Best Centers: 1-5

So here we go. Best 20 centers in the league. I’ll be putting these out in increments of five (so 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20), and I’ll top it off with the best of the rest. I’ll do the same thing on Tuesday with wingers, defensemen on Wednesday, and goalies on Thursday.

Without further ado, you’re best five centermen in the league. Don’t @ me.

1 – Sidney Crosby

When it’s all said and done, Sidney Crosby will be a top-5 player of all time. Right now he’s in the group of 5-10 guys in the running for the guy behind Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux, and Howe. If he wants to, he can lead the lead the league in goals – he won his second Rocket Richard Trophy last year. He can lead the league in assists – he had a league-high 68 apples in 2013-14 and while his 84 helpers in 2006-07 (his second year in the league) was eight off the pace of Joe Thornton’s 92 that season, it would’ve led the league every year since. He’ll out-work, out-grind, out-skill you. There’s nothing he hasn’t won. Oh, did I mention he just turned 30?

2 – Connor McDavid

McDavid is the man trapped in the chasm between Crosby and the rest of the league. He’s inching his way closer to No. 87. Like Crosby in 2006-07, McDavid picked up his first Art Ross Trophy in his sophomore NHL season with his 100-point campaign last season. The 20-year-old is one of five NHLers to record triple-digit point totals since 2010-11, joined by Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, and Daniel Sedin.

3 – Evgeni Malkin

If Crosby is Gretzky, Malkin is Messier. A guy who will go down as one of the top 15-20 players ever, a guy who can go off on his own and lead a team to a Stanley Cup. Malkin has two Art Rosses of his own and after his performance last spring en route to Pittsburgh’s second straight title, as good a case can be made that he should have just as many Conn Smythes.

4 – Patrice Bergeron

The three aforementioned guys are in a class of their own. Bergeron is the best of the rest. Name something you need – Bergeron can do it. He gives you offense (61.2 points per 82 games in his career), he can win a faceoff (in fact, he’s won a league-high 7,524 faceoffs since 2009-10, which is nearly 1,000 more than runner-up Jonathan Toews over that span), he drives play, and he plays in every situation. The greatest quality of Bergeron? His ability to raise the level of the players around him at all times, from flanking Sidney Crosby for Team Canada to carrying his black and gold sidekicks over the years from Marco Sturm to Brad Marchand. It’s what he’s done best since his rookie year when he was part of a line comprised of an 18-year-old Bergeron along with Michael Nylander and Sergei Samsonov that carried Boston in the second half of the 2003-04 season.

5 – Auston Matthews

Don’t trick yourself into thinking the gap between the top pick in the 2015 draft (McDavid) and the 2016 draft (Matthews) is a wide one. Matthews is Sidney Crosby with a few more inches. He’s a big body, he grinds, he protects the puck as well as anybody, and just seems to do everything at will. He scored four goals in his first NHL game, he scored 40 in his rookie season. Matthews scored a league-high 30 goals at five-on-five last season. The Maple Leafs are the team that’s going to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada and it’s the Good Scottsdale Boy that’s going to lead them there.


Facts, Figures, Predictions on the Atlantic

*If the Boston Bruins miss the postseason, it will be the first time the B’s have missed the postseason since missing it eight straight years from 1960-67.

*Erik Karlsson’s 82 points was the most for a defenseman since Brian Leetch (85) and Ray Bourque (82) hit that total in 1995-96.

*Jaromir Jagr needs 19 points to tie Mark Messier for second place on the all-time points list, with 1,887. Currently sitting in third at 1,868, he needs 132 to become the second player ever to notch 2,000 NHL points. Last season he closed within 1,000 of Wayne Gretzky, who stands atop the leaderboard at 2,857.

*Max Pacioretty is one of just four players to record 30 goals and 60 points in each of the last four 82-game NHL seasons. The other three are Jamie Benn, Alex Ovechkin, and Joe Pavelski.

*Steven Stamkos is one of four players with three such seasons; joining Corey Perry, John Tavares, and Tyler Seguin. The one season in which Seguin failed to hit 30-60 was 2011-12, when he managed the 60 (67, to be exact) but scored just 29 goals for Boston.

