Tuukka Rask

Bruins extend extension Jaroslav Halak $2.25M free agent goalies
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Strong free agent goalie market takes a hit as Bruins extend Halak

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In managing to extend Jaroslav Halak for $2.25M for 2020-21, the Bruins landed a nifty bargain. They also dealt a blow to what looks — at least on paper — to be a strong free agent market for goalies.

The Boston Globe’s Matt Porter reports that Halak’s contract includes a $1.25M bonus if he reaches 10+ games played. Those details don’t take away from this being a very nice deal for the Bruins.

Bruins extend Halak to keep together one of the NHL’s best tandems

Look, at 34, I’m not certain that Halak would have nabbed a starting job. From the Flames to the Hurricanes, I could certainly see places where the veteran goalie might make sense as a No. 1, but I understand if there was some apprehension. He’s had some injury issues here and there when asked to carry a larger burden.

But, at minimum, Halak carried the potential to be a strong “platoon” option.

Halak didn’t match Rask this season, but Rask likely deserves to be a Vezina finalist, so that’s no slight. Halak really makes that tandem even better, keeping Rask fresh while winning games. The Czech netminder managed a strong 18-6-6 record with a fabulous .919 save percentage. That’s actually a slight step back from an even better 2018-19 (22-11-4, .922) where he threatened Risk at times for the starting gig.

After a mild dip with the Islanders (.913 save percentage over four seasons), it seemed like Halak might slip into being “only” an average goalie. But, nope, when he joined his pal Zdeno Chara in Boston, Halak returned to sorely underrated status.

NHL teams were already warming up to “load management” even before the COVID-19 pause happened. Under those circumstances, Halak already served as quite the luxury for the Bruins.

Now, with discussions about squeezing games into smaller windows of time floating around? It only makes the team-friendly price that much more appealing.

The Bruins still need to strike a deal with pending UFA Torey Krug, while figuring out what’s next with Chara. Even so, this is a sweet deal for Boston. For Halak? If nothing else, he gains some certainty in uncertain times, and also gets to stick with a team that’s been a strong contender.

PHT takes a closer look at the Bruins:
• Looking at their 2019-20 season
Surprises and disappointments
Long-term outlook

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.

Byfuglien-sized surprises, disappointments for Winnipeg Jets

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 surprises and disappointments for the Winnipeg Jets.

Hellebuyck surprises with heck of a season for Jets

Depending on your interpretation of “most valuable player,” you can make a strong argument that Connor Hellebuyck deserves the Hart Trophy, not just the Vezina.

With injuries and the absence of Dustin Byfuglien dealing huge blows to the Jets’ defense, it’s truly remarkable that Winnipeg entered the pause in playoff position. To that, I offer a simple remark: it’s mainly because of Hellebuyck.

Hellebuyck managed a 31-21-5 record, but of course, it was about more than that. For one thing, you can break down Hellebuyck’s .922 save percentage compared to backup Laurent Brossoit‘s .895.

When you factor in the leaky Jets defense in front of him, Hellebuyck really shines.

Looking at Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Against Average stat, Hellebuyck (22.40) only trails Tuukka Rask (22.51). Anton Khudobin sits in distant third at 17.75, while Darcy Kuemper (16.65) is the only other goalie who reached 14+.

Hellebuyck saved a lot of goals. He saved the Jets’ bacon.

If you choose MVPs based on the most indispensible player of a season, you’d probably pick Hellebuyck.

It’s not shocking that Hellebuyck ended up playing well, but carrying the Jets on his shoulders ranks as one of the bigger surprises of the season.

Neal Pionk > Jacob Trouba?

People understood that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff had to trade Trouba’s rights. While one can only wonder if there was a better way to settle the situation, that moment passed.

Even so, plenty of people scoffed at Pionk being part of the return. Yes, Pionk scored a mind-blowing goal for the Rangers, and showed some scoring skill. But just about every other metric pointed to Pionk being … pretty bad.

Well, the Jets certainly can puff their chests out, because Pionk’s been crucial to their defense.

