Off The Draw
If there's one player in the NHL who was born to be a Boston Bruin, it's Milan Lucic. A menacing hulk who fears no man and wears his heart on his sleeve, he epitomizes everything that this team and its fans hold dear.
So why does it make so much sense that the Bruins might be willing to trade him?
Even factoring a string of injuries into the equation, the B's have been an unsatisfying mix this season. They're an inconsistent bunch that lacks speed (they rank 30th in penalties-drawn by a mile), scoring touch (2.47 goals per game, down .70 from last season) and most disturbingly, an identity.
The Bruins aren't big anymore and they certainly aren't bad. They're just surprisingly vanilla, a group that is miles removed from the nasty snarl that defined Boston's 2011 Stanley Cup champions and 2013 Cup finalists. The guys who set the tone for those clubs are either gone (Johnny Boychuk, Shawn Thornton) or noticeably less truculent. Brad Marchand is one of the latter. So is Lucic.
These days tere's more east-west in Lucic's game than the north-south that makes him so effective. His net drive is sporadic. Goals (just one in his past eight games) are scarce. And his mental game? Let's just say that as his frustration has grown he's become easier than ever to goad into bad penalties or distracted play.
There's so much to love about Lucic's game when he's on, but those games are few and far between now. Even if the Bruins aren't actively shopping him, it's gotten to the point where GM Peter Chiarelli is willing to listen if his name comes up.
Others have heard the rumors about Lucic's availability as well. Here's what Blues beat writer Jeremy Rutherford offered in a Q&A with readers on Thursday:
As people who read my coverage know, I don't get into rumors often. But when I believe there is something brewing behind the scenes, I don't have a problem touching on it. There has been plenty of speculation involving the Blues and Bruins and believe there is definitely something being discussed. Doug Armstrong had a credential waiting for him last night in Minnesota, where the Bruins were playing. He was not there (he's with the Blues in LA), but the fact that he was credentialed leads you to believe he had intentions of being there. The NHL holiday trade freeze begins [Friday] and I don't expect anything to happen before then. But I will continue to monitor this after the freeze lifts Dec. 27. I've mentioned previously that I am hearing the names of one or two top-six forwards being dealt by the Blues. I would not be surprised if one or more of [T.J. Oshie, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund] are involved. As far as what the Blues could get in return, I keep hearing Milan Lucic's name possibly being moved out of Boston.
There have been whispers of the Bruins and Blues circling each other for weeks now, but the initial scuttlebutt suggested something smaller was in the works—maybe a deal for the rights to malcontent center (and former Bruin) Vladimir Sobotka, who is currently plying his trade in the faltering KHL. But as the two teams struggle to meet preseason expectations, it's thought that the pot has gotten a little richer and could well include a swap of top-six wingers.
The appeal of Lucic to the Blues is obvious. If they hope to get past the Blackhawks, Ducks and Kings they need to be heavier up front. And Lucic, when he's on his game, is as heavy as they come.
Boston, meanwhile, needs someone that can help them set a higher pace. A bit of an edge would be nice, but speed and scoring touch are paramount. Oshie is struggling this season, but is coming off a 21-goal, 60-point campaign highlighted by his stunning performance in the Olympics for Team USA. He has the wheels and the tools to fill that hole.
There are cap considerations, as always. Lucic has a year remaining on a deal that pays him $6 million per. That's a little too rich for the cap-strapped Blues, unless the B's retain salary or target another player such as Steen ($5.85 million) instead of Oshie ($4.175 million).
At this point, though, it's all just speculation. There's no telling if this or anything else will happen between these two teams. But it's safe to say there's more than a little smoke here and both sides are weighing their options as they look past the Christmas break.
What to watch this weekend
One of these teams will be thrilled if the game gets to the shootout. The other, not so much. The Islanders have cleaned up in the skills competition with their league-leading 6-0 mark buttressing their battle for top spot in the Atlantic Division with a league-leading 6-0 mark in games. The Red Wings aren't faring quite so well, losing three of their last four games in the shootout and posting a miserable 0-5 mark at Joe Louis Arena.
The difference is all between the pipes. Detroit's Jimmy Howard has stopped only seven of 27 shootout attempts for a 26.7 save percentage, worst among all NHL goaltenders. Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson of the Isles, meanwhile, boast matching 80% rates.
New York will have a slightly different look up front for this one, with Josh Bailey moving onto the top line alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, and Nikolay Kulemin dropping back to join Frans Nielsen and Mikhail Grabovski. They're also expected to have defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic back in the lineup. The Wings should have Johan Franzen back to full strength. The big winger has been battling a non-mumps virus for the past week but felt good in practice on Thursday.
