25 questions for the 2019-20 NHL season

A new NHL season always brings a lot of questions that need to be answered, from the who the contenders and pretenders are, to potential coaching changes, to free agent finds and flops to identifying the breakout players. We dig into all of those areas — plus many more — as we ask 25 important questions about the 2019-20 NHL season.  1 of 25

What will the Blues do for an encore?

For the first time ever, the St. Louis Blues are entering a season on top of the NHL’s mountain, defending the Stanley Cup. General manager Doug Armstromg strengthened the roster just before the start of the season by trading for Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes, adding to an already strong defense. A lot of the season will rely on Jordan Binnington’s ability to repeat his second half — and postseason — performance.  2 of 25

Will the Avalanche match the hype?

Big things are expected in Denver this season, and for good reason. The Avalanche advanced to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago, have as much young talent as any team in the league, bolstered their depth over the summer and still have the salary cap space to add much more help if needed. They are poised to make a serious championship run right now. But with great expectations comes great pressure, and they will definitely not be sneaking up on anyone this season.  3 of 25

How will the Lightning bounce back from their latest postseason disappointment?

Of all the postseason disappointments the Lightning have had over the past five years, their Round 1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was by far the worst. They won 62 games and tied a league record, seemed destined to return to the Stanley Cup Final and then failed to win a single playoff game. They are still the best team in the league on paper, but expectations are going to be through the roof to finally get over the hump. The Blues and Washington Capitals eventually shook their postseason disappointment labels…now it is up to the Lightning to shake theirs.  4 of 25

Will Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs finally do something that matters?

It may seem like a harsh question to ask, but so far the Babcock era in Toronto has produced a lot of hype and nothing but a bunch of third-place finishes and Round 1 losses in the playoffs, including two in a row to the Boston Bruins. Yes, the division is tough at the top. Yes, the Leafs lost two Game 7s to a great team. But they should have higher expectations by this point while a Babcock-coached team has made it to the second round just once in more than a decade. That cannot continue to be acceptable.  5 of 25

Will anyone challenge Alex Ovechkin?

Ovechkin is the most dominant goal scorer in the history of the league and is not slowing down. He has won the league’s goal crown in seven of the past eight seasons and has rarely been challenged. Can anyone top him this season? Look for John Tavares, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak and Steven Stamkos to be the closest.  6 of 25

Connor McDavid or Nikita Kucherov for the scoring title?

These two have been the top point producers in the NHL over the past three seasons and seem destined to hold their places at the top for the near future and continue to compete for the Art Ross Trophy. Who takes it this year? McDavid managed to overtake Kucherov with a late surge two years ago, while Kucherov bounced back in 2018-19 with a 128-point season that was one of the best offensive seasons of the modern era.  7 of 25

Are the Jets finished as contenders?

It is just really difficult to see a path for them to compete. Their defense was already decimated, and with the uncertainty around Dustin Byfuglien’s future (will he retire or won’t he?) it could quickly get worse. Add in the fact St. Louis, Colorado Dallas, and Nashville all made big moves around them to try and get better, and this is a season that could be really ugly, really fast.  8 of 25

Which coaches are on the hot seat?

ou know at some point multiple teams will make a coaching change. It could be a bad team that has run out of answers and has no other card to play, or it could be a contender that is off to a slow start and looks to shake things up. Some names to watch: Bruce Boudreau in Minnesota, Paul Maurice in Winnipeg and Jeff Blashill in Detroit.  9 of 25

Which top rookie will win the Calder Trophy?

This year’s rookie class looks to be exceptionally deep with potential impact players all over the league. The top two picks in the draft, Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, will help reignite the Devils-Rangers rivalry, while young defenders Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes should make big impacts in Colorado and Vancouver. Those four seem to be the preseason favorites, but who else will emerge? 10 of 25

Which free agent signings will work? Which ones will flop?

Free agency is always a massive gamble, and there were some pretty significant contracts signed this summer. The early front-runner for most successful signing would seem to be Artemi Panarin in New York, while Joe Pavelski could be just what the Stars need. Sergei Bobrovsky may become an issue five years from now in Florida, but in the short term he should be solid. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Kevin Hayes in Philadelphia, Brandon Tanev in Pittsburgh and Tyler Myers in Vancouver all look like investments who are destined to end in a trade or a buyout.  11 of 25

Will the Blackhawks get back to the playoffs?

