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Paul Boislard, Woonsocket, R.I.
Paul Boislard, Woonsocket, R.I.
Brad Marchand’s 37-goal season while on the brink of free agency made him a top priority for the Bruins, and Boston made the right move in paying up to keep Marchand around long-term.
Brad Marchand has played like a bonafide star over the past few seasons, and now the 28-year-old winger is set to be paid like one, too.
While Marchand is away on World Cup duty and awaiting a date with Team Europe in the final alongside his Canadian teammates, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Marchand and the Bruins have come to terms on an eight-year, $49-million deal that will lock him up until he’s about ready to hang up his skates.
The contract includes a full no-movement clause in the first five seasons and a limited no-trade clause after that, according to ESPN’s Craig Custance. CapFriendly reported the deal has an interesting structure, as well, giving Marchand almost equal dollars in base salary and signing bonuses.
For the Bruins and their fans, the signing is a sigh of relief. There has never been any real speculation that Marchand would head elsewhere, but recent contract talks haven’t been kind to Boston, and that was reason enough for some fans to be concerned. Ahead of 2015-16, tough negotiations led to the trade of promising young blueliner Dougie Hamilton and an inability to come to terms with Loui Eriksson led the 30-goal man to head to the Vancouver Canucks in free agency this past July.
Marchand is about to enter the final season of his four-year, $18-million contract that pays him $4.5 million annually, and his play this past season made him a top priority for the Bruins. Marchand had previously been a consistent goal-scoring threat for the Bruins, topping the 25-goal plateau twice and remaining at or above 20 goals in the five years prior to 2015-16, but he had his star turn during the past campaign with a 37-goal, 61-point year.
While the massive leap in production — and going from consecutive seasons of 25 and 24 goals to netting 37 tallies is a significant jump — could cause some to think that Marchand might have caught lightning in a bottle, his play at the World Cup certainly doesn’t lend any credibility to that belief. He’s playing alongside some of the game’s best players, sure, but Marchand has been a force on the top line for Team Canada, scoring three goals and five points in four games at the tournament.
Better yet, though, it’s not as if Marchand suddenly came up with a hot hand. Over the past three seasons, he ranks 15th in goals with 86 tallies and his 156 points are tied for the 66th-most of all players over that same span. Though his career year can definitely be credited with rocketing him up the scoring list, it’s not as if it came out of left field, either.
During the 2015-16 campaign, Marchand shot at a 14.8 percent clip en route to his big offensive numbers. Remarkably, that’s actually below Marchand’s career average of 15 percent, and the biggest reason for his up-turn in production was an increased role and, in turn, a huge jump in shots on goal. This past season, Marchand put 250 pucks on net, which is a full 70 extra shots than his previous career high of 180.
Marchand’s cap hit is more than fair value for a player of his calibre, too, especially one that offers more than just goal-scoring ability. Marchand contributes as much on the defensive side of the puck as he does offensively, boasting a Corsi for percentage of 57 percent with evenly spread zone starts since the start of the 2013-14, as well as an average of 1:38 per game on the penalty kill over the past three campaigns.
Come the 2016-17 campaign, Marchand and his $6.125 million average salary won’t even land within the top 50 highest paid players in the league. And he could slip even further down the list as some outstanding and pending free agents ink deals ahead of the coming season and into next off-season.
More importantly, the deal works within the Bruins’ cap structure. With Marchand signed, the Bruins will head into the next off-season with roughly $13.1 million in cap space and no major free agents to be concerned with. Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak have both started to come into their own, but neither will be up for a massive raise, and fresh faces or low-cost, high-potential signings can be used to fill out the lineup.
The one potential drawback with Marchand’s contract, of course, is that a long-term deal for him means he’ll be 37 by the time his contract is up. Paying him $6.125 million per season late in his career might not be ideal, but it also shouldn’t be an issue as the cap slowly increases over the lifetime of the contract.
