Brad Marchand

What is the long-term outlook for the Bruins?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Boston Bruins.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Bruins have two big things going for them to maintain a pretty big window for Stanley Cup contention.

The most important is that they have a great core of talent to build around in David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, David Krejci, and Brandon Carlo.

Along with that is the fact they have a significant portion of their team signed long-term on deals that not only have term, but are also below market value. Nobody on the team carries a salary cap hit of greater than $7.25 million (Krejci) while only two players (Krejci and starting goalie Tuukka Rask) count for more than $7 million against the cap in a single season.

The quartet of Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, and McAvoy, for example, takes up less than $25 million in salary cap space per season through the end of the 2021-22 season. That not only keeps a tremendous group of players together, it gives the team the type of salary cap flexibility it needs to build a powerhouse team around them. The Bruins have done exactly that.

Their big challenges this offseason are going to be re-signing UFA defenseman Torey Krug — one of their top blue-liners — and securing a new contract for restricted free agent forward Jake DeBrust, currently one of their top complementary players. Because they are getting such bargains at the top of their lineup they should have the salary cap space to make it work.

Krug will definitely be the biggest challenge (especially if there is pressure to keep him around the $6.5 million mark that everyone else in their core currently makes) but there is room.

Long-term needs

It might seem like an outrageous thing to say right now given the way the team is built, but it is really tempting to put goaltending as a long-term question.

Right now the duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak is as good as it gets in the NHL. They are both outstanding and capable of being No. 1 starters in the league, while Rask has been one of the league’s elites for most of his career. But there is some uncertainty beyond this season. For one, Halak is one of the Bruins’ biggest unrestricted free agents after this season so there is no guarantee that he returns. But there is also the fact that Rask recently hinted at the possibility of potentially retiring after next season (via the Boston Globe). Still a lot of unknowns there and a situation to keep an eye on in the future.

Beyond that, depth might be the other big long-term issue.

If they are unable to re-sign Krug that would love a pretty massive hole on their blue line, and there is going to come a point where Zdeno Chara is no longer part of this team. That is half of your top-four and would be an awful lot to replace at one time if neither one is there beyond this season.

Long-term strengths

It kind of relates to everything mentioned in the core part, but they have some of the league’s best players at forward signed for multiple seasons at below market contracts.

The trio of Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand is one of the best lines in the entire league. Individually, they are all among the top-20 players in the league. Together, they are almost unstoppable.

On the blue line, McAvoy and Carlo are both already outstanding defensemen and are just now starting to hit their prime years in the NHL.

Basically, the Bruins have the most important pieces for sustained success already in place (superstar forwards and young top-pairing defensemen), have them all signed long-term, and they are mostly at points in their career where they should still have several elite seasons ahead of them. The Bruins have been one of the league’s top-four teams for three years in a row now and there is no sign that they are going to drop off from that level anytime soon.

 

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Boston Bruins
Bruins surprises and disappointments

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.

Boston Bruins: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Boston Bruins.

Biggest Surprise

From a big picture perspective we should not really be surprised by the overall performance of David Pastrnak. He has shown over the past couple of years that he was on his way to becoming a top-tier scorer and put up huge numbers in an injury-shortened season a year ago. But it might be at least a little bit of a surprise as to just how much of a leap his offense took this season.

Not only is he in a back-and-forth race with Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard award, he had an outside shot at the 60-goal mark. He is having one of the best individual offensive seasons in Bruins franchise history and has quickly become the best player on a team that still has Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

Pastrnak is no longer just a great top-line player.

He is a superstar.

Beyond that, everything here has pretty much been business as usual for the Bruins. They were a Game 7 away from winning the Stanley Cup a year ago and brought back mostly the same roster. The expectation was for them to be great. They have been. In every possible area.

Biggest Disappointment

You really have to start reaching to find anything that even somewhat resembles a disappointment here because there are not many weaknesses with this team at any level.

Early on you might have been able to say that Charlie McAvoy‘s offense was a let-down. But even that started to correct itself and he was still making a positive impact even without the goals.

Maybe Ondrej Kase has been a disappointment after being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks before the trade deadline, but that is such a small sampling of games it would be unfair to actually go as far as to call him a disappointment for their season.

Overall, almost everything here is perfect. Their superstars at the top of the lineup are as good as it gets in the NHL. Their defense is good. They have two outstanding goalies. Their special teams units are both among the top-five in the entire league.

The only thing that has been a flaw this season? The shootout.

They have been awful in the shootout, and it is kind of weird to figure out because they have the goalies and they have the high-end talented forwards that you would think would shine in a skills competition. Instead, the Bruins have gone 0-7 in games decided by shootouts and are one of just two teams in the entire league that has yet to win one. Columbus (only 0-4 at this point) is the other. It is baffling.

