Bruins

Bruins can't make the mistake of falling in love with this Cup Final team

Bruins can't make the mistake of falling in love with this Cup Final team

BRIGHTON, Mass – It would be foolish for the Bruins to allow themselves to think that they’ve figured something out in their interesting run to the Stanley Cup Final this spring.

Certainly, it was an entertaining, inspiring ride for Bruins fans as the B's came within one 60-minute effort of ratcheting up their legacy if they could have captured that second Stanley Cup in a 10-year span. Had the Bruins escaped victoriously in Game 7 over the St. Louis Blues, one could have mentioned them in the same breath as the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins as teams of the decade.

Certainly, another Stanley Cup would have burnished the Hall of Fame resumes of Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, and taken Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask to different strata within the NHL hierarchy as well.

But they fell short with a dud of a Game 7 effort in the 4-1 loss and the Bruins need to make sure they don't let their appearance in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final go to their heads. That won’t be a problem for most of the players, of course.

“That’s what makes it sting even more is how close everybody was on this team,” said Jake DeBrusk. “We just lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It doesn’t get more sour than that. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

It was as much about the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins losing in the first round of the playoffs as it was about anything the Bruins did on their march to the Cup Final. They beat the Maple Leafs in seven games in a tough series to be sure, but they weren’t exactly facing the East’s iron with second- and third-round opponents in Columbus and Carolina.

It’s paramount that Bruins management doesn’t fall in love with this group of players just because of “the run.” Instead, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney should take heed of the way his forwards couldn’t fight through the big, brawny Blues defensemen corps and had little success getting to the loose pucks and rebounds left around the net by Jordan Binnington.

At this point, the Bruins should consider heavily the notion that the "Perfection Line" needs to be broken up with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak unable to get through the Blues defense while being stymied in the series. 
Sure, it sounds like Marchand and Bergeron were banged up and Pastrnak was fighting the mental battle with his confidence throughout the postseason.

Still, it’s also obvious that Marchand and Bergeron need a big power forward-type on their right wing who can fight his way to the net when No. 37 and No. 63 are subdued physically.

That should be the first order of business for the Bruins this offseason and it could go hand-in-hand with a couple of other things. One is the potential buyout of David Backes’ contract to open up a roster spot and clear out cap space for restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo as they’re due big raises this summer.

Another is a potential trade of defenseman Torey Krug, who is in the final season of a contract paying him just shy of $6 million for next season. Krug is coming off an excellent regular season and a tremendous playoff performance that would have had him in the discussion for the Conn Smythe Trophy had the B’s pulled off the Cup Final win. So, the value will be high for a player who's still in his 20’s (28), has been to a pair of Cup Finals and will be due a big raise of his own when his contract expires following next season.

Krug might just be the bait that could net the Bruins their desired top-six power forward, but they will need to think long and hard about trading a fierce competitor and ultra-competitive player.

There’s also the possibility that the Bruins could look to move David Krejci this summer. The playmaking center is coming off a strong 20-goal, 73-point regular season, but the 33-year-old was also a ghost in the Cup Final and faded badly in the postseason.

The Bruins could field some interest for Krejci at his peak value coming off a Cup Final and trading away his $7.25 million cap hit would go a long way toward solving some salary-cap complications.  

The bottom line for the Bruins: the worst thing they could do is stand pat and do nothing thinking the season was a success. Instead, they should see an aging core group with oncoming salary cap issues caused in part by their success drafting and developing. Still, it's a team that didn’t have enough to get over the hump when it mattered most.

It remains to be seen if this kind of situation will open up again for the Bruins anytime soon with the Lightning and Maple Leafs still talented and looming in their division every season. The B's need to make some changes if they want to be in the best position to take advantage if that golden playoff pathway opens up again in the near future.

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NHL Top 10: Who are the league's best defensemen right now?

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USA TODAY Sports photo

NHL Top 10: Who are the league's best defensemen right now?

Being an NHL defenseman is not an easy task. There are the obvious responsibilities at the defensive end where these players must block shots, win battles, break pucks out cleanly and efficiently and keep the puck out of their net at all costs. 

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Then there are the requirements for the truly special D-man that also impacts the game at the offensive end. That's what separates John Carlson, Roman Josi and Alex Pietrangelo from the run-of-the-mill NHL defensemen. The top four or five names on this list should be the names you see on the Norris Trophy ballots as they check off just about every box and that makes them the league's best defensemen right now.