Not long ago they were the NHL’s most successful team, but they enter this season riding a two-year postseason drought and are still clinging to the hope that their veteran core has a chance to still compete. The offense is there, but did they do enough to address the defense? And if they did not, will they think about moving on from longtime general manager Stan Bowman? 12 of 25

Will the Islanders regress?

No performance was more unexpected last season than the one-year turnaround of the Islanders, going from 31st in the league in goals against to first and overcoming the free agent departure of John Tavares to advance to the second round of the playoffs. But there were a lot of red flags in that performance and the table seems to be set for a regression this season, especially if Semyon Varlamov cannot match Robin Lehner’s performance in goal. Can they find the magic again? Most teams in this situation do not.  13 of 25

Are Panthers a playoff team?

Honestly, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be. They already have some key pieces in place — the biggest being Aleksander Barkov — and they made some huge additions in the offseason with the hiring of a future Hall of Fame coach ( Joel Quenneville) and the signing of a franchise goalie. The latter was the biggest missing piece they had, and for the money they spent and the core they have in place, the playoffs should be a bare minimum expectation this season.  14 of 25

Will the Sabres show any progress?

When the Sabres started to rebuild way back in the Tim Murray era, the expectation was that the process would eventually produce positive results. Those results should have started by now. The Sabres are entering the season riding an eight-year postseason drought (the NHL’s longest) and have stuck in place for most of that time. They have two franchise players (Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin) but not much else around them. They have topped 81 points in a season just once since 2011. They still seem to be light years behind the top teams in their division.  15 of 25

What is the Hurricanes’ ceiling?

Every year the Hurricanes were always a preseason sleeper pick in the NHL, and every year for one reason or another they would find a way to underwhelm. That has all changed and after their trip to the Eastern Conference Final, they will be entering this season with real expectations. Their defense is as deep as any other unit in the league, they have an underrated group of forwards led by Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter and Andrei Svechnikov and an exciting style of play that makes them a must-see team. They are for real, and they are not going away.  16 of 25

Will Evgeni Malkin bounce back?

This is the big question in Pittsburgh. Even though his final point total from the 2018-19 season was strong, it was clearly one of Malkin’s toughest years in the league. He slowed down considerably after a fast start and never seemed to be happy with his game. He arrived in camp motivated and with a chip on his shoulder, ready to show he is still one of the game’s best. If he does, the Penguins could once again be tough to beat. 

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/25_questions_for_the_2019_20_nhl_season/s1__30112646#slide_1

By: Adam Gretz

Flames re-sign Matthew Tkachuk to three-year, $21M deal

The Calgary Flames have finally found some common ground with restricted free agent  Matthew Tkachuk. The young forward has signed a three-year contract worth a total of $21M, ending a long negotiation and getting him back in the fold before the season begins. Darren Dreger of TSN adds that like Brayden Point, Tkachuk will have a $9M salary in the third year, securing a large qualifying offer that could take him right to unrestricted free agency.

A deal of this magnitude not only gives Tkachuk the highest three-year bridge deal in history (eclipsing Point, who signed for three years at $6.75M), it also makes him the highest-paid player on the entire Flames roster. While that has more to do with the bargains that are Johnny Gaudreau ($6.75M) and Sean Monahan ($6.375M), it also shows just how good Tkachuk has been throughout his young career.

Still just 21 years old, the sixth-overall pick from the 2016 draft has now amassed 174 points in 224 NHL games and is coming off a 34-goal campaign. His offense has continued to improve while the rest of his game — most notably his physicality and ability to get under the skin of opponents — allows him to make an impact no matter the score. The fact that he is able to compete in that fashion while not taking a ton of penalties (his 62 PIM in 2018-19 put him alongside players like Nikita Kucherov, Blake Wheeler and Ryan Strome) makes him one of the unique talents in the NHL and incredibly valuable to the Flames.

Even so, this deal certainly isn’t a perfect scenario for the Flames. Not only does it keep them in an extremely difficult cap situation this season, Tkachuk could now potentially get to unrestricted free agency as soon as possible by accepting that $9M qualifying offer. The team will have to open extension talks at some point before that happens or risk their prize hitting the open market. Coincidentally, both Gaudreau and captain Mark Giordano have contracts that expire in 2022 as well, giving the team some real flexibility when it comes to extensions.