Their shootout struggles have been so much that even Brad Marchand, one of the league’s best and most talented players, had this happen.

None of this however has been enough to hurt them because they still have a massive lead for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, the Eastern Conference, and also the Presidents’ Trophy.

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Boston Bruins
What is the Bruins’ long-term outlook?

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Boston Bruins

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

Boston Bruins

Record: 44-14-12 (70 games), first in the Atlantic Division, first in the Eastern Conference
Leading scorer: David Pastrnak — 95 points (48 goals and 47 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Acquired Ondrej Kase from the Anaheim Ducks for David Backes, Axel Andersson, 2020 first-round pick
• Traded Danton Heinen to the Anaheim Ducks for Nick Ritchie

Season Overview: 

There isn’t much to complain about this season if you’re a fan of the Bruins. Not only did they have the best record in the Atlantic Division, they were also the top team in the Eastern Conference and they were the only squad to hit the 100-point mark at the COVID-19 pause.

After losing in the Stanley Cup Final last year, it appeared as though they’d be back there in 2020. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but this edition of the Bruins was impressive.

It’s easy to see why Boston was so good this year. Sure, most fans feel like they’re still missing a second-line forward to complete their team, but you know you’re in good shape when that’s all you’re really missing on your roster.

In goal, they arguably have the best one-two punch in the league with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Is that a luxury they’ll be able to afford next year? Probably not. But they were both rock-solid throughout the season. Rask went into the pause with a 26-8-6 record, a 2.12 goals-against-average and a .929 save percentage. As for Halak, he had an 18-6-6 record, a 2.39 goals-against-average and a .919 save percentage. Impressive.

The defence is balanced. They have Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk. Each one of those five has played at least 61 of the team’s 70 games this season. The group might not be together next year, as Krug is scheduled to become a free agent, but they were impressive heading into the pause.

And, of course, up front they had some of the elite offensive talent in the NHL. Pastrnak finds himself in third in league scoring with 95 points. He’s also tied for first in goals, with 48. He’s emerged as one of the premiere forwards in the NHL and he’s signed to a very reasonable contract of $6.6666 million per year for three more years.

Pastrnak was a big part of the Bruins’ success, but he had help. Brad Marchand has 87 points in 70 games at the pause and Patrice Bergeron is up to 31 goals and 56 points in 61 contests.

How far can the Bruins go? Maybe we’ll find out, maybe we won’t. But there’s no denying this was an elite team in 2019-20.

Highlight of the Season So Far:

There were many highlights for the Bruins this season, but putting up eight goals on your biggest rivals’ rink has to be right up there.

On Nov. 26, Boston beat Montreal, 8-1, at the Bell Center. Pastrnak had a hat trick, Marchand had three points and Bergeron didn’t even play.

MORE:
Bruins’ biggest surprises, disappointments
What is the Bruins’ long-term outlook?

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.

Roundtable: Playing out rest of NHL season; 2019-20 memories

Alex Ovechkin 700th goal Capitals celebrate
Getty Images

Should the NHL return to playing games in a timely matter — a very big unknown at the moment — how would you play out the rest of regular season and/or the playoffs?

SEAN: A unique situation calls for a unique solution. Even if regular season games are able to be played, there may not be time for a typical two-month playoff schedule — unless you’re keen on things potentially going deep into the summer.

Depending how the league resumes its schedule, let’s take the top 10 teams in points or points percentage in each conference. The bottom four teams would play in a one-game play-in playoff game with the winners playing the two best teams in the conference. From there, we’re back into brackets with re-seeding happening in Round 2. 

The change here is that series lengths would be shortened. The opening two rounds are best-of-three with a 1-2 format and the final two games of the series played on back-to-back days. The conference final is best-of-five in a 2-3 format — again, back-to-backs and a day off before a potential Game 5 — and the Stanley Cup Final remains a best-of-seven with a 2-3-2 format. (All dependent on arena availabilities, of course.)

Let’s just play hockey soon, please!

JAMES: To avoid bleeding out too much of 2020-21, jump straight to the playoffs … well, after a quick, attention-grabbing detour.

To avoid being far too kind to teams who finished in the wild-card positions when the game of musical chairs got cut short abruptly by a record scratch, I think a “play-in” situation would be fairest.

Basically, if you look at each conference, there are the two wild-card teams, at least two bubble teams right there with them, and two other teams somewhere floating in the distance. You could form an interesting little NFL-like elimination tournament with byes. Let me explain.

Collect those six teams per conference to create two elimination bubble tournaments for two wild card spots in each conference.