Outside of off-ice success, it was Boston’s biggest job this campaign to find a way to get Marchand locked up to make sure there was no way he’d be heading elsewhere by the time the 2017-18 season rolled around. The new deal does that, and now the Bruins can enter the season with their focus solely on righting the ship and getting to the post-season after two consecutive years on the outside looking in. They’ll be glad to know Marchand plans to be right there alongside them, too.
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Team Sweden came into the tournament as a favorite to make the final. And now it's out because of the way it approached the game.
Let’s get something straight here. Sweden did not lose the semifinal game in the World Cup of Hockey because of a disputed goal in overtime. It did not lose because it failed to score on the power play. It didn’t lose because all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist dropped his stick at one of the most inopportune times of his career.
The Swedish players are heading to NHL training camp instead of the best-of-three final in the World Cup of Hockey because they decided - or probably more accurately, had it decided for them - that they were going to play chess until the third period of their 3-2 overtime loss to Team Europe. They played the game afraid to lose and that’s exactly what happened. It was a display of a dull, turgid, safe and utterly ridiculous brand of hockey given their level of talent that came back to haunt them.
And for that we should all be grateful. Even if you’re Swedish. Because perhaps the people who run the national program in Sweden will go back and realize what an opportunity they frittered by taking a bunch of thoroughbreds and forcing them to trot their way around the track. That’s not how these players play in the NHL. That’s not how they’re wired. Players such as Erik Karlsson have to go and holding them back should not be rewarded.
And it this case it was not. Had Sweden somehow underachieved its way to the World Cup final, it would not have highlighted how absolutely terrible this approach was. Swedish winger Gabriel Landeskog, who told Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada after the first period that, “We kind of stood around waiting for each other,” capsulized the game plan right there. Then he added: “We’re in the World Cup of Hockey semifinal. You’re not going to give them anything just to play beautiful hockey.”
Sweden was outshooting Team Europe 10-5 after the first period, then took a 1-0 lead 2:31 into the second. Perhaps thinking one goal would be enough to win, the Swedes eventually shut it down and collapsed, sending the game into a lull of ennui that made it darn near unwatchable. And if they had won, they would have been rewarded for it. But they didn’t, so that’s a good thing. Only after Tomas Tatar made it 2-1 12 seconds into the third period did the Swedes decide they needed to play with just a little more urgency. And by that time, Team Europe goalie Jaroslav Halak had found his groove. If not for a Karlsson floater that hit Roman Josi’s stick, the overtime wouldn’t even have been necessary.
The Swedes obviously saw this game a lot differently than your trusty correspondent did. When asked why with all this talent, and a brain trust that included Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson and Nicklas Lidstrom, his team could play the way it did, Swedish coach Rikard Gronborg responded by saying he thought his team played well.
“I don’t think we were passive. I think you’re wrong there,” Gronborg said. “We need to show patience, and I think we showed patience. But at the end of the day when they’re scoring six goals against us in an exhibition game, we didn’t show patience. That’s what happens. This is a very good team we’re playing against. What we wanted to do was obviously make sure we don’t get turnovers and we don’t get odd-man rushes against, and I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight. We put ourselves in a position of winning this game. In the offensive zone we don’t put reins on our players. We don’t put defensive assignments in the offensive zone. So I don’t think I agree with you there.”
Looks like we weren’t watching the same game. Nobody said the Swedes had to get all turnover happy and turn the game into a round of pond hockey, but at some point, don’t you realize you’re better than the other team and play to your strengths. The Swedes lost 6-2 to Team Europe in the final pre-tournament game and instead of using that game as a lesson on how to manage the puck better, it responding by thinking it couldn’t try anything creative.
“That’s what teams have done against them and that’s why they lost against this team,” Daniel Sedin said. “They’ve been playing a full-out attack and you can’t do that against this team. They want us to make mistakes and we played a patient game thinking it was going to pay off in the end and it didn’t. It’s easy to say after the game that we should have attacked more.”
