Bruins

Hangover or not, Bruins will be challenged to make it past first round

Hangover or not, Bruins will be challenged to make it past first round

If you're like me, you spent last spring breathlessly repeating that the Bruins were going to win the Stanley Cup. It ruled.  

Fine, so we didn't exactly stick the landing, but we read the tea leaves correctly: The path was there once the Lightning crashed and burned in the first round, and if the Bruins had played to their potential, there'd be a banner-raising ceremony at the Garden.

Now let's read them for this season and say this: Don't get your hopes up. A Cup run? The Bruins might be lucky to reach the second round.  

Putting aside the "hangover" that could of course occur, just consider how unlikely it is that the road to a championship will be as easy as it was in the spring. I won't even mention the gimme they got in the conference finals with the Hurricanes, because the Bruins probably aren't getting that far.

Best-case scenario, the Bruins have the problem they expected last year, which would be a second-round meeting with the powerhouse Lightning. To do that, however, they'd need to get past the Leafs in the first round, something I wouldn't bet on happening for a third straight time.

While the cash-strapped Bruins did what they could to keep the band together, the very Leafs that took Boston to seven games got better. They replaced Nikita Zaitsev with Cody Ceci (eh, whatever), but the big get on defense was trading annual postseason suspension Nazem Kadri for Tyson Barrie. Kadri's a solid third-line center, but they got another one (Alexander Kerfoot) back in the Barrie trade.

So the offensively star-studded Leafs (Tavares, Marner, Matthews, Nylander) now have an actual blue line behind them. After finishing third in the Atlantic the last two years and getting bounced the Bruins in seven games each time, they seem primed to -- and I hate saying this because nothing brings me more joy than unhappy Toronto fans -- leapfrog the Bruins for second in the division and host Boston in a first-round matchup.

Injuries and trades can change things, but let's assume these teams are what they look like now. Knowing that the Bruins have had to scratch and claw their way past inferior Leafs the last two years, wouldn't it stand to reason that would be much more of a challenge against an improved Toronto team?

Say Boston does get through another first-round matchup with the Leafs. Waiting for them would be the Lightning. We got to stop talking about the issue of having two of the best teams in the league in the same division for a minute last year because Tampa lost, but that problem isn't just going to disappear.

And I'd caution against any and all "the Lightning will choke again" logic. Bruins fans should remember that the B's were once the laughing stock that suffered postseason embarrassment in 2010. Rather than imploding, they came back focused the next year and won the Cup.

As for the ol' hangover: After winning the Cup in 2011, the B's were bounced in the first round the following spring. Their 2013 Cup run was followed by a second-round exit against Montreal. It's harder to make a run when you didn't get the time off your opponents did.

The Bruins are going to have an entertaining season. They're going to be one of the better teams in the league and they're going to make the playoffs. Their competition will be stiffer, however, and that doesn't bode well for a team that just played into June.

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NHL trade targets: Top-6 forwards for Bruins to pursue at deadline

NHL trade targets: Top-6 forwards for Bruins to pursue at deadline

The Bruins sit at the break in the NHL regular season in first place in the Atlantic Division and are a virtual lock for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There is plenty for the Black and Gold to be proud of as David Pastrnak leads in the NHL in goal-scoring and the Perfection Line, power play and goaltending have been undeniable strengths for the team all season.

But there are also some needs on this team with the trade deadline roughly a month away, and the Bruins are expected to be active over the next month looking to improve a team that ultimately fell short in last season’s playoffs and will need some new blood on a roster that’s played a lot of hockey over the last 18 months.

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The biggest need for the Bruins remains a top-6 right wing capable of scoring goals, finishing off plays and being enough of an offensive weapon that the Bruins don’t become a one-dimensional offense in the playoffs too reliant on Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak when the going gets tough.

There won’t be any shortage of candidates for the Bruins at the deadline and really, truly it will come down to A) their desperation level to fortify their offensive attack B) the development of their young players over the next month and C) how much they are willing to give up in assets — either in a big way like with Rick Nash a couple of years ago or smaller, more reasonable moves like Drew Stafford or Marcus Johansson-level trades that actually ended up working out pretty well in the short term.

There are no shortage of trade options expected to be available at the trade deadline, so let’s go through a few of the skilled top-6 forwards that will be available (All salary information via Cap Friendly):

Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
2019-20 stats: 
48 GP, 17 G, 15 A, 117 SOG
Contract: $4.625 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2019-20, modified no-trade clause

The price may have just gone up even more with Chris Kreider getting selected as an All-Star this weekend, and it’s well-deserved given his ability to parlay skating speed and a 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame into an average of 25 goals and 50 points each season. He’s fast, he’s big and he will play on the nasty side from time to time, bringing a lot of different elements that the Bruins could use in their top-6 right now.

