Tuukka Rask

Previewing the 2019-20 Boston Bruins

2 Comments

(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.

NHL camps opening with list of unsigned free agents

Getty Images
4 Comments

P.K. Subban doesn’t want to give advice to all the unsigned young players around the NHL. He just vividly remembers his own experience as a restricted free agent.

Before he signed a short, so-called “bridge” contract, he took some motherly advice.

“My mom picked up the phone and called me and said: ‘P.K., listen, you’re young still. You have lots of time. If you’re ready to go and play, go play,’” Subban recalled. “And I went and played and won the Norris Trophy.”

Almost a dozen prominent restricted free agents remain unsigned on the eve of training camps around the league, and several situations threaten to linger into the season, like Subban in 2013 and Toronto’s William Nylander a year ago. Maple Leafs teammate Mitch Marner, Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point, Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen, Boston’s Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor could all be conspicuously absent when camps open this week.

“Everybody’s waiting on somebody to make a move,” Toronto center Auston Matthews said. “I’m surprised there’s lots of guys. It’s not just (Marner). You’ve got a lot of really good players that aren’t signed yet. I guess everybody’s just kind of playing the waiting game.”

Dominoes could start to fall after Columbus signed restricted free agent defenseman Zach Werenski to a $15 million, three-year deal and New Jersey gave forward Pavel Zacha $6.75 million over three years . The salary cap is a concern: Toronto will have to use long-term injury allowance to get Marner under contract, Tampa Bay has less than $9 million in cap space for Point, Boston is roughly $7 million under with McAvoy and Carlo unsigned, and Winnipeg has $15 million for both Laine and Connor.

“Everybody’s got room to do what they need to do,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “You’re not looking at situations where the restricted free agents haven’t been made substantial offers. It’s they and their agents want more. I respect that.”

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said he would like all those players to have the contracts they want but acknowledged, “That’s not probably the world we live in.” The ongoing contract stalemates have sparked plenty of questions about the lack of rights for restricted free agents and the trend toward younger players wanting to cash in on their second contracts.

“The team has you in a certain situation where you have no rights, so you don’t have much of a say,” Boston defenseman Torey Krug said. “That’s how it’s set up. Those guys will make their big bucks later on or whatever. It’s just how it works.”

Krug said, “If you just look at the star power, it’s potentially damaging to some teams” if they can’t get their restricted free agents signed in time for the start of the season. Nylander missed the first two months last season when contract talks were at an impasse. Things could also drag out with Marner and others.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said he would like all those players to have the contracts they want but acknowledged, “That’s not probably the world we live in.” The ongoing contract stalemates have sparked plenty of questions about the lack of rights for restricted free agents and the trend toward younger players wanting to cash in on their second contracts.

“The team has you in a certain situation where you have no rights, so you don’t have much of a say,” Boston defenseman Torey Krug said. “That’s how it’s set up. Those guys will make their big bucks later on or whatever. It’s just how it works.”

Krug said, “If you just look at the star power, it’s potentially damaging to some teams” if they can’t get their restricted free agents signed in time for the start of the season. Nylander missed the first two months last season when contract talks were at an impasse. Things could also drag out with Marner and others.

The Bruins without McAvoy and Carlo and the Flyers without Provorov and Konecny are in a similar spot. Boston could be without half of its top four on defense.

“It doesn’t bother us,” goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “I think it’s more for the general managers and coaches that you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Based on his own experience, Krug said, he thinks it can be a distraction not to have key players in camp. He also believes what players are doing in their downtime matters.

“Are they still training, or are they sitting there pouting and wondering, ‘When am I going to sign and when do I actually have to get serious and ramp things up?’” he said. “It’s a different circumstance for all players. (But) once you show up, the contract’s over with and you just start playing.”

Whenever that happens to be.

Torey Krug says contract talks with Bruins ‘nonexistent’

Getty Images

CHICAGO — Torey Krug says there have been no talks with the Boston Bruins on a new contract with one season left to unrestricted free agency.

