Not that I’m gifting the Boston Bruins the Stanley Cup already, because I’m not…but the team’s play in 2019 does have me thinking about their championship window right now.
Clearly the Bruins have put themselves in a great position to play in the final, putting Carolina down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference championship. And let’s say the Bruins keep playing smart hockey and win it all against San Jose or St. Louis in the final series. It’s all right there for them, sure.
But what does the future hold for Boston? I would argue that, despite being an older team in many regards, the Bruins’ championship window does not close with the end of this campaign. In fact, I believe they can regenerate their roster enough to be competitive for years.
Let’s start at the top with the Best Line in Hockey. Center Patrice Bergeron may be an old 33 (injuries, plus a heavy career workload), but he’s still one of the best players in the game, while 31-year-old Brad Marchand is an elite-level talent when he’s not auditioning for the Really Rottens. The key for me is the third member of the line, David Pastrnak. At 22, he’s in the early stage of his peak years and may be even better next year than he was this time around (and he was very good in 2018-19). So even if Bergeron’s game degrades in the next year or two, the uptick from Pastrnak would balance it out. Long story short, the Best Line in Hockey remains so for the immediate future.
From there, Charlie Coyle appears to be part of the answer to Boston’s forward depth question, even if it took a bit of time for him to adjust. He’s still under contract next year. Jake DeBrusk can also be counted in that company and he’s still on his affordable entry-level deal next season. The B’s also signed Oskar Steen to his rookie deal and I’ve always liked the Swedish winger. He’s fast, skilled and plays with an edge – wonder if Boston fans like those qualities? It will be fun to see if Steen can crack the lineup next year.
On defense, Zdeno Chara is coming back at a discounted rate and given his toughness and leadership, the deal works for me. His lack of speed can hurt, but that’s where partner Charlie McAvoy comes in. Like Pastrnak, McAvoy is just entering his prime and I believe he’ll be even better next season. Not only will that help extend Chara’s career one more season, but it also prepares Boston for the post-Chara era. Though they are totally different defensemen, I believe McAvoy will be a compelling No. 1 for the Bruins for years to come. With Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and others behind him, McAvoy can keep that Boston ‘D’ corps humming. Plus, Urho Vaakanainen is just beginning his NHL march. What sort of impact can he have long-term?
In net, Tuukka Rask is obviously the guy and will continue to be the guy for the known future. Even though the NHL is skewing younger now, the unwritten rule doesn’t seem to apply to goalies.
Like Rask, some of the NHL’s best netminders this season were on the wrong side of 30: Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Pekka Rinne…heck, even Rask’s battery mate Jaroslav Halak qualifies.
Now, are there concerns that GM Don Sweeney must address in the off-season? Of course, as there is with every team. That David Backes contract is looking a little sketchy and unfortunately, the veteran has two more seasons at $6 million per, complete with a no-move clause. Oh, and McAvoy? He’s a restricted free agent this summer. He’s been an absolute bargain thanks to his entry-level deal, but now that stipend needs to start at $7 million with big term. Carlo and Danton Heinen also need new deals and while the Bruins are crushed for cap space, they also don’t have a ton of it right now (about $14 million to play with, approximately).
The present is looking great for the Bruins and the near-future is pretty solid too. Will it result in a Cup? It won’t take long before we find out. But another could be coming soon after, as well.