Dan LaCouture had a really good day at the rink.
On Dec. 16 at TD Garden, LaCouture's workplace 10 years earlier, the ex-Bruin was a proud father to 9-year-old daughter Reese and 5-year-old son Luke. As LaCouture watched from one bench and former Boston University and NHL teammate Tom Poti stood on the other, their kids, as part of the Cape Cod Penguins, whirled around the Garden ice for a 50-minute afternoon game.
That night, LaCouture spotted Brad Marchand, his former Providence Bruins teammate. Marchand stopped to take pictures and say hello to the Cape Cod team.
Then during the first intermission of the Bruins-Penguins game, LaCouture's son was right back on the ice with his 5- and 6-year-old teammates.
"Being able to grab a player walking by that you played with and be like, 'Can you come in and say hi to the kids?' " LaCouture said. "It's a small world, the hockey world. To be able to share that with the kids, I think I was more excited than the kids were. I was just so happy for them. I'm really more excited for them to get out there in that three-minute game between the first and second [periods] and have that crowd be there. If that's how we can give back to the game, then we're doing the right thing. We're giving back. We're giving back to the kids and to their parents. We're giving them the whole experience."
But there have been a lot of bad days at the rink. The worst was on Jan. 5, 2004, at Madison Square Garden. LaCouture, then playing for the Rangers, saw teammate Jed Ortmeyer take a hit. The Natick native challenged Robyn Regehr. Their gloves came off.
The fight ended when Regehr wrestled LaCouture down, driving the back of his head into the ice. LaCouture suffered what he termed the worst concussion of his career. More than 11 years later, LaCouture's symptoms include anger, sensitivity to light, nausea while riding in a car, and a general dulling of his quality of life.
Fifteen days after he split open the back of his head, LaCouture was back in the Rangers' lineup for a game against the Bruins. His health, how he was poorly educated about concussions, and a desire for reform are why LaCouture is part of a lawsuit against the NHL.
"I was never the same since then, on and off the ice," LaCouture said. "Had I known about what the long-term effects of concussions are, I would have made sure that I stayed out longer. It's a fine line. Stay out too long, then you're costing yourself your job. That's what I fight for with this concussion lawsuit."
LaCouture lives in Centerville. Poti, his roommate at BU, Edmonton, and with the Rangers, lives in Sandwich. LaCouture owns three Midas shops and Pro Wash Cape Cod, a house-washing business.
But while he last played pro hockey in 2009-10, LaCouture's Bruins connections still run deep. He was teammates with Dennis Seidenberg in Carolina. LaCouture played with Patrice Bergeron in Providence. Fellow ex-Terrier Jay Pandolfo, now Boston's director of player development, played with LaCouture in New Jersey. Assistant equipment manager Jim Johnson tended to LaCouture's gear in New York.
At heart, LaCouture is still a player. His head, however, is not with the program.
LaCouture believes that if a player suffers a concussion, regardless of its severity, he should be sidelined for a mandatory 15 days. Had such a rule been in place, LaCouture's condition may have turned out differently.
But it's a tricky situation for players like LaCouture. In 1996, following a season with the Springfield Olympics, LaCouture was drafted 29th overall by the Islanders. One round later, the Islanders picked Zdeno Chara.
Scouts projected LaCouture to be a top-six power forward. Instead, he settled into the role of a grind guy, occasional fighter, and penalty killer.
In Boston, under coach Mike Sullivan, LaCouture had two goals and two assists in 55 games, mostly as a fourth-liner. LaCouture remains bitter about the way he was used by Sullivan, another ex-Terrier.
"Same reason why this guy bounces around from job to job," LaCouture said when asked why his ice time went down in 2005-06. "I don't care about saying it. It just baffles me. And that's another thing that baffles me. We're both from BU. He's not even giving me a chance. He didn't even want me here."
LaCouture's Bruins career ended after one year. Players of LaCouture's profile don't sign long-term, big-bucks contracts. They fight for one-year deals season after season. They don't know which contract will be their last. When LaCouture considered retiring in 2004 at 26 years old because of how poorly he felt, he couldn't afford to say goodbye.
So that's why LaCouture, who recalled suffering one concussion while with the Oilers and a handful with the Penguins, said he was good to go when he had no business declaring himself fit for game play.
"I had to keep risking my health," LaCouture said. "What am I going to do? My contract ends that year. I just can't stop playing hockey. That's what pays all my bills. If I just stop, I'm going to lose everything — lose my house, everything, at 26 years old. It wasn't like I was making $4 million on a multiyear deal."
