Tampa Bay Lightning

Haggerty: B's need to tread lightly with McDonagh pursuit

Haggerty: B's need to tread lightly with McDonagh pursuit

Among the names potentially available ahead of the NHL trade deadline, New York Rangers captain and top defenseman Ryan McDonagh is certainly the most intriguing from a Bruins perspective for any number of reasons.

McDonagh is probably the most intriguing name to at least a dozen teams, including Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and a Tampa Bay team the Bruins will be battling with neck-and-neck the next few months for the Atlantic Division’s top spot.

Really, what’s not to like in a guy like McDonagh?

He’s still just 28, he’s on a reasonable contract paying him less than $5 million a season for the next two years and he’s a proven, experienced commodity that could immediately become the veteran leader on any defensemen corps he joined down the stretch.

He’s also averaged nine goals and 38 points the past four seasons for the Blueshirts and averaged less than 23 minutes per game in only one of his seven full NHL seasons.

Certainly, McDonagh wouldn’t have to do that with the Bruins. Zdeno Chara, at 40, is still the captain in Boston, and the 6-foot-9 stopper is expected to remain with the Black and Gold for at least the next season or two. Still, McDonagh would step in and totally fortify a top-four back end that the Bruins could go to Stanley Cup playoffs with and he’d also give the Bruins a long-term answer for what they do when Chara does eventually step away from his Hall of Fame NHL career.

All that being said, the Bruins should steer clear of any last-minute deals for McDonagh unless they can absolutely steal him from the Rangers ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline. If Rangers GM Jeff Gorton wants to accept Jakub Zboril, Anders Bjork and a first-round pick for a proven workhorse No. 1 defenseman, then full speed ahead for Don Sweeney to pull the trigger on that steal of the century.

Still, Gorton is a shrewd evaluator of talent and an experienced executive and the Rangers are in need of young NHL talent that’s already proven they can play in the league.

He is going to maximize the return for McDonagh and the whispers are that Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa’s version of Charlie McAvoy, would be in play in a deal with the Lightning.

A commodity such as McDonagh doesn’t go on the trade market very often, so the Bruins that will be mentioned would be Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Brandon Carlo with Charlie McAvoy already an untouchable for the Black and Gold. That should present a major problem for the Bruins, who've seen more production (a league-leading 39 goals from their first-year players) from their rookies than any other NHL team this season and have constructed a very effective mix of young players and experienced core veterans into one of the NHL’s best teams.

Sweeney would have to significantly impact the DNA of his current team in order to acquire McDonagh and he'd be taking a major risk with a group that’s shown equal parts talent, character and good chemistry in their first 55 games. With a phalanx of prospects and some redundancy among their left-shot defensemen and speedy, skilled wingers, the Bruins clearly should cash in some of their prospect chips to fill the team’s needs.

That’s the kind of team improvement that comes right along with a possible long playoff run right in front of them and there’s where the B’s find themselves. Dealing away the right prospects to fill NHL needs is part of the draft-and-development plan right, along with raising a crop of talented, productive homegrown players.

Still, the bottom line is this: The Bruins are theoretically going to have to pay too much to acquire McDonagh in the middle of the season and they just shouldn’t do it if that’s the case. Period.

 

They could potentially end up in a bidding war with the Yzerman for McDonagh’s services if New York really wants to move him. That’s a losing proposition facing down one of the league’s best GMs. It’s also less-than-ideal for the Bruins, who are ahead of schedule in developing a contending team. It's also a little ambitious for a team that’s probably still a year away from a legitimate Stanley Cup run.

It’s something that should be unthinkable if it involves young Bruins players DeBrusk, Heinen and Carlo, who have contributed mightily to the team’s success this season and there’s no reason to think Gorton would demand anything less.

That’s the kind of thing the Bruins are weighing heavily less than two weeks ahead of the trade deadline, and are very likely to err on the side of caution when push comes to shove. That’s exactly what Sweeney and Cam Neely should be doing at this point.

The Bruins are on the precipice of something special with a Cup-winning core group and a roster overstuffed with talented rookies who are already threatening for a President’s Trophy this season. They need to be very wary of overpaying for veterans and busting up what they’ve spent three years painstakingly crafting.

That’s why the Bruins need to pass on McDonagh right now unless the price is rock-bottom and perhaps revisit things in the summer around the draft when the Rangers are more likely to pull off the blockbuster deal anyway.

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Haggerty: Bruins poised to become NHL's top team because they've earned it

Haggerty: Bruins poised to become NHL's top team because they've earned it

NEW YORK – It was impossible to imagine this when the Bruins were scrapping the bottom of the Eastern Conference back in mid-November, but the Black and Gold are now on the cusp of becoming the best team in the NHL. 

They’ve essentially been the best team the past three months while tearing off a 27-4-4 run since mid-November and have outscored opponents 124-68 in that span. 

