Tuukka Rask

Key questions for Bruins in 2019-20

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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?

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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.

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.

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.

Ryan O’Reilly wins Conn Smythe Trophy

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As became the story of the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues, they got the ending they wanted on Wednesday, but not the start. The Boston Bruins were dominant for most of the first period, then Ryan O'Reilly changed the course of events. He’s been rather good at that throughout the playoffs and especially in the Stanley Cup Final. For that, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

O’Reilly scored eight goals and 23 points in 26 games to help lead St. Louis to a championship. He only got better as the stakes got higher too, scoring a goal in each of the final four contests of the playoffs. The last player to score a goal in four consecutive Stanley Cup Final games was Wayne Gretzky back in 1985, per NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti.

There were certainly other contenders for the award too. Going into Game 7, Tuukka Rask was regarded as a heavy favorite. After all, he had been dominant throughout the playoffs and entered the deciding contest with a 1.93 GAA and .938 save percentage in 23 postseason starts. There’s a strong argument to be made that he still deserved the Conn Smythe even if Boston lost with Rask allowing four goals on 20 shots tonight.

Another serious option was Jordan Binnington. With a 2.52 GAA and .911 save percentage in 25 starts going into Wednesday’s action, Binnington didn’t share Rask’s glowing statsline. However, Binnington has constantly stepped up when the Blues have needed him the most. Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final was the biggest example of that yet, with him not surrendering the shutout until 17:50 of the third period. If Binnington hadn’t bailed out the Blues during their first period struggles, the course of this contest could have been very different.

Nevertheless, giving the trophy to O’Reilly makes a lot of sense. He led the series in goals (five) and points (nine) and was a major driver of St. Louis’ offense throughout the postseason. You look at events that led the Blues to this day and it’s hard not to think back to last summer when Buffalo dealt O’Reilly to the Blues. If St. Louis hadn’t been able to execute that trade, would they have won it all today? Probably not.

O’Reilly didn’t do it by himself. The Blues were a team of depth and many heroes, but he was a huge difference for this club and for that he’s been rewarded.

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.