*Morgan Reilly, who averaged 23:14 of ice time last season at the age of 21, is the youngest Toronto defenseman to log 23 minutes per game since the stat began being recorded in 1998.

*Average production by Henrik Zetterberg the last two seasons – 15.5 and 59.8 goals and points per 82 games. Nine seasons prior – 32 and 83.9.

*Brad Marchand has scored 0.35 goals per game going back to 2010-11, his first full NHL season, which equates to about 29 goals per season. That ranks fifth among left wingers, trailing only Ovechkin, Benn, Rick Nash, and Patrick Sharp.

*Ryan O’Reilly led all forwards last season with an average ice-time of 21:44. Evander Kane was second with 21:02. *Buffalo hasn’t had a 30-goal, 60-point season since Jason Pominville put up 30 goals and 73 points in 2011-12.

*Patrice Bergeron and Marchand were on the ice for 192 of the 493 shorthanded faceoffs the Bruins took last season, according to One-hundred one of those draws were won by the Bruins.

*No Eastern Conference player has averaged 29 minutes of ice-time since Adrian Aucoin averaged 29-flat for the Islanders in 2002-03. Karlsson averaged 28:58 last season.

*Of the top 12 goaltenders in terms of save percentage over the last three seasons (min. 125 games played), five are expected to be starters for Atlantic Division teams this season; Carey Price (1st, .931), Ben Bishop (t-3rd, .922), Tuukka Rask (t-3rd, .922), Roberto Luongo (t-6th, .921), and Frederik Andersen (12th, .918).

*Price’s 17 shutouts over that span, which ranks second to Marc-Andre Fleury (20), came in just 137 games. Four other netminders posted 15 shutouts over that span (Fleury, Jonathan Quick, Braden Holtby, Bishop), all needing at least 186 games.

*Buffalo allowed just 30.6 shots per game last season, the first time it had allowed less than 31 shots per game since 2010-11 (30.7), the last time the Sabres qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.


1- Tampa Bay: The most complete team from top to bottom. Expect a breakout season for Tyler Johnson.

2- Montreal: The Canadiens go as far as Price takes them.

3- Detroit: The Red Wings acquisition of Frans Nielsen the best offseason signing nobody talked about.

4- Florida: The Panthers have made the postseason in back-to-back years just one time; 1995-96 and 1996-97.

5- Buffalo: If they don’t make the playoffs this year, you can pencil them in for next season.

6- Boston: Three straight playoff DNQs could be too much for Claude Julien to overcome.

7- Ottawa: Guy Boucher came within a win of the Prince of Wales Trophy in Tampa Bay. He won’t be pushover in Ottawa.

8- Toronto: The pieces are moving into place, but more holes must be filled.



2020 Vision: Why the Atlantic Division Will Be the NHL’s Best in Four Years

It’s 2020.

The Montreal Canadiens have never looked more poised to win Stanley Cup No. 25 since winning Stanley Cup No. 24 back in 1993. The Toronto Maple Leafs are knocking on the door of its first title of the NHL’s Expansion Era while the Buffalo Sabres are in pursuit of its first title in, well, ever. On the verge of he 10th anniversary of its only Cup in the last half-century, the Boston Bruins aren’t to be counted out. Nor are the Ottawa Senators. Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Detroit Red Wings are still there, like they’ve been for quite some time.

The Atlantic Division has no let up. The best division in the NHL. It’s not even up for debate.

It’s amazing to think the Montreal Canadiens have gone nearly three decades without a Stanley Cup. Prior to this latest drought, the longest the Habs had gone without winning a title was eight between 1916-24, when the bleu, blanc et rouge took a backseat to the original rendition of the Ottawa Senators – who won three Cups in that span – while having the 1919 final wiped out due the great flu pandemic ripping through the world at the time.

But that was 100 years ago, and the Canadiens are looking to erase a drought nearly four times longer. A 2021 Stanley Cup will be its first in 28 years. They’ve been close the last two years. In 2019, they fell to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals before getting to the Cup final in 2020, losing to Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

Max Pacioretty hoisting the revered 35-pound trophy isn’t hoped for — it’s expected.