Despite a breakout playoff performance that helped the Bruins get to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Krug is stuck in neutral while the front office focuses on signing restricted free agents Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy. Neither of those players has a deal with training camp set to start next week.

”Maybe a little surprise nothing has been talked about, but I realize that our team is in a different situation,” Krug said Thursday at the annual NHL/NHLPA preseason media tour.

”I understand that we have two guys that need to be signed and that can have big effects on our cap situation moving forward and our boss has to deal with that. Of course I wish there was dialogue and I wish there was some sort of call or something like that, but it’s just nonexistent.”

Krug’s 16 assists in the playoffs tied for the most among all players. Only 11 defensemen in the NHL had more points during the regular season.

The 28-year-old was quick to say he doesn’t feel disrespected by the lack of contract talks, but he doesn’t lack confidence in what he has shown on the ice.

”I put together a resume that I’m very, very comfortable with and happy about,” Krug said. ”You’ve just got to be patient and try to do your part, be a solider. You don’t get these opportunities too often. You just try to take advantage of it.”

With the Bruins in a salary-cap crunch, Krug could be headed toward a significant payday if he hits the free agent market. Since he became a full-time NHL player in 2013-14, his 286 points are just eight shy of P.K. Subban‘s total over that time, and Subban is entering the sixth season of a $72 million, eight-year contract.

Krug doesn’t have the Norris Trophy on his resume like Subban, though his postseason raised the bar on how he’s seen by teammates and around the league.

”He brings it all,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. ”He skates, he battles hard, hits, shoots. He can play power play, penalty kill. Not a whole lot more you can ask for.”

Krug’s signature moment of the playoffs came during Game 1 of the Cup Final when he got up from a tussle helmetless and raced down the ice to hit St. Louis forward Robert Thomas with a crushing open-ice blow.

”He’s a very big competitor,” Rask said. ”He doesn’t shy away from that.”

Don’t expect Krug to shy away from physicality in a contract year, which he believes won’t be any kind of distraction.

”It’s nothing that will affect me personally in how I play,” Krug said. ”If anything, it’s just added fuel to the fire.”

Key questions for Bruins in 2019-20

2 Comments

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Boston Bruins. 

Let’s bat around three burning questions for the Bruins in 2019-20 …

1. Is the Atlantic Division going to be even tougher?

Consider some scenarios that could await the Bruins:

  • The Lightning stand as a powerhouse again, and maybe avoid a playoff disaster this time around.
  • For all the drama, the Maple Leafs remain potent, and perhaps find another gear with Tyson Barrie giving them more defensive balance.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky stops pucks like one of the best goalies in the world, and Joel Quenneville brings together a Panthers team that already boasted considerable talent.
  • A Canadiens team that was sneaky-good last season takes another step forward.
  • The Sabres capitalize on a strong offseason and threaten for one of the top three seeds.
  • The Senators and Red Wings seem likely to struggle, although Detroit could at least be scrappy.

While the Panthers and Habs could just as easily stumble, the top-end of the Atlantic figures to be robust once again. You almost wonder if the Bruins might prefer life as a wild-card team in the Metro bracket, if possible.

[BRUINS DAY: 2018-19 in review | X-factor | Under Pressure]

2. What will they get from their goalies?

The goaltending position is about as unpredictable as it is crucial to an NHL team’s success.

On paper, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak stand as one of the most dependable duos in the league. Both have shown the ability to put together elite, or near-elite stretches, as recently as 2018-19. If Rask falters or gets hurt, Halak’s been capable of stepping in and playing at a high level. Their career numbers are positively sparkling.

There is one thing “on paper” that’s troubling, though: their ages.

Rask is 32, and Halak is 34. It’s far from impossible for one, or both, to hit the aging curve hard, whether that comes down to suffering untimely injuries, athleticism or fatigue-related drops in play, or a combination of those factors.

I’d argue the Bruins are in a position to succeed goaltending-wise, but there are some red flags that things could also go wrong.

