Charlie McAvoy

NHL Playoffs: How should top four East teams approach Round Robin?

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While the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams fight to make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Round Robin is merely for seeding. Such a scenario presents the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding teams (four in each conference) with many conundrums, including the age-old rest vs. rust debate.

PHT will take a look at such dilemmas for all eight teams in the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding, starting with the East. We’re going East first because the Bruins a) won the Presidents’ Trophy and b) addressed such debates recently.

We might as well go in order as they would be ranked, too.

Debates for East top four teams heading into NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding

Boston Bruins

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that Bruce Cassidy said he’s open to the idea of resting players during the three-game Round Robin for Seeding.

“Would we like to win all three games? Of course, in a perfect world, but I think with all teams there’s going to be some sort of a preseason mentality worked in with how the lineups are constructed every game,” Cassidy said, via Haggerty. “But if the [veteran players] want to play every game then I’m going to listen to them. It’s their bodies and they would know best. Then in the last game in the third period we’re going to shut our eyes and hope nobody gets hurt in those situations.”

The Bruins are in a heightened situation. While it stings that they may lose the top seeding they earned with 2019-20’s only 100-point season, this is also a roster brimming with veterans.

Most obviously, Cassidy must manage Zdeno Chara (43) and Patrice Bergeron (34). Really, the list goes deeper even than Tuukka Rask, who’s 33.

Brad Marchand is 32, and stands as an example to other contenders. As you may recall, Marchand aggravated a previous hand injury before the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Maybe it was coincidental, but Marchand’s top line struggled during that seven-game slugfest with the Blues. If teams like the Bruins want to go deep, they should emphasize caution most of all.

So, beyond the obvious, there are players who’ve been banged up like Torey Krug. Charlie McAvoy‘s also dealt with bumps and bruises despite ranking as one of the younger Bruins.

Overall, the Bruins rank among the East Round Robin teams with the most incentive to rest key players.

[MORE: How should the West’s top four teams handle rest vs. rust?]

Tampa Bay Lightning

How should the team with the most to lose deal with the Round Robin for Seeding?

Imagine how badly things could play out for the Lightning. We all know that their historic 2018-19 season ended in a stunning first-round sweep. Kenan Thompson mocked it. Andrei Vasilevskiy looked really steamed.

What if the Lightning fall short under these strange circumstances?

It could cost Jon Cooper his job. And there’s the increased risk of scapegoating a lack of “preparedness” if the Lightning take a preseason approach to the Round Robin for Seeding.

You could definitely make the argument that the Lightning took a while to get back into their elite form in 2019-20, too.

But … the Lightning are smarter than to cave to bad takes, right?

Let’s not forget that the Lightning didn’t really take their feet off the gas during that 2018-19 regular season — not really. Rather than resting stars more aggressively, Nikita Kucherov and others chased history.

Personally, it really looked like Victor Hedman was far from 100 percent, even missing some of that first-round sweep.

This Lightning team boasts a fairly old defense beyond Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev. Hedman is 29 already. Steven Stamkos is 30 (ponders own mortality for a second).

Cooper needs to find the right balance. If there’s any hint of failure in that regard, the vultures may start circling.

Washington Capitals

Zooming out, the most logical choice would be for the Capitals to promote rest.

Almost every major Capitals player is 30 or older, with the rare exception of breakthrough winger Jakub Vrana (24). There’s also some incentive to see if Ilya Samsonov (23) is still sharper than Braden Holtby (30).

But 34-year-old Alex Ovechkin doesn’t sit out a whole lot of games. Maybe the unique circumstances (and lack of a Maurice Richard Trophy to chase) might change Ovechkin’s approach, yet it’s not a slam-dunk to sit him. As Cassidy said, coaches will at times defer to players. It wouldn’t be shocking if such an approach occasionally backfires.

All things considered, the Capitals joust with the Bruins for the East Round Robin team with the most to gain from resting aging stars.

Philadelphia Flyers

The knee-jerk reaction would be to say that the Flyers want to shake off rust.

For one thing, the Flyers boast several core players in the younger range. Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are both 23, while Carter Hart is 21. The Flyers also are “playing with house money” as a team that could climb to the top spot if they end up hot during the Round Robin for Seeding.

But the Flyers have plenty of reason to be careful, too.

To start, the drop-off between Hart and Brian Elliott (or another goalie) looks pretty severe. You don’t necessarily want to increase injury risks with Hart, then.

Also, there are veterans to manage. Philly should aim to keep Claude Giroux (32) and Jakub Voracek (30) fresh, not to mention someone like Matt Niskanen (33). While Sean Couturier is only 27, he’s the sort of player you’ll lean on a ton in playoff situations. So you might want to tread lightly there.

Rather than overtaxing go-to guys, this could be an opportunity for others. Could Nolan Patrick crack the lineup if his migraine issues are behind him? Perhaps a prospect from Philly’s impressive farm system will make a jump?

The Flyers have a lot to like about this situation. Even so, they also need to avoid getting too greedy.

MORE ON NHL PLAYOFFS, ROUND ROBIN FOR SEEDING:

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.

Crosby, Ovechkin among NHL stars helping CCM donate 500,000 surgical masks

CCM plans to donate 500,000 surgical masks for COVID-19 healthcare workers
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Hockey equipment company CCM announced plans to donate 500,000 surgical masks to healthcare workers. CCM states that they hope to donate the surgical masks “as early as the week of April 27.” They also stated that Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and other CCM endorsers helped make the donation possible.