Montreal hasn’t had a goaltender like Carey Price since Patrick Roy, who appropriately enough manned the crease of the most recent championship. At 33, Price is on the back end of his prime. He’s going for his fifth straight Vezina Trophy, looking to become just the fourth player to win six Vezinas, joining Montreal legends Jacques Plante and Bill Durnan, along with Dominik Hasek.

Nobody in the Montreal lineup makes anyone forget about Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard, or Larry Robinson, but there’s plenty to be desired. Shea Weber might not be the player he was when general manager Marc Bergevin famously swapped P.K. Subban for in 2016, but he doesn’t have to be. Mikhail Sergechev is quickly blossoming as one of the world’s best blueliners. Up front, mainstays Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk lead the Habs charge.

The Canadien faithful has its swagger back, and the time to win is now.

But it won’t be that easy.

For one, there’s a border battle brewing between Western New York and Southern Ontario.

Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews, currently pegged to bring Team USA back from the shadows of its 2016 embarrassment at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, lead the way for two of the most rabid yet tortured fan bases; the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. The Leafs haven’t won a title since 1967. The Sabres have never won one ever.

Eichel and Matthews were second and third in last season’s Art Ross Trophy race behind McDavid, whose 131 points were the most since 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux and current Florida Panthers player-coach Jaromir Jagr eclipsed that mark.

Defending Norris Trophy winner Morgan Reilly anchors the Toronto blue line, which is backed up by Frederik Andersen. Buffalo counters with Norris favorite Rasmus Ristolainen and ace netminder Cal Petersen. Buffalo’s one-two center combination of Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly is the envy of the division.

Meanwhile, for Boston Bruins fans, it’s been years that end in ‘1’ that have been kind to the B’s; at least of late (we can forget about Ken Dryden in 1971, or Ulf Samuelsson’s cheap shot on Cam Neely in 1991). In 2001, Bruins fans watched black-and-gold icon Ray Bourque retire with his first Stanley Cup (albeit with Colorado). In 2011, it was the B’s capturing a Stanley Cup of their own, the first since 1972.

It’s been a rough past few years for Bruins fans. Amidst a rebuild, the B’s have missed the playoffs four of the last six seasons. Goaltender Tuukka Rask, who turns 34 in March, is playing for what would be the last big contract of his career. With dynamic duo Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand well into their 30s, the top line of Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Spooner, and Zach Senyshyn have picked up the load offensively for the B’s. The backline continues to come of age, with many expecting 23-year-old Jeremy Lauzon to hop into the Norris discussion as seamless as the way he can jump into the rush. The pairing of Lauzon and Brandon Carlo are among the top young defensive pairings in the game.

The Ottawa Senators continue to pride themselves on being the Minnesota Twins of the NHL, finding ways to sneak into the playoffs despite being glossed over year after year in the preseason talk. The player who is no longer being glossed over? That would be Erik Karlsson, who last season became just the third defenseman ever to record multiple 100-point seasons, joining Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey. Yeah, can’t say it’s bad company.

Let’s not forget about the three teams that represent the old guard of the division, the veteran teams giving chase to the young blood atop the division.

Captain Dylan Larkin leads the charge for the Detroit Red Wings, which has rebuilt itself on the fly once again while continuing the make the playoffs. The Wings finally won a playoff round after losing in the first round six years in a row. It’s been 30 years since Detroit last missed the playoffs. The Panthers are led by player-coach Jaromir Jagr, who last season became the second player to record 2,000 points in the NHL. Approaching his 49th birthday, Jagr is giving no indications he’ll step away anytime soon. He even says he plans on catching Wayne Gretzky’s record of 2,857 points. Based off his average of 35 points over the last four years, it will only take about 25 seasons for him to reach that mark. The Lightning continue to dazzle offensively, with Tyler Johnson coming off his first 40-goal season. And we all know about that Stamkos guy.