  • The top two wild cards from each conference get a “bye” to the second round in separate brackets.
  • Top wild cards could be who finished in the WC positions at the time of the pause. That said, it might be more fair if the top seeds were based on points percentage. Either way, determine two byes for each conference. (Let’s assume that business would be mostly as usual otherwise, aka that teams are traveling to different cities for games. One could imagine a scenario where the league would instead want to limit travel even more … but let’s just assume business close to usual.)
  • Round 1: third I bubble team hosts the sixth bubble team, while the fourth hosts the fifth.
  • Round 2: winner of third/sixth bubble team travels to face first bubble team, winner of fourth/fifth goes on the road against second.
  • Playoffs begin with two wild cards per conference who seem to have “earned it,” while also providing grab-your-popcorn made for TV drama. Also, the teams who did the painstaking work of getting one of their division’s top three seeds get to shake off the rust and avoid injuries.

This isn’t perfect, mind you. Chicago and especially Montreal would be extraordinarily lucky for this break. One might instead lean toward, say, having four bubble teams face off for the two spots (basically boiling it down from two elimination rounds to one). That’s “cleaner,” but wouldn’t be fair to, say, the Panthers or Rangers.

ADAM: The longer this goes on the harder it is going to be to fit in more regular season games, play a full postseason, and then have anything that even resembles a normal offseason to give players a proper rest before starting another 82-game season next fall.

To me, there are only a couple of options here.

The first one is that, assuming we can get started again in a timely manner, you just scrap the regular season. You take the normal playoff teams (top three teams in each division plus the two wild cards) based on points percentage, give them a week or two to practice and get back closer to game shape, and you begin the playoffs. That is unfair to the bubble teams, yes, but if we are being realistic here the standings are probably not going to change that much in the regular season games that were remaining.

The other option is that if you insist on playing more regular season games to make it fair for everyone in the playoff race, you adjust the playoff schedule, maybe taking the first (and maybe even second) rounds from a best-of-seven, to a best-of five. Or maybe make the first-round a best-of-three. Not ideal for anyone, and certainly not something I want to see full-time in the future, but this is a rare circumstance that no one saw happening.

JOEY: I just don’t see how you can miss two months of action, come back, have training camp and then play out the rest of the regular season. I don’t think the league has enough time to do that. Come in, play an exhibition game or two and then you jump right into the playoffs (if they’re insistent on having a champion this year). Instead of having a regular season and shortening each playoff series, just jump into the playoffs.

How would you go about deciding who gets in and who doesn’t? Either go with points percentage or make sure the top 12 teams in each conference have a shot at a playoff spot. Technically, the top 12 teams still had at least a small percentage of making the playoffs. Start the postseason with play-in games and then jump right into it when you get down to eight teams in each conference.

My suggested playoff format would work like this:

12th seed vs. 9th seed
11th seed vs. 10th seed.
Lowest seed remaining vs. 7th seed
Highest seed remaining vs. 8th seed.

The winner of those two matchups get to qualify as the Wild Card teams.

I realize that giving teams like Montreal and Chicago a shot at making the playoffs isn’t fair or ideal, but you have to make the numbers work somehow, and having 12 teams makes sense. Neither of the current Wild Card teams in each conference were guaranteed to make the playoffs, so it’s not like they’re being totally robbed by this format I’m proposing.

Once the “play-in round” is over, then you have the playoffs like you would normally have them.

SCOTT: Based on the latest CDC recommendations, we are at least two months away from returning to action. There will be a severe time crunch to get games in without impacting the 2020-21 season too severely. In addition, there needs to be time for the offseason activities such as the NHL Draft and free agency.

There are five teams in each conference that are above 82 points.

In the East, there should be a play-in game/series between the Penguins and Flyers. In the West, the Oilers should host the Stars. This could be a best of three series if time permits, with the other teams skating in exhibition games to get warmed up.

After the opening-round series are decided, the four teams remaining in each conference will participate in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It is tough to imagine a scenario where we will be able to witness a postseason that lasts two-plus months, but this concept allows the NHL to generate playoff revenue and award the Stanley Cup.

Getty Images

What’s your favorite memory so far of the 2019-20 NHL season?

SEAN: I’m a sucker for a feel-good story and we could certainly use some of those at the moment. Two that stood out to me this season happened a few weeks apart in February.

First, Stephen Johns missed 22 months dealing with post-traumatic headaches. He returned Feb. 3 and scored in his first game back. Making the moment all the more sweeter was that his parents were in attendance for that Stars win at Madison Square Garden.