There’s no doubt that getting Tkachuk back under contract is cause for celebration in Calgary, but the new structure of these bridge deals is something to be concerned about for many teams. Introduced really for the first time by Timo Meier earlier this year, restricted free agents have found a way to create leverage for themselves as they near UFA status. Meanwhile those who sign long-term and give up UFA years like Mitch Marner are getting huge dollar figures right up front, meaning teams will have to be more and more conscious of leaving enough room to get their young players signed.

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/flames_re_sign_matthew_tkachuk_to_three_year_21m_deal/s1_14825_30089204

By: Gavin Lee

Winners and losers from 2019 NHL free agency

NHL free agency can be a difficult thing for general managers to navigate. They think they are adding the missing piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle but are often times overpaying a player who will one day have to bought out or traded. Sometimes, though, teams make it work. Here we take a look at the winners and losers of the 2019 NHL free agency period. This is ONLY focusing on free agents and not the draft or trades.  1 of 23

Buffalo Sabres: winner

t has been a strong offseason for the Sabres, who re-signed Jeff Skinner and added Jimmy Vesey and Colin Miller via trade. They also dipped into the free agency pool by getting Marcus Johansson on a cheap deal from the Boston Bruins. They are still probably a long way from the playoffs, but they took a nice step closer this summer.  2 of 23

Calgary Flames: loser

The Flames had one major flaw on their roster during the 2018-19 season in net: goalie. They attempted to address it but did so in a rather disappointing way by signing Cam Talbot, statistically one of the worst goalies in the NHL this past season, to a one-year contract. Maybe getting out of Edmonton and playing behind a better defensive team will help. If it doesn’t, it is an inadequate offseason for the Flames.  3 of 23

Carolina Hurricanes: winner

The Hurricanes picked up Ryan Dzingel on a cheap, short-term deal and also managed to lock up Sebastian Aho on a long-term contract thanks to some help from the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens’ weak offer sheet attempt was an easy match for the Hurricanes and helped them avoid a summer of negotiating with their franchise player.  4 of 23

Chicago Blackhawks: winner

Stan Bowman has been a busy man this offseason, trying to get the Blackhawks back to the playoffs, making multiple trades and adding one fairly significant free agent. That was goalie Robin Lehner, a Vezina Trophy finalist from this past season with the New York Islanders. Lehner will be a great complement to Corey Crawford and a fantastic insurance policy if Crawford is injured again.  5 of 23

Colorado Avalanche: winner

The Avalanche are building a powerhouse in Denver. They made a blockbuster trade with Toronto to get Nazem Kadri while also adding Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi to help round out their forward depth. This is a Stanley Cup contender right now and is only going to get better, plus Colorado still has more salary cap space than almost every other team in the league. 

Columbus Blue Jackets: loser

Gustav Nyquist was a nice addition at a decent value, but the free agency exodus that saw Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel walk out the door leaves several significant holes on the roster. 

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/winners_and_losers_from_2019_nhl_free_agency/s1__29539724#slide_6

By: Adam Gretz

2019 NFL MVP favorites and odds

The NFL quarterbacks’ MVP dynasty

Two gifted running backs — Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson — won the Associated Press NFL MVP Award in consecutive seasons, 2005-2006. Since then, 11 of the past 12 MVPs have been quarterbacks, including 2018 top dog Patrick Mahomes who earned 41 of the 50 first-place votes. Fellow quarterback Drew Brees finished second. So Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season — less than a year removed from a torn ACL — remains the last time somebody other than an NFL quarterback hoisted the NFL MVP hardware.

Spoiler alert: Based on the favorites to win the 2019 MVP, don’t expect this trend to change anytime soon.