LaCouture terms his life as some good days and some poor ones. He is trying different antidepressant medicines to ease his irritability. He prefers to drive his vehicle with tinted windows instead of being a passenger in another car. His long-term health is in question.
But LaCouture feels good when he's coaching his kids. For now, it is his best medicine.
Stamkos’s output has taken a hit
Something is not right with Steven Stamkos. Ever since he shrugged off the ballast of playing for Barry Melrose as a rookie, Tampa Bay's No. 1 center has been money in the bank when it comes to scoring goals. During a six-year stretch, Stamkos's lowest output was 0.52 goals per game in 2014-15.
Through 35 games this season, Stamkos was averaging just 0.40 goals per game, his worst output since his rookie season (0.29). With injuries slowing Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin, opponents have trained their defensive sights even more on Stamkos. The natural center has been taking shifts at right wing. He's averaging 20:09 of ice time, a dropoff compared with 2012-13, when he played 22:01 per appearance.
Above all else, Stamkos is facing the uncertainty of his next deal and whether his paychecks will come with a Lightning logo. That would be enough of a distraction for any player, even a superstar like Stamkos, to feel a disruption in his game.
The Lightning are in a jam. They're fighting for a playoff spot. Even in a down year, Stamkos is their most reliable offensive weapon. They need their triggerman in a big way, not just for this season, but for years to come.
Stamkos is 25 years old. Even if he's asking for the maximum eight-year term at big money, the Lightning can project their captain to remain a reliable goal scorer into the back end of his extension.
They have other players who will be due for new contracts, too. Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov will be restricted after this season. Victor Hedman will be unrestricted after 2017. Hedman is the most critical piece besides Stamkos. The RFAs-to-be are good players, but not game-changers like Stamkos and Hedman.
The Lightning are not expected to re-sign Ben Bishop after next year. They'll save nearly $6 million by saying goodbye to Bishop. But they'll still be carrying Ryan Callahan's $5.8 million annual salary through 2020. It is not a manageable contract for the type of player he is (second- to third-line right wing) and mileage already on the gritty forward's tires.
If general manager Steve Yzerman is finding Stamkos's asking price too hefty, he would not improve his team via a trade. Stamkos has a no-movement clause. He carries a $7.5 million annual cap hit, too rich for most teams to fit under their ceiling. No team would cede significant assets for Stamkos without a guarantee that he'd re-sign instead of testing the UFA market come July 1.
The Lightning are up against it with Stamkos. But nobody's feeling sorry for the defending Eastern Conference champions.
USA’s DeBrincat will play big role
Alex DeBrincat acknowledges there are tougher teammates to have than Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. Last year, while McDavid was doing his thing and Strome was doing well enough to become the third overall pick in 2015, DeBrincat scored more goals than both of his Erie Otters teammates. In 68 games, DeBrincat potted 51 goals, one fewer than OHL leader Joseph Blandisi, a 20-year-old over-age player.
Even with McDavid in the NHL, DeBrincat is still tearing up the OHL this season. Through 30 games, the right wing had a league-high 30 goals. So even though he's a 5-foot-7-inch, 163-pound bulldog more than an NHL-preferred Great Dane, DeBrincat is a top-line player for Team USA in the World Junior Championship and a first-round prospect in the 2016 NHL Draft.
"He's going to have to be a guy who buries the puck, which he's done all year playing junior," said USA coach Ron Wilson. "That's why he's leading the league in scoring. I don't see any reason why that should be different out here. He's playing against all his peers, but for the American side this time. That's what I'll be looking forward to — how well he plays in this tournament against a lot of his peers, because he's dominated this year."
The NHL has progressed to the point where DeBrincat's size won't matter. The native of Farmington Hills, Mich., has a pedigree of playing in the blue-collar areas, standing up to bigger opponents, and usually getting the best of them.
"I like to go in the corners and battle for pucks," DeBrincat said. "Maybe it's just the hard work I put into the game."
Like all teenagers, DeBrincat knows he needs to work on his defensive game. It will be one of his priorities next year when he is likely to return to Erie for a third season.
But in the upcoming tournament, DeBrincat and first-line mates Matthew Tkachuk and Auston Matthews will be asked to produce offense. Wilson won't be the only one curious to see how DeBrincat does against the world's best teenagers. Scouts will be keeping a close eye on DeBrincat on the international stage.
