The Boston Bruins looked like a real championship contender toward the end of the regular season and through the first six games of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Bruins need to make a decision. Do they re-sign the veteran core -- including free agents Taylor Hall, David Krejci, etc. -- and make another charge at a championship, or is it time to look toward the future and maybe rebuild?
Here are some reasons why the Bruins should run it back and make one more Stanley Cup run with this veteran core.
Maximize rest of Bergeron-Marchand prime
Patrice Bergeron is arguably the team's most important player as an elite two-way center who was recently a Selke Trophy finalist for the 10th consecutive season. He's also one of the best players in team history. Bergeron is 35, though, and signed for just one more year. He'll soon begin his 18th NHL season.
His linemate Brad Marchand is arguably the best left winger in the league. He's scored at a point-per-game rate or better in five consecutive seasons, and his defense/penalty killing also is elite. Marchand is the total package and quite possibly the most underrated star in Boston sports over the last five years. He's also 33 years old.
The Bruins should try to be a title contender for as long as Bergeron and Marchand both remain upper-tier players. Given how well they've played of late and the fact they didn't battle any major injuries last season, we should expect both to be top players at their positions in 2021-22.
Unsurprisingly, these guys are hoping the team takes another run at the Cup next season.
"I can tell you this, I know (Brad) Marchand and (Patrice) Bergeron, understandably, would like us to take another run," B's president Cam Neely said after the 2021 playoffs. "If we get the pieces signed that we'd like to, I think it's worth taking one more shot at it here, depending on what we can do on the back end as well."
Bruins were an elite team post-trade deadline
The Bruins nailed the trade deadline by acquiring left winger Taylor Hall and center Curtis Lazar from the Sabres, and also defenseman Mike Reilly from the Senators.
These moves addressed several roster issues. Hall was the missing piece on the second line. He helped revitalize David Krejci, and along with right winger Craig Smith, this line dominated during 5-on-5 action in the regular season, helping the B's account for 65 percent of all shot attempts and shots on net, as well as outscoring opponents 13-1.
Lazar added versatility and depth to the bottom-six, while Reilly added much-needed playmaking and smooth skating to the blue line.
The B's took off after the April 12 trade deadline and were the best team in the league over the final portion of the regular season.
The difference was night and day.
|Stat (via Natural Stat Trick)||Pre-deadline||NHL Rank||Post-Deadline||NHL Rank|
|5v5 Goals Scored||63||29th||44||T-1st|
|5v5 Goals-For %||47.37||19th||65.67||1st|
|5v5 Scoring Chances||725||29th||405||1st|
|5v5 High-Danger Shot Attempts||240||31st||157||3rd|
|5v5 Shots on Net||970||9th||515||1st|
|5v5 Shot Attempts||1731||16th||848||1st|
If the Bruins bring back Hall -- and both sides have expressed a desire to do so -- as well as Krejci, they will go into next season with two very good lines. That hasn't been the case in some time. The Bruins have needed a strong goal-scoring winger to pair with Krejci for a while and they finally found a great fit with Hall.
Lazar is signed through this season. His minutes could increase if Sean Kuraly isn't re-signed in free agency. Reilly wants to come back. Even if he does, the Bruins need to find another top-four defenseman, preferably someone to play the left side. Free agent Ryan Suter is a great option for that role.
As long as the B's bring back a similar roster to what they had post-2021 trade deadline, they should be a really good team next season. Of course, the schedule will be different and perhaps a bit harder under a normal 82-game slate in the traditional Atlantic Division, but the Bruins' East Division last season was pretty damn good.
Take advantage of team-friendly deals
Another reason to go for the Stanley Cup next season is the future could be pretty expensive for the Bruins.
Superstar right wing David Pastrnak is on one of the most team-friendly deals in the league. His contract has a $6.67 million salary cap hit for two more seasons. A player of his caliber might be worth close to $10 million in free agency, and he's eligible for UFA status in the summer of 2023.
No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy is a Norris Trophy-level player and a pillar of the team. He has a $4.9 million salary cap hit -- an absolute bargain -- for 2021-22 before hitting RFA status next summer. He's going to get a massive and well-deserved raise in his next contract -- maybe something similar to what Stars D-man Miro Heiskanen just signed.
Jeremy Swayman could be the Bruins' starting goalie as soon as this coming season. He's still on his entry-level contract with a cap hit of just $925,000 each of the next two years. If he's good, that's incredible value.
If all goes well for the Bruins and these players keep performing at a high level, re-signing them could get pretty expensive over the next few years. Now is the time to take advantage of these team-friendly contracts and compete for a championship before some really tough roster decisions have to be made.