Odds via Bovada 2 of 16

Cam Newton

Odds: +2,500
2018 Stats: 3,395 pass yards, 24 TDs and 13 INTs | 488 rush yards  and four TDs

A shoulder injury may have cost Newton the final two games on paper, but anybody who watched the Panthers quarterback grind out the 2018 season knows it cost the team much more. Carolina started the season 6-2 and in a prime position to reach the playoffs. However, the severity of Newton’s shoulder injury prevented him from throwing balls down field and allowed defenses to cheat up and play the underneath routes. After the hot start, the Panthers lost seven of their last eight games. Newton had offseason surgery to repair the shoulder, and he’s expected to be back at 100 percent by the start of the season. His MVP chances ride on improved play of DJ Moore, Jarius Wright and a healthy Greg Olsen. The veteran tight end has missed 16 games over the past two seasons due to injury, but when healthy he’s Cam’s most trusted target. If Olsen misses time, running back Christian McCaffrey’s MVP odds could be just as high as Cam’s. 3 of 16

Philip Rivers

Odds: +2,000
2018 stats: 4,308 pass yards, 32 TDs and 12 INTs

Rivers may be the NFL equivalent of MLB’s Cal Ripken. The Chargers ironman has not missed a game for 13 consecutive seasons. While the league has gone to great lengths to protect the quarterback, the fact Rivers hasn’t sustained a serious injury over the past 208 games is nothing short of a miracle. Led by Keenan Allen, his receiving corps remains intact and receives a slight upgrade with the full-time return of tight end Hunter Henry who missed the 2018 regular season with a torn ACL. The one constant who is missing as of press time is Melvin Gordon. The Chargers starting running back is holding out in hopes of a new contract. If Gordon’s holdout lingers into the regular season, Rivers’ odds of winning the 2019 MVP should take a notable hit. 4 of 16

Jimmy Garoppolo

Odds: +3,300
2018 stats: 718 pass yards, five TDs and three INTs (in only three games due to torn ACL)

The saying goes, “we don’t know what we don’t know,” and when it comes to Jimmy G. what we don’t  know outweighs his elite hype. Garoppolo has yet to play in more than six regular-season games and missed the final 13 games of the 2018 season with a torn ACL. So the 2019 season will be a fresh canvas on which to either paint a masterpiece and fill in those unknown gaps OR post pedestrian stats as he has through his first nine games as the 49ers quarterback: 12:8 TD:INT ratio. If you’re looking for a reason to back this long shot, Kyle Shanahan’s offensive schemes will benefit — not hurt — Jimmy G’s shot at the 2019 MVP. 5 of 16

Matt Ryan

Odds: +3,000
2018 Stats: 4,924 pass yards, 35 TDs and seven INTs

Ryan was one of only four quarterbacks last season to finish with more than 600 pass attempts. Aside from a pass-first offense, the primary reason his pass attempts reached a three-year high is due to a host of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, which turned the secondary into Swiss-cheese city, and opponents racked up early leads. So Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley (10 TDs as a rookie) and others spent most of the game in rally mode via the pass. If the defense can stay healthy, the Falcons are one of those squads that could flip the script and qualify for the playoffs one year after missing them. Ryan is as consistent as they come and despite turning 30 years old, Jones will go down as one of the top targets in NFL history. 6 of 16

Ben Roethlisberger

Odds: +3,000
2018 Stats: 5,129 pass yards, 34 TDs and 16 INTs

Without Le’Veon Bell last season, Roethlisberger led the NFL in completions (career-high), attempts (career-high), passing yards (career-high) and pass yards per game. The loss of both Bell and Antonio Brown will no doubt change the Steelers’ offensive dynamic, but don’t sleep on wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to fill Brown’s shoes as Big Ben’s primary receiver in addition to a healthy running game of James Connor and Jaylen Samuels behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. While many believe the AFC North torch has been passed to Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns, an MVP season by Roethlisberger would mute any chance of that happening. 7 of 16

Deshaun Watson

Odds: +2,000
2018 Stats: 4,165 pass yards, 26 TDs and nine INTs | 551 rush yards and five TDs

The good news for Watson is that he’ll probably compete for an NFL MVP one day. The bad news is that unless his offensive line play improves 1,000 percent, he won’t be among the 2019 MVP finalists. Remember: Despite mobility that rivals Russell Wilson, Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times. To be fair some of those sacks were no doubt Watson’s fault. However, as of early August, head coach Bill O’Brien admits he still doesn’t know who will start on the offensive line. How does this not get addressed in the offseason? Forget Watson’s MVP chances. The Texans could find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. 8 of 16

