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Current, former Bruins praise Zdeno Chara ahead of 1,500th NHL game

Current, former Bruins praise Zdeno Chara ahead of 1,500th NHL game

Zdeno Chara is set to reach a milestone when he takes the ice Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. 

The B's captain will be skating in his 1,500th NHL game, something that's only been accomplished by five other defensemen in NHL history. And while some of his younger teammates such as Charlie McAvoy, 21, only have a few seasons under their belt, they understand what an accomplishment it is to reach the 1,500-game mark.

"What an unbelievable accomplishment," McAvoy said, according to BostonBruins.com's Eric Russo. "I couldn't be happier for him. I will make sure to give him a big hug tonight. What an accomplishment. You really can't overstate it. He puts himself into some special, special company."

B's assistant captain Patrice Bergeron, a teammate of Chara's since the 6-foot-9 defenseman signed with Boston in 2006, knows what the 42-year-old brings to the table. 

"The backbone of our defense for the last I don't know how many years," Bergeron said. "He's redefined the position by the way that he defends but also put up offense, his shot…he's well respected around the league, but even more so in this organization by the players and also the city, the fans, and everyone. True competitor and an amazing accomplishment."

While Bergeron stressed that Chara's leadership is something that sets him apart, former B's captain (1983-85) Terry O'Reilly echoed that when discussing the big man's career. 

"He's been probably one of the best captains in the history of the Boston Bruins," O'Reilly said, according to NHL.com's Dave Stubbs. "He's played any kind of hockey you want to play. He's been used since he arrived here to shut down the best offensive players in the NHL. He's taken it upon himself to see that none of his teammates are abused, but he does it with almost a Don Quixote attitude. He doesn't go after anybody. But if they come at him and hit him hard, he plays that kind of game."

Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, who captained the Bruins from 1988-2000, put Chara on a pedestal when discussing his astounding career. 

"I've always said your best players should be your best people," Bourque said. "Chara is a gift. In Boston we have him and [New England Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady, doing remarkable things in their 40s. The longevity and the success they've both had is incredible."

As Chara continues to age, he's been able to adjust his game. Another Bruins legend, Rick Middleton, is very surprised with Chara's adaptation to the fast-paced style that young forwards have brought to the NHL. 

"Today, when someone chips the puck in around Zee, he's got to turn and figure out the angle because he may not be as quick as that forward," Middleton said. "He's got to adjust his game to the speed. His instincts take over. It's been amazing to me that he's not been exposed that way. [Hall of Fame defenseman] Brad Park was the same. When he had bad knees and lost a lot of his speed, he adjusted by learning the angles better, maybe when to turn a little earlier or not go as deep in the zone. Zee has done that."

But while Chara has had to conform his game, Wayne Cashman thinks the big man can play past the 2019-20 season. 

"You hear stories about him being in the gym every day … he's conditioned to play the game and he's adjusted to the game," Cashman said. "He's playing slightly fewer minutes now, but I don't see any reason why he couldn't play two or three more years. You can see that he's very dedicated and he's adjusted [to new rules] extremely well. You can see how he positions himself on the ice."

Chara's gym routine is something that's kept him well-conditioned for years, and Johnny Bucyk emphasized that when discussing Chara's longevity. 

"Zdeno works out every day even when he's injured," Bucyk said "He'll battle for his teammates. If somebody goes after a player for no reason at all, he'll step right in. His biggest problem, if you want to call it that, is that he's so strong, he doesn't want to hurt anybody. He's very dedicated. I appreciate watching him. He's had a great career and it's not over yet."

While Chara's career isn't over yet, he'll have a huge decision to make following the end of the season -- retire, or continue playing into his age 43 season. 

The Black & Gold's captain isn't the only one reaching a milestone on Tuesday night. Former Bruins, and current Canadiens head coach Claude Julien will be coaching his 1,200th NHL game. In 10 seasons in Boston, he led the B's to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and became the franchise's all-time leader in coaching victories with 419. 

There will be no shortage of history made Tuesday. The B's and Habs will faceoff at 7:30 p.m. ET. 

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Jake DeBrusk's agent brushes off talk of hometown discount with Bruins

Jake DeBrusk's agent brushes off talk of hometown discount with Bruins

While the NHL offseason has been put off until the late fall based on the Return to Play timeline, it’s still coming for the NHL and for salary cap-strapped teams like the Boston Bruins.

