BRIGHTON, Mass – It would be foolish for the Bruins to allow themselves to think that they’ve figured something out in their interesting run to the Stanley Cup Final this spring.
Certainly, it was an entertaining, inspiring ride for Bruins fans as the B's came within one 60-minute effort of ratcheting up their legacy if they could have captured that second Stanley Cup in a 10-year span. Had the Bruins escaped victoriously in Game 7 over the St. Louis Blues, one could have mentioned them in the same breath as the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins as teams of the decade.
Certainly, another Stanley Cup would have burnished the Hall of Fame resumes of Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, and taken Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask to different strata within the NHL hierarchy as well.
But they fell short with a dud of a Game 7 effort in the 4-1 loss and the Bruins need to make sure they don't let their appearance in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final go to their heads. That won’t be a problem for most of the players, of course.
“That’s what makes it sting even more is how close everybody was on this team,” said Jake DeBrusk. “We just lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It doesn’t get more sour than that. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
It was as much about the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins losing in the first round of the playoffs as it was about anything the Bruins did on their march to the Cup Final. They beat the Maple Leafs in seven games in a tough series to be sure, but they weren’t exactly facing the East’s iron with second- and third-round opponents in Columbus and Carolina.
It’s paramount that Bruins management doesn’t fall in love with this group of players just because of “the run.” Instead, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney should take heed of the way his forwards couldn’t fight through the big, brawny Blues defensemen corps and had little success getting to the loose pucks and rebounds left around the net by Jordan Binnington.
At this point, the Bruins should consider heavily the notion that the "Perfection Line" needs to be broken up with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak unable to get through the Blues defense while being stymied in the series.
Sure, it sounds like Marchand and Bergeron were banged up and Pastrnak was fighting the mental battle with his confidence throughout the postseason.
Still, it’s also obvious that Marchand and Bergeron need a big power forward-type on their right wing who can fight his way to the net when No. 37 and No. 63 are subdued physically.
That should be the first order of business for the Bruins this offseason and it could go hand-in-hand with a couple of other things. One is the potential buyout of David Backes’ contract to open up a roster spot and clear out cap space for restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo as they’re due big raises this summer.
Another is a potential trade of defenseman Torey Krug, who is in the final season of a contract paying him just shy of $6 million for next season. Krug is coming off an excellent regular season and a tremendous playoff performance that would have had him in the discussion for the Conn Smythe Trophy had the B’s pulled off the Cup Final win. So, the value will be high for a player who's still in his 20’s (28), has been to a pair of Cup Finals and will be due a big raise of his own when his contract expires following next season.
Krug might just be the bait that could net the Bruins their desired top-six power forward, but they will need to think long and hard about trading a fierce competitor and ultra-competitive player.
There’s also the possibility that the Bruins could look to move David Krejci this summer. The playmaking center is coming off a strong 20-goal, 73-point regular season, but the 33-year-old was also a ghost in the Cup Final and faded badly in the postseason.
The Bruins could field some interest for Krejci at his peak value coming off a Cup Final and trading away his $7.25 million cap hit would go a long way toward solving some salary-cap complications.
The bottom line for the Bruins: the worst thing they could do is stand pat and do nothing thinking the season was a success. Instead, they should see an aging core group with oncoming salary cap issues caused in part by their success drafting and developing. Still, it's a team that didn’t have enough to get over the hump when it mattered most.
It remains to be seen if this kind of situation will open up again for the Bruins anytime soon with the Lightning and Maple Leafs still talented and looming in their division every season. The B's need to make some changes if they want to be in the best position to take advantage if that golden playoff pathway opens up again in the near future.
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