Zdeno Chara

Bruins place David Backes on waivers

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David Backes has played only 16 games for the Bruins this season and spent many a night as a healthy scratch. On Friday the 35-year-old forward was placed on waivers.

“At the end of the day, you do what’s best for the team,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy on Friday.

Should he clear, which he will, Backes will report to Providence of the American Hockey League.

This season Backes has only one goal and three points while playing a career low 8:33 per night.

“We’re going to look at younger guys and just felt at the end of the day, you do what’s best for your team, what makes you the best team,” Cassidy said. “Ultimately [general manager Don Sweeney] put him on waivers, feeling that was the best thing. I know David doesn’t agree with the situation, but that’s the decision we made [was] for the good of the team. I respect David as a person, as a player. We just felt we had better options, and that’s how we’re going to go forward and see how it plays out.”

It’s been downhill for Backes in Boston since signing a five-year, $30 million deal in 2016. His offensive output has declined and he’s dealt with numerous injuries. Under Cassidy he’s found it difficult to carve out a role in the Bruins’ lineup and be a consistent face among their 12 forwards.

“It’s gymnastics, there’s no question about it,” said Backes last week. “But that’s where we’re at right now, that’s a sign of a good team. If I’m not cracking the lineup, I think we’ve got a pretty good team. That’s kind of my perspective on it and I’m going to be called on at some point, kind of same way I was in the playoffs where didn’t start in there but was able to I feel like make an impact on a few games and help our team win. That’s what we’re about here is team first, and I’m trying to exemplify that when I’m in, when I’m out and be ready whenever I get called.”

Backes has one year left on a contract that carries a $6 million cap hit and $4 million salary through the end of the 2020-21 season. A buyout this summer would put $4 million on the Bruins’ salary cap in 2020-21 and $1 million on it for 2021-22, per Cap Friendly. That could be an option for GM Don Sweeney, but it’s going to be another offseason with a tight salary cap picture. The salary cap ceiling may rise only a few million dollars and extensions will be due this summer for restricted free agent Jake DeBrusk and unrestricted free agents Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Jaroslav Halak.

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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.

What Hurricanes should expect from Justin Williams

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Now that Justin Williams is officially back with the Carolina Hurricanes the waiting game is on for when he makes his season debut. Coach Rod Brind’Amour isn’t putting a timeline on it and just wants to make sure the 38-year-old winger is up to speed.

Once that happens he has the potential to be a significant addition and make an already talented, deep Hurricanes roster even better.

Let’s take a look at what they can — and should — expect from him once he makes his debut.

Even at 38 Williams has not slowed down

If there is a concern with Williams at this point it has to be the fact that he is going to be one of the oldest players in the league, having just turned 38 back in October. There are only four other players in the league age 38 or older this season (Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Ron Hainsey).

The thing that should give the Hurricanes a lot of optimism about Williams’ ability to produce is the fact his game never really showed any sign of slowing down in recent seasons. Everything about his level of production has remained remarkably consistent.

Durability? He has that, having missed just three regular season games since the start of the 2011-12 season, and none during his two most recent seasons in Carolina.

Production? Still very much there. He has yet to shown any sign of dropping off, averaging 20 goals and 50 points with fairly strong shot rates in each of the past four seasons.

While it is inevitable that every player will slow down as they get deeper into their 30s, there are some decent comparable players to Williams that suggest he could still have another year of similar production.

Dating back to the start of the 2000-01 season, Williams is one of five forwards that averaged between 0.60 and 0.70 points per game between the ages of 34-37 (minimum 300 games during that stretch).

The others: Patrick Marleau, Andrew Brunnette, Luc Robitaille, and Keith Tkachuk. Marleau and Brunnette came back in their age 38 seasons and maintained a very similar level of production. Robitaille missed his age 38 season due to the 2004 lockout, and came back at 39 and scored 15 goals in 65 games. Tkachuk retired.

Great value beyond just offense

What makes Williams such a big addition is that his game is far more than just offense. It always has been. Williams is an ice-tilter. When he is on the ice you know the puck is going to be at a certain end of the ice and that his team is going to be in control.

He has consistently been one of the best possession players in the league, and even the past two years in Carolina had some of the best defensive metrics not only among Hurricanes forwards, but also the entire league.

