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.

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By: Adam Gretz

10 thoughts after the NHL trade deadline

In a lot of ways the 2019 NHL trade deadline was a predictable one.

The Ottawa Senators sold off their few remaining good players. The Nashville Predators were heavy buyers. Teams like the Calgary Flames and New York Islanders that appear to be ahead of schedule did not mess with what has worked for them so far and decided to stay the course and see where their current rosters can take them. There also were not really any major shockers, outside of maybe Mikael Granlund being traded by Minnesota, in terms of the players who did get moved.

But there were still a few surprises thrown in.

The Columbus Blue Jackets went wild and mortgaged their short-term future for the hope of even shorter-term success, the San Jose Sharks doubled down on their confidence in Martin Jones, the Vegas Golden Knights went after the big fish again and the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals made some minor tweaks to their rosters.

We examine all of that and more with 10 thoughts and observations after the NHL trade deadline.

1.  Columbus has everything riding on this season

Keeping Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky was a pretty good indication that the Columbus Blue Jackets were willing to see what they could do this season instead of being resigned to the fact they will lose both over the summer, and thus trading them before the deadline. But then they doubled down on that by being the biggest buyers at the deadline by giving up draft picks and prospects for rentals Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid. That leaves the Blue Jackets with six unrestricted free agents after this season (including Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene and Dzingel) and only two draft picks in the 2019 class: a third-rounder and a seventh-rounder. That is the definition of “all-in.” The wild thing about this is that they are not even a lock to make the playoffs. This could all go south very quickly if they do not secure one of the top eight seeds in the Eastern Conference.

2. The Sharks have everything riding on Martin Jones

The San Jose Sharks made themselves better at the trade deadline by getting Gustav Nyquist from the Detroit Red Wings, making an already deep team that much stronger. They did not, however, address the biggest question mark facing them: goaltending. The tag-team duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell has not played up to a championship level this season and that could prove to be the team’s ultimate undoing in the playoffs. Jones has never been one to steal games for the Sharks, but he has always been, at worst, a league-average to slightly above-league-average starter. If he can return to that form and play at that level, the Sharks will be a formidable team in the playoffs. If he does not, it could derail a potential championship season.

3. The Flames have a lot of faith in their team

The San Jose Sharks added Nyquist. The Vegas Golden Knights added Mark Stone. The Nashville Predators added Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds. The Winnipeg Jets added Kevin Hayes. All of the top contenders in the Western Conference added a significant player. The Calgary Flames? Added Oscar Fantenberg. A depth defender. No insurance in goal. No additional depth up front. They are riding into the playoffs with the team that has gotten them to this point in the season. Sometimes that is a good thing.

4. The Detroit Red Wings probably should have done more

It is a few years overdue, but the Detroit Red Wings have finally started to rebuild their aging, expensive, declining roster. They have assembled a ton of draft picks and have at least set themselves up for a chance to restock the cupboards. But why didn’t they do more? Trading Nyquist was a necessary move, given his pending status as a UFA, but was there really no market for Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall, Thomas Vanek or any other veteran on the team? It just seems like there was a chance here to move more players and get even more draft picks for the future.

5. The Nashville Predators love blockbusters

David Poile has assembled a powerhouse team in Nashville and somehow still kept his team well under the league’s salary cap. He’s also scored some of the biggest trades in the NHL over the past few years acquiring P.K. Subban, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Kyle Turris as part of blockbuster deals. He added to that at the trade deadline by pulling a stunner when he sent Kevin Fiala to the Minnesota Wild for Granlund and then acquiring Simmonds from the Philadelphia Flyers. Oh, and don’t forget about that pre-deadline deal to get Brian Boyle from the New Jersey Devils. That is what going all in looks like for a Stanley Cup contender, and, amazingly, his team is still in a great position under the salary cap in future seasons. A lot of times when GM’s swing for the fences on big trades, they start to eventually come up empty. That has yet to happen for Poile, who just keeps hitting home runs.

6. The Vegas Golden Knights go big

Even though they were in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, it is still remarkable to see the Vegas Golden Knights, in Year 2 of their existence, going after the big-ticket players. They went all in trying to get Erik Karlsson. When that failed they traded for Max Pacioretty and signed Paul Stastny. Now they pulled off one of the biggest scores of the deadline in getting Stone from the Ottawa Senators, then agreed to a new contract. Stone is a star, a true top-line winger, and a player who can make a difference for an already strong team that is a contender. He is still in the prime of his career, making this a huge score for both the short term and long term.

7. Did Boston do enough?

The Boston Bruins are an outstanding team and a sneaky contender in the Eastern Conference, getting lost in the shadow of Tampa Bay and Toronto. But the top half of their lineup is as good as anybody’s in the league, and they have two goalies playing at an extremely high level in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Their big question has been depth, as there has been little offensive production after Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug (when they are healthy). They attempted to address that by acquiring Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. They are solid additions, and Johansson has been especially hot lately now that he is healthy. But will they be enough to get the Bruins through what will almost certainly be a daunting playoff run in the Atlantic Division that will probably include both the Maple Leafs and Lightning?

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By: Adam Gretz

Bruins’ Brad Marchand set to return for Winter Classic

The Boston Bruins should get a boost just in time for the Winter Classic on Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks. NHL.com’s Dan Rosen reports that Brad Marchand should be ready to go after practicing today, barring any setbacks. He missed Saturday’s game with an upper-body injury, but it looks like it wasn’t a serious issue.

Marchand is having another solid campaign with 12 goals and 41 points in 39 games this season.

Rosen also reports that defenseman Charlie McAvoy remains questionable for the big game. McAvoy has missed two games with a lower-body injury and did not practice today. The gifted defenseman has struggled with injuries and has appeared in just 17 games this year, although he has 11 points.

In other NHL injury notes:

  • Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post writes that Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen will be out Monday against Nashville and miss his second straight game with an undisclosed upper-body injury. However, the team got better news on Brooks Orpik, who is listed as a game-time decision for Monday after missing 27 games with a right-knee injury. Khurshudyan reports both players practiced Sunday and are close to returning. The team has also been without Christian Djoos.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins could be without forward Bryan Rust and defenseman Olli Maatta on Monday as both are listed as day-to-day, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Matt Vensel. Rust didn’t practice today with an undisclosed injury, and Maatta suffered a lower-body injury during Saturday’s game against St. Louis, but finished the game. He also didn’t practice today.
  • Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports that Senators center Jean-Gabriel Pageau is close to a return. While he’s not expected to play Monday, he could be back not long after that. The 26-year-old has been out all season after having surgery to repair a torn Achilles. He had a six-month timetable in mid-September and is well ahead of schedule. Pageau had 14 goals and 29 points last season.

By Holger Stolzenberg

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