Bruins

Hagg Bag: Looking for ways to improve the B's, including trading Tuukka

Hagg Bag: Looking for ways to improve the B's, including trading Tuukka

With the first month of the NHL season firmly in the books, the Bruins are off to a pretty good start at 7-3-2. They’ve endured some injuries, taken advantage of a schedule that eased them into the regular season and left a lot of room for improvement over the remaining 70 games. So, there is plenty to review and even more in the future to talk about in this week’s edition of the Hagg Bag mailbag. As always these are real questions from real fans sending them on Twitter using the #HaggBag hashtag, via a message on my NBC Sports Boston Facebook page and via email at @JHaggerty@nbcuni.com. Now, on to the bag:

Hey Joe

Enjoy reading your coverage of the Bruins. Here is an early season blockbuster with a bit of a gamble. Tuuka, Grezlcyk and Shenyshyn to the Oilers for Talbot, Puljujarvi, Kassian and a 2nd.

Bruins get another 1B tender and reduce goalie annual cap hit to 7 million per season. They get a right winger with upside to play with Krejci (a worthwhile gamble for 4th overall pick). Much needed toughness upfront for when the situation calls for it Marchand 2 fighting majors are enough don’t need him breaking his hand although it is admirable. Oilers 2nd or Isles 3rd to offset the different ability of goalies and the Oilers get a true No. 1 who looks like he needs a change of scenery. A long sought after puck moving D-man and throw in Senyshyn to offset Puljujarvi.

The B’s take a bit of a gamble but Puljujarvi but playing him with a more experienced center and a change of scenery maybe everything he needs.

And salaries are within a 1M of each other

Thoughts?

DJ Lund

JH: Hi DJ. Interesting scenario. I am sure that Peter Chiarelli would be happy to bring on a goalie of Tuukka Rask’s pedigree to the Oilers situation, and Edmonton assistant GM Keith Gretzky was the head scout with the Bruins when Zach Senyshyn was picked back in 2015. There are a few things that might punch some holes in this trade happening, though, and I’d imagine the biggest is that Rask could squash this deal with the no-trade language in his contract. I like Edmonton. It’s a lovely Canadian city full of red-blooded hockey fans that love their Oilers and there are plenty of great people that cover the team in Edmonton too. But I don’t see Rask agreeing to go to Edmonton, or really anywhere else aside from Boston in the NHL at this point. In an ideal world, the Bruins could trade either Rask or David Krejci at some point down the road to free up cap space, and they might just be able to do it once the no-trade language is lessened a bit in either one of their contracts. This just isn’t the time for that to happen since both players like it here in Boston and have young kids that I can’t imagine they’d be wild about uprooting right now. People don’t want to hear this kind of stuff, but these are the kind of real-world things that factor into these kinds of scenarios. On paper, I think this deal is tilted a little too much toward Boston’s favor given the upside that’s still there presumably for Puljujarvi. Grzelcyk is a puck-mover, but he’s also a bottom-pairing D with limited offensive upside and Senyshyn hasn’t really looked like an NHL player to this point in his pro career. But I do think this is the kind of deal that the B’s will need to make when/if dealing Rask becomes a realistic scenario.

Hi Joe,

Once again, great job covering the Bruins. I agree with you and the Hagg Baggers, Rask is not an elite goaltender. Another soft goal last night, what's that 6 or 7 softies in 6 starts? Halak has allowed one soft goal. An elite goaltender stops the shots he is supposed to, makes the big save when the game is on the line, and steals games when the team is bad in front of him. When's the last time Rask stole a game for this team? I'm not sure Halak is the answer, but he is certainly the best option right now. What's with Marchand the number of poor decisions and giveaways lately? Marchand needs to simplify his game.

Terry Carpenter

JH: Thanks, Terry. I agree with you on Rask to this point this year. When he’s going bad, it seems like he gives up about a soft goal per game and that’s one soft goal too many in the NHL. He’ll get hot at some point this season (maybe it’s even November) and eliminate that from his game, but one really has to wonder what’s behind his slow starts every season. Maybe he’s not putting in the proper amount of work in the offseason to get ready or maybe he needs to play a little more in the preseason to prepare for the regular season. Whatever he’s doing now is leading to some pretty piss-poor October performances on a consistent basis. That needs to change.

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As far as Marchand goes, he can get loose with the puck when he’s going throw bad stretches and can throw some ill-advised passes when he’s not feeling it offensively. He’s done some of that in the early going, but his two-goal performance against Carolina on Tuesday was encouraging given that he was shooting and scoring the puck. That’s what he’s doing when he’s at his best rather than filling the playmaker role that he can also do on occasion. It’s an area he’s made a lot of improvement at in his game, but the risky plays and turnovers are still there when he hits a period of struggle.

Any chance we get KoKo to return from KHL? How is he playing this year?

--David Landry (@davmonti)

JH: Alex Khokhlachev has eight goals and 16 points in 25 games for Moscow Spartak this season and 19 goals and 50 points in 52 games for them last season. So, he’s playing okay this season. But he’s clearly not lighting it up in the KHL, so is he really worth the effort to get him back in the North American fold and clear off a roster spot at the NHL level when he has shown little evidence that he’s any better than the young guys they have now?