The NHL is on the verge of approving a CBA extension with the NHLPA that’s going to push out a flat salary cap for at least two seasons, and it could end up being three seasons based on the expected economic and revenue downturn.

That means the NHL is going to have an $81.5 million salary cap ceiling for at least the next few years, and the Bruins won’t have a ton of space based on the $63.5 million already paid out for salaries for the 2020-21 NHL season.

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The Bruins will then have about $18 million in cap space to sign restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk and Anders Bjork as well as unrestricted free agents Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara. The Bruins aren’t expected to pay out abnormally extravagant numbers to Bjork, Grzelcyk or the 43-year-old Chara, but it’s going to be a little dicey when it comes to contracts for DeBrusk and Krug.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Krug was looking at something in the neighborhood of $8 million per season on a long-term deal — either with Boston or with another team looking for a power play quarterback and elite point producer on the back end. The 23-year-old DeBrusk, meanwhile, has averaged 20 goals per season in his three-year NHL career and had 19 goals and 35 points in 65 games when the NHL regular season went on pause this year.

DeBrusk has averaged 20 goals and 40 points per season with a high of 27 goals scored last year, and he’s essentially been a top-6 winger for his entire career in Boston. That had Edmonton Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer trumpeting him as “a $6 million a year player” when talking about DeBrusk’s future on an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call last week.

“I think Jake is a really good top-6 forward, top-6 winger. You guys saw him against the [Maple Leafs] and the Blues in the playoffs, he’s got a little bit of gamesmanship to him,” said Stauffer. “It’s interesting because he was such a late bloomer. The player I compared Jake to was Joffrey Lupul, who suddenly became a scoring star in junior hockey.

To me, I think Jake is a $5.5-6 million player. Maybe that money comes down a bit because of the cap. I think he’s a $6 million forward. He’s a guy that’s going to be capable of scoring 25-30 goals in a full season. That’s a $6 million forward to me.

One thing is for sure: If DeBrusk is a $6 million a year player and Krug is an $8 million a year player, then one of them is probably not going to be in Boston next season.

Interestingly enough, Stauffer had DeBrusk’s agent, Rick Valette from Octagon, on his Oilers Now radio show on Monday to talk about the future negotiations between DeBrusk and the Bruins. It didn’t sound like DeBrusk was going to be taking a hometown discount like some of the other B’s players have done in the recent past.  

“I don’t really consider that at this point. Will it play into it? Maybe,” said Valette, when asked about the internal salary structure for the Bruins that sees Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand all on pretty team-friendly deals under $7 million per season. “I would hope not. That’s not typically how I would approach that. The one thing I would add to Jake is that you want to look at his playoff performance and what he’s done in the playoffs in big games. The Toronto series from a couple of years ago, for example. He’s a big-game performer and he’s been a top-6 forward almost from the moment he stepped into the National Hockey League.

“Boston certainly has some internal things that they like to look at, but I’m going to try to not look at that. I guess that’s the way I would say it to you.”

A couple of forward peers from DeBrusk’s 2015 draft class, Brock Boeser (3 years, $17.625 million or $5.875 million AAV) and Travis Konecny (six years, $33 million or $5.5 million AAV), both now top $5 million per season on second contracts they signed this past year. Kyle Connor signed a seven-year, $50 million deal ($7.142 million AV) at the high end while Mat Barzal enters this offseason as an unsigned RFA as well. Both Boeser and Konecny had numbers similar to DeBrusk prior to signing those contracts, so DeBrusk knew what kind of payday awaited him if things were running along per usual.

Boeser is in a bit of a different class given his upside and production, but DeBrusk and Konecny would have been comparable players had DeBrusk surpassed 20 goals and 40 points with another month of games played (which he certainly would have done with 12 games left in the season).

Some of it may depend on how this postseason shakes down for DeBrusk. He was great two years ago with six goals and eight points in 12 playoff games, but last season had fewer goals (4) with 11 points in 24 playoff games during Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

A great playoff performance for DeBrusk could give those postseason numbers a real boost prior to him cashing in on his second deal, or a playoff struggle could drop him back under $5 million per season given some of this past season’s inconsistencies.

Either way it’s expected DeBrusk could be able to command something in that $5 million AAV neighborhood after averaging 20 goals per season in a league where goal-scorers still get paid.

