Bruins

NHL missed the boat in not taking Bergeron, Chara to All-Star weeekend

NHL missed the boat in not taking Bergeron, Chara to All-Star weeekend

Through five game suspensions and everything else, Brad Marchand is still going to represent the Boston Bruins at this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game festivities in Tampa Bay. Clearly he’s earned it with his play on the ice with 21 goals and a massive 50 points in 38 games, and not even an ill-conceived elbow to Marcus Johansson’s head could take that away from him. 

But the sad truth is Marchand should have had more company in terms of Bruins players at the NHL All-Star game weekend. 

MORE - B's continue to roll even without Marchand and McAvoy

When Victor Hedman went down with in injury it created an opening on the Atlantic Division All-Star team, and the early speculation was that 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy would have been a wholly appropriate replacement. Clearly that all went out the window when McAvoy underwent his heart procedure earlier this week, but the Bruins rookie D-man was one of several players suitable for All-Star honors. 

It only makes sense there would be a handful of candidates on a Bruins team that’s second-best in the Atlantic Division and has been the NHL’s best team over the last two months. Instead the NHL announced that second-year Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point was replacing his Lightning D-man teammate, and would keep it a decidedly Lightning-heavy roster with Tampa Bay hosting this season’s All-Star proceedings. 

Clearly the 21-year-old Point is having himself a strong season with 20 goals and 44 points in 49 games and there should be plenty of All-Star honors in his future. But isn’t NHL All-Star weekend about inviting the game’s star players to showcase their abilities, and to celebrate the game’s household names and best players?

Shouldn’t the first invite, especially if it was going to be a forward replacing a D-man, have gone out to Patrice Bergeron, who is beginning to build up momentum for Hart Trophy consideration at the midpoint of the season? Bergeron is poised to break the record for Selke Trophies in an NHL career, and is on pace for 36 goals, 76 points and a plus-43 while centering the best forward line in the entire league.  Bergeron is a star in the numbers that he pumps out offensively, he’s a star for the example he sets in playing a hard-working, 200-foot game with a gentlemanly manner on the ice and he’s absolutely an All-Star in every sense of the word. 

Put it this way, if Bergeron isn’t an All-Star with the season he’s having then it’s an NHL problem and not a Bergeron problem. There’s little doubt most hockey fans would rather have a household name like Bergeron than a second-tier Lightning up-and-comer like Point, and that’s no disrespect to a talented young kid playing in the shadow of Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. 

Or if the NHL wanted to go the defenseman route then why not invite 40-year-old Zdeno Chara for one last kick at the All-Star can. 

Chara’s offensive numbers aren’t anything spectacular while on a pace for seven goals and 23 points this season, but he’s still averaging a team-high 23:26 of ice time while logging Herculean ice time on Boston’s highly-ranked penalty kill. The Bruins captain is still a defensive marvel, and remains one of the wonders of the NHL world with his ability to play big minutes and remain so effective at an advanced hockey age. 

But wouldn’t it have been a draw at All-Star weekend to have Chara there for one more time defending the NHL’s hardest shot during the skills competition? The 6-foot-9 D-man winding up and blasting away was always one of the iconic moments of NHL All-Star weekend in the six times that he was invited in previous years. Once again Chara is an iconic, future Hall of Famer and the very definition of a star player that could have elevated the proceedings in Tampa this weekend. 

The word on the street was that both Chara and Bergeron would have been interested in participating if they had been asked to be All-Star replacements after not being chosen to go in the first place. Unfortunately the NHL decided to go with the theory that more Lightning players – four of the 11 roster spots are Lightning players -- will somehow make for a better NHL All-Star weekend product in Tampa Bay. This humble hockey writer is going to go ahead and beg to differ on that one. 

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B's last chance to send message to likely playoff opponent

B's last chance to send message to likely playoff opponent

TORONTO – The Bruins might be saying all the right things, and certainly, anything can happen with 24 games still left in the regular season, but they also know the laws of probability say that the Toronto Maple Leafs will likely be their first-round opponent in the playoffs.

The Bruins are just three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning with three games in hand and three games head-to-head vs. the Bolts down the stretch, so nothing is set in stone, of course. But the Black and Gold also know tonight’s date with the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre is the last time the two divisional rivals will face each other prior to any postseason meetings.

The Leafs took the first two in a home-and-home series against a very different Bruins team back in mid-November. The Bruins got payback last month against a weary Toronto bunch at TD Garden. For the third time in the four meetings, the Leafs will also be without superstar sophomore Auston Matthews, out with a shoulder injury sustained on Thursday night against the New York Rangers.