The Bruins aren’t just winning at this point. They are crushing their opposition. They did that again with a 6-1 dismantling of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. 

At 11-1-2 since the beginning of January, the Bruins are now a point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division – and, more impressively, for the NHL’s best record.

“We’re trying to win every game that’s on the schedule in front of us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “If we catch [Tampa Bay] then great, and if they play great then that’s the way it goes. We obviously pay attention to it, but it’s not our main focus as a group. I think the guys just want to play from period-to-period. It showed even at the end where we some trying to pull the reins back there, and you had our 40-year-old [Zdeno Chara] flying up the ice. There’s a lot of passion to their games, and it is fun to be around.” 

Oh, by the way, the Bruins also still have a game in hand on all of the other top teams around the NHL with no signs of slowing down. Clearly, the B’s players know where they are in the standings right now and are fully aware of the NHL penthouse that awaits them with a few more wins added to their ledger. 

They’re just not getting too carried away with anything in the middle of February. That was apparent on the second night of a back-to-back when the Bruins finished with a strong flourish while other teams simply can’t do it.

 “We’re working really hard. We keep talking about staying focused and pushing each other to keep getting better. It’s no different,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I feel like we’re working on things that we want to work on, that we need to work on. That’s the mindset and the process that we’ve had. We don’t want to be too high or too low, you know? Obviously, we want to catch up to [Tampa Bay], but that being said we want to worry about what we can do…and just keep getting better.” 

The victory in New York was a perfect example of the Bruins' perfect mixture of strong character, committed work ethic and depth of talent overwhelming teams at every turn. Each of Boston’s four forward lines generated a goal against the Blueshirts with fourth-liner Tim Schaller knocking Henrik Lundqvist out of the game in the second period with a breathtaking and scoring dangle through the defense. 

The Perfection Line kicked in a pair of goals with Bergeron adding to his team-best total of 24 this season and 13 in 15 games since the turn of the calendar to 2018. Only Evgeni Malkin has more goals since the beginning of January and nobody is playing a more dominant two-way game (it was Bergeron that also made a play on Vinni Lettieri at the doorstep to save a goal at the end of the first period) than No. 37 in perhaps the best stretch of his career. 

Couple that with a defense that’s been very good on most nights, a goaltending duo that saw Anton Khudobin and Tuukka Rask put forth stellar efforts in back-to-back games and a team that somehow got stronger in the Big Apple on the second night of back-to-back games, and there’s something special going on with these Bruins as they barnstorm across the NHL collecting points wherever they go.

“It just shows our depth again. That’s why we’re playing so well right now…because we have every line stepping up every single night. It’s hard to defend against a team where you can rely on everybody,” said Brad Marchand, who returned after a five-game suspension with an assist and a plus-2 rating in 17:05 of ice time. 

“It’s been a process. Early on, with the amount of injuries we had and the adversity we went through, it was tough. But now with how we’re feeling, how we’ve jelled as a team and the chemistry that we have, we’re not overly concerned with the standings right now.

“We’re just concerned about our game and not worried about the process. If we focus on coming to play every night then everything else will play itself out.” That’s exactly what’s happening with a Bruins team that’s on the cusp of taking the driver’s seat for the President’s Trophy with roughly two months to go in the season. 

The Bruins are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender given every bit of well-rounded dominance they’ve shown over the better part of three months and they’re about to overtake the mantle of the NHL’s top team while still holding three head-to-head games against the Lightning in the stretch run. 

The Bruins hold their destiny in their hands and have a legit shot to be the NHL’s top seed going into the playoffs with only one team in front of them. Let all of that sink in as the Black and Gold continue pulverizing opponents with depth, two-way dominance, elite goaltending and the best top line in the NHL. 

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Morning Skate: Are 5 games enough for 6-time offender?

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Morning Skate: Are 5 games enough for 6-time offender?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while my mind is blown that Brad Marchand has given up almost a million dollars in game checks for disciplinary measures during his NHL career.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Ken Campbell takes a hard stance against the NHL Department of Player Safety and complains that five games aren’t nearly enough of a punishment for six-time offender Brad Marchand in his latest suspension.

*A list of five unheralded rookies from this season includes Danton Heinen, who deserves all the attention he gets in an extremely talented class of NHL rookies.

*The Tampa Bay Lightning dominated the TSN hockey coach’s poll as the belief is that they’re the NHL’s best team and that Nikita Kucherov was the league’s best player. The Bruins did get a respectable amount of votes, however.

*Jumbo Joe Thornton is going to miss several weeks due to injury as perhaps he’s beginning to show his age a bit with the San Jose Sharks.

*Having two reliable goaltenders has always been an important thing in the NHL, but it’s become vital for any NHL teams hoping to be in the playoffs.

*For something completely different: Is Vince McMahon looking to bring back the XFL when it was ahead of its time the last time around?

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