Watch Joe Haggerty's Zoom call with Bob Stauffer below or on NBC Sports Boston's YouTube page:

NHL playoffs continue to feel like they are very close to reality

NHL playoffs continue to feel like they are very close to reality

The NHL is getting close, everybody.

The league is finalizing plans for Phases 3 and 4 of the Return to Play protocol, and then it will need a few days to be approved by a vote from the entire NHLPA membership, but the NHL and NHLPA have got everything in place to give the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs a shot this summer.

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NHL training camps have now been pushed ahead to a planned July 13 opening date with qualifying round games set to begin on Aug. 1, and a Stanley Cup winner planned for early October in the hub city of Edmonton. Games will be played in two hub cities, Edmonton and Toronto, in the first couple of rounds before the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be shipped out west to the hockey hotbed of Alberta.

UPDATE (Monday, July 6 at 6:30 p.m. ET): The NHL and NHLPA announced Monday a tentative agreement on a number of key issues, including a few notable dates involving the 2019-20 season.

--End of Update--

The level of safety guidelines and protocols is thoroughly amazing, all the way down to daily testing for hotel workers and bus drivers for the players, and there will be strict rules designed to keep the bubbles secure while ultimately protecting all of those involved with putting the games back on.

Meanwhile, the NHL released information on current COVID-19 positive rates with 23 players out of 369 testing positive since opting into the voluntary Phase 2 practices.

There have been 35 total players who have tested positive for COVID-19 out of roughly 600 NHL players across the world, which means NHL players are testing positive at a rate of roughly 5.8 percent with zero containment rules put into place outside of the rink. This is actually encouraging news considering that the NHL upped the number of players allowed together on the ice from six to 12 over the last couple of weeks, and there has been no demonstrable spike or spread aside from a handful of St. Louis Blues players and personnel who tested positive last week.

But the Return to Play plan certainly has some interesting features including:

• Families will not be allowed to be with NHL players until the conference finals and/or Stanley Cup Final in Edmonton, so NHL players could be away from their families for as long as five weeks during the qualifying rounds and first two rounds of the playoffs.

• Players with underlying health issues will be examined by doctors and could be restricted from playing if it’s deemed unsafe for them. This will be interesting for NHL players with Type 1 diabetes like Max Domi and Kaapo Kakko.

• Players who need to leave the bubble during play — for childbirth or family emergency for example — will need to be confined to isolation for four days and need four negative test results before potentially being able to rejoin their team.

• NHL players have until three days after the Return to Play is ratified to notify their teams they're opting out of participating in Phase 3 or 4, under the protocols tentatively agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA. There will be no penalty for doing so.

• The number of people scheduled to be tested daily in the NHL bubble includes: any player/coach/staff member, officials, ice crew, security, hotel bartenders, food service staff, arena food and beverage workers, hotel housekeeping, hotel kitchen staff and player transportation. That will add up to thousands of tests per day.

• Organizational failures to adhere to the Return to Play protocols “could lead to significant financial penalties, and potentially the loss of draft picks” and could result in individual players being ineligible to play and removed from the secured bubble.

• For NHL purposes, the league is going away from the term "hub cities" and instead prefers the terminology Phase 4 Secure Zone, which makes it sound like something out of a science-fiction movie.

All of this is subject to being approved by a simple majority of the 700-plus members of the NHLPA, of course, and that isn’t a slam dunk. It’s likely to happen, but one suspects the final vote is going to be a close one. Even with it being conditional, it feels like the NHL has done this about as well as could be expected under the circumstances.

The biggest question now is whether the NHL is going to be able to pull all of this off.

There will be a requirement for upwards of close to 20,000 tests per day when there are 24 teams involved at the beginning of postseason play, and the testing will need to be rapid and universal throughout the 2-3 months that NHL teams will be playing. Already Major League Baseball is having issues with testing results getting backed up at the COVID-19 testing facility they are using, and it’s creating a situation where MLB teams are suspending practice until it gets resolved.

Could the same thing cause the NHL to come to a crashing halt?

Let’s hope not, because the Return to Play has been about as carefully considered as anything the NHL has ever done, and it really is beginning to feel like there’s going to be playoff hockey in August, September and October. There are still hurdles to be cleared to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs a safe, viable reality for everybody involved, but we’re saying there’s a chance.