Rest of the schedule: Lightning at Devils (7 p.m. EST; TVA, SUN, MSG); Ducks at Senators (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-W, RDS, TSN5); Bruins at Jets (8 p.m. EST; NESN, TSN3); Stars at Flames (9 p.m. EST; TXA 21, SNW)
The mumps-riddled Pens needed overtime to get past a plucky Avalanche squad on Thursday night, but there was plenty to like about their process. They controlled the puck for most of the game, maintained their composure when it looked like Colorado goaltender Calvin Pickard was destined to steal one, and limited chances in their own end. The discipline they're showing under duress goes a long way toward explaining why Pittsburgh has lost only six games in regulation this season.
The Panthers are showing plenty of resilience of their own. While they're struggling to find offense, they're scratching out just enough to win the close games. Ten of their past 11 have been one-goal affairs, and the Cats have gone 7-1-2 in them after winning a pair of prolonged shootout games this week. Roberto Luongo has been terrific of late, going 6-1-1 with a solid .928 save percentage during his last eight appearances.
Rest of the schedule: Coyotes at Kings (4 p.m. EST; FS-A; FS-W); Avalanche at Sabres (7 p.m. EST; ALT2, MSG-B); Flyers at Maple Leafs (7 p.m. EST; CBC, CSN-PH); Senators at Canadiens (7 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, TVA, CITY); Capitals at Devils (7 p.m. EST; CSN-DC, MSG+); Lightning at Islanders (7 p.m. EST; FX-CA, SUN, MSG+ 2); Rangers at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST; MSG, FS-CR); Blackhawks at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EST; WGN, FS-O); Predators at Wild (8 p.m. EST; FS-TN, FS-N); Flames at Canucks (10 p.m. EST; CBC); Blues at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EST; FS-MW, CSN-CA)
With the World Juniors setting up camp at the Air Canada Centre, the Maple Leafs face a brutal stretch in which they play eight of their next nine games, and 15 of their next 20, on the road. After a dispiriting 4-1 loss to Carolina in the opener of their journey, they'll be looking to get back on track over the weekend with stops in Philadelphia and Chicago.
The key to this trip will be the play of Jonathan Bernier. The 26-year-old netminder had been sharp leading up the loss to the Hurricanes, allowing just 23 goals in his 10 previous starts, with a .931 save percentage. It should help his cause that blueliner Roman Polak is back in the lineup after missing 10 games due to a knee injury.
The Hawks come into the weekend as winners of 10 of their last 11 and looking the part of a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. But they might be without minute-munching defenseman Duncan Keith for this one. He missed Tuesday's game with a non-mumps illness and is considered day-to-day. They will, however, have Corey Crawford back in the lineup. The keeper is ready to play again after being out two weeks with a left-leg injury and is expected to start either Saturday against Columbus or in this one.
Rest of the schedule: Avalanche at Red Wings (6 p.m. EST; ALT, FS-D); Stars at Oilers (6 p.m. EST; FS-SW; SNW); Sabres at Bruins (7 p.m. EST; MSG-B, BELL TV, NESN); Hurricanes at Rangers (7 p.m. EST; FS-CR, MSG); Flyers at Jets (9 p.m. EST; TCN-PH, TSN 3)
What you may have missed
• Former Flames winger Jim Peplinski once famously said, "I didn't know they allowed cannibalism in the NHL" after being bitten by Claude Lemieux of the Canadiens. Flyers captain Claude Giroux is the latest player to chow down on a foe.
• Max Pacioretty of the Canadiens ended up in the hospital courtesy of a huge hit by the Ducks' Clayton Stoner.
• Penguins defenseman Simon Despres had a run-in with the boards, much to the amusement of his teammates.
• For those who can't get enough advanced analytics, the Sharks published some fancy stats about ugly holiday sweaters.
The numbers game
• Three winning streaks (Blue Jackets, 7; Maple Leafs, 6; Blues, 5) were snapped on Thursday night by usual suspects. The Capitals are now 7-2-2 against the Jackets since Nov. 2009; the Hurricanes are 8-2-1 against the Leafs since Nov. 2011; and the Kings are 16-4-0 against the Blues—including an 11-0-0 record at home—since Oct. 2011. The Kings' mark includes playoff games.
• Pittsburgh's Marc-André Fleury is now the first goalie to post six shutouts in his first 24 starts of a season since Steve Mason of the Blue Jackets did it in 2008-09.
• Squeaking Ducks: Anahem enters Friday night's action with a 16-0-5 record one-goal games this season. Those 16 wins are an NHL high.
• Think your week has been bad? Wait'll you hear what KHL star Tim Stapleton has been through.
• Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp discusses the challenges of working his way back into game shape after a lengthy injury.
• NHLPA boss Donald Fehr expects the owners to lock out the players at the end of the current CBA in 2022. So, start working on your outrage now, I guess.
• Finally some good news about the health of Gordie Howe. Good on ya, Gordie!