Mitch Trubisky

Odds: +2,000
2018 Stats: 3,223 pass yards, 24 TDs and 12 INTs

The Chicago Bears 2018 defense ranked first in points allowed and against the rush, third in turnover differential (+12) and seventh against the pass. Its pass offense ranked outside the top 20. So the obvious question becomes where can Trubisky improve in his third year when the top three receiving targets remain the same and the Bears front office elected to shake up the running back depth chart after averaging 121 rush yards per game last season (11 th)? It’s a loaded question. Despite an above-average arm and 421 rush yards and three rush TDs last season, it’s hard to fathom Trubisky making enough of a statistical leap toward MVP when the most valuable players — plural — on the team likely reside on the defensive side of the ball. 9 of 16

Russell Wilson

Odds: +2,500
2018 Stats: 3,448 pass yards, 35 TDs and seven INTs

Because the Seahawks averaged a league-leading 160 yards per game last season, Wilson’s passing totals were the lowest since 2014. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for the Seahawks to make another Super Bowl run, the offense needs to find a consistent passing game aside from Wilson running for his life on third and long. Wilson was sacked 51 times last season, but that total could have been higher if not for his elite mobility out of the pocket. So the offensive line play must improve, and Pete Carroll needs to find lighting in a bottle with second-round draft pick DK Metcalf. The 6-foot-4, 228-pound receiver out of Ole Miss is a polarizing brand, but Wilson has no choice but to embrace the rookie because without Doug Baldwin, No. 3’s primary target is 5-foot-11, 175-pound speedster Tyler Lockett. 10 of 16

Carson Wentz

Odds: +1,200
2018 Stats: 3,074 pass yards, 21 TDs and seven INTs (11 games)

Wentz’s 2017 season was cut short due to an ACL tear, and he missed the final three games of the 2018 season with a stress fracture in his back. The knock of Wentz is that these annual ailments date back to high school. However, when you place the injury history on the back burner and assess a potential 16-game campaign for the Eagles quarterback, it’s evident he has the talent and players around him to make a run at an MVP and Super Bowl title. One guy who will help him reach those goals is DeSean Jackson. The speedy, downfield receiver returns to Philadelphia at age 32 and should allow for Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor to enjoy softer coverages this season. Also, the arrival of Jordan Howard should improve the Eagles 28 th-ranked running game of a season ago, which should also boost Wentz’s MVP odds.

By: Ryan Fowler

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/2019_nfl_mvp_favorites_and_odds/s1__29673998#slide_1

Artemi Panarin agrees to record seven-year, $81.5M with Rangers

After the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche all made huge pitches to try and convince Artemi Panarin to join their squads, it ends up being the New York Rangers who will acquire his services moving forward. The Rangers have agreed to terms on a seven-year, $81.5M deal with Panarin.

Panarin, 27, was the consensus No. 1 in our Top 50 UFAs this season and will immediately become the highest-paid winger in the entire NHL. His cap hit is will be more than $1M higher than Patrick Kane’s $10.5M from several years ago and well ahead of the recent market set by Nikita Kucherov and Mark Stone at $9.5M. Part of that is the fact that he actually got to unrestricted free agency, but there is good reason to think he will be able to perform at a high level for quite some time.

In the four years he has played in North America, the originally undrafted Panarin has only gotten better. Setting a career high with 87 points last season in just 79 games, he proved that he could create offense with any type of linemate and established himself as a legitimate superstar in the NHL. That’s exactly what the Rangers were waiting for and have now had quite the summer. They already traded for both Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba to improve their blue line and drafted Kaapo Kakko second overall. Panarin’s contract is extremely expensive but also puts the Rangers in line to compete for the playoffs as soon as next season.

By: Gavin Lee

Original Article

Ryan O’Reilly joins Wayne Gretzky in Stanley Cup Final record books

Ryan O’Reilly has joined impressive company in the Stanley Cup record books.

O’Reilly scored the first goal of Game 7 on Wednesday to give his St. Louis Blues a 1-0 lead over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. That was the fourth straight Stanley Cup Final game in which O’Reilly had scored, something last accomplished by Wayne Gretzky in 1985.

O’Reilly scored on a deflection with just over three minutes to go in the first period.

Alex Pietrangelo added another goal with seven seconds left in the period to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead through the first period.

O’Reilly actually has five goals in four games as he scored twice in the Blues’ Game 4 win. For his performance in the Final, as well as the rest of the postseason, O’Reilly was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Blues hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in franchise history.

