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Injuries may prevent Bruins' Charlie McAvoy from getting paid the way he'd hoped

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Injuries may prevent Bruins' Charlie McAvoy from getting paid the way he'd hoped

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When the Bruins take the ice tomorrow for the Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, it doesn't appear Charlie McAvoy will be out there with them.

McAvoy -- who missed 20 games with a concussion this season after sitting out 19 last year due to a heart procedure and then a knee injury -- suffered a lower-body injury while blocking a shot against Nashville on Dec. 22. He played the next night at Carolina, then was placed on injured reserve and sat out the following two games as the problem lingered. He traveled here with the team but was unable to practice either Sunday or Monday. Coach Bruce Cassidy had said Sunday that if McAvoy didn't practice Monday "it isn't looking good" for him playing against the Blackhawks tomorrow. If he does indeed sit out the Winter Classic, it will be the 23rd game he's missed in 2018-19.

It’s still too early in his career to call the injuries and missed games a pattern, but it’s beginning to become noticeable that McAvoy is having a hard time staying on the ice.

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Some things, like the heart condition and subsequent procedure, are impossible to avoid. And to his credit, McAvoy did come back from the knee injury in time for last season’s two-round playoff run through Toronto and Tampa Bay.

Still, for McAvoy to become the No. 1 defenseman he seems capable of becoming, he can't miss pockets of time each and every season. Drew Doughty, a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman to whom McAvoy has been compared, has played the full 82-game schedule five times in his career and has never missed more than six games in any season that he’s played for the Kings over the last decade.

Some of that certainly is good luck; Doughty has been fortunate to avoid serious injury despite not shying away from contact. Some of that, though, might be a matter of getting used to playing through pain.

Only McAvoy and the Bruins medical staff know when he’s 100 percent, and only a player knows when he’s feeling well enough to play after a concussion. Injuries are often nobody’s fault and can heal slowly even though urgency is the name of the game at the NHL level.

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But if he doesn't find a way to stay on the ice, it’s difficult to see McAvoy getting the massive second contract that once seemed inevitable. As it stands now, McAvoy won't be able to command an eight-year, $60 million contract like the one signed by Aaron Ekblad, or even the six-year, $34.5 million deal Dougie Hamilton received. There are still too many questions to answer. The Bruins can’t sign a young player to an exorbitant contract like that when he’s frequently injured, and when there's still much to prove even when he’s out there.

The Bruins and McAvoy could certainly find middle ground on a shorter bridge deal with his rookie contract coming to an end at the close of this season. And maybe there’s still time -- if he gets back and stays in the lineup, has a monster second half, and amps up the playmaking and physicality skills he's flashed when healthy -- for him to prove he deserves the contract that will push him into that top echelon of young defensemen.

But right now the Bruins can’t give McAvoy his big payday. Not until they see him consistently on the ice earning it.

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Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

PITTSBURGH — If it happened once or twice, it could be shrugged off as a coincidence.

But the Bruins have blown three-goal leads three times this season, including two in the last week alone. That gives them one of the NHL's worst records when leading after two periods, with seven losses already this season.

To put Sunday's 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh in perspective, the Bruins went into the contest 200-1-6 since 2010-11 in games where they’d held a three-goal lead. 

It came down to a couple different things on Sunday, but you can start with their sloppy second period. They basically did nothing for the first 10 minutes coming out of the first intermission. That opened the door for everything that followed.

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First, Sidney Crosby made a couple of All-World plays to set up goals and get the Penguins back in the game. Then, it came down to the Bruins dooming themselves with mistakes, allowing two more goals without any offensive response. 

On the third goal, their top power-play unit stayed out on the ice far too long, and a gassed Brad Marchand couldn’t catch Jack Johnson as the trailer unloaded a shorthanded bomb. Then in the third, Evgeni Malkin stripped Charlie McAvoy behind the Boston net and set up Bryan Rust for the Penguins' game-winner.

To a man, the Bruins said it wasn’t about taking the foot off the gas pedal. Instead, they pointed to mistakes made while crediting Pittsburgh for pushing back.

“It’s typically how does it happen? We saw some poor defending and some poor goaltending in Philly, and tonight it was more of the same to be honest with you,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Not so much on the goalie. They were good goals. But we get beat off the wall and the last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you.

“I saw them bump their urgency up. The goals we are giving up against a good team…what is it a lack of focus? Do we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. You can get outplayed by good teams, and you will in stretches. But these were gifts today.”

But it sure feels like the mind-numbing results fly in the face of their denials. Instead, something feels inherently wrong with a team that consistently plays down to the worst teams in the league, and seems to ease up once they build a comfortable lead. Those are the kinds of team traits that don’t go away as things get more challenging, and will certainly crop up when things are heightened. It’s also a shocking development for a Bruins team that’s been very good at closing out other teams over the years.

“We just need to bear down and you can’t just have a good effort and be satisfied with that, and then come back in the next game and just play for half of a game or whatever that was,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored his 21st goal of the season and won 20-of-25 face-offs. “We need to take it upon ourselves. We all need to take responsibility and be accountable for how we’re able to play in this locker room.

“It’s one of those games where we’re playing a good team and they’re going to give you a push, but you can’t let that go by. It’s a 3-0 and you know there’s a lot of game left, so you need to play the right way and keep pushing in order to increase that lead.”

The good news for the Bruins is that they still have a half-season to figure things out. But it also makes one wonder if something has to change from the outside to improve things for a Bruins team that's almost the same as last season’s Stanley Cup finalist.

It remains to be seen what’s going to right the ship, or if it will ever get righted at all. But the list of problems is growing for a Bruins team that can’t live off its early-season success for much longer.

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Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

David Backes was waived by the Boston Bruins late last week. The statement move to demote the veteran Bruin was part of two critical changes that the B's made to their team. The other was waiving fellow enforcer and physical forward Brett Ritchie.

After Backes' demotion, there was some speculation that the 14-year veteran may opt to retire instead of playing in the AHL for the Providence Bruins. But according to Bruins president Cam Neely, Backes hasn't indicated that he will do that.

"I don’t think he has a mindset of retirement," said Neely per Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe. "He’s a very proud man, and a professional. I still have the feeling he thinks he can help, so we’ll see where it goes from here."

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This isn't altogether surprising. Backes may be holding out hope that he'll get another chance to play moving forward if he can prove himself in the AHL. 

Backes turns 36 in May, but hockey players often have long careers. So, it's possible that Backes could find a role as a veteran depth piece for another team. It'll just be on a deal much cheaper than the five-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Bruins back in the 2016 offseason.

That said, it's worth noting that Backes has had concussion issues in recent seasons. So that could impact his decision-making moving forward.

In 16 games this season, Backes had just one goal and two assists for the Bruins. He'll take some time off before joining the Providence Bruins later this month.