For the first time in years, are the Pittsburgh Penguins actually – gasp – playoff underdogs?

Evgeni Malkin (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Hockey News this week revealed its collective pre-playoff pick to win the 2014-15 Stanley Cup (hint: team name rhymes with Grandpa Jay Whitening), but as an individual who was part of that process, I can tell you I wasn’t leading the charge for the team we selected (hint: my pick rhymes with…uh, to hell with it – I picked the Blackhawks). That said, I think this season’s playoffs will be like those that have preceded it in the salary cap era in that you can make excellent arguments for about two handfuls of teams, assuming each benefits from good health and solid chemistry at the right time of the year.

And that said, I think this post-season is particularly fascinating, because it’s the first playoffs in a long time in which the Pittsburgh Penguins are coming in as underdogs – or at least, as much of an underdog that any team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on it can be. Read more

Top five potential free agent NHL coaches this summer

Mike Babcock (Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

With this NHL off-season having the weakest class of unrestricted free agents in recent memory, the biggest names that change teams more than likely are going to be behind the bench. Some of the potential coaching free agents will depend on the regular-season and playoff games to come this spring and summer, but there’s no doubt new salary benchmarks will be set for a profession that hasn’t been flush with money (at least, as compared to NHL coaches’ counterparts in other sports). Here are the top five potential free agent coaches in the 2015 off-season:

5. Dan Bylsma. The former Penguins coach and Stanley Cup-winner has been waiting quietly on the sidelines for the opportune moment to restart his NHL coaching career, and although he has another year remaining on his contract with Pittsburgh, few think he’ll stay there for much longer. He’s not an authoritarian figure in the dressing room and showed during his time with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin he understands how to handle the league’s top young talent. Bylsma’s pedigree and young age – he’s still only 44 years old – will have him on the list of interviewees for a number of job openings. Read more

David Pastrnak has been way ahead of schedule for the Bruins

David Pastrnak celebrates his OT winner (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Boston Bruins need some heroes right now. Tenuously holding on to the final wild card slot in the East, there is little margin of error for the B’s, which is why David Pastrnak’s overtime goal against lowly Carolina was so crucial Sunday night.

That tally, plus an Ottawa loss, gave Boston a bit of breathing room, but it also illustrated just how great the Bruins did in plucking Pastrnak 25th overall this past summer in the draft.

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Why the Penguins should trade Sidney Crosby for the No. 1 pick

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?

After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)

The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.

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Video: Rangers’ Glass fined for hitting McQuaid in the face

Jeff Doner
Photo by Jana Chytilova/NHLI via Getty Images

It didn’t take long for the NHL to announce that New York Rangers winger Tanner Glass would be punished for hitting Boston Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid in the face with the butt-end of his stick. The League issued a statement shortly after the Boston-New York game on Saturday afternoon announcing Glass would be fined $3,897.85 – the league maximum for such an offense.

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Inspirational young fist-bumping Bruins fan gets his own hockey card

Adam Proteau
Bruins fan Liam Fitzgerald poses with his Upper Deck card during Boston's game against Anaheim. (Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

In early November, nine-year-old Bruins fan Liam Fitzgerald captured the hearts of hockey fans when he fist-bumped each of Boston’s players as they left the ice prior to a game against the Florida Panthers. And on Thursday, the inspirational youngster was back at a Bruins game to receive a huge honor: his own hockey card. Read more

Whose heads should roll if the Boston Bruins miss the playoffs?

Matt Larkin
Zdeno Chara. (Getty images)

Pop quiz, Bruins fans: where were you when the Joe Thornton trade went down Nov. 30, 2005?

And how did you feel when the ticker crawl on the nearest TV unveiled the return for your team’s franchise center?

BREAKING: Boston Bruins trade C Joe Thornton to San Jose Sharks for LW Marco Sturm…

…C Wayne Primeau…

…and D Brad Stuart.

“Wait. That’s ALL!?”

It was a doomed deal from the start, and Jumbo Joe went bananas upon arrival in the Silicon Valley, amassing 92 points in 58 games en route to his lone Hart Trophy and scoring crown. It also marked the darkest point in Bruins history since the team finished low enough to draft Thornton.

So why talk about it today? Because, if the Bruins miss the playoffs this season, they’ll reach easily their lowest point as a franchise since Nov. 30, 2005. They’ve made the big dance seven straight seasons since Claude Julien took over as coach, posting point totals of 94, 116, 91, 103, 102, 62 (in 48 games, pro-rated to 106), and 117. The run includes a 2011 Stanley Cup, another final appearance in 2013 and the Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s top record a season ago.

But 2014-15 hasn’t been overly kind to the Big, Bad Bruins. They’re 36-25-12, good for 84 points with nine games remaining. The surging Ottawa Hamburglars Senators have nudged them out of a playoff position and have the dreaded game in hand. The Bruins spent a good chunk of the year without captain Zdeno Chara, they’ve been sans David Krejci for a month and, worst of all, Dougie Hamilton’s breakout season is paused indefinitely with a mysterious injury. The signs don’t exactly scream late-season comeback.

The Los Angeles Kings may miss the playoffs despite playing very much like themselves, taking it easy during the regular season and still posting strong puck-possession numbers. The Boston Bruins can’t say the same. They’re scoring less, possessing the puck less and allowing more goals. They look little like the perennial powerhouse of the past half-decade. It’s fair, then, to ponder an off-season of questions for this team. Which heads will roll? Who needs a change of scenery?

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