Bruins

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy gives his take on proposed NHL playoff formats

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy gives his take on proposed NHL playoff formats

The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs might not look like the 16-team tournament we're accustomed to watching.

The 2019-20 season remains on pause amid the outbreak of COVID-19, and while the NHL has not officially announced if games will resume, it reportedly has discussed different proposals for how to finish the campaign if it's safe to do so.

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Earlier this week, TSN reported the league and the NHLPA were "making progress" on a 24-team format, one that could include a play-in series before a 16-team playoff. Nothing has been finalized, but it's possible we might see the Stanley Cup awarded using a unique postseason format.

Each league tries to maintain competitive equity. However, COVID-19 has presented a situation where that could be difficult to achieve. It's possible that some teams could benefit more than others depending on which format the league adopts if it comes back.

Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is well aware of this fact, and it sounds like he's hoping the typical playoff format of 16 teams and four rounds is what the league ultimately decides in the event play resumes.

“Well, from our position, I’d rather it just (be) 16 (teams) — again this is just me and you talking, I don’t have a say in all of this — but I’d rather it be 16 teams, four rounds of four-out-of-seven, let’s go,” Cassidy said Wednesday on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Toucher & Rich" morning show. "That’s the integrity of the playoffs. It’s always been that way. I understand the players’ perspective wanting to get some games in before that, because it gets ramped up in a hurry, you know playoff hockey there’s no holds barred and off you go. And I think that’s tough on the players. Other years they'd be allowed to work out and skate -- talk about a training camp, the guys typically going into September, if that was the case, they'd have been working out in August. They've been able to do nothing, for the most part. Some guys might be skating in Sweden or a couple of the European countries that are open, so they do need the time to ramp up health-wise. I get that. So that's the tough part about a scenario I'd like to see.

"At the end of the day, it’s going to be unfair for somebody down the road, that’s just the way it is. Even if you go with 16, what about the two teams who are at the bottom, there’s the points versus the points percentage. Sometimes, I think, you know what, nobody’s going to remember if you do a blind draw, one team is in, one team is out. They’re not going to remember that a year from now, it’s still a legitimate playoff. But hopefully we get to that 16 in the right way and it doesn’t hurt us. I guess that’s where I’m coming from, that we don’t get kind of screwed in this process, because we shouldn’t be. We should be rewarded for our regular season. But I don’t think any scenario is going to be perfectly fair, I understand that.”

There's no way of knowing how the long layoff will impact the Bruins if the playoffs do eventually take place, but Cassidy is confident his team will be up to the challenge regardless of what decisions are made.

“I think we’re going to be ready no matter what the scenario,” Cassidy said. “Our guys know what’s at stake.”

What you need to know about the Bruins before NHL training camps open

What you need to know about the Bruins before NHL training camps open

With training camps expected to open around the NHL next week, it feels like a good time for a Bruins refresher as everybody gets back up to speed with the hope that the league will return to play games next month.

The Bruins were at 100 points when the regular season went on pause in mid-March and would have been the No. 1 seed in the entire Stanley Cup playoff field given the commanding lead they had on everybody else in the league. As it was, they were awarded the President’s Trophy as the points leader in the regular season and won the Jennings Trophy as the team with the lowest goals against average in the league as well.

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David Pastrnak became the first Bruins player since Phil Esposito to lead the NHL with 48 goals scored in a tie with Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, and Tuukka Rask finished as the NHL leader with a 2.12 goals against average. The Bruins finished ninth in the NHL with 3.24 goals per game, tops in the NHL with 2.39 goals allowed per game and had the second-best (25.2 percent) power play and third-best penalty kill (84.2 percent) in the league this year.

All of that combined with last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final has the Bruins looked at as favorites headed into August’s 24-team postseason tournament that will kick off the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So here’s a quick run-down on the Black and Gold. It’s been a while since we checked in on them with any actual games to play in the near future. A two-week training camp is expected to kick off for the B’s starting Monday at Warrior Ice Arena.  

Where B's stood when NHL season was paused

The Bruins had won 16 of their last 20 games dating back to the All-Star weekend and their bye week, and they were rolling after picking up Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie from Anaheim at the trade deadline. B's head coach Bruce Cassidy had begun doing some tinkering with his forwards while slotting Kase and Ritchie on either side of David Krejci while dropping Jake DeBrusk to the third line with Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork/Sean Kuraly.