Original Article

By: Larry Brown

Stanley Cup Final: The names to know

The Blues and Bruins not only had success in the standings, but they also looked like championship-level teams with the way they played, controlling possession, playing great defensively, getting great goaltending and finding secondary scoring to go with their dynamic top line players.

Both teams have continued that level of play throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and now they are meeting in a rematch of the 1970 series that was won on Bobby Orr’s legendary overtime goal. With the series set to begin, let us take a look at some of the most important names you need to know.

Those include the star players, the goalies, the coaches and a group of people who do not actually play for either team.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins —  Everything with the Bruins revolves around Marchand. He is their best offensive player and one of the most productive in the entire NHL. He is a top-tier goalscorer and an excellent playmaker, and he combines all of that with an outstanding defensive game that makes him one of the most complete players in the league. He is also almost certainly going to do something — maybe even several things — that draw the ire of the Blues and their fans or pretty much anyone that is not a Bruins fan. Along with being a top-10 offensive player, he is also the most effective pest and agitator in the league. Sometimes he takes that heel role a little too far and gets himself in trouble, running the risk of an ejection or a suspension (or actually getting ejected or suspended), but it is a part of his game and it is not going anywhere. One way or another he will be one of the main attractions in this series.

The Goalies: Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington —  We mentioned them in our look at the potential X-factors in the series, but they really need to be mentioned again because they will play such an enormous role in who wins this series. Rask is not only playing the best hockey of his career this postseason, but he also is currently putting together one of the single best postseason goaltending performances ever, at least from save percentage and goals against standpoints. He has played on this stage before, backstopping the Bruins to the 2012-13 Stanley Cup Final where they were defeated by the Chicago Blackhawks, but he has yet to be “the man” in net for a championship run. This is obviously his best chance. Binnington, meanwhile, has a far smaller resume and track record at the NHL level but has been one of the most surprising individual success stories in the league. At the start of the year, he was nothing more than an afterthought in the Blues organization and is now one of the biggest reasons the team is playing in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 1969-70 season.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues —  Tarasenko is the Blues’ most dangerous player and is heading into the Stanley Cup Final riding a six-game point streak, finding the score sheet in every single game of the Western Conference Final. Along with being a consistent 35-40 goal-scorer since becoming a regular in the NHL, Tarasenko is also one of the best postseason goalscorers ever. His 0.476 goals per game average in the playoffs is not only higher than his career regular-season total, but it is also second best among all active players and in the top 25 in the history of the league. He had a slow start to the playoffs but has looked unstoppable over the past two weeks.

David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins —  One of the biggest reasons the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window reopened over the past couple of years has been the emergence and development of young players like Pastrnak and McAvoy. They needed another wave of talent to come through their system and complement the core of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara, and these two have been everything the Bruins could have possibly hoped for them to be. Pastrnak has become one of the top goal-scoring wingers in the NHL (38 goals in only 66 regular-season games this season), while McAvoy is the perfect modern-day No. 1 defender given his skating, ability to jump into the play and lead the rush and overall brilliance.

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues —  After a disappointing regular season that saw him score just 11 goals in 69 games, Schwartz has put together a Conn Smythe-worthy performance in the playoffs, already eclipsing his regular-season total. He is one of just three players in NHL history to have scored at least 10 goals in the playoffs and exceed his regular-season total. He has two hat tricks and two game-winning goals so far this postseason.

The referees: Gord Dwyer, Steve Kozari, Wes McCauley, Chris Rooney, Kelly Sutherland — The NHL would probably prefer that you did not know the names of this group, but given the way the playoffs have gone so far you might soon become acquainted with them. Officiating has been the sub-plot of the 2019 postseason due to the controversial calls, missed calls and messed up calls that have severely impacted games. Every round has been affected in some way by the officiating, and the NHL has to be hoping that trend does not continue in the Stanley Cup Final.