None of the eight teams in this division have won a Stanley Cup since the Bruins most recent banner, in 2011. If it doesn’t change in 2021, the wait won’t last much longer.

How much longer? Who knows.

But what we do know? No division stacks up with this one.

World Cup of Hockey Post-Mortem: Some Facts and Figures

Some facts and figures in the wake of the Boston Bruins winning the World Cup of Hockey..

*But seriously, though. Only two players had more than three goals in this tournament: Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron with five and four, respectively. Six of the the nine goals came in the semifinals and final.

*All three goals in Canada’s 2-1 clincher against Europe were scored by Bruins. Zdeno Chara gave Europe the 1-0 lead in the first period before his NHL teammates delivered the late-game heroics; first Bergeron’s redirection to tie the score, then Marchand’s shorthanded goal to go ahead with 44 seconds to play.

*Steven Stamkos was the lone Canadian not named Bergeron or Marchand to score in the final. Stamkos joins John Tavares and Corey Perry – both of whom scored in the 5-3 semifinal triumph over Russia – as the lone Canadians outside the superstar top line of Bergeron, Marchand, and Sidney Crosby to tally a goal in the semifinal or final.

*It seemed like the story of the World Cup were the two squads that were multiple countries co-opped together in Team Europe and Team North America. Team North America, of course, was comprised of the best under-23 players from Canada and the U.S., an exciting, fast, skilled team considered the represent the future of the game. Europe was an old, gritty group that had a little bit of everything but didn’t look like the full package that managed to make an unexpected run to the final.

Interestingly enough, it looks like it might be the last you see of such teams. You can definitely mark that down as a guarantee with North America, the team being put together much at the detriment to the American squad; there were quite a few players on that roster that would’ve made a difference playing on John Tortorella’s team. So we’ll see what that means for Europe.

*As for filling out those seventh and eighth teams, here’s an idea for at least one of the two spots that need to be filled: a Canadian ‘B’ team. A team that features the best of those left off the Canadian roster. The talk is that Canada could put together a second team and beat most, if not all, other countries. Well, let’s see it.

*Seventy-nine goals were scored in the tournament. Twenty of those were scored by players who played for either the Boston Bruins or the Tampa Bay Lightning. That’s more than a quarter. Of course, it’s important to point out that give-or-take a quarter of the players in this tournament play for the Lightning. Or at least it seemed that way.

*Here’s the breakdown of scoring by NHL club:

Boston- 11; Tampa Bay- 9; Washington-6; Chicago, Colorado, Toronto- 5; Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis- 4; Edmonton, San Jose, N.Y. Rangers- 3; Calgary, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Arizona- 2; N.Y. Islanders, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Nashville, Buffalo, Vancouver, Florida- 1.

*Canada’s title makes it six of eight for the Red Leafs between the three installments of the World Cup of Hockey going back to 1996 and the Canada Cup, of which there were five of between 1976 and 1991. Something about that country when it comes to hockey.

Bruins Signing of Brad Marchand a Slam Dunk

The World Cup of Hockey has been a coming out party of sorts for Boston Bruins left winger Brad Marchand, whose broken through the doors of the lodge of elite left wingers in the world through his performance for Team Canada. He’s been a key cog for the Red Leafs top line that’s rounded out with world-class forwards Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby.

For those who haven’t seen enough of Marchand or have been wary of his place among his peers, they’ve been put on notice of just how great a player Marchand is through his performance. For those who have helped make his case in recent years, it’s proof positive that the 28-year-old has a rightful place among the elite at his position, which includes Alex Ovechkin, Jamie Benn, Johnny Gaudreau, Max Pacioretty, Alex Steen, Filip Forsberg, and Brandon Saad, among a few others.

It’s more likely than not that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was in the latter group when it came to opinions on Marchand. Regardless of what his opinions were of the Bruin, he made his current take on the player pretty clear on Monday morning when he signed Marchand to a contract extension at the maximum term of eight years. The total value of the deal is $49 million, his $6.125 million cap hit currently set to be the sixth-highest among left wingers when it takes effect at the start of the 2017-18 season according to

Whether or not Marchand’s 37-goal campaign in 2015-16 was an anomaly is up for debate, and we’ll get further answers on that in the coming months. But there’s no doubt he’s worth the paycheck he’ll start accruing in 12 months.

