Bruins

Bruins can't make the mistake of falling in love with this Cup Final team

Bruins can't make the mistake of falling in love with this Cup Final team

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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Jack Studnicka the next great hope for the Bruins at center position

Jack Studnicka the next great hope for the Bruins at center position

Jack Studnicka didn’t participate in any of the on-ice activities during Bruins development camp a couple of weeks ago, but the 20-year-old clearly remains Boston’s best hope as a top-6 center of the future as he approaches his first full pro season.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound center skated with the Black Aces and served as a reserve for the Bruins during their Stanley Cup playoff run, so he had been skating up until the Final ended in early June. That was the reason for his absence from the ice, but he still participated in the week, served as a leader among the Bruins prospects and continued to sound a determined, confident tone when it comes to helping the NHL team.

It won’t happen, of course, but Studnicka is so intent on getting to the NHL as fast as possible that he volunteered to play wing this coming season while knowing that the Bruins will have openings on the wing in NHL training camp.

“Anything to help the team, in my eyes. I’ll play any position. Obviously, my goal is to play with the big club, whether that’s right wing or center, I’m just going to work as hard as I can and compete,” said Studnicka, talking to the Bruins media with a pair of missing front teeth after an incident in the OHL last season. “I think going into any camp, you’re in the wrong place if you’re goal isn’t to make the team. That’s my goal going into this year, that was my goal last year and the year before. It should be everybody’s goal to come here and try and compete and play at a high level.”

That’s the sound of a kid that’s hungry to get to The Show.

That’s excellent news for the Bruins with a pair of top-6 centers in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci that are on the wrong side of 30 years old. They could really use some young blood down the middle when it comes to their top-6, even if it’s a player that’s NHL-ready a year or two down the road, as both Bergeron and Krejci hit their mid-30’s.

The numbers were excellent in his final season at the junior level with 36 goals and 83 points for Oshawa and Niagara in 60 games played for them, and another 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) in 11 playoff games before going pro. During that time he showed off the playmaking, the goal-scoring, the two-way play and the leadership that’s been part of the package since he was drafted in the second round back (53rdoverall) in 2017.

“I think I can contribute offensively and that’s what I’m going to be looking to do,” said Studnicka. “And just compete. Doing all the little things right. That’s something the Bruins always talk about along with winning battles. I just want to show them that I can compete at the NHL level.”

It’s a game the Bruins are looking forward to developing up close at the AHL level in 2019-20 and then deciding how quickly his ascension will be to the NHL level. One of his potential competitors for an NHL spot has gone back to Sweden in Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, and another in Trent Frederic doesn’t have quite the same high-end offensive ability that Studnicka should have when he gains full maturity as a hockey player.

“He was very good,” said Bruins player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner. “I think a testament to who that kid is, he gets traded to Niagara and he’s wearing a letter to the team he was traded to within a month. That’s impressive. That means you’re stepping right in and doing the things coaches see from leaders. [He had a] good season."

“He continues to do the little things in the game that translate to being a good pro, When he came to us in Providence at the end, he had some good playoff games, stepped right into the lineup. (Niagara) lost on a Sunday or Monday and he was in our lineup three days later. He’s just continuing to grow, adding strength. He’s still skinny. He’s working at it and he’s doing everything he can. It’s just taking a little time with him.”

Studnicka had a goal and two points in four playoff games for the Providence Bruins at the end of the AHL season, and then practiced all spring with the Bruins while traveling with the NHL team and getting an up-close look at their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

That experience made him equal parts adept learner and anxious reserve awaiting for his own chance to experience the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But there’s no substitute for getting to watch Krejci and Bergeron prepare every day, even if it was from the outside watching inward.

“That was awesome,” said Studnicka. “One of the best times of my life. You get to watch the Stanley Cup Finals live. You get to travel with the team and see what it’s all about and you can just soak things in. Obviously, it was the stage for them and they deserved to be there.

“[It was] an unfortunate ending, but to be there to see it all unfold right in front of my eyes was really cool. [Bergeron and Krejci] are two high-end players in the National Hockey League, they have been for a long time and they will continue to do that. So you see what they do on the ice that’s given them success over all those years.”

Hopefully Studnicka was paying close to attention to No. 37 and No. 46 during the playoffs because he might just be called upon to help them as soon as next season if he shows that is game is NHL-ready at his next development phase in Providence.

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Danton Heinen "wanted to be an offensive guy," now Bruins need him to be more of that guy

Danton Heinen "wanted to be an offensive guy," now Bruins need him to be more of that guy

Danton Heinen knows that his numbers dipped from his rookie season to this past year’s sophomore campaign where he posted 11 goals and 34 points in 77 games. Still, the 24-year-old earned a big pay raise with his two-year, $5.6 million contract signed earlier in the week to avoid salary arbitration, so he knows he’ll be sticking around in Boston for the next couple of season.

Heinen will also be looking to regain some of the offensive mojo that he lost from the first half of his first NHL season when he scored 11 goals and 33 points in his first 43 games. Since then Heinen has just 16 goals and 48 points in his last 111 games, and he finished with a very quiet two goals in 24 games during Boston’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

So the young winger knows he’s going to need to start gaining a little ground back offensively headed into his third NHL campaign and regain some of that hungry swagger that he seemed to have coming right out of the game in his rookie campaign. The Bruins will need it after watching Marcus Johansson leave in unrestricted free agency with some pretty big job openings on the right wing side on two of Boston’s top three lines.

Certainly, there are young players that will get cracks at top-6 winger positions headed into next season, but Heinen is a guy that has the potential to clinch one of those gigs if he can find his offensive confidence. The responsible two-way play is definitely there and he’ll play no lower than third line wing on next season’s Bruins team, but the feeling is that there is certainly a higher ceiling for a player that left college hockey after two dominant seasons at the University of Denver.

“I’m going to continue to work on [the little details] because I think if you’re good at the little details good things happen, and you’re put in better spots on the ice. I’m going to continue to work on those details and then when you get chances, grade-A looks or [chances to] be an offensive guy that’s kind of… do your follow up there. That’s the kind of player I see myself being,” said the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Heinen. “Coming into the league, I wanted to be an offensive guy. I wanted to, you know, create more, and I’m going to keep on working at doing that, trying to produce more for the team.

“I think I also need to, you know, kind of get in a mindset where I’m shooting more and am more confident in my shot because, you know, different opportunities I might pass up or whatever. I believe in my shot, and I believe I can score. I think it’s just continuing believing in that and working on it.”

To Heinen’s point, his shots on goal dropped from 135 in his rookie season to 114 shots in the very same 77 games played last season. Some of it is about firing more pucks on the net and seizing the good scoring chances when the puck is on his stick. Some of it is about getting stronger in the battles areas of the ice and simply going there more often than he does right now.

The Bruins have certainly placed the investment in Heinen that they believe he’s going to take the next step offensively after carving out a nice, little third line winger niche for himself over the last couple of seasons. Now it’s up to the 24-year-old nice kid from British Columbia to seize the opportunity he’s been given and unlock some of the hidden parts of his two-way game that never fully emerged in a sophomore season where he was invisible on the ice a little too often.

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