Trump vs. Sinden
Several years ago, former Bruins GM and coach Harry Sinden met Donald Trump. For Trump, the meeting sparked memories of the 1970 postseason clash between the Bruins and Rangers — in particular, a Game 3 dustup between Derek Sanderson and Ed Giacomin at Madison Square Garden. During the game, Sinden and Rangers counterpart Emile Francis had words as well. Trump had an up-close look at the Sinden-Francis exchange from his premium seat near the Bruins' bench. Decades later, Trump told Sinden what he thought at the time of the Bruins coach. "We didn't do anything, but we were looking and screaming at each other," Sinden recalled of his showdown with Francis. "[Trump] said, 'I was ready to clobber you.' Just in the typical Trump manner, he said that to me."
Right call made on Talbot
Referees Gord Dwyer and Mike Leggo didn't see Max Talbot's clock-cleaning hit on Jiri Tlusty on Sunday. But the eagle eyes in the Department of Player Safety flagged Talbot's thump in New York. A day later, they made the right decision to suspend Talbot for two games, citing the lateness and predatory nature of the Bruin's hit. Tlusty had cycled the puck down low to Travis Zajac. The puck was long gone. Tlusty had no expectation of getting dropped in that situation. Talbot did not need to launch himself into his opponent. That Talbot received a two-game punishment, with no discipline history and no injury to Tlusty taking place, indicated how reckless Player Safety considered the hit.
Devils monitoring Elias’s pace
On Sunday, one day after Patrik Elias played 10:31 in a 2-1 loss to Anaheim, the former Devils captain was out of uniform against the Bruins. Elias's absence was by design. He is 39 years old and coming off a knee injury that held him out for the first 20 games. So, given Elias's status and the back-to-back set, both player and organization determined that a night off would be best for both parties. Elias was back in the lineup against Detroit on Tuesday. "Short turnaround, busy schedule," said New Jersey coach John Hynes. "We've got another game on Tuesday. So I'm going to try and utilize our lineup the way I see fit. We'll give Patty the day here and he'll be ready to go against Detroit." It's not common for coaches to give healthy players games off, especially when they're fighting for playoff spots. But it's not always easy for 39-year-olds to rev up for three games in four nights.
Wild stablize defense
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher locked up another one of his defensemen Monday when he signed Jared Spurgeon to a four-year, $20.75 million contract. The right-shot Spurgeon, picked in the sixth round by the Islanders in 2008, has grown into a mobile and steady core player for the up-tempo Wild. This season, he is averaging 22:22 of ice time, second on the team only to strongman Ryan Suter (28:16). Suter, Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Marco Scandella are all locked up long term. Fletcher's next order of blue-line business will be to extend Matt Dumba, whose entry-level contract will expire after this season. Because of the depth and quality of Minnesota's defense and Dumba's ceiling, teams are wondering whether the youngster could be available via trade. The price, however, would be very high.
Old friend Anton Khudobin is 2-0-0 with a 1.87 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage for San Diego, Anaheim's AHL affiliate. The former Bruin was assigned to San Diego once the Ducks decided to go with Frederik Andersen and John Gibson in their varsity net. It's possible Khudobin resurfaces up top, but it would likely require an injury, either to one of the Anaheim goalies or to a rival puck-stopper. Khudobin will be unrestricted after this year . . . Bruins prospect Jeremy Lauzon was one of Team Canada's final cuts ahead of the World Junior Championship. The second-rounder has five goals and 29 assists in 26 games for Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL . . . Draft hounds are keeping a close eye on 17-year-old Clayton Keller. The 5-10, 168-pound forward is playing for the National Team Development Program's Under-18 team. Scouts are comparing the small but dynamic Keller to Johnny Gaudreau. Keller, however, projects to be a first-round pick next June. Gaudreau lasted until the fourth round in 2011 . . . Expect Brian Leetch to be one of the standouts in the upcoming Bruins-Canadiens alumni game at Gillette Stadium. The 47-year-old still skates like a 20-something NHL defenseman, which was evident in a recent tuneup at TD Garden. Leetch makes moving around the rink look like a walk through the Public Garden.
More than his share
Patrick Kane scored at least one point a game for nearly two months before he was held without a goal or assist Dec. 15 by Colorado. The 26-game point streak set a Blackhawks record and was the NHL's longest since Mats Sundin put together a 30-game run for Quebec in 1992-93. Kane had 10 multipoint games while on his tear and accounted for one-fifth of his team's points as Chicago went 15-7-4 during the streak.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.