Kreider is Boston’s top choice at the trade deadline and will be a player that the Bruins could potentially pay a high price for as they did with Rick Nash a few years ago. Given his background as a Massachusetts native and a college hockey player, one would also expect they’d be planning to keep Kreider beyond this season if they traded for him.

Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings
2019-20 stats: 
49 GP, 12 G, 15 A, 126 SOG
Contract: $4.6 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2019-20

The 27-year-old Toffoli is a natural right wing, has a Stanley Cup title on his résumé and is on pace for 20 goals and 45 points this season for a Kings team that doesn’t have much in the way of offense at all. Toffoli has surpassed 30 goals and 50 points once in his career, but is more along the lines of a player capable of the numbers he’s putting up this season.

It certainly looks like the 6-foot, 200-pounder has lost some of his game as the Kings have edged away from competitor status, and perhaps a return to a legit Cup hopeful like the Bruins would return some of the bounce to his game. He won’t cost nearly as much as Kreider, and remains a secondary option for the Bruins should they miss out on their top targets. That being said, there will be shortage of suitors for a player like Toffoli as well.

Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils
2019-20 stats: 
44 GP, 16 G, 15 A, 103 SOG
Contract: $4.65 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21, modified no-trade clause

The 28-year-old winger has really blossomed with New Jersey and has been good for at least 20 goals and 50 points in each season with the Devils while providing a deadly option on the power play. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder would bring a shooter and finishing presence to Boston’s second power play unit and is exactly the kind of player who could finish off a lot of the David Krejci set-ups that aren’t currently turning into goals.

Palmieri would undoubtedly cost the Bruins a first-round pick and a significant prospect given that he’s signed through next season and isn’t a straight “rental” player. But once again Palmieri would be a player who would likely fit into Boston’s long-term plan.

On the downside, Palmieri isn’t the ideal solution at just 5-foot-11, 185 pounds and is more of the same of what they already have, and wouldn’t necessarily give the Bruins somebody to battle with the big defensemen corps that have successfully bottled them up in the playoffs.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Montreal Canadiens
2019-20 stats: 
25 GP, 7 G, 10 A, 57 SOG
Contract: $700,000 salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21

Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the Bruins passed on Kovalchuk when they could have signed him to a two-way, $700,000 contract, but instead traded away perfectly good assets to Montreal for his services at the trade deadline?

It would be the second time Don Sweeney would do something like that after he similarly passed on Lee Stempniak as a tryout option in training camp and then traded draft picks to Carolina in exchange for him at the trade deadline five years ago. The 36-year-old has four goals and eight points in eight games since going to Montreal and now has seven goals and 17 points in 25 games this season.

It wouldn’t be a big cost for the Bruins to acquire him, and he’s another goal-scoring talent who could be dynamic with David Krejci, and a potent finisher who could make Boston’s second PP unit a lot more dangerous.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators
2019-20 stats: 
46 GP, 19 G, 12 A, 103 SOG
Contract: $3.1 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21

The Bruins could go a different route and trade for a third-line center that would allow them to push Charlie Coyle over to the wing for the rest of this season, and for a playoff run. Coyle would certainly bring the size, strength and offensive ability that the Bruins need for a top-6 wing, and J.G. Pageau is the kind of scrappy two-way center who would bring speed, tenacity and some underrated offense to the table along with penalty killing and face-off ability.

The 27-year-old is on pace for 33 goals and 54 points this season and already has three shorthanded goals in 46 games this season. Considering he’s already matched his season-high in goals and is just 12 points away from his career-high in that category too, it might be the right season to buy in on JGP as a rental before he hits free agency.

NHL Power Rankings: Who's leading the way at the All-Star break?

NHL Power Rankings: Who's leading the way at the All-Star break?

With the NHL All-Star break upon us, it’s time to focus on this weekend’s festivities in St. Louis where there will be a new skills challenge format, a great collection of the NHL’s best and a celebration of a pretty great NHL city that finally captured the Cup last season.

All of the NHL All-Star action will be on NBCSN and NBC, starting Friday with the skills challenge where David Pastrnak will undoubtedly look to defend his shot accuracy title, and the NHL’s hardest shot will again be a big draw even if Zdeno Chara won’t be there to wow the crowd.

For the fifth year in a row, there will be a 3-on-3 tournament on Saturday that will count as the All-Star Game, and there will be 19 new faces to All-Star Weekend with perennial stars like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Artemi Panarin, Tuukka Rask and Vladimir Tarasenko missing due to injuries, or a desire to get some rest over the break. 

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According to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, there will even be a part of the skills challenge where players are firing pucks from the stands and the concourse down onto targets on the ice for extra points.

So it should be a ton of fun this weekend in St. Louis with a lot of fresh blood and enthusiasm.

Click here for the midseason NHL Power Rankings.