When the Bruins comfortably rode in the Quiet Car to the Stanley Cup Final in the spring of 2019, we were all rightfully focused on the present.
Sure, we did some legacy talk with guys like Tuukka Rask and David Backes, but we didn’t really acknowledge what we now know:
That was it.
That was the last chance for an era of Bruins that took the team to new heights in the Boston sports landscape, and more importantly, had brought Boston the Cup in 2011. We’ll call it the Chara-Bergeron-Krejci group, but Rask and Brad Marchand also ascended to among the best in the league in the coming years.
The Bruins followed that loss to the Blues by being a paper tiger Presidents’ Trophy winner last season. They compiled the best record in the regular season despite a lack of secondary scoring waiting to cost them in the playoffs. They managed just four goals in their final three games of the postseason, all losses to the eventual champion Lightning.
Since then, they’ve gotten worse. Zdeno Chara’s departure had more of an historical impact, but it was the combination of Chara and Torey Krug (these days a better player than Chara) that was the biggest blow to Boston’s core.
So that window is closed.
Now, the Bruins are in the process of determining what exactly this next window is. Both Tuukka Rask and David Krejci are up after this season, so it’s unclear what kind of cast will surround Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and new captain Patrice Bergeron.
This year is the in-between. They’ve still got one of the best goalies in the league and their longtime No. 2 center. They added Craig Smith and will rely heavily on young defenders. Ondrej Kase is a question mark, but if he can be a good second-line right wing, Smith will be able to give Charlie Coyle's line a sure thing on the wing it might not otherwise have (no offense, Nick Ritchie). The left side of the defense could be a major issue.
But the Bruins are not bad. They’re definitely not elite, but definitely not bad. In this unique, four-division season with four teams from each making the postseason, they’re a playoff team. It’s going to be tough, though.
You’ve probably seen the divisions for this season by now and know that the top four in each qualify for the postseason. Here’s the East, where the Bruins will play a season of almost exclusively back-to-backs.
|TEAM||NHL FINISH IN 2019-20|
|New Jersey Devils||26th|
|New York Islanders||14th|
|New York Rangers||16th|
Using last year’s regular season finishes, the East has two of the top five teams (Boston and Washington) and four of the top seven (Boston, Washington, Philly and Pittsburgh).
So they’re playing in what figures to be the toughest division in hockey this season (the West also has two of the top five teams from last season; the North and Central are kind of jokes).
Even with the Bruins having had a rubbish offseason, they should still be one of the top four teams in that division. Philly should be tops, then the Capitals, Bruins, Islanders and Penguins should duke it out for the other three spots.
Make no mistake: That will be exciting as hell. Playing in a loaded division with essentially an entire schedule of back-to-backs will make for a very fun shortened season. It’s just that the expectations shouldn’t be super high for what happens after that.
Last season’s second-round exit was considered a failure. Being able to replicate that fate this season would probably meet or slightly exceed expectations.
This isn’t a Cup winner. It’s a team in transition. If that’s disappointing, consider it will be a hell of a lot more competitive than the other team we just saw lose a 43-year-old legend.