Now, it’s probably still true that you don’t necessarily want Pionk to be featured this much. An ideal blueline probably won’t lean on Pionk for a team-leading 23:23 per night. Sometimes things aren’t ideal, though. In reality, Pionk delivered incredible value for Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, Trouba looks like an $8M mistake for the Rangers. Pionk’s younger and cheaper than Trouba, and the Jets also nabbed a first-rounder in the deal. It’s remarkable just how similar Pionk and Trouba come across in this even-strength RAPM comparison chart via Evolving Hockey:

Wow. Pionk being arguably better than Trouba is quite the surprise for the Jets, and a massive disappointment for the Rangers.

Disappointments abound for Byfuglien, Jets

So, Pionk ended up being important to the Jets. And Hellebuyck cleaned up the many messes made by Pionk and that shorthanded blueline crew.

But none of it really washes down the disappointments involving Dustin Byfuglien and his now-former team, the Jets.

The COVID-19 pause creates extra uncertainty, but Byfuglien’s future seems like it would be cloudy either way. It’s also fuzzy figuring out what, exactly, happened. The situation ended up disappointing for Byfuglien’s accountant, at minimum, being that he walked away from a lot of money.

Hopefully we’ll get the pleasant surprise of an awkward-but-entertaining game whenever Byfuglien suits up for a different team against the Jets. The point being: it would be deeply, deeply disappointing if we never see the towering, one-of-a-kind defenseman ever play again. Especially since there would be no warning that we’d already seen his last game.

Either way, it was a highly disappointing end to Byfuglien’s lengthy, important stay with the Jets. The connections between the Thrashers days just keep fading away.

MORE ON THE JETS:

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: 30-and-over

Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of Washington Capitals
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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. The first teams created were a 23-and-under and players in their prime.

Connor McDavid and other exciting young players have taken part of the spotlight, but Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin remain the most prominent faces in the NHL. The next roster to enter this mythical best on best tournament consists of players 30-years-of-age-and-over. It has several of the League’s most accomplished players, including numerous skaters with multiple Stanley Cup rings and Olympic gold medals.

Line Combinations

First line: Alex Ovechkin – Sidney Crosby – Patrick Kane

Thoughts: Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks have fallen out of the limelight in recent years after an era of dominance that included three championships. However, Kane has remained one of the most productive players in the NHL and the thought of his on-ice vision combined with Ovechkin’s blistering slapshot strikes fear into the heart of any opponent. Crosby has the wisdom and skill to balance this line to formulate a trio only used in a video game environment.

Second line: Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronBlake Wheeler

Thoughts: The Bruins have had the most complete line in hockey and two/thirds of that trio reside here. Blake Wheeler has the offensive punch coupled with strong defensive instincts to fill the void left by David Pastrnak. This line will be relied upon to matchup with skilled lines from opponents but also will need to contribute on the offensive side of the ice.

Third line: Claude GirouxEvgeni MalkinJakub Voracek

Thoughts: Malkin has been one of the top centermen since bursting onto the scene in 2006-07 and should bring out the best from his new linemates. Giroux and Voracek each took a step backwards in terms of offensive production this season, but the Flyers have emerged as legitimate Cup contenders in Alain Vigneault’s first season behind the bench in Philadelphia. The effectiveness of this line will determine how far this team could advance in the competition.

Fourth line: Jamie BennAnze KopitarT.J. Oshie

Thoughts: Is there anything else a coach could want in his fourth line? A two-time Selke Trophy winner flanked by a power forward and a skilled winger with defensive awareness? This line will start in the defensive zone majority of the time and be needed to flip momentum of the game within the game.

First D pairing: Mark GiordanoJohn Carlson
Second D pairing: Zdeno CharaDrew Doughty
Third D pairing: Ryan McDonaghAlex Pietrangelo

Thoughts: The absence of Shea Weber is jarring at first, but what attribute is missing from this defensive group? The biggest question facing this collection of rearguards is, do they have the foot speed to keep up with the quickness each team in this tournament possesses?

Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask
Backup Goalie: Ben Bishop

Just Missed: Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Carey Price, Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber

Captain: Sidney Crosby

Alternate captains: Patrice Bergeron, Alex Ovechkin

Analysis

The biggest advantage this team has over the competition is experience. Over half of the roster has a Stanley Cup championship under their belt and several players earned multiple championship rings in their respective careers.

Leadership will not be an issue with nine current NHL captains to help this team manage the emotions through this highly competitive tournament.

One area of concern is the speed of the game throughout the competition. Can the defense move the puck up the ice in a timely manner? Can the veteran forwards play at this pace each shift without sacrificing production? This team will be expected to play smart situational hockey and take advantage of special teams opportunities, but can they win even-strength matchups on a consistent basis?

There is an abundance of talent and wisdom up and down the lineup, but will they be able to dictate the pace and play the style they choose, or will they be forced to adapt to the opponents’ preferred style?

The answer to that question will determine how successful this team will be in this imaginary Best on Best tournament.

Surprising omissions

Phil Kessel: He was originally slated to skate alongside Bergeron and Marchand on the second line, but he doesn’t play a strong two-way game that his linemates would have demanded on a consistent basis. It was tough to leave a pure goal scorer like Kessel off the list, but his effectiveness is diminished if not playing in an offensive oriented role.

Steven Stamkos: The captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning is probably the most prolific player left off any roster in this tournament to date, but it was tough to find a spot for the skilled center. Crosby and Bergeron were no-brainers for this team, but the debate was between him and Malkin for the third line slot. The size and strength of the Russian forward were the deciding factors as that toughness will be needed throughout the tournament.

Shea Weber: He could easily slide into any spot along the blueline and the team likely wouldn’t suffer but tough decisions had to be made. The roster is not lacking in the leadership department and the three right-handed shot defensemen selected have the speed needed to keep up with the blazing speed of the competition.


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.

NHL roundup: Rask’s gas, McLellan no fan of No. 1 pick tournament, return of D-Boss?

The NHL and its teams have been making players, coaches and general managers available to the media during the league pause. The availabilities continued on Monday and we learned a few things along the way.

Quarantine stinks: Rask’s gas would keep Chara away

One of the more unexpected things learned Monday was that Tuukka Rask possesses some powerful flatulence. When asked which teammate he’d least like to be quarantined with, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara picked his goaltender.

“The way he farts, the smell is awful,” Chara said. “He like his chicken wings. I sit behind him on the bus and I’ve got tell you, I’ve got control myself sometimes.”

During an Instagram Q&A session Monday, David Pastrnak said that due to Rask’s love of chicken wings and the fact that he owns a sauna at home, he would choose the netminder to be his quarantine buddy.

Pasta did confirm the strength of Rask’s gas.

“His farts are pretty bad, but I think I could overcome it,” Pastrnak said. “I would definitely not skate through his crease anymore than once at practice.”

Rask actually touched on his gassy powers during a 2014 radio interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub. After P.K. Subban revealed that he sometimes lets one rip in front of opposing goalies, the goalie said he wasn’t aware of any bombs dropped in his crease.

“I think in my case, it might be the other way around,” Rask said.

We need Tuukka mic’d up from now on for when action shifts to in front of him.

McLellan no fan of No. 1 draft pick tournament

A tournament with all of the non-playoff teams vying to win the 2020 No. 1 draft choice? Please, no, says Kings head coach Todd McLellan.

“I’m not a fan of it, one bit,” he said. “I don’t think the draft and the draft lottery was put in to reward the winner of a tournament. When you take teams that don’t make the playoffs … so team No. 17, if that’s the number, might miss the playoffs by one point. You compare them to teams at No 31 … there’s a big discrepancy between Nos. 17 and 31. No. 17 is going to have a greater chance of winning, and they’re less likely to need the first pick overall. So to me, it’s counterintuitive to do it that way. It makes no sense. But I’m only one voter.”

And he’s right. You think potential UFA Taylor Hall would want to play extra games to help the Coyotes, a team he may not even play for next season, win the first overall pick? We want to put meaningless mileage on Joe Thornton’s soon-to-be 41-year-old body? The NHLPA would shoot that idea down quickly.