There were 350 forwards that played at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey the past two full seasons. Williams ranked among the top-20 in shot attempt share, scoring chance share, and expected goals share (via Natural Stat Trick). Defense doesn’t slump, and the type of high hockey IQ that Williams has had throughout his career doesn’t go away. So even if his finishing ability and offensive production slides a little, he is still going to be able to provide a lot of value.

The Hurricanes get even deeper 

When the Hurricanes’ roster gets discussed a lot of the focus tends to fall on their blue line, and for good reason. They are loaded on defense with young, impact players that are some of the best in the league. But their forwards are nothing to sleep on, either.

That group is also better than it was a year ago, even before the addition of Williams.

Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are bonafide top-line stars. Andrei Svechnikov is turning into a superstar. They added strong depth players like Ryan Dzingel and Erik Haula (an outstanding player when healthy) over the summer. Martin Necas is blossoming into good, young NHL player. They have good options on every line, and that doesn’t even include Nino Neiderreiter who can still be better than he has shown.

Now they just added a top-six caliber winger without giving up anything in return.

With Williams having a half season to rest and coming in fresh with no wear and tear, combined with his all-around play, he could be one of the most significant additions an Eastern Conference team makes before the trade deadline.

Related: Hurricanes sign Williams to 1-year contract

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.

 

The Buzzer: Nylander keeps Maple Leafs rolling; Canucks make it 6 in a row

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Three Stars

1. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. Following a restricted free agent contract dispute and a down 2018-19 performance, Nylander became a popular target for criticism in Toronto. Not anymore. He continued what is turning out to be a massive breakout season on Thursday night by scoring two more goals and adding an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 6-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets. The Maple Leafs are now 14-4-1 under new coach Sheldon Keefe and 8-0-1 in their past nine games. Nylander has 19 goals and 38 total points in 41 games this season. That puts him on a pace for 38 goals and 76 points over 82 games. That level of production makes his $6 million cap hit a bargain.

2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon got the Avalanche rolling with a late first period goal and never slowed down as the cruised to a huge 7-3 win over the St. Louis Blues. He recorded his fourth four-point game of the season, most in the NHL. It is his ninth since the start of the 2017-18 season, tied for second-most in the league (behind only Nikita Kucherov) during that stretch. Read more about the Avalanche’s big win here.

3. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Miller continues to be a massive addition to the Canucks’ lineup and helped them win their sixth game in a row with his second four-point game of the season. He opened the scoring with an early first period goal, then added three assists, including the lone assist on Adam Gaudette‘s game winning goal in a wild 7-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He has at least one point in five of the Canucks’ six games during this streak and continues to help push them toward a playoff spot. They paid a steep price to get him, but he has been worth it so far.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Pierre-Luc Dubois‘ overtime goal against the Boston Bruins helped the Columbus Blue Jackets improved to 8-0-4 in their past 12 games.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 38 shots to help the Tampa Bay Lightning pick up a huge 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau remained hot and Evgeni Dadonov had three points as the Florida Panthers used a four-goal second period to storm by the Ottawa Senators.
  • Brent Burns scored an overtime goal and Aaron Dell made 36 saves to help the San Jose Sharks get a much-needed 3-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • All 12 Arizona Coyotes forwards recorded a point in their 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Max Pacioretty continued to be a dominant force for the Vegas Golden Knights as he scored two more goals in their 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Johnny Gadreau had a goal and an assist for the Calgary Flames as they beat the New York Rangers.

Highlights of the Night

It did not result in a win, but Patrik Laine finished with 13 shots on goal for the Winnipeg Jets and scored this beauty of a goal after turning Morgan Rielly inside out.

Thanks to this beauty of a Nico Hischier goal the New Jersey Devils were able to win their third game in a row. It is their first three-game winning streak of the season. Read all about it here.

Jack Eichel helps the Buffalo Sabres get a huge win by scoring the game-winning goal on a penalty shot in overtime.

Blooper of the Night

This is only a blooper in the sense that it should NEVER HAPPEN if you are the New York Rangers. They allowed Calgary’s Mikael Backlund to score a shorthanded goal in a 3-on-5 situation. That was the difference in a 4-3 Flames win.