In the final game ahead of the break, Rask had made 36 saves for a 2-0 shutout win over the Flyers, while Matt Grzelcyk (power play) and Patrice Bergeron provided the offense. Brad Marchand, Torey Krug and David Pastrnak were each point-per-game players in March. Charlie McAvoy was averaging over 26 minutes of ice time per game and Bergeron had two goals in four games during the month of March. Meanwhile, Rask was rolling with a 1.67 GAA and a .938 save percentage in the second-to-last month of the regular season.

Who was injured for the Bruins on March 10?

Both Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo sat out the March 10 game against the Flyers with upper body injuries. Krug had suffered his after an awkward tumble into the boards, while Carlo had missed a couple of games with a suspected concussion after taking an elbow to the face from Florida Panthers forward Evgenii Dadonov. The injuries led to Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton playing his first game since December, so when play resumes, Clifton will have played a grand total of one NHL game in the last eight months. Both Krug and Carlo are 100 percent healthy for the Bruins after sitting out the last few months. The only Bruins player still injured is defenseman Kevan Miller (knee), who has already been ruled out for this summer’s playoffs after missing the entire 2019-20 regular season.

Who's already in town skating at Warrior Ice Arena?

Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara have led the voluntary Phase 2 skating practices at Warrior with appearances by John Moore, Par Lindholm, Kuraly, Grzelcyk and Krug, along with goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Rask. Joakim Nordstrom had arrived back from Sweden and was expected to join the Black and Gold on the ice once he’d done the necessary quarantining and testing. At this point, most of the Bruins should be back in Boston considering that many will have to quarantine for a substantial period of time if they flew back into the country.

Looking ahead: What’s next for the Bruins?

Once the Return to Play plan is approved by the NHLPA at the end of this week, expect announcements to come fast and furiously from NHL teams. The Bruins are expected to start a two-week camp on Monday and will head to their Toronto hub city in the last week of July.

Qualifying round games and round-robin games are expected to start on Aug. 1, with the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin around Aug. 9 or so. The teams will play two rounds of playoffs in their respective hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton, with the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final expected to be played in one city, which is expected to be Edmonton provided the COVID-19 numbers stay steady out in Alberta.

The Bruins will play one game apiece against the Lightning, Capitals and Flyers in the round-robin after playing one exhibition game in Toronto, and then the Eastern Conference teams will be re-seeded to determine first round playoff matchups. If the Bruins retain their top seed then they would play the lowest seed still alive in the Eastern Conference after the qualifying rounds as the NHL format has all teams re-seeding after each round.

Ranking the NHL's Top 100 players for 2020: Nos. 75-51

Ranking the NHL's Top 100 players for 2020: Nos. 75-51

With the NHL getting ready to go back to work with training camps across the league set to start on July 10 for a Return to Play, what better time to discuss the Top 100 players in the NHL right now.

Certainly, we took the shortened regular season into account along with the player’s body of work prior to this year, and with a little projection as to how much room they have to grow in the future. Put it all together and you’ve got a mix of two-way centers, high-scoring wings, hard-hitting defensemen and red-hot goaltenders who combine to get the best 100 players in the league.

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Here’s the second 25 (Nos. 75-51) of those players as we count down from 100 all the way back down to 1 with apologies to familiar players like Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban and Henrik Lundqvist, all of whom fell out of the Top 100 with tough seasons this past year.

75. William Nylander, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

Now that he’s removed from the contract squabbles, Nylander is back to being one of the best young players on a young, talented Maple Leafs roster. He still has defensive issues and isn’t as dominant as one would like him to be a nightly basis, but he posted 31 goals and 59 points in 68 games before the regular season went on pause in mid-March.

He’s only 23 years old so there’s time to improve, but he’s also clearly not up with peers from his age group like David Pastrnak and Leon Draisaitl.

74. Sebastian Aho, LW, Carolina Hurricanes

The fact that the Aho got both Hart and Selke votes last season at just 21 years old should let everybody know that he’s a force to be reckoned with down in Carolina.

