Bruins' Core Is Not the Problem
Let’s be completely honest. Even if Tuukka Rask played, the Boston Bruins wouldn’t had beaten the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even if Rask was completely focused for the series, they would had been eliminated.
Maybe the series would had went six games, or even the distance. But Boston wouldn’t had won four games against the Lightning. It wasn’t gonna happen.
It’s not about this season either. If the Bruins faced the Lightning or Washington Capitals in last year’s playoffs, either team would had eliminated the B’s. Boston was just fortunate that the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes scored huge opening round upsets, paving the way for the Bruins’ easy path to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In the aftermath of a disappointing season for the team with the NHL’s best regular season record, we’re asking the question if the veteran core of the team has run its course. Captain Zdeno Chara is a free agent and has 10 years on his jersey number. Patrice Bergeron is 35 and David Krejci is 34. 32-year-old Brad Marchand may have a few more years of elite play left in him, but his career is past noon.
And Rask…who knows? Some are ready to move on from the 33-year-old goalie who owns the franchise record for most wins. But Rask might be ready to hang it up anyway. He expressed it could be a possibility after his contract expires after the 2020-2021 season, though he later said he wants to keep playing beyond 2021.
If last season is the last time they’re together as Bruins, they can look back with pride. Besides all the personal accolades, they nearly became a dynasty, with three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, including Boston’s first championship since 1972.
But why break up the core when they’re not the problem? With Chara the only free agent of the quintet, it’s worth a shot to re-sign him and re-tool the team in hopes of getting better results.
The problem, which has plagued the Bruins for years, is the lack of reliable secondary scoring. In the regular season Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci and David Pastrnak combined for 281 of Boston’s 611 points. The remaining 12 forwards contributed 231 points.
Compare that to the Stanley Cup-winning 2011 team. The top four forwards of Bergeron, Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton combined for 234 of 657 points. The remaining 13 forwards had 298 points.
The 2020 playoffs numbers were exaggerations of the regular season tally, as the top four were responsible for 40 of 70 points. 17 points came from the remaining forwards.
Where Boston can find secondary scoring is the problem. Maybe Jack Studnicka or Zach Senyshyn is ready after some grooming in the minors. But the Bruins would had been much better off if they selected Matthew Barzal, Kyle Connor and Thomas Chabot instead of Jakob Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Shenyshyn.
Piling on the front office, recent transactions haven’t helped either. Charlie Coyle is a solid find, but Boston didn’t get much out of Rick Nash, and David Backes didn’t live up to the contract signed.
So how do the Bruins get better? As always, easier said than done. Tory Krug is a free agent and is good as gone. He waited his chance to cash in and he earned the right to do so. Replacing his 49 points from the blue line might require a group effort.
DeBrusk is a restricted free agent and shouldn’t be expensive to retain, unless general manager Don Sweeney feels he can find a better player either through free agency or a trade.
Or maybe Sweeney feels the core has run its course. With Charlie McAvoy as the team’s top defender and the remaining young defensemen playing well and improving, maybe Sweeney lets Chara walk, then compliments the decision by trading Krejci and/or Rask.
But why force it? Krejci and Rask’s contracts expire in 2021. So do the contracts of Nick Ritchie, Sean Kuraly, Par Lindholm, and Jaroslav Halak. That’s close to $20 million in savings alone.
A one-year deal for Chara likely would be around the $2 million he played for last year. The $6.25 million saved from Krug and Joakim Nordstrom coming off the books hopefully can be split between Matt Grezlyck and DeBrusk, with some money left over.
Other transactions will be made to tweak the roster. Hopefully these moves significantly improve the secondary scoring for one last push for a Stanley Cup.
Whether they achieve their championship dreams or come up short, 2021 would be the encore, with nothing left but the curtain coming down on one of the greatest runs for a Bruins group in franchise history.