“By teaming up with our roster of CCM athletes, we will be able to play a role in the collaborative effort to get past this crisis,” CCM Hockey CEO Rick Blackshaw said in a statement. “We focused on the best use of our network and our resources to have the quickest impact. Sourcing greatly needed equipment through our established supply chain partners in Asia is the most efficient way for us to support and keep our real heroes safe.”

CCM revealed the list of hockey players involved in the initiative: Mathew Barzal, Patrice Bergeron, Brock Boeser, Dani Cameranesi, Brandon Carlo, Thomas Chabot, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Sidney Crosby, Melodie Daoust, Alex DeBrincat, Brianna Decker, Matt Duchene, Matt Dumba, Marc-Andre Fleury, Filip Forsberg, Jake Gardiner, Miro Heiskanen, Filip Hronek, Jonathan Huberdeau, Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Charlie McAvoy, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Artemi Panarin, Carey Price, Vladimir Tarasenko, and John Tavares.

CCM’s plan to donate surgical masks adds to list of contributions from hockey world

This continues atrend of hockey teams, players, and companies contributing in different ways to help people during the coronavirus crisis.

Bauer recently announced its own initiatives (with help from Jack Eichel) involving manufacturing face shields. Bauer even provided instructions on how to make the shields on their website. Mary-Kay Messier explained Bauer’s plans during a recent episode of the Our Line Starts podcast.

Earlier this month, Islanders players helped to donate more than 3,000 N-95 masks to assist local causes.

NHL teams have also taken measures to pay employees during the coronavirus pause, among other meaningful efforts.

None of this erases the sacrifices healthcare workers are making. And this still figures to be a lengthy, difficult process. But it’s fantastic to see many in the hockey world rise to the occasion, CCM included.

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.

A best on best mythical tournament: 23-and-under team

Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres prepares for a faceoff during an NHL game against Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next three Thursdays.

The first team to enter the competition will be a roster comprised of players 23 years of age or younger. Think a Team North America in 2020. In recent years, younger players have made an instant impact at the NHL level and this team is filled with already established superstars.

Line Combinations

First line: Sebastian Aho – Connor McDavid – David Pastrnak

Thoughts: Leon Draisaitl has benefitted greatly from playing alongside McDavid this season and the addition of two dynamic goal scorers (Aho, Pastrnak) should produce an explosive top line. Aho’s ability to light the lamp and create plays should be a perfect fit to round out the group.

Second line: Andrei Svechnikov – Auston Matthews – Patrik Laine

Thoughts: Matthews has the puck-handling skill and on-ice vision to be an elite distributor with Laine alongside him. The size of all three forwards will be tough for most defensive pairings to handle.

Third line: Kyle Connor – Jack Eichel – Mikko Rantanen

Thoughts: Can this line match up with the opposition’s best and still produce offensively? The trio has the skill to be a top line for most NHL teams, but these three will be relied upon to play a smart, efficient, two-way game.

Fourth line: Matthew Tkachuk – Dylan Larkin – Mitchell Marner

Thoughts: The inclusion of Larkin over a Mathew Barzal or Elias Pettersson will raise some questions, but he was the best option to be a fourth line center and contribute on the penalty kill. Matthew Tkachuk will provide some toughness and size to add an important element to the group.

First D pairing: Zach Werenski – Cale Makar
Second D pairing: Thomas Chabot – Charlie McAvoy
Third D pairing: Rasmus Dahlin – Adam Fox

Thoughts: The second pairing will likely match up against the opposition’s best, but each combination has a strong mix of complementary characteristics. I initially thought it would be tough to find a strong group of mature defensemen in this age range, but these players have established themselves as high-end D-men.

Starting Goalie: Carter Hart
Backup Goalie: Ilya Samsonov

Just Missed: Mathew Barzal, Quinn Hughes, Travis Konecny, Elias Pettersson, Ivan Provorov

Captain: Connor McDavid
Alternate captains: Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy

Analysis

This team should not struggle to score with a ton of fire power in the offensive unit. With two of the top three and six of the top 10 goal scorers from the current season, it will be hard to contain this prolific group of forwards.

Two areas of weakness for this team are its ability to play a strong two-way game in even strength situations and kill off timely penalties. Players of this ilk have the ability to play any style but the question will be if players like Eichel and Marner could buy in to a defensive oriented role.

Additionally, their goaltenders are unproven but have the talent needed to play against the world’s best.

Nevertheless, the amount of skill on this team should help them overcome any obstacles and be a formidable challenge for any opponent. The roster has several established leaders, but young stars of the NHL are always eager to prove they belong in the conversation with the game’s best. Channeling that emotion in the proper way could be the difference between a successful tournament run or an early exit.

Surprising omissions:

Quinn Hughes: The young blueliner has been sensational for the Canucks. He is currently in a tight race with Makar for the Calder Trophy awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. But the team will need size on the backend and cannot carry three undersized defensemen.

Elias Pettersson: The Swedish center is an excellent talent but didn’t fill a need when creating the lineup. While his talent is immense, this is a player that received the short end of the stick in order to build the most complete roster.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

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 DeBrusk, 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.