues that fans of the long-suffering franchise might never let him pay for another meal again. Drafted in the third round, shuffled to the bottom of the Blues’ goalie chart and even farmed out to Boston’s top minor league affiliate, Binnington’s comeback is one for the ages: The 25-year-old rookie led the Blues from dead last in the NHL to the first championship in franchise history.

He turned out to be the perfect backstop for the bruising Blues, a quiet anchor to rally around for a six-month run to the title. There was nowhere to go but up.

”It’s really cool,” the soft-spoken Toronto-area native said. ”I understand it’s a good story. But I’m going to appreciate it later.”

Binnington spoke not long after a 4-1 victory over the Bruins in Game 7 on Wednesday night. Stunned to be standing there with the Stanley Cup, Binnington wondered aloud, ”I can’t believe we’re here now?”

He led them here. Beginning with a shutout in his first NHL start Jan. 7 in Philadelphia, Binnington went 24-5-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.

”The first game he gets a shutout in Philly and you’re hoping,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. ”You keep watching and wondering, ‘Is this real?’ Water usually finds its level. Well, his water level is very high. I would say you’re into mid-February and March and he’s a rock of our team. … He’s a well-deserving champion.”

St. Louis’ run coincided with Binnington’s arrival and concluded with him stopping 32 shots in Game 7. Coach Craig Berube called it Binnington’s best game of the series.

”(He’s a) great goaltender,” Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O'Reilly said. ”If we keep (shots) to the outside, he’s going to be making those saves.”

Making saves without looking flashy is what Binnington does best. He isn’t frantic in his play and exudes confidence that O’Reilly believes flows to the rest of the team.

”This group just got closer and closer as we went on,” Binnington said. ”They welcomed me in well and I just tried to do my job, battle and keep my mouth shut.”

Showing just how many elder Blues players hadn’t won the Cup, Binnington was the 14th player to receive the trophy after captain Alex Pietrangelo handed it off. That’s hockey, and everyone on the roster knows Binnington led the way when it mattered. He went 7-2 in the playoffs following a loss and earned a tremendous amount of respect from teammates for how he handled so much time in the minors before getting to this point.

”He hasn’t been given the greatest hand. He hasn’t been given an easy route to get here,” veteran Blues defenseman Chris Butler said. ”He’s put his head down and continued to work. It’s been fun to watch. I always had an idea that he was a pretty good goaltender. I would never have been able to predict this. I think a lot of people were expecting him to falter.”

Not Binnington, even when he was fourth string in the St. Louis organization as recently as training camp.

Butler always sensed confidence oozing from Binnington, who famously asked early in his run, ”Do I look nervous?”

He never really did.

”He’s always been extremely confident in himself, and that’s what you’ve got to love about a goaltender,” Butler said. ”You feel like the team kind of takes on that persona when he steps into the crease.”

Binnington’s quiet confidence and ability to steal games were key to the Blues climbing from last place to the top of the hockey world. Game 7 was a perfect example: He made 12 saves in the first period to keep the Bruins off the board and allow his teammates to finally crack dominant playoff goalie Tuukka Rask.

”He shut the door,” center Tyler Bozak said. ”He made incredible saves and gave us that confidence that he was dialed in, like he was all year. Just to get that first goal was kind of a relief, and we built from there.”

Binnington was nothing if not resilient. He went 13-2 following a loss this season.

”Stuff’s going to happen,” Binnington said. ”You’re going to go through adversity, right? And that’s how you handle it.”

Binnington is grateful for the free grub but all spring has been reluctant to dwell on his rags-to-riches story. Don’t expect any grand proclamations now about his road, his run and how he made this improbable championship happen.

”It’s been good,” Binnington said. ”I’ve been enjoying it.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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