Sure, he went through the whole offer sheet fiasco when he almost bolted for Montreal. But he bounced back with 38 goals and 66 points in 68 games this season before the games went on pause, and he was still a plus-10 while also leading the NHL with four shorthanded goals this season. He was well on his way to 40 goals this season and seems to keep getting better every season.

73. Jaccob Slavin, D, Carolina Hurricanes

Extremely underrated because he’s not a pure offensive defenseman, Slavin is an old-fashioned two-way D-man with size (6-foot-3, 207-pounds), decent offense with six goals and 36 points in 68 games and a plus-30 mark that shows how he excels at both ends of the ice.

Slavin keeps growing support each season for All-Star consideration and the Norris Trophy as well, and is one of the best defensemen in the NHL that nobody talks about. The Stanley Cup Playoffs may have been a bit of a learning curve for him last season, but he just keeps getting better.

72. David Krejci, C, Boston Bruins

After posting 20 goals and 73 points last season in a standout year for the veteran center, the 33-year-old Krejci had fallen back a bit this year with 13 goals and 43 points in 61 games. He was a plus-10 and was playing 17:10 of ice time per game while driving things on Boston’s second line with an inconsistent Jake DeBrusk and a group of musical wingers on the right-hand side. So he wasn’t getting much help either.

Krejci did show how much greatness he is capable of, however, when he centered Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak for a couple of weeks when Patrice Bergeron was out with injury. Krejci has precision passing skills and a keen hockey I.Q. and those things become weapons when he’s playing with big scorers on his line.  

71. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche

After back-to-back 80 point seasons, Rantanen took a little bit of a step back this year due to injuries. He had just 19 goals and 42 points in 41 games while the Avs had a hard time keeping their super line of Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon together, and Rantanen was back to being a minus player after a couple of years in the positive.

Rantanen also had six goals and 14 points in 12 games during last spring’s playoffs and showed there’s an extra gear there when it matters most. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right winger just keeps getting better and better.

70. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Arizona Coyotes

A lifelong member of the Coyotes organization, the 28-year-old Ekman-Larsson was enjoying another solid year with nine goals and 30 points in 66 games in Arizona. He was also only a minus-3 after some pretty rough defensive seasons in the recent past, so that’s not too shabby for a guy who's a minus-92 for his entire NHL career.

He was also one goal short of scoring double-digit goals for the seventh straight season and had only finished under 40 points once in the last seven years.

69. Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs

Coming off 20 goals and 72 points for the Maple Leafs last season, the bar was set pretty high for Rielly headed into this year. Instead he was with a Maple Leafs team that struggled out the gate and resulted in Mike Babcock getting fired while Rielly took a major step back with just three goals and 27 points in 47 games.

Some of that might have been about losing out on offensive chances to new D-man Tyson Barrie, but perhaps some of it was also about last season being a bit of a monster, aberrational year for the 26-year-old former first round pick. Still, he’s good enough to be the No. 1 guy in Toronto right now.

68. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Calgary Flames

The 6-foot-2, 202-pound Tkachuk has certainly made a name for himself in Calgary, where he’s a power forward who can beat you with his physicality, his offense and the attitude he brings to the table as well. Like many Flames players, he took a bit of a step back from last season where he posted 34 goals and 77 points while totaling over 200 shots on goal for the first time in his career.

This season, he dipped into the minus and had just 23 goals and 61 points in 69 games, but he’d also become a major crap-stirrer in games against the L.A. Kings and Edmonton Oilers. There aren’t many guys in the league like Tkachuk anymore, so it’s important to fully credit the guys who do play that way.

67. Jordan Binnington, G, St. Louis Blues

The runner-up for the Calder Trophy last season and a player who got Vezina, Hart and All-Star votes while leading the Blues to their first Stanley Cup title, Binnington wasn’t quite as brilliant this year. But he was still solid with a 30-13-7 record along with a .912 save percentage and 2.56 goals against average, and was dealing just fine with heightened expectations after he stormed onto the scene as a 26-year-old rookie.

Binnington could be one of the best in another year or two as he keeps getting comfortable at the NHL level, but he’s already shown he’s a big-time performer in the playoffs.

66. Zach Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets

The 22-year-old Werenski was enjoying his best NHL season this year with 20 goals and 41 points in 63 games while averaging a career-best 23:59 of ice time per game. He also bounced back from a tough defensive season last year to be a plus-9 this season for a Blue Jackets group that wasn’t nearly as talented as they were a season ago.