Then you had the emotional Ottawa return for Bobby Ryan on Feb. 27. It was only his second game back since completing the NHL/NHL Players’ Association assistance program for alcohol addiction. That’s enough of a feel-good moment right there, but the Senators forward had other ideas.

During a 5-2 win over the Canucks, Ryan recorded a hat trick, with two of the three goals coming in the final 2:08 of the game.

JAMES: I racked my brain trying to debate the merits of EBUG vs. a goalie scoring a goal vs. Brad Marchand biffing a shootout chance, and then I realized I was the one who biffed it. Of course my favorite moment of 2019-20 was the Matthew Tkachuk vs. Zack Kassian feud.

I’m not necessarily the most blood-and-guts hockey fan. The danger of the sport has its place, but to me, it really just heightens the incredible skill involved. The Connor McDavids of the world soar down the ice and make balletic magic happen while walking a tightrope of injury. That’s more thrilling than sloppy fights between two people who might be damaging their brains.

But the Kassian – Tkachuk feud was so much more than Kassian grotesquely rag-dolling Tkachuk around.

There were the Tkachuk hits, and the dopey machismo of him telling Kassian to get off the tracks if he didn’t like it.

It’s all amplified by the Battle of Alberta, and two division rivals fighting over relevant playoff positioning.

The trash talking was absolutely glorious, from Tkachuk’s barbs to Kassian’s ominous threats. Let’s not forget that Tkachuk is a legit two-way All-Star, and while Kassian isn’t in Tkachuk’s league, he can still play enough to flirt with keeping up with Tkachuk on a night where Kassian’s puck luck is booming.

The charitable chicanery of the Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton really sealed the deal, though. Glorious stuff, and this took me so long that I might need to put up a billboard to remind myself not to forget that splendor so easily.

(Simpler times, eh?)

ADAM: Have to go with Andrei Svechnikov bringing the lacrosse goal to the NHL, and then doing it again. I always liked Svechnikov because I think he has a chance to be a superstar in the league and is going to eventually help the Carolina Hurricanes do great things.

Then he went and did that.

Critics will say it is not that complicated of a move and that any NHL player can pull it off. That may very well be true. But no one ever had the courage to actually do it. Then he did it again.

JOEY: It has to be Alex Ovechkin’s chase for 700 goals. There’s no guarantee that we’ll see anyone else hit that number and if they do, it won’t happen anytime soon. It was a great story line. Everyone across the hockey world was checking in, paying special attention to Ovechkin and the Capitals. His run has also sparked a debate about whether Wayne Gretzky is the greatest goal scorer of all-time. I’ve also caught myself trying to do the math when it comes to Ovechkin possibly being the first to 900 goals. It was a great story and I’m glad to see he managed to reach the milestone before the NHL went on its pause.

SCOTT: The race between Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes for the Calder Trophy has been fascinating to watch this season. Traditionally, defensemen need more time to round out their game and adjust to the level of competition in the NHL. Both Makar and Hughes have each tallied 50 or more points and have had enormous impacts on their respective NHL clubs.

Adam Fox is also another young blueliner playing big minutes for the New York Rangers. He would be in the rookie-of-the-year conversation, but Makar and Hughes have been a clear step above.

All three skaters played hockey at the collegiate level prior to this season and have begun to pave the way for more NCAA athletes to get opportunities to jump right to the professional level.

The NHL could potentially get even younger if teenage defenseman are able to influence the game as much as Makar, Hughes and Fox have during their inaugural seasons.

AHL’s Utica Comets sell ‘Puck the Virus’ shirts in hopes of helping employees

Utica Comets Puck the Virus shirts proceeds to employees
via Utica Comets

Here’s an opinion: there’s really no excuse for NHL teams not to take care of their employees during this “pause” because of the coronavirus. Maybe you can hem and haw about the arenas being responsible vs. NHL teams … but the point remains: take care of your employees.

Things can be more complicated for teams in leagues that aren’t so rich, though.

The AHL’s Utica Comets are taking a creative (and punny) approach to trying to help raise money for staff members with their “Puck the Virus” shirts. The Syracuse Post-Standard’s Lindsay Kramer reports that proceeds from the shirts will go toward the salaries of about 50 full-time employees who work for Mohawk Valley Garden, the Comets’ parent company.

For a blast from the past, consider this statement from Comets president and former NHL goalie Robert Esche.

Good stuff, and here’s hoping these “Puck The Virus” shirts cover the bases for the Comets’ staff. (Maybe the Canucks could even kick in a little for their AHL affiliate? Just throwing it out there.)

And, just to emphasize it once more: NHL teams, pay your employees. Just make it happen, and no, relying on Brad Marchand to promote fans’ GoFundMe accounts isn’t good enough.

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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.