Factoids

  • Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau became 12th, 13th, and 14th players in NHL history to play in four different decades in their NHL careers. [NHL PR]
  • David Pastrnak is the first Bruins player since Cam Neely during the 1993-94 season to score his 30th goal in 42 or fewer games. [NHL PR]
  • With his assist on Brent Burns’ overtime goal, Joe Thornton collected the 1,080th assist of his career to move him into sole possession of seventh place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Columbus Blue Jackets 2, Boston Bruins 1 (OT)
Buffalo Sabres 3, Edmonton Oilers 2 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Montreal Canadiens 1
New Jersey Devils 2, New York Islanders 1
San Jose Sharks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (OT)
Florida Panthers 6, Ottawa Senators 3
Toronto Maple Leafs 6, Winnipeg Jets 3
Calgary Flames 4, New York Rangers 3
Arizona Coyotes 4, Anaheim Ducks 2
Colorado Avalanche 7, St. Louis Blues 3
Vancouver Canucks 7, Chicago Blackhawks 5
Vegas Golden Knights 5, Philadelphia Flyers 4

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.

NHL injury roundup: Bruins’ Krug, battered Blue Jackets

Bruins Krug
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Not everyone healed up enough during the holiday break. This post runs down some of the biggest injury bits, including the Boston Bruins placing Torey Krug on IR.

Krug and other Bruins injuries

The Bruins limped into the break with just two wins in their last 10 games (2-4-4). Losing Krug only makes matters worse, especially with Charlie McAvoy also banged up.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said that Krug will be out through at least Dec. 31, while McAvoy is day-to-day. Boston will ask more of the likes of Zdeno Chara, starting with a home-and-home against Buffalo beginning on Friday.

Banged-up Blue Jackets

Columbus deserves serious credit for going on a hot streak (five straight wins, 6-0-2 in eight) considering mounting injuries. The Blue Jackets didn’t push into the East’s top eight, though, so they’ll need to persevere some more.

Cam Atkinson going to IR represents the toughest loss, but the sheer quantity mixes with such quality. The Blue Jackets expect Oliver Bjorkstrand to miss multiple weeks. Combine those two with Ryan Murray and Josh Anderson, along with smaller ailments, and the list becomes daunting.

John Tortorella deflected talk of injuries presenting such a challenge to the Blue Jackets, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (sub required).

“It isn’t a challenge, it’s just the way pro sports are,” Tortorella said. “You have injuries, you plug a guy in and you go play.”

More injury updates and news

  • The Red Wings updated that Anthony Mantha will miss at least four weeks with an upper-body injury. Jeff Blashill indicated that the injury is to Mantha’s ribs. Jake Muzzin‘s hit on Mantha prompted concussion concerns, so this is a mix of good and bad news.

This list isn’t considered comprehensive. If you want even more injury details, check out Rotoworld’s injury report and player news updates.

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.

Blackhawks and beyond: Best NHL teams of the decade

As 2019 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at the past decade. We’ll remember the best players and teams, most significant goals, and biggest transactions that have happened since 2010. Let us know your memories in the comments.

Personally, it’s more impressive to see a team mix quality and quantity (winning titles and dominating regular seasons) than it is to merely see one or the other. Only special teams reach the top of the hill and then manage to stay there for a long time.

With that in mind, this list of the decade’s best teams focuses on the best franchises. In my opinion, these franchises put together the best bodies of work since Jan. 1, 2010. In other words, these are the best NHL teams of the decade.

They were the champions

Chicago Blackhawks

  • Three Stanley Cup wins. Lost to the Kings in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final.
  • Won the 2012-13 Presidents’ Trophy.
  • Collected three division titles.
  • Made it to the playoffs eight times.

Recent seasons sullied things a bit, but what a run for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith. The Blackhawks never faced elimination during that 2009-10 run, and only needed one Game 7 win in each of their other two Cup runs. Combining a Presidents’ Trophy with a Stanley Cup is a rare feat in this age of parity, but Chicago managed that, too.

This list isn’t in order of greatness, except here. The Blackhawks rank as my number one choice on the list of the best NHL teams of the decade.

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Won Stanley Cups in back-to-back years.
  • Collected two division titles.
  • Made it to the playoffs all 10 years. Finished with zero Presidents’ Trophies.
  • Joined the Capitals as the only teams to generate 1,000+ points during the decade.

Pittsburgh did things the hard way so often over the years, it’s almost surprising that the Penguins won two division titles. Frequent injuries to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang ratched up the drama, but those stars usually pulled through when it mattered. That franchise keeps finding ways to win, even if Crosby and/or Malkin are always part of the formula.