Either way, the Bruins are wary that this will be a final bit of message-sending to a team they’re very likely to see at some point in what they hope is a long Stanley Cup playoff run. They’re treating the important, late-season game accordingly.

“Now I think you can forecast that this may be a playoff matchup at some point, maybe not the first round but maybe the second round. But at some point, it looks like we’ll probably have to play them, so you’d like to leave a reminder of how good of a team we can be,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “I think they’re probably thinking the same, so I’m expecting a really good hockey game with the atmosphere on a Saturday night in Toronto and our guys with a few days off. Both teams have been winning a lot lately, so it should be a good game.”

It will also give a good window into what lies ahead for some of Boston’s rookie players in what should be as close to a playoff matchup as they’ve seen this season. With that in mind, all Bruins players are gearing up for their best while also knowing there’s a Sunday late afternoon trap game waiting for them in Buffalo against the Sabres.

“There are still lots of games left, but we’re aware of what’s going on with the standings and that this could be a possible [playoff] matchup,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We know it’s always tough games against them and very tight-checking hockey. We’re still trying to approach it as we’ve approached it all year, which is taking it one game at a time while pushing ourselves to be better. [Saturday] is back at it and then it’s a very busy schedule to the end, so these were our last few days of rest, I guess.”

Starting on Saturday night in Toronto, it’s 24 games in 44 days to end the regular season in one last major test of the resiliency, depth and mental toughness. It all starts with a big one against the Leafs in front of a Hockey Night in Canada audience with a final parting message on the minds of everybody.  

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For the Bruins, watching Olympic hockey "stings a bit"

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

For the Bruins, watching Olympic hockey "stings a bit"

TORONTO – It’s no secret that NHL players weren’t happy about being barred from participating in the Winter Olympics wrapping up in South Korea this week. 

Instead the NHL continued their regular season with business as usual while skipping the Olympics for the first time since 1998, and college hockey players, minor league players and players already playing overseas in Europe were utilized to comprise the teams for the US, Canada and others participating in the Olympic Men’s Hockey tournament. 

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The lack of NHL participation has made for a wide open tournament at this month’s Olympics, and led to the major upset of Canada actually losing to Germany on Friday in a match to play for the gold medal game this weekend. That was bad news for former Bruins forward Chris Kelly as the captain of Team Canada at the tail end of his hockey career, but great news for fellow former B’s forward Marco Sturm as the head coach of Team Germany. 

Naturally one couldn’t help but wonder what was going through the minds of players like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, who certainly would have both been on Team Canada, watching Hockey Canada fall short of the gold medal game. 

“Obviously you cheer for your country and that’s what we were all doing. I got up early to catch a little of the game,” said Bergeron. “It’s too bad. I thought Germany played a really good game, and there’s a part of me that’s very happy for Marco [Sturm] since he’s a friend of mine. We played together for a long time.

“It was tough. You wanted to be out there and you wanted to be able to compete. It’s too bad that we didn’t have a say in it. That’s probably the biggest thing for me. That’s my biggest disappointment that we had no say in being a part of it. It was different. The last two Olympics I was in it, and now being able to watch it on TV it’s actually been a lot of fun to be able to watch different events at any time of the day.”

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While Bergeron has his two gold medals from each of the past two Olympic Games to go along with his memories, Marchand might have missed his one chance to be a part of Team Canada at the Olympics during the peak of his hockey career. Coming off last season’s stunning performance from Team Canada at the World Cup, Marchand would have been close to an automatic for the Olympic roster, but instead it’s an experience he may have simply missed the boat on given that he’ll be 33 years old the next time around. 

“Obviously you get over it, but it was more about it being an opportunity lost, I think,” said Marchand. “It was a potential opportunity lost, but it allows other guys to have opportunities. I couldn’t be any happier that a guy like Chris Kelly gets to be there. It’s a huge opportunity. A lost opportunity for us is a huge opportunity for other guys…but it would have been nice to be there and be a part of it. It’s the biggest stage in the world.  

“The biggest reason it stings is that I never thought I would even be potentially be looked at for a team like that. With how things have played out the last couple of years, I might have been able to crack that [Olympic] lineup. So I think it stings a little more for that reason…to have the rug pulled out from under you for no reason. It does sting a bit, but that’s how it goes.”

That stinging feeling from the league pulling out of the Olympics will no doubt be revisited the next time the NHL and NHLPA go to the bargaining table for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. But that’s a different story for a different day as the first Winter Olympics without NHL players in 20 years finally goes into the books this weekend.

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