Since coming into the league regularly in 2010-11, Marchand has averaged 0.353 goals per game. That translates to 28.95 goals for every 82 games played. That number ranks fifth among all left wingers who have logged 400 games over that span behind Ovechkin (0.58), Rich Nash (0.41), Benn (.40), and Patrick Sharp (0.36). Over the past two seasons, only Ovechkin and Benn have a higher output in the category.

So let’s set the standard for Marchand at 29 goals per season, which is a safe assessment of what to expect. Not the 37 he scored last season, but not the 18 he was on pace for midway through the 2013-14 season, when he slumped to 10 goals in his first 45 games (he finished with 25 in 82 games).

Twenty-nine sounds pretty pedestrian, does it not? Maybe it once was, but in the age of better goalies in bigger padding, defensive systems, and balanced, four-line attacks, that total has weaseled its way into the upper-echelon.

Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Jarome Iginla, and Tomas Tatar scored 29 goals apiece in 2014-15, tying for 16th on the goal scoring list for the season. Never had players been so high leaders list with such a scoring output. When Mark Scheifele and Mike Hoffman tied for 29th with 29 goals last season, it marked the fifth time in six years 29 goals ranked in the top 30 during an 82-game season.

Marchand’s cap hit of $6.125 million is tied for 50th as the player salaries are currently constituted. The counterargument to that is he’s finished in the top 50 in points just twice, one of which was the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. The other was this past campaign, which ultimately earned him this extension.

Marchand’s best work has been on the penalty kill, where he’s been one of the league’s best since entering the NHL. His 25 shorthanded points since the start of the 2010-11 season is tops in the NHL, the next-closest to his 19 goals being Jonathan Toews and Frans Nielsen, with 13. Marchand’s Tasmanian Devil-style approach without the puck fits him well as the role of the offensive zone lone-man in on the PK. His quick stick helps break the puck movement and flow of opposing power play units. He averaged a career-high 2:00 of shorthanded time per game last season.

The last number points at what might be the biggest factor surrounding the logic behind Marchand’s extension. His role in Claude Julien’s lineup is expanding.

Aside from the shorthanded time on ice, Marchand set career-highs in even strength time on ice per game (15:07) and overall time on ice (18:36). His 1:28 of man-advantage time was the highest since the 1:44 he averaged in 2012-13.

In his first few seasons in the league, Marchand logged 16-17 minutes of ice time per game, on average; 14 minutes of five-on-five, 1:30 shorthanded, his time on the man-advantage around 2:00 in his first couple years before dissipating to 30 seconds to a minute for a while before spiking back up this past season.

It’s clear he’s becoming a go-to player for Julien, an all-situations player that is in low demand in the NHL.

So is he worth the money? The answer is a resounding yes.

In fact, he only appears to be getting better.

Stat of the Day: Bruins Power-play 2nd-best Since Krug Became a Regular

Torey Krug reached a milestone on Monday night, playing his 200th career game in a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers. The latest barrier broken by a player who has been a valuable asset to the Bruins since day one, albeit under the radar at times.

Of course, Krug’s best asset is what he brings to the powerplay. A puck-mover by trade, his ability to work the points and generate offense has made the B’s one of the NHL’s biggest threats on the man-advantage since working his way into the lineup.

Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Bruins powerplay has operated at a 21.5 percent success rate, second in the league only to the Alex Ovechkin-led unit in Washington (24.7). This had been preceded by four years of frustration, when the Bruins were 26th in the league from the start of the 2009-10 season to the finish of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, clicking at a rate of just 16.3 percent. Things got so bad that some yearned for a ‘decline option’ on penalties called against Bruins opponents, given their five-on-five dominance that complemented its laughable man-up unit.

Krug is second among all Bruins on the powerplay over that span with a 8-35–43 scoring line in the situation. The Bruins leader in powerplay points is Patrice Bergeron, with 44. Bergeron had just 37 in 276 games from 2009-13 before putting up the 19-25–44 line in 202 since fall 2013.