3. Will the Bruins’ offense be more versatile, or remain top-heavy?

Charlie Coyle‘s cold puck luck right after being traded to the Bruins made it seem like Boston would be as top-heavy as ever entering the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Coyle’s lot then turned red-hot for stretches there, allowing him to form a nice supporting duo with Marcus Johansson, and that was crucial during the rare lulls for the Bruins’ dominant top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron. Supporting players like Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, and Sean Kuraly picked up the slack during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, as the Blues found ways to solve the Bruins’ top line.

As discussed in the x-factor post about the Bruins battling the aging curve, it’s possible that Bergeron (34) and Marchand (31) may both decline because of all of their mileage, and sometimes those drops are sudden and huge, rather than gradual.

In some cases, the Bruins’ top line might just suffer because of specific matchups, particularly during the playoffs, where a team like the Blues can break down tape and negate some of their strengths with comparable two-way players.

In other cases, like the dog days of the regular season, especially back-to-back sets, it might just be smarter for the Bruins to strategically choose nights to rest veterans like Bergeron.

Younger and/or supporting players can make that feasible if they show that they can handle bigger roles. That’s a pretty big “if,” though.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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.

Can Bruins hold off Father Time for another year?

Getty Images
4 Comments

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Boston Bruins. 

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: “Father Time is undefeated.”

To the Boston Bruins’ credit, they’ve found ways to zig and zag with the aging curve so far.

Patrice Bergeron is 34, yet aside from being limited to 65 and 64 games during the past two regular seasons, he remains a dominant two-way presence. Zdeno Chara‘s slowing down, but is still averaging more than 21 minutes per night, and often succeeding in making us forget that he’s 42. Instead of getting poor play from an aging goalie duo of 32-year-old Tuukka Rask and 34-year-old Jaroslav Halak, the Bruins’ save percentage stats were comfortably above league average. David Krejci continues to contribute at age 33, and it’s still confounding that Brad Marchand is 31 already.

The Bruins have unearthed some major youthful talent, particularly in David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy, but the bottom line is that this team remains reliant upon an aging core of talents whose productivity could plummet.

[MORE BRUINS: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | Three questions]

We’ve certainly seen this before with other teams who’ve had long runs as contenders.

The Los Angeles Kings’ decline wasn’t gradual — it was staggering. Their pals in Anaheim could see the same drop in their team play, or just observe the jarring downfall of Corey Perry, which ended with a buyout.

Maybe the Bruins thrive where those teams fight to survive because of style differences, such as Bergeron’s cerebral game. Or maybe the Bruins have just been lucky.

Whatever the explanation may be, the Bruins have sustained a window of true, elite contention for longer than expected, as it sure seemed like that window was closing during the end of Claude Julien’s run.

But what if Father Time shows up to collect those debts in 2019-20?

A deep, draining run within one win of a Stanley Cup probably didn’t make the Bruins feel younger. Boston battled through 24 playoff games during that run, including two Game 7s. As much as a “Stanley Cup hangover” narrative focuses on motivation (and recovering from literal hangovers), the holdover fatigue can’t be ignored. Being on the losing end might be the greatest testament to such a thought, as players like Chara and Rask might feel some lingering effects from battling through June 12.

So, the Bruins probably can’t totally avoid absorbing body blows from fatigue and the aging process, yet they’d be wise to mitigate the damage.

  • Having aging veterans take one game of a back-to-back set off seems prudent.
  • Rask has already said how much it helped to have Halak carry some of the workload, so more of that?
  • Easing burdens even while players are on the ice is worthwhile. Not only do you make things less grueling for Bergeron/Chara/etc., but you might get some useful intel. Perhaps you can break up Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak during certain series where you’d be better off spreading the wealth? Getting a better idea of who works well with those stars could boost Boston’s versatility.

On paper, this could all run smoothly, but we’ll see when this team actually hits the ice again. After all, Father Time isn’t always polite enough to knock before barging in and messing everything up.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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.