Los Angeles Kings

  • Won two Stanley Cups in a three-year span. Fell to the Blackhawks in Game 5 of the 2013 Western Conference Final.
  • Appeared in the playoffs seven times.
  • Failed to win a division title, and in fact only finished second on two occasions. Naturally, no Presidents’ Trophies, either.

It’s still funny that the Kings won two Stanley Cups without winning a division title. Simply put, their style translated better to rugged playoff battles than dominating the standings. Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty became experts at bringing a ton to the table while taking the least away from it. The Kings are paying for those magical runs now, but you can bet their fans agree that it was worth to finally win it all — twice.

Washington Capitals

  • Won their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2017-18.
  • Collected three Presidents’ Trophies, the most of any team in the decade.
  • Nabbed an impressive seven division titles, winning four in a row.
  • Made the playoffs in all but one season.
  • Joined the Penguins as the only teams to generate 1,000+ points during the decade.

Imagine how obnoxious people would be about the Capitals if they fell short of that glorious, booze-soaked Stanley Cup win. Alex Ovechkin & Co. accomplished incredible things, with only a brief identity crisis mucking things up. From the look of the 2019-20 Capitals, they could start the next decade with a bang.

Boston Bruins

  • Broke their Stanley Cup drought in 2010-11. Also lost to the Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final and dropped Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final to the Blues.
  • Won the 2013-14 Presidents’ Trophy.
  • Managed three division titles early in the decade.
  • Reached the playoffs in eight of 10 seasons.

The Bruins echo the Penguins and Capitals in finding enough talent to essentially have two or more “versions” of great teams. After Tim Thomas retired and Zdeno Chara showed at least some age, the Bruins pivoted to Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak to remain a fixture. As much as people have gotten wise about Patrice Bergeron, it still feels like he deserves even more hype. It’s pretty unbelievable that this franchise could thrive after losing Tyler Seguin and other prominent players, but the Bruins are a remarkable team.

St. Louis Blues

  • Won their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2018-19.
  • Failed to win a Presidents’ Trophy, but took their division twice, and finished second on three occasions.
  • Reached the playoffs in seven of 10 seasons.

How perfect is it that the Blues followed up the Capitals finally winning a Stanley Cup by bringing the glorious “Gloria” to St. Louis? The Blues feel like they were the sultans of snakebitten before the Caps and Sharks took that mantle, so it was refreshing — and stunning — to watch their turnaround. Beyond that win, Doug Armstrong shrewdly guided this team to strong work, usually without the type of premiere draft picks others rely on to form dynasties.

Great teams who didn’t win titles

  • Vancouver Canucks – The team dominated the early part of the decade, winning consecutive Presidents’ Trophies. It’s still a little staggering that Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins fell just short of a Stanley Cup … but they fit in on this list.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning – My guess is a chill atmosphere and that Martin St. Louis/Vincent Lecavalier Cup win eased excessive “choker” talk following the historic 2018-19 team’s stunning sweep. The “What if?” questions are painful, but shine a light on how great this team has been. The Lightning lost in a Stanley Cup Final, and also fell in three Eastern Conference Final rounds, all in Game 7s. That strikes me as the work of a team that’s merely been agonizingly close to the promised land, not one that chokes.
  • San Jose Sharks – It’s awkward, but thank goodness the Sharks at least made it to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. The seemingly eternal power won two division titles and hasn’t been this-decade-Lightning-level close so often since Joe Thornton came on the scene.
  • Nashville Predators – These last two teams lag behind the others a bit, but deserve a mention. The Predators won a Presidents’ Trophy, receiving a ton of grief for raising a banner. Nashville made it to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final as well. They also collected two division titles and only missed the playoffs twice. David Poile also ranks as one of the shrewdest GMs of the decade, especially in the no titles version.
  • New York Rangers – The rebuilding Rangers enjoyed some nice years during Henrik Lundqvist‘s peak. They won the 2014-15 Presidents’ Trophy before losing in Round 3. The Rangers collected two division titles, and fell in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. It will be fascinating to see if the Rangers’ refreshingly honest rebuild pays off in the next decade.

MORE PHT DECADE IN REVIEW FUN:
• Top NHL players in fantasy hockey
• Most significant goals
• Best players of the decade
• Favorite goals, best/worst jerseys
Best NHL teams of the decade
Biggest NHL trades

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.