The top centers: Patrice Bergeron and Ryan O’Reilly —  This series will feature two of the best two-way centers in the NHL when Bergeron (Bruins) and O’Reilly (Blues) go head to head. Bergeron is the standard against whom all other defensive forwards are measured in the NHL right now and is just as dominant with the puck on his stick as he is without it. He will score, he will shut down your top scorer and he will dominate every phase of the game when he is at his best. O’Reilly may not quite be on his level (few players are), but he is not far behind. He, too, blends top-line offense and stellar defensive play and also has the ability and discipline to play big minutes against the league’s best players, play them tough and still stay out the of the penalty box at astonishingly low rate.

Full Article

By: Adam Gretz

Zdeno Chara back at practice, on track to begin Stanley Cup Final

Zdeno Chara , 42, might not be the same player he was 10 or even five years ago, but he is still an integral part of the Boston Bruins’ success this season and postseason. When the veteran defenseman was forced to sit out Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes, there was some panic from the fan base and likely a little within the organization as well. However, Chara’s teammates buckled down and ended the series in convincing fashion and in doing so bought their captain another 11 days of rest before the Stanley Cup Final. While many assumed that would be enough to get him back on the ice, there was no timeline for his return from an undisclosed injury.

That is until today, when Bruins provided some clarity on Chara’s status. According to NHL.com’s Eric Russo, Chara was back as a full participant in practice today, after only skating and working out over the weekend. Following the full 45-minute session, Chara was feeling good:

It was nice to be out there again, skated [on Sunday] then skated with the team. It was a good practice, good pace. I’m taking it one day at a time. [Tuesday’s] an off day, but get back at it on Wednesday… I’m not gonna lie, watching games is not fun. You want to play them and you want to be involved. For sure it was something that [I] was feeling that kind of anxiousness to play. But guys did a great job, won the game, so that’s great.

Chara is eager to get back in action and, considering his apparent health with a week still to go before puck drop on Game 1, he is well on his way to doing just that. As the respected veteran said, it is “one day at a time” right now, but Chara is certainly on track to be ready for the Stanley Cup Final. As the Bruins wait to see who they’ll be playing, they know that Chara is an important asset regardless. The future Hall of Famer remains one of the more dominating defensive presences in the game and hopes to put his ability and experience to work in pursuit of a second Stanley Cup title.

By: Zach Leach

Original Article

Watch: Brad Marchand taunts Justin Williams over penalty

Boston’s Brad Marchand is known for being arguably the biggest instigator in the NHL, and he was back at it on Sunday during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Bruins and Hurricanes.

Marchand took Hurricanes captain Justin Williams down with a high stick late in the second period, and the referees only called a penalty when Williams got in Marchand’s face and yanked his chin strap. Marchand then pointed to the penalty box and taunted Williams by making a “C” with his hand and putting it up to his chest.

In other words, Marchand was ridiculing Williams for taking a dumb penalty as his team’s captain. It proved costly, too, as the Bruins scored on the power play to take a commanding 4-0 lead into the third period.

When compared to some of the things Marchand has done to opponents in the past, that was nothing. Williams is just lucky Marchand didn’t lick him.

By: Steve DelVecchio

Original Article

Ville Pokka, Klas Dahlbeck staying in KHL

An NHL career never did materialize for former Chicago Blackhawks top prospect Ville Pokka. After a trade last season took him to the Ottawa Senators organization, he bolted for the KHL and signed with Avangard Omsk in the summer. Pokka has now signed a one-year extension with his KHL club, ending any chance he was going to return to North America this year. Klas Dahlbeck , who played for Chicago as well as the Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes, has also re-upped in the KHL, signing a one-year extension with CSKA Moscow.

Pokka, 25, was originally selected 34th overall by the New York Islanders in 2012, but was one of the big pieces sent to Chicago for Nick Leddy in 2014. At that point, the young defenseman looked like a potential star after putting up 27 points in 54 games during his final year in Finland. Pokka got off to a great start with the Rockford IceHogs, and continued to rack up points throughout his minor league career. Unfortunately, his foot speed and defensive awareness were just never enough to earn a chance at the NHL level. He was traded to Ottawa without ever suiting up for Chicago.

Dahlbeck meanwhile was also a Blackhawks prospect for a time, selected by them in the third round of the 2011 draft. He made his debut for the club during the 2014-15 season but was sent to Arizona along with a first-round pick to bring Antoine Vermette to Chicago. He would end up playing 170 NHL games before leaving last season for the KHL, and won a Gagarin Cup with CSKA recently.

By: Gavin Lee

Original Article