God bless Bruins fans for constantly viewing their Russian prospects as some kind of sleeping giant, but I didn’t see much evidence that Koko could actually play in his years in Providence/Boston. He felt like a classic tweener to me: A quality AHL player that was too small, not fast enough to succeed when he got called up to the show. He’s probably in the right place for him now that he’s in the KHL, and no longer has to complain about not getting a proper chance in Boston.

Not dogpiling on Tuukka, but just a question: does he have a no-trade clause? Maybe limited? I bet we could entice the Kings. I’m not even looking for a return, just cap flexibility to get the winger we need.

Sign me Dr. Nate

JH: You’re not the only one judging by the emails in my inbox, Dr. Nate. I don’t see Tuukka waiving his no-trade clause to go anywhere, but you’d need to get some kind of a return for an All-Star, former Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender that’s still in his prime. The cap flexibility really becomes important once guys such as Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk get out of their entry-level contracts in the next few years.

And to answer your question, Rask’s modified no-trade includes just eight teams that he can be traded to, but that number jumps up to 15 teams next season.

Bruin fan 45 years Haggs...I want to know if Bruins GM thinks his team is heavy enough up front?

--M.Reel (@MReel10)

JH: Given that the Bruins were chasing after Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares over the summer, I would say the answer is “no” when it comes to being heavy enough or dangerous enough offensively. The Bruins are short at least one top-six forward right now in my humble opinion, and probably short a couple of top-nine forwards when you consider their third-line center situation.

Who knows? Maybe Joakim Nordstrom is this year’s Riley Nash and he’ll take the third-line center job and really run with it. That remains to be seen, or he could give way to bruising, physical, young third-line center Trent Frederic who might be able to help this B’s team in the second half. He checks some of the boxes that you’re asking about.

They could absolutely use a bruising, tough winger that can score goals and intimidate, but those guys don’t exactly grow on trees. Maybe Wayne Simmonds becomes available if the Flyers really fall out of it, but he’s also a player who's had his share of injuries recently and does most of his damage offensively on the power play. Still, he’d be a dangerous player to put on a line with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci. That’s exactly what they need right now.

Given how undersized and outgunned physically this team has looked at times after dealing away Adam McQuaid, I’d really like to see them trade for a tough energy player who could drop the gloves if it's needed. But the fourth line (Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner) has been the least of Boston’s problems, so I think that goes way down on the priority list right now.

Sup Haggs?

Thanks for answering my question in your last bag!

I agree with your story about that boring B's/Habs game Saturday night. What happened to this sport? As a kid, I remember getting fired up to watch Boston vs. Montreal. Would Jay Miller and John Kordic go for what seemed like the 500th time! Would Lyndon Byers wrap Todd Ewen with one of his patented upper cuts. Would Neely crunch Svoboda in the boards.

Would Bruce Shoebottom get called up for the game!! I hear the league yelling that they want to open it up and have more scoring but last time I checked, Gretzky was putting up over 200 points in a year with the likes of Dave Semenko and Kevin McClelland on his team. Seriously, who would you rather have on the current Bruins 4th line right now?

Guys like Wagner, Acciari or Kuraly or Shawn Thornton? I'd take Thornton every time and the funny part is, you barely lose any offense with Thornton. Wagner, Acciari and Kuraly aren't lighting up scoreboards. Thornton provided way more to the B's than any of those guys. The "Merlot Line” impacted games in the biggest moments. Stanley Cup Finals moments! You were right in your article. The emotion is gone. Max Domi and Jake Debrusk's dad's must watch a game like that and cringe.

When the game was too flat when those two animals played, they made a point to create some excitement. Every B's game I ever attended in my life, the bigger the confrontations, the better the memories. Terry O' Reilly with his left hand from hell. Chris Nilan sucker punching Paul Boutilier. L.B. getting jumped by Dirk Graham after beating the bag out of Everett Sanipass. PJ Stock throwing an insane amount of punches against that dude from the Capitals. All the way up to Looch and McQuaid, kind of the last of the Big Bad Bruins. Tell me Haggs. What the hell happened to our sport?

Billy Hud

JH: It’s a legit question, Billy, and one I ask all the time. I don’t think it’s ever going to be like it was back in the '70s and '80s because of concussions and the clear and present danger that too many blows to the head are scientifically proven to lead to brain damage. Nobody wants to see players unable to enjoy quality of life after their careers. or have their lives come to tragic ends, just to satisfy the old-time hockey fan in all of us.  

But there’s got to be some kind of happy medium in there where hits and fighting are tightly legislated, but still allowed in the NHL while the emotion and hate still stay part of the game as well. The other problem is that across all pro sports there’s just not as much as hate in the game as there used to be. That hate created sparks and rivalries and led to so many of those unforgettable moments. It seems as if players these days would rather build their personal brand through social media rather than do it by making things happen on the ice.

Somebody needs to inject some life into the Bruins/Canadiens rivalry to get it back to where it needs to be. The only way that’s going to happen is by somebody stirring things up as they did in the old days. Is there anybody on the B’s roster still willing to do that? Outside of Marchand, who awaits a massive suspension the next time he crosses the street without looking both ways, it doesn’t seem like there is right now.

That’s all for the Bag this week. See you next week. 

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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 Presidents' 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 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.