Over that span, Krug’s 43 man-advantage points are tied for 17th among NHL defensemen.


Patrice Bergeron Voted into All-Star Game

The NHL announced the rosters for the league’s all-star game in Anaheim, Calif. later this month, with Bruins center Patrice Bergeron the lone player representing Boston in the three-on-three tournament among the four NHL divisions.

Under the new format, a three-on-three tournament with the four divisions have 10 players selected by the league. Each division also has a captain selected by fans. Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr was voted to represent the Atlantic, with his counterparts being Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (Metropolitan), Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (Central), and Arizona Coyotes forward John Scott (Pacific).

Yes, John Scott was selected as a captain. Fan votes never let us down.

The teams are composed of six forwards, three defensemen, and two goaltenders.

Bergeron is the Bruins leading scorer, with a 15-22–37 scoring line in 38 games, which ties for 12th in the race for the Art Ross Trophy. His 37 points is the second-highest total of his career through 38 games, the high-water mark coming in 2006-07, when he put up 42 (13-29) in his first 38 contests en route to a second straight 70-point season.

It’s the second straight year Bergeron will be flying solo at the event, barring injuries or withdrawals from other players. Candidates for replacements include Brad Marchand (15 goals), Loui Eriksson (34 points in 38 games), Zdeno Chara (plus-10 rating fifth-highest among defensemen in Atlantic), and Torey Krug (one of five defensemen in Atlantic with 20 points).


On Bruins Injuries: Who Can’t the B’s Afford to Lose Next

The Boston Bruins are a model of attrition in the battle of attrition that has become the Atlantic Division.

While 11 players up and down the lineup have participated in at least 34 of the 37 games completed on the 82-game schedule, it would be far-fetched to suggest the team is the envy of its rivals insofar as health is concerned.

David Krejci is one of the most distinguished members of the 34-game club. Suiting up in 35 games, the pivot is second on the team with a 11-22–33 line. Krejci missed 35 games in 2014-15. The Bruins missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. He’s currently out ‘week-to-week’ with an upper body injury.

Defenseman Torey Krug missed his only game of the season last Sunday, a 3-1 loss to Ottawa, with an upper body injury. Veteran blueliners Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have missed time over the past few seasons with various injuries, and began the regular season on the shelf. Meanwhile, defenseman Adam McQuaid is one the four Bruins with perfect attendance through 37 games. That’s the same McQuaid that missed 87 games in three seasons prior to this one, suggesting a bill of health too good to be true.

Bottom-six forward Joonas Kemppainen has missed the last 11 games with an upper-body injury, though he could be back as soon as Tuesday. David Pastrnak, out since Oct. 31 with a foot injury, was on the cusp of getting back into the B’s lineup when he injured his finger representing his native Czech Republic in the World Junior Championship.

So, you get the point. The Bruins are reeling on the ice, with losses in four of their last five games. To add injury to insult, the trainer’s room is no desolate wasteland.

With Krejci out, others hobbled, and veterans who are no spring chickens, here’s the players whose absence could spell doom for the Bruins, who are clinging to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, with Ottawa and Pittsburgh (both two points behind) lurking closer.

1- Tuukka Rask. The Bruins lifeline to the Stanley Cup playoffs stands between a pair of iron pipes. Rask is closest thing this roster has to the paramount in the world at his respective position. The Bruins have been fortunate in the crease over the past 15 years in terms of health (though mediocrity – sorry Steve Shields, post-lockout Andrew Raycroft – is another topic). The nearest brushes include the 2009-10 season, when ace goalie Tim Thomas struggled in net due to a torn labrum in his hip (which wasn’t disclosed until after the season), and in March 2012, when Rask was sidelined with a strained groin. In the former case, Rask stepped in and tended the B’s net on an elite level. The Finish netminder was a backup to Thomas when he injured his groin in 2012.