Actually, it was quite easy during the game to say that. Anyone who was watching could see where that game was going. And the fact the way it went the way it did is a setback for Sweden, but a triumph for the game. Sweden teased us all tournament, telling us they still hadn't played their best game. They certainly didn't do that Sunday and now they won't have a chance to do it again in the World Cup.
Sidney Crosby has won 22 straight and his only concern is making it 23...Swedes must be smarter...Carey Price on beer league hockey.
Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby is on something of a roll lately. Not only did he win his second Stanley Cup in the spring, he enters the World Cup of Hockey semifinal riding a 22-game winning streak in a Canadian uniform dating back to the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
Since losing 5-3 to USA in the last game of the preliminary round, Canada won the next four games en route to the gold medal. Crosby’s teams then went 6-0-0 in Sochi and 9-0-0 in games in which he played in the 2015 World Championship before going 3-0-0 in the World Cup. Crosby has nine goals and 20 points in those games, including the golden goal in overtime in Vancouver and a goal in the 3-0 win in the gold medal game in Sochi.
“I didn’t even know about that until today,” Crosby said. “Those don’t really matter going into tomorrow, right? It’s all about tomorrow right now.”
SWEDES CAN’T PLAY ‘STUPID’
Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said his team can’t afford a repeat of its play in the final pre-tournament game when it lost 6-2 to Team Europe, the same team it plays in the semifinal Sunday afternoon. “We played a really stupid game,” Ekman-Larsson said. “We turned over too many pucks at their blueline, at our blueline, all over the ice. When you do that against a team with that much skill, you’re in big trouble.”
Team Europe coach Ralph Kruger said that late in that game, Frans Nielsen pointed to the Danish shoulder patch flag and reckoned he had lost to the Swedes about 200 times during his career. He then said how happy he was to finally beat them. The Swedes know they’ll be playing an opponent motivated by a desire to knock off one of the world’s hockey powers.
“I said right from the beginning I thought it would be great for the guys on Team Europe to have a chance to beat some of these teams,” said Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson. “Good for them. I wish then all the best, except for on Sunday.”
CAREY PRICE HAVING SOME FUN
During his media scrum yesterday, Canadian goalie Carey Price seemed a little perplexed by a question from Marc-Andre Perreault of TVA Sports in Quebec. Perreault asked Price why Canada always comes into these big games saying it’s just another game when clearly there is so much on the line.
“Because that’s what it is,” Price said. What followed was this rather interesting exchange:
Perreault: “But in my beer league, when we play Maggie’s Corner Store, we get all excited.”
Price: “I don’t know. Maggie’s Corner Store must be pretty good, huh?”
CANADA, TEAM EUROPE WILL KEEP IT PREDICTABLE
Exciting hockey doesn’t always win, but boring hockey almost never loses. And that’s why Team Canada and Team Europe will continue to play predictable hockey for the rest of the tournament.
“I don’t like to feed my family on hope. I like to feed my family on know,” said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock. “I don’t like surprises, not on Christmas, not on my birthday. So I don’t want it anymore. I want it under control.”
Team Europe, meanwhile, won’t be in the mood to trade chances, either. “We’re playing a boring style of hockey, but it’s proving to be a successful one,” said Team Europe captain Anze Kopitar. “We’re proud of it and we’re going to keep doing it.”
BUT TEAM EUROPE WILL BE FAST
If there was one thing we learned about Team Sweden from its game against North America it was that the Swedes had all sorts of trouble handling the speed of the under-24 team. Team Europe is considerably older, but coach Ralph Kruger is keenly aware that it will have move quickly in order to win.
“There’s no question that we really need to be a strong transition team,” Kruger said. “We’ve created a lot of offense out of that. And (Sweden) is probably the best in the world at just defending and staying within their structure right through an entire game. We need to be patient with that. I’m expecting a one-goal game and we need to find our advantage like we did against the Czechs. It will be a similar game at a higher level and we’re going to have to pick it up."
