Open Mike: Teams to beat in the East

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Open Mike: Teams to beat in the East

Who will provide the biggest challenges to the Bruins this year? 'Sticks and Stones' regular Mike Milbury looks at teams in the Eastern Conference and tells us who's strong . . . and who's a sleeper.

Haggerty: Marchand signing is Bruins' biggest win in years

Haggerty: Marchand signing is Bruins' biggest win in years

BOSTON -- It’s no understatement to say that Brad Marchand's eight-year, $49 million contract extension is one of the Don Sweeney's and Cam Neely's biggest recent victories.

It’s also undoubtedly a big win for Marchand: He gets what he wants; i.e., staying with a Bruins team that drafted and developed him from a rookie fourth liner into an impactful 37-goal scorer over the last six seasons.

“Boston has become my second home. I absolutely love it there. I’m very excited about what’s ahead for our team,” said Marchand to reporters in Toronto, where he's still representing Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey. “I really believe in our team and our group and what we’re working towards. It’s a place that I’m very excited about being for the next number of years and potentially my whole career.

“We’ll talk more about everything after the tournament, but for now I just want to thank everyone who’s involved in the negotiations, my agent, and their team. I’m just very happy that everything’s done now and we can move forward.”

Marchand, 28, clearly gave the B's a hometown discount. Had he gone to free agency, he probably could have gotten $1 million more per season than the $6.125 million average annual value of the deal he agreed to.

As for the Bruins, they were able to lock up one of their most important core players for the balance of his career.

Marchand scored a career-high 37 goals and 60 points last season and is continuing his ascendency toward elite player status by tearing up the World Cup of Hockey this month on a line with Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron. The threat of him being wooed to Pittsburgh by Crosby, a fellow Nova Scotian, could have been very real had the Bruins dragged their feet in negotiations. But that wasn’t the tenor of the talks.

Let’s be honest: The way things have gone the last couple of years, it was very easy to envision the Bruins massively overpaying Marchand, given his expected value as a free agent. Or seeing Marchand and his agent, Wade Arnott, stringing them along before jumping to the highest bidder with the B’s left holding nothing, as was the case with Loui Eriksson.

Instead, Sweeney and Neely closed the deal . . . and at a team-reasonable rate. For that they deserve the kind of credit they haven’t enjoyed much of over the last couple of years as they've essentially dismantled an aging former Cup team while still trying to stay playoff-caliber.

“You’re going to have [free-agent defections] at every team," said Sweeney. "There will be [exiting] players. That’s just the way the league is built, parity, and being able to fit people in and out depending on how their roles are, and what you have in the pipeline to be able to take the place of players that are going to depart. That’s just forces of nature of the league itself.

“[But the] motivation was there from the get-go to try and find a deal with Brad . . . [You] realize that other players have left and the opportunity could be out there for him, and he’s very cognizant. He makes you very cognizant of it when you’re going through it.

“It’s a process that takes a long time to get through things. Great communication with their representatives -- with Brad’s representatives -- and it just felt like we would try and get to a good end point. The timing was obviously hard on Brad today, wanting to focus on the World Cup but, when you have a chance to get to the finish line you have to cross it. But it’s rightfully so not to take any attention away from what he’s doing right now because it’s important to him, but as was the contract to have it in place for all the parties. We got to the finish line and it’s really good for Brad and it’s really good for the Boston Bruins.”

It’s true Marchand might be a much different player by the time he’s 35 or 36 at the end of the deal. But it’s also true that a rising NHL salary cap will make this contract much more palatable as the years go by. The duo of Bergeron/Marchand is the most important, meaningful asset the Bruins have, and they needed to keep them together as a scoring, defending and special-teams threat every time they take the ice.

Marchand might not ever score 37 goals again like he did last season, but it’s no stretch to expect him to be around 30 or the foreseeable future. He has more short-handed goals than any other NHL player since joining the league in 2010-11, and the attitude and charisma he plays with on the ice is the kind of things that puts butts in seats.

Those players get paid and they get teams into bidding wars in the rare instances that they make it all the way to unrestricted free agency. So the Bruins scored a big victory in not allowing it to get to that point with a homegrown player who's come a long way from his early days as a detested agitator around the NHL.

Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

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Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

BOSTON, Mass. – There’s a long way to go toward a complete resurrection from last season’s misdeeds, but Jimmy Hayes made a nice little statement that he’s learned some lessons in Boston’s preseason debut. The Bruins lost the game, 3-2, in the shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Hayes scored one of the two goals for the Black and Gold as one of the few veterans in a very youthful lineup for Boston.

The Hayes goal was a nice give-and-go with Jake DeBrusk at the end of a nice transition play in the second period, and was the highlight of a night playing on the right wing with DeBrusk and center Austin Czarnik. The score and a team-high four shots on net for Hayes represent a good start for what he hopes is a gigantic rebound season after last year’s disappointment.

Clearly Hayes heard some of the unflattering chatter about him on sports talk radio and otherwise last season, and may even understand how his difficult season in his home city of Boston -- whether he actively expressed it to him or not -- might have been a factor in his buddy Jimmy Vesey ultimately choosing New York over Boston.

It appears the former Boston College standout is looking to change the conversation in Boston. 

“Yeah, sure am. I’ve got a lot to come out here and…[there were] a lot of comments about myself, but I know I’m a good player. I got to this level for a reason,” said Hayes, who dropped from 19 goals and 35 points with the Panthers to 13 goals, 29 points and a career-worst minus-12 for the Bruins last season.

“To be able to play at the NHL level and continue to play at that level on a consistent basis is what I expect out of myself. I do it for myself and our teammates, and to help our team win. I’ll continue moving forward.

“It’s funny being the old guy on the line. It’s nice to see those young guys and see how excited they are, and how excited I am to get back out there. That’s what I said to the guys, they still have the jitters and they still have them for the first preseason game. It shows that these guys want it and it’s been a lot of fun skating with those guys. They’ve got a lot of speed and to keep pushing the pace. Trying to keep up with them has been a lot of fun.”

There is still a long way to go for the 26-year-old winger, and his willingness to stick around the danger areas on Monday night was a welcomed one for a Bruins team that needs his 6-foot-6 body in front of the net. Hayes paid the price with stitches and a fat lip after taking a Dalton Prout high-stick to the mouth in front of the Columbus net that went uncalled on a Bruins PP at the end of the second period.

That’s all part of the big man’s game on the ice, however. It’s also the kind of battle and determined fight that Hayes will need to show much more consistently in his second season with the hometown Bruins if he’s truly looking to bounce-back from last year’s mediocre performance.