The Bruins have been relatively catastrophe-free with their ace goaltending (when they’ve had it) since Byron Dafoe’s back-to-back seasons of futility in the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons, when injuries and a 1999 contract holdout limited the 1999 Vezina Trophy finalist to 89 games over the two seasons, his .898 save percentage over that span much lower than the .911 he posted over his five seasons in Boston from 1997-2002. The Bruins missed the playoffs both seasons, two of just three times the Bruins missed the playoffs between the 1967-68 season and the 2004-05 lockout.

2- Patrice Bergeron. Unlike Rask in the world of goaltending, Bergeron is not held in the same ilk as peers John Tavares, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, or Evgeni Malkin, fair or unfair as it might be. That said, there’s not a more adept 200-foot forward in the world. His 26.6 shifts per game are tops among B’s forwards and 10th among NHLers this season. He’s taken 928 of the team’s 2,322 faceoffs (40 percent), winning 56.6 of them. Bergeron is the only Bruin to average more than 2:30 per game on the powerplay (2:53) and penalty kill (2:33). New Jersey center Travis Zajac is the lone NHL forward who can hold such a claim.

3- Zdeno Chara. Trade him? Yeah, OK. After missing the first two games of the season, the veteran ace defenseman has averaged 24:21 per game while posting a 5-14–19 scoring line and leading the Bruins with a plus-nine rating. The minutes will need to be scaled back as the season progresses for Chara, who turns 39 in March, but there’s no denying the value the captain brings to the team.

4- Brad Marchand. Look no further than the Winter Classic, when Marchand – serving the first game of a three-game suspension for his hit on Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki last Tuesday – was out of the lineup. Brendan Gallagher – who plays a similar style to Marchand – was back in the Montreal lineup after missing 17 games. A Habs 5-1 win, Gallagher had a goal and an assist against a Bruins team that lacked not only Marchand, but also a pulse.

Marchand, who some might line up on the left wing in a game of ‘put any five players on the ice for a faceoff’, is not just an elite 200-foot wing with 30-goal capability, he’s the Bruins sparkplug. The Canadiens were 2-11 in the final 13 games of Gallagher’s absence. A similar fate could befall the B’s should they miss Marchand for an extended period of time.

5- Dennis Seidenberg. This one might have you scratching your head. But experience can never be overstated. Like Chara, the 34-year-old can still play big minutes, albeit not at the level he used to. Unless the Bruins add another defenseman, the blueline corps going into the playoffs (provided they make it, of course, which is a big if) would be Chara, Seidenberg, Krug, McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller, then Zach Trotman/Joe Morrow. Chara and Seidenberg combine for 210 games of playoff experience, while the other six aforementioned players combine for 92, 81 of which are accounted for by McQuaid (54) and Krug (27). Seidenberg has 69 playoff games to his credit, experience that isn’t easy to replace.

6- Ryan Spooner. Julien’s teams have always been largely predicated on two things, in particular: depth up the middle, and secondary scoring. Spooner provides both those things from the No. 3 spot, a role he’s flourished as an NHLer. Playing against weaker opponents, Spooner can use his skill and speed to his advantage. His 25 points, which ranks fifth on the team, is a big part of that.

7- Matt Beleskey. A big, physical forward who can put the puck in the net and create offense, there’s not a player like Beleskey in the Bruins line up. He’s been the player the Bruins thought they were getting when they signed him to a five-year, $20 million deal over the summer. Now he’s starting to score, with five goals in his last nine games.

Winter Classic..Nothing Like It

There’s few things sports fans crave more than being able to relate to the athletes they idolize. In a time where players make more money in a month than most make in a lifetime, the search for such common ground has grown more arduous by the year.

That’s where the Winter Classic comes into play.

Since its inaugural showing on the first day of the year 2008, a Buffalo Sabres home tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., the classic has been the NHL’s journey to the outdoors for one day. An escape from the concrete-padded arena into the wilderness of the outdoors. From 40,000-seat baseball stadiums to 100,000-seat college football venues to 70,000-seat NFL facilities, the game has been a journey to where the game began.