He should get the most Norris Trophy consideration he’s ever received this year when it comes time to tabulate the votes and he’s just scratching the surface of how good he can be as he gets into his mid-20s.

65. Travis Konecny, C, Philadelphia Flyers

Another member of the 2015 NHL Draft, the 23-year-old Konecny was in the midst of setting career-highs with 24 goals and 61 points in 66 games while becoming one of the young leaders on a Flyers team pointed to the playoffs.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound winger had topped 20 goals and 40 points in each of the previous two seasons, but it appeared that he’d taken his consistency and overall game to a different level this year while doing much more damage on the power play. The feisty Konecny is a great fit for the Flyers group.

64. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals

With just 12 goals when the season went on pause, it looked like Backstrom was going to miss out on scoring 20 goals for the first time in five years this season, but the playmaking Swedish center was still nearly a point-per-game with 54 points in 61 games. Impressively, only 18 of his points came on the power play, so Backstrom was earning everything he was getting on the ice offensively.

He’s still one of the best dishers in the entire NHL and forms a dangerous 1-2 combo with Alex Ovechkin when they really get going. He may begin seeing decline in his game at 32 years old, but he should still be a mainstay for the Capitals for years to come.

63. Filip Forsberg, C, Nashville Predators

The 25-year-old Predators center has trailed off a little after back-to-back 30-goal seasons from 2015-2017, but he’s still a premium game-breaker for a Nashville team headed for the playoffs.

Forsberg had 21 goals and 48 points in 63 games for the Predators when the regular season went on pause in mid-March, but was also headed to being a minus player for just the second time in six seasons. But the potential is there for the 6-foot-1, 205-pound pivot to really take over games and he’s shown it in the postseason with 21 goals and 44 points in 61-career playoff games.

62. Tomas Hertl, C, San Jose Sharks

Injuries and a lousy Sharks team conspired to railroad his season this year with 16 goals and 36 points in 48 games along with a minus-18 rating, but he’s a premium talent who's shown it in flashes. He also put together a season where he posted 35 goals and 74 points in 77 games last season and earned Lady Byng consideration in the process.

It hasn’t been quite as smooth this season for the 26-year-old center, but everyone knows he’s a big, skilled dominating force when healthy. The 10 goals in 19 playoff games last spring were a testament to that as well.

61. Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars

One of the most athletically gifted players in the entire NHL, the 28-year-old Seguin is another player with so-so numbers this season with just 17 goals and 50 points in 69 games. Some of that is about a much greater attention with the Stars' approach to defense and playing the 200-foot game, but still we’re talking about a guy who just last season had 33 goals and 80 points in 82 games.

Two seasons ago he scored 40 goals for the first time in his career. This year he was barely going to break 20 goals and clearly is better than that when he’s at his best. Both Seguin and Jamie Benn could have stood to be better in Dallas this season.  

60. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals

A two-time All-Star, Vezina Trophy winner, Jennings Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champ, Holtby was not having a good year by his standards in Washington. Holtby had a 3.11 goals against average and .897 save percentage and had lost some playing time to youngster Ilya Samsonov as the season rolled on.

In fact there was some question who was going to man the pipes for the Capitals in the playoffs. Interestingly enough, he hasn’t been quite as good since the Capitals winning season in 2017-18, but he’s still young enough to turn things around at 30 years old.

59. Seth Jones, D, Columbus Blue Jackets

Normally a workhorse who plays more than 25 minutes per game, Jones was injured this season and had just six goals and 30 points in 56 games with a plus-10 rating. But he was averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game and the pause to the season has allowed him time to get healthy for a return when the playoffs happen in August.

He hasn’t been as good in the last few years as he was when he snagged All-Star honors with 16 goals and 57 points for the Blue Jackets in 2017-18, but he is a No. 1 defenseman who’s fully capable of greatness. The 6-foot-4, 209-pounder has everything you could want in a franchise D-man and he’s got a partner in Zach Werenski who's just as talented.   

58. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames

Like many other Flames players, Johnny Hockey was not close to his best this year. with nearly half as many goals (18) and points (58) as last season in 70 games played. He was also a career-worst minus-10 for the Flames this year, so he wasn’t his standout self at either end of the ice in Calgary.

Given that he’d averaged around 30 goals and 90 points the two prior seasons and was good enough to finish fourth in the Hart Trophy voting last season, one has to believe that things are going to be a lot better for the 26-year-old Gaudreau when the NHL is playing again. He’s way too good to have struggled like he did this year.

57. Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins

A two-time Cup winner and two-time All-Star, Letang has come back from concussion issues to continue being an extremely effective top defenseman for the Penguins. Letang finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 61 games while playing to an even plus/minus rating and has averaged over 25 minutes of ice time in each of the last six seasons for Pittsburgh.

Letang has only finished as a Norris finalist once and has been top-5 just twice in his NHL career, which seems like a criminal underrating for a scrappy, skilled player who has been a leader on an excellent Penguins team.

56. Brock Boeser, RW, Vancouver Canucks

The 22-year-old Boeser has been a key part of a youth movement with the Vancouver Canucks, but battled injuries this season while putting up 16 goals and 45 points in 57 games. He’s gone upwards of 20 goals and 50 points in each of his first two NHL seasons.

In the good news department, he was a plus player for the first time after finishing in the minus in each of his first two seasons. It’s about offense with Boeser, though, who features a dangerous shot from the wing and has good size (6-foot-1, 208-pounds) to mix it up physically. He should be back healthy once the playoffs begin while Vancouver hopes he continues to improve after locking him up long-term.

55. Ben Bishop, G, Dallas Stars

The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Bishop has been instrumental in Dallas shifting to a greater defense-and-goaltending approach and was enjoying an excellent year with a .920 save percentage and a 2.50 goals against average. Bishop had teamed with Anton Khudobin to be an outstanding 1-2 combo between the pipes and was coming off an All-Star season last year where he finished as the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy.

He could be in the running again this season as a finalist and would appear to be at the peak of his game at 33 years old. My only question is how long a big-bodied goaltender like Bishop will be able to keep in peak form.

54. Mitch Marner, RW Toronto Maple Leafs

Mitch Marner can certainly score points. After nearly getting to 100 points last season, Marner battled through injuries and early Toronto struggles to still post 15 goals and 67 points in 59 games this year.

Marner is ultra-quick and ultra-skilled while forming a lethal 1-2-3 combo with Auston Matthews and William Nylander, and should be poised to dominate in the Atlantic Division for years to come. Last season he garnered All-Star, Selke and Lady Byng consideration and should continue to threaten in those categories for years while also dangerous with the puck on his stick. 

53. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Vegas Golden Knights

The 35-year-old Quebec native continues to enjoy a second chapter in his NHL career with the Vegas Golden Knights. MAF was 27-16-5 this season with five shutouts and had decent .905 save percentage and 2.77 goals against average numbers this year.

Flower isn’t always able to stay healthy throughout the year and needs a good backup supporting him these days, but he showed a couple of seasons ago how good he can still be in the playoffs while leading the Knights to the Cup Final. There’s a reason he was a No. 1 overall pick back in the day and is approaching Hall of Fame status with his career numbers and three Stanley Cups. 

52. John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars

The 27-year-old Klingberg is another Dallas player who seems to have made the transition from all-offense to two-way player this season for the greater good. After routinely racking up double-digit goal totals and big points as an offensive D-man for the run-and-gun Stars, Klingberg six goals and 32 points in 58 games this year while dealing with some injuries.

He was also a minus-10, which tells you the adjustment to tighter defense was a challenge for him. Still, he’s a guy who's garnered All-Star, Norris and Lady Byng consideration during his NHL career and has career highs of 13 goals and 67 points as a defenseman. 

51. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks

While Toews might not be the guy he once was when the Blackhawks were winning Stanley Cups, he’s still a premier two-way center and Selke Trophy favorite each and every year. Toews had 18 goals and 60 points in 70 games when the regular season went on pause, but was also a minus player for just the second time in his entire NHL career for a struggling Chicago team.

The 31-year-old Toews got off to a rough start to the year before catching fire midway through, but should have plenty of energy stored when Chicago gets to take part in the playoffs this summer. That’s when Captain Serious gets really series.