NHL trade targets: Four physical players Bruins could pursue before deadline

NHL trade targets: Four physical players Bruins could pursue before deadline

The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 24, so there's a little more than a month for the Boston Bruins and other contenders to make roster upgrades for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Bruins enter the weekend leading the Atlantic Division and rank among the top Stanley Cup contenders in the league. Despite having a deep roster loaded with postseason experience, the Bruins could certainly use a little more physicality in their lineup, particularly up front. The playoffs often are a grind, where the game slows down and physical play can really wear on players over a seven-game series.

With that theme in mind, here are four players the Bruins could target before the trade deadline to upgrade their physicality (All salary information via Cap Friendly, advanced stats via Natural Stat Trick).

Chris Kreider, LW, New York Rangers
2019-20 stats
: 46 GP, 16 G, 15 A, 111 SOG
Contract: $4.625 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2019-20, modified no-trade clause

Kreider, in many ways, is the ideal target for the Bruins ahead of the trade deadline. He's a skilled offensive player, he plays a power forward kind of game, and he's a Massachusetts-born player who played at Boston College. Kreider has great hands, good speed, and plenty of effective dangles in front of the net. He's also not afraid to go to the dirty areas around the crease for rebound goals and to set screens. His offensive talents would upgrade Boston's power play, too.

The Rangers are six points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and must soon decide if they'll become sellers at the trade deadline. Kreider is able to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and if there's a chance New York could lose him, it makes sense to deal him to a contender. Kreider would give the Bruins' top-six or third line an injection of speed, offensive skill and impressive size (6-foot-3 and 215 pounds).

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Miles Wood, LW, New Jersey Devils
2019-20 stats
: 46 GP, 7 G, 9 A, 94 SOG
Contract: $2.75 million cap hit through 2021-22

Wood is not a rental and signed through the 2021-22 campaign. The 24-year-old forward is capable of scoring between 25 and 30 points over a full season, while also throwing his weight around with a power forward-style of play. The best attribute of Wood's game is his fantastic speed, which would give the Bruins' bottom-six additional energy and another dimension for opponents to tackle.

Craig Smith, C, Nashville Predators
2019-20 stats
: 46 GP, 10 G, 10 A, 123 SOG
Contract: $4.25 million cap hit, UFA after 2019-20

Smith would add depth down the middle for the Bruins and give them a physical player who loves battling in front of the net. The 30-year-old center has 10 goals this season, and eight of them have come in the last 14 games. Smith has played his entire nine-year career in Nashville, but if the Predators don't feel like they can (or want to) re-sign him as a free agent this summer, getting some value for him ahead of the trade deadline would be the smart move. The Predators enter Friday six points out of the second wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.

Josh Manson, D, Anaheim Ducks
2019-20 stats
: 28 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 39 SOG
Contract: $4.1 million cap hit through 2021-22, also a modified no-trade clause

How tough is Manson? Well, he fought Milan Lucic during the preseason in 2015, a few weeks before his first full season with the Ducks.

Manson isn't going to provide a ton of offensive production, but his teams have established puck possession at a high rate most of his career. In four of his five pro seasons the Ducks have earned a Corsi-For percentage above 50 at even strength, and in the 2019-20 campaign, Anaheim has a plus-28 edge in shot attempts, a plus-10 advantage in shots on goal and a plus-15 margin in scoring chances at 5-on-5 when Manson has been on the ice. 

The 28-year-old defenseman also is fully capable of logging 20-plus minutes per night. He has experience filling a top-four role for Anaheim, but he probably would be a third-pairing defenseman on Boston's blue line. Manson's willingness to block shots and go into the corner to fight for pucks also would make him a valuable penalty killer for the B's. He's averaged 2:10 of shorthanded ice time per game for the Ducks this season.

The Ducks have the worst record in the Western Conference entering Friday. They should be sellers ahead of the deadline. Manson is not a rental, however, and he's on a pretty manageable contract for a 28-year-old defenseman. There's no rush to trade him from Anaheim's perspective, but he definitely is a good target for contenders that want to toughen up their blueline.

Side note: Manson already has an idea of Boston's hockey culture from his three seasons playing for Northeastern University.

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