Senators with coronavirus “doing well”

Of the four NHL players who tested positive for COVID-19, two are on the Senators. Brady Tkachuk was asked for an update on them and he said they are feeling good.

“We’re a tight group so we’re always in contact with one another,” he said, “but I think all of us are just concerned about them and everybody impacted by it.”

The players, whose identities were not revealed by the team, tested positive on March 17 and March 21, respectively. The Avalanche have also had two players test positive since the league pause.

Flyers’ Fletcher on keeping touch with his staff

It’s not just NHL players maintaining a group text while we maintain social distancing. Team executives keep them as well, according to Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. He’s been in touch with his assistant GMs Brent Flahr and Barry Hanrahan about contracts and the draft, which was postponed last week. 

“They’re working hard on getting their lists for the draft, watching video, doing reports, having discussions on players and doing things that they would typically do at this time of the year with the obvious exception that we were are not able to watch games live right now,” Fletcher said. “Barry is working on contracts and cap related issues going forward. Obviously, we’ve been able to sign a couple of our unsigned draft choices, Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison recently. Barry’s been on the forefront of those conversations. We stay in touch every day and try to coordinate things that we do. 

“Personally, I am trying to reach out to a lot of our support staff and scouts as well as people like Bob Clarke, Paul Holmgren, Bill Barber and Dave Scott to keep the lines of communication going. To speak to people on a regular basis and just to do what we can to stay busy.”

Fletcher is also staying in touch with his head coach, Alain Vigneault. There’s a lot that can’t be done until the NHL resumes, but there’s still plenty of planning that is taking place for down the road.

“He had been working on his golf swing for a while, but right now he’s like the rest of us, he’s going through notes and trying to stay safe,” said Fletcher. “I speak to AV every week, just once a week. I’ve reached out to quite a few of the coaching staff, scouting staff and supporting staff and try to stay in regular contact with them, whether it’s by a phone call, text or email. We’re all trying to stay in touch and do what we can. 

“Again, for obvious reasons, a lot of our business has been shut down right now. Most of the things we can focus on are matters going forward, whether that’s the draft or signing some of our players. Maybe planning some things for the future.”

Fletcher added that Oskar Lindblom, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in December, has stayed in Philadelphia to continue treatments and is doing well.

The return of D-Boss?

Several years ago video was unearthed of a teenaged Dylan Larkin and his buddy shooting pucks in his basement, a.k.a. “the dungeon,” for a little “snip show,” as he described it. In it, we learned the Red Wings star had given himself the nickname “D-Boss.”

Asked if a prolonged NHL pause could give the world some followup D-Boss videos, Larkin kept the door open.

“It might come, I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve got a little shooting area in the garage — The Dungeon 2.0. I’ll have to get out there and make a video. Fans might like it. We’ll see.”

Capitals GM on finishing the season

Brian MacLellan, whose Capitals are currently atop the Metropolitan Division, was asked about how the NHL should finish its season. There have been many ideas on the subject from playing out all 82 games to going right to the playoffs. He would like to see some number of games before the playoffs begin.

“Fair to me would be all teams play the same number of games both home and away,” MacLellan said. “Depending on the time you have, when or if we come back, you could set the schedule at 72, 74 games as close to possible home and away, if you could even those out, and go from there.”

As far as what a playoff format would look like, it would all depend on the timeframe to award the Stanley Cup.

“There’s no set answer to it because I don’t know how much time we’ll have,” he said. “If we have eight weeks, 10 weeks, do we have more than 10 weeks? Depending on that time frame and if that’s even legitimate at the time, you would have to set your schedule there. So could you shorten the series? Could you shorten the schedule? I think all those options are on the table. I think it’s just how the virus plays out and how we handle and how much time we’d have to get a season in – if we can get a season in at the end.”

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

MORE:
Players doing what they can to stay in shape during NHL hiatus
Crosby, Ovechkin fine if NHL chooses to go right to playoffs
McDavid on NHL resuming play: ‘A fair season is a full season’

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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 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.