OK, so maybe we’re not going into the middle of the woods with negative temperatures, whipping winds, and conditions that make most yearn for the summer months. The 2016 Winter Classic will be played between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens on Friday afternoon amidst Gillette Stadium, the home of the NFL’s New England Patriots. The high temperature is supposed to be 40 degrees. So it’s not necessarily the holy cornfield of pucks that is a frozen pond in frigid weather in the deep, dark cold of winter. But you get the point.

The sight takes you back to the lake behind your house where you’d lace up the skates when you couldn’t feel your toes. You’d meet up with some buddies and play some pick-up. It wasn’t really the Bruins and Canadiens, but you pretended it was. You fought over who was Bobby Orr. Meanwhile, Guy Lafleur was up for the taking.

For Billy from Brockton watching the game from Row 215, he’ll harbor similar memories as Patrice Bergeron, skating in his second Winter Classic as one of the premier hockey players in the world. There’s nothing like it.

We’ve seen it all in just a short time. Games being delayed due to warm temperatures causing the ice to melt. Who hasn’t had that letdown of unseasonable warmth when they just want to skate around for a bit? Snow has fallen as players battle for the puck, fight for the two points at stake.

It’s the biggest stage. NBC. Doc Emrick. Pierre McGuire. The chances of Thursday’s games being the most watched regular season NHL game ever outweigh the chances of it not. Yet here you are, back in the virtual world of being a kid. The beauty of the game. The serenity of the scene. It’s not what you get for admission within the concrete walls of the TD Garden or Bell Centre, or the hockey cathedrals that preceded them, the Boston Garden or Montreal Forum.

The event’s uniqueness is one of a kind. Find such an example of the NBA, NHL, MLB taking a game and making a masterpiece of it. Good luck. And don’t say the MLB All-Star Game because it decides which pennant winner hosts the first game of the World Series. That’s a travesty, not a masterpiece.

The Winter Classic does count. Two points will be a stake. The break-glass-in-case-of-emergency third point will be on site in case a decision isn’t reached after 60 minutes of hockey, as has happened three times in the first seven classics. The winner takes over first place in the NHL’s Atlantic Division.

The game will captivate the imaginations of all within the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium from players to fans to staff, as well the millions watching the game on television in restaurants, bars, and living rooms across North America. The memories of going out on the ponds will be triggered. You’ll lose feeling in your hands a little bit – don’t be alarmed, it’s just nostalgia – as the thoughts flow through your mind.

In a time where NHL players earn an average of $2.6 million with players earning as much as $14 million, such a common ground seems impossible to come by. By going back to where the game originated, where the love of the game for many was found, that common ground is achieved annually upon the commencement of a new year.

Stat of the Day: First Bruins Game With Three Multiple-Goal Scorers Since 2001

When Jimmy Hayes scored in the final second of regulation for the Bruins on Tuesday night against Ottawa, it put an exclamation point on the B’s 7-3 win over their Atlantic Division rivals. It also gave Hayes his first NHL hat trick.

But in terms of reaching a statistical milestone not recorded in quite some time – or in Hayes’s case, ever – the job had already been done.

With Hayes’s three-goal night along with two-goal performances from Patrice Bergeron and Matt Beleskey, the Bruins had three multiple goal scorers in the same game for the first time since Dec. 28, 2001.

In that game, the Bruins defeated the Florida Panthers, 7-1, on the heels of two-goal performances by Bill Guerin, Mike Knuble, and Glen Murray. The other goal scorer that night was Rob Zamuner.

Also in that 2001 game, Joe Thornton notched five assists, which has been done by a Bruin just once since, when Bergeron assisted on five goals on Dec. 19, 2006 against Ottawa. Overall, there have been 25 such performances since the night Jumbo Joe had a helper for each hand.

While there was no five-assist performance on Tuesday night, there were certainly no puck-hogs wearing black-and-gold, as 13 Boston assists were recorded on the scoresheet, the highest since the B’s recorded 14 on Feb. 18, 2014, a 7-2 win over the Sens. Loui Eriksson, Torey Krug, Ryan Spooner, and Max Talbot each had two assists on Tuesday.