It was good start for the modern incarnation of the World Cup of Hockey. What lessons can we apply from 2016 to improve the format in 2020?
The World Cup of Hockey was what we thought it was, at least among the level-headed crowd who didn't foolishly decry the idea as a crime against humanity. The stakes weren't high enough to rival the thrill of Olympic competition, but even the grumpiest detractors must admit the hockey was good. That's what happens when you get 184 of the best players on Earth competing in the same tournament. It was impossible for the product not to be entertaining as heck most of the time.
Technically, 2016 marked the third World Cup, but since it was the first in 12 years, it felt like a franchise reboot. And with anything new comes a few bugs to work out. The tournament was fun but not perfect. I've spent the last few days pondering tweaks to improve the format in 2020. The NHL has already announced plans for a followup event then, so why not explore how to make it even better?
1. START THE PLAYOFF ROUND WITH A QUARTERFINAL, NOT A SEMIFINAL
Call it the North America Rule, and it's not just because the team was so darned exciting to watch. The North Americans played very well throughout the 2016 World Cup, beating Sweden and Finland and losing a nailbiter to Russia. The kids looked like a top-three team in the tournament and had a .667 win percentage yet didn't even qualify for the playoff round because only two teams from each group made it. That was unfortunate, especially since the North Americans, being the fastest and most unpredictable team in the field, might have given Canada its toughest test.
Next time, let's transition from the round-robin to a quarterfinal instead of a semifinal. It would feel too warm and fuzzy, however, if all eight teams qualified and the last-place finisher got a chance to upset the first-place team. Instead, how about the second- and third-place teams from each group advance to a quarterfinal while the two group winners get byes to the semifinal? Or, better yet…
2. EXPAND THE FIELD TO 12 TEAMS
The World Cup and the Olympics are different beasts, but the IIHF was still involved in organizing the World Cup, so what's wrong with duplicating the Olympics' tournament format? Let's go with 12 teams, with three groups of four in which each team plays a three-game round-robin. Under this format at the Olympics, the bottom eight teams play qualification matches to earn berths in the quarterfinal against the top four teams. Maybe a pre-playoff round is too much hockey for September, so how about the top eight teams straight-up qualify for the quarterfinal, with no byes handed out, while the bottom four head home?
And if this setup still apes the Olympic tourney too closely for your taste, not to worry…
3. DON'T JUST KEEP THE UNDER-24 TEAM…ADD ANOTHER UNDER-24 TEAM
Team North America made the World Cup must-see TV. The likes of Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau and Auston Matthews dazzled viewers so much that it felt like many fans were cheering for the kids over their own countries. It would be silly to scrap that idea for 2020, as gimmicky as it was. How about double down and insert an under-24 Euro team? A similar setup in 2016 would've created a squad featuring Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, David Pastrnak, Leon Draisaitl, Nikolaj Ehlers and Ramus Ristolainen, among others. Like with Team North America, the Euros 2.0 will be allowed to draw from every nation on its continent, meaning young Finns, Swedes, Russians, Czechs and so on will have to play for this squad.
4. ELIMINATE THE CURRENT VERSION OF TEAM EUROPE FROM THE FIELD
'Team Europe' still exists in my proposed format, but only in the same sense as Team North America, as Europe 2.0 will be a young-stars squad. My timing is odd for this suggestion, sure, as Europe just reached the tourney final, legitimizing the team's concept and skyrocketing Ralph Krueger's stock as a coach. But when this tournament concludes, how many of us will look back and marvel at the way Team Europe captured our hearts and brought us to our feet? Team North America won the unofficial Gimmick Bowl. And while the Euro players have banded nicely together under Krueger, most or all would rather suit up for their individual countries. So let's imagine a group layout looking something like…
More teams, more countries represented, more playoff rounds, plus all the gimmicky fun that stole the show in 2016. How about it for 2020?
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin