Bruins

Rough stretch of hockey for Brandon Carlo

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AP Photo

Rough stretch of hockey for Brandon Carlo

GOLD STAR: Nazem Kadri really stepped up for the Maple Leafs without Auston Matthews, and showed his goal-scoring prowess with a couple of power play strikes. The first was a great tipped pass from JVR to Kadri waiting all alone in the face-off circle, and the second was a give-and-go with Mitch Marner where the Leafs agitator finally slammed it home from the high slot for his 23rd goal of the season. Kadri was a minus-2 in the game as his line had their struggles against the Patrice Bergeron line, but he was great at the offensive end with the two goals, a game-high eight shots on net and a couple of takeaways in a pretty active 17:49 of ice time. Kadri certainly showed that he needs to be accounted for during the PP where he twice stung the B’s.

BLACK EYE: Brandon Carlo had a pretty tough night finishing with just 13:32 of ice time while he was on the ice for three goals against. A couple of them were on the penalty kill, so Carlo only finish a minus-1 for the game, but the 21-year-old is a minus-5 on the current road trip and has been struggling this week as the Bruins roll into the NHL trade deadline. After being on ice for the two goals against with the shots coming from his side in the first period, it appeared that Carlo lost his confidence and wasn’t trying to make plays for the rest of the night. So at points Carlo hit the pine as Bruce Cassidy was rotating through the other 5 D-men, and the Bruins coaches are left with something to think about as they write out their lineup for Sunday afternoon in Buffalo.

TURNING POINT: It came down to the final two minutes in the game when Ron Hainsey scored the game-winner for the Maple Leafs on a long bomb from the point with Zach Hyman grinding in front of the Boston net. In fact Hyman was grinding so much that he pushed Charlie McAvoy directly into Tuukka Rask as he was tracking the puck, and knocked him off balance where he couldn’t make a play from the deep perimeter. The goal was ruled a good one on the ice, and a coach’s challenge for goalie interference somewhat surprisingly didn’t go Boston’s way. It looked clear-cut that McAvoy was shoved into his goaltender, but apparently the NHL is determined to make everybody unsure of the new goalie interference interpretation. The challenge from the Bruins was overruled, and the Leafs won the game on a controversial call.

HONORABLE MENTION: Patrice Bergeron was outstanding in the game, which made it all the more perplexing when he walked out of the Air Canada Centre following the game wearing a protective right boot. Bergeron finished with a game-high 19:15 of ice time among the forwards, notched a couple of assists and a plus-2 rating, had six shot attempts, two hits, two takeaways and won 15-of-22 face-offs while also playing the final 1:23 of the game. It appeared that Bergeron’s right foot was hit by a shot earlier in the game where he was able to finish out the game, but clearly it was bothering him a bit after it was all over. It’s a credit to No. 37’s toughness that he was able to play so well during the game while in clear discomfort.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1-2-1 – the Bruins’ record against the Maple Leafs team they may likely end up seeing in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins lost all three games where Toronto was without Auston Matthews, believe it or not.  

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I was pushed into [Tuukka]. I don’t know what goaltender interference really is, and I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen it work in our favor, and I’ve seen it work against us now. There doesn’t seem to be a fine line.” –Charlie McAvoy, who is both convinced Toronto’s game-winner was goalie interference and unsure of exactly how it’s going to be called in the future.

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Haggerty: Stage getting set for an active Bruins offseason

Haggerty: Stage getting set for an active Bruins offseason

Given some of the contracts the Bruins have on their books, given their overabundance of young assets and given a couple of the holes that need filling on the NHL roster, it feels inevitable they're going to be active over the next few weeks.

First, there are a couple of key openings they'd like to fill on their NHL roster that they can’t simply plug in with their own young talent in the organization. Boston’s interest in free-agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk would fill one of those vacancies as a second line sniper-type that the Bruins could plug in with David Krejci and theoretically provide more balanced scoring up front than what the B's featured in their second-round defeat against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Clearly, the Bruins aren’t the only team interested in Kovalchuk, 35, who has suitors on the West Coast (the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks) among others when he becomes available to sign on July 1. Given his age and that he's been away from the NHL playing in Russia the past five years, Kovalchuk isn’t going to command much more than a one-to-two-year deal at $5 million to $6 million per season. That’s a doable price tag for an aging game-breaker who should score 25 goals and 60 points in his sleep.

Certainly, Kovalchuk seems a better bet than Rick Nash, 33, who disappointed after arriving at the trade deadline while also coping with a concussion that really messed up his time with the Black and Gold. It could come down to an either/or for the Bruins between giving Kovalchuk or Nash a similar contract to be the veteran, big-bodied scorer on the second line. That’s a must given the small stature, inexperience and highly skilled nature of the young players the B's overwhelmingly feature on their wing right now.

A little higher on the degree of difficulty this offseason is the longstanding search for a front-line, left-shot defenseman who could fit into Boston’s top four. With Zdeno Chara turning 42 next season and Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk both undersized, puck-moving types, there’s a clear need for a bigger, stronger and younger do-everything D-man.

The Bruins have a longstanding interest in Carolina defenseman Noah Hanifin that goes back to their efforts to trade up for him in the first round of the 2015 draft. The Hurricanes are a team that appears likely to trade off some of their players amid a regime change. Hanifin won’t come cheap as the Canes will undoubtedly ask for left winger Jake DeBrusk in a hefty package, just as the Rangers similarly did in the Ryan McDonagh discussions last spring. Perhaps the two sides can settle on a package built around Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork instead, or perhaps the Bruins will have to look elsewhere, whether that means Oskar Klefbom or seeing what Jakub Zboril/Urho Vaakanainen/Jeremy Lauzon could bring to the table.

As it stands, the Bruins will have somewhere between $10.4 million to $14.4 million in cap space after signing Grzelcyk to a two-year, $2.8 million extension, depending on where the ceiling for 2018-19 ends up between the projected $78-82 million. They have 10 forwards, seven defensemen and one goaltender under contract and still need to make decisions on their third-line center and their backup goaltender, along with a second-line sniper. So, it would be smart cap management by the Bruins to move some salary in order to give themselves some breathing room ahead of July 1. That’s why the names David Krejci ($7.25 million cap hit) and David Backes ($6 million) have been whispered around the periphery of league-wide trade discussions.  

TSN Insider Darren Dreger told Buffalo WGR Sports Radio 550 last Friday that the Bruins are fielding calls about a potential Krejci trade. Dreger also added that the Bruins are "a little reluctant to” move their playmaking 32-year-old Czech center, but instead "would like" to deal away the 34-year-old Backes.    

What does it all sound like to this humble hockey writer?

It sounds like wishful thinking from a Bruins general manager who would love to move either of the two worst contracts - paying aging players with no-movement clauses - on their books. Of course, the Bruins would like to move Backes, who had a bad contract from the minute they signed him to a five-year deal. Backes has endured all kinds of injury and health issues the past couple of seasons, including a nasty concussion that ended his postseason. He has settled into a third-line role after never really building any offensive chemistry with Krejci.

Clearly, Backes is making too much money for a third-liner who has averaged 15 goals and 36 points in his first two seasons in Boston. It also wouldn’t be shocking if the hard-working, no-nonsense Backes would be amenable to moving somewhere where he might fit into a more prominent top-six role. Still, nobody is going to take on Backes unless A) the Bruins were willing to eat a great deal of his remaining $18 million or B) they were willing to take on a similarly unfavorable contract coming from another team.

All of this doesn’t even mention the fact Backes is one of the few Bruins forwards with size, strength, snarl and a willingness to go to the front of the net and jettisoning him would just be creating another hole to be filled on their roster.

“Hopefully he is going to be healthy. He went through... even he described it as a pretty difficult year," GM Don Sweeney said back in May at his end-of-season press conference. "I don’t know if a lot of players are going to play through some of the things David went through this year. It speaks to his character. It’s a big reason why we went out and got him, and to what he was going to offload at times from other players on our hockey club that we all speak about from a core standpoint, and the impact they make from a leadership standpoint. It’s a lot to lump on players individually to carry that burden, and I think David’s done a really good job of coming in and helping in that regard and spreading it around. From a pure production standpoint, a little bit is determined where he plays in the lineup.

“Nothing against Bruce, but he’s putting together the lineup and did a really good job this year. We played him on the power play. His offense comes in spurts probably more so than what he used to, from a volume standpoint. He’s also playing with younger players at times that’s he’s helping on and off the ice. I think we looked at David Backes as providing balance in our locker room, on the ice, not just from a pure production standpoint. Do I hope he becomes a 20 [goals] 50 [points] guy again? Yeah, I absolutely do. I don’t know, that’s up to him. He hasn’t the last two years, but at times, if he was healthy, he was trending in that way. But a little bit depends on the usage piece.”

Perhaps there is less reluctance to deal Krejci from a Bruins perspective, but it’s once again an aging player experiencing both more injuries and less production at this point in a very solid career. If the Bruins found a team willing to take either Krejci or Backes in a reasonable deal, and either was willing to waive their no-trade protection, then Boston would and should pull the trigger immediately, if not sooner.

Instead, this feels more like Boston trying to float a couple of names they’d like to trade before going through the pain of trading a younger, more valuable asset (Krug, perhaps?) to clear the cap space they’ll need to make all their desired offseason moves. All the pieces are in place for Sweeney and the Bruins to make a few splash-worthy moves this season, but let’s also hope B’s management doesn’t shake, rattle and roll too much of a roster that piled up 112 points last season while looking like they were onto something most of the year.  


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Morning Skate: Bruins right to pass on Hoffman's baggage

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Morning Skate: Bruins right to pass on Hoffman's baggage

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while NHL Draft week is upon us.

*The Ottawa Senators couldn’t dump Mike Hoffman fast enough after last week’s drama with Erik Karlsson’s family, and they shipped him to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday morning. The return was understandably underwhelming as Hoffman’s value was pretty much gone after the crazy story about alleged cyber-bullying by his girlfriend. Mikkel Boedker is an NHL player that will at least replace Hoffman’s roster spot, and San Jose included a decent D-man prospect in Bergman. But it’s nowhere close to what the Senators could have had for Hoffman if there wasn’t the significant baggage going along with him.

Some might have wondered if the Bruins should have gotten involved in discussions for a player clearly at the ebb of his trade value, but they were right to take a straight pass on a talented player in Hoffman that could be dressing room poison. It could be that this entire situation has some other explanation where Hoffman and his girlfriend aren’t as culpable as they’re being made out to be, but either way their rift clearly ripped apart Ottawa’s room at the end of last season. And it tormented the family of the Sens’ best player and leader.

Given that good chemistry is one of Boston’s clear strengths again after a few years in between, they don’t need a dark cloud hovering over them. They have good leadership in the room, but why add a potentially divisive influence like that simply because he might come cheap? The guy had 22 goals, 56 points and a minus-20 last season, so we're not talking Mike Bossy here. 

Clearly San Jose has no such reservations having taken on Evander Kane and Hoffman in the last couple of seasons, so good luck to them.   

*Looking at four potential landing spots for Barry Trotz after he resigned from his post with the Washington Capitals after winning a Cup.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Darren Dreger says that the Toronto Maple Leafs have put together a promotional video for prospective free agent John Tavares. It will be an interesting free agent sweepstakes to watch if the Isles end up losing him to the open market where many, many teams could use a star center like that.

*The new Seattle NHL expansion group has taken on veteran coach and executive Dave Tippett as a senior advisor.

*Rasmus Dahlin is poised to be the first real blue line star for the Buffalo Sabres when they take him first overall this weekend.

For something completely different: Boy, it sure sounds like the Walking Dead is getting ready to jump over a shark on water skis.