Bruins

Bruins core has a chance to join some select company with another Cup win

Bruins core has a chance to join some select company with another Cup win

The Bruins aren’t quite there yet, of course, but the third Stanley Cup Final appearance in the past decade puts them in some pretty select company.

The Chicago Blackhawks are the standard-bearer with three Stanley Cup titles, along with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who also hoisted the Cup three times the past decade with their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury, surrounded by a couple of vastly different-looking supporting casts.

Then there’s the two Stanley Cups for the Los Angeles Kings with a core of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick. They're beginning now to hit some hard times as they grow older just as the Bruins did about five years ago.

Just getting to the Final three times in an eight-year span puts the Bruins in that conversation. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask were all a big part of those teams. It’s also a fitting return for a core still looking for that capping achievement to put them in the same conversation with those other dynastic teams after they fell short vs. the Blackhawks in 2013.

So, it’s a pretty important opportunity for the Boston legacies of elite players Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Chara and Rask. A second championship can put them in a higher category in NHL and Bruins lore. Chara is headed to the Hall of Fame once he retires regardless of what happens, but a second Stanley Cup could be the final accomplishment that punches the Hall ticket for Bergeron as well.

For a group that has grown up together and is now older, wiser and more established, it’s an exciting return to a place they weren’t sure they’d ever get back to again.

“It’s very special. It means a lot. We’ve basically grown up together [since] we’ve been around each other for so long. It’s been a fun ride along with this core group as the leaders. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs,” said Bergeron, who enters the Cup Final with eight goals and 13 points along with a plus-8 in 17 games in these playoffs. “Like I’ve said before, the older you get, you realize how hard it is to get to his point. You need to be thankful for that. But over the last few years, we’ve built something special with the young guys. They are a big part of this group and this team. They want to get better and they are big-time players. They relish every challenge, so it’s been a fun ride.”

It remains to be seen who they'll face after the St. Louis Blues evened the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks on Friday night, but the B’s will be in as good of a situation as they’ve ever been entering the Cup Final. They'll be healed and well-rested with 10 days off between their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes and the May 27 start of the Cup Final at TD Garden. They got the short playoff series they desperately needed with the four-game sweep of the Canes.  

For Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Chara and Rask, another Cup will be career-defining. For 13-year veteran David Backes, it will be even more so, and for younger players David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo and others, it’s just the beginning of what should be bright careers in Black and Gold.

“You don’t know when you’re going to get these opportunities. It’s something we’ve stressed to the younger guys that they’re pretty darn fortunate to be in the Stanley Cup Final now,” said Backes. “We were saying Eastern Conference Final before, but now it’s Stanley Cup Final. Some guys play their whole career and never get this opportunity.”

The bottom line is this: The Bruins are the prohibitive favorite after the Lightning, Capitals and Penguins, among others, all faltered and opened the door wide for another Boston championship opportunity. It’s up to them to walk through, but this is probably the best shot that Boston’s veteran core will ever have to win another Cup in their standout careers.

Each member of the Bruins core will get the chance to stamp the Bruins as one of the best, most dynastic teams of the past decade in the NHL, That’s really all any hockey player can ask for.

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Bruins' Matt Grzelcyk reflects on Stanley Cup run with heartfelt Instagram post

Bruins' Matt Grzelcyk reflects on Stanley Cup run with heartfelt Instagram post

The pain of coming up short in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final likely will stick with the 2019 Bruins forever.

The B's admitted as much immediately following their crushing defeat vs. the Blues. But as demoralizing of a loss it was, this is a team that looks to learn from it and come back even stronger next season.

Take it from defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who reflected on the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in an Instagram post on Tuesday. The 25-year-old Charlestown native assured fans that the team will continue to "face adversity head-on."

Read his message below:

View this post on Instagram

Every time I laced up my skates or rollerbladed over to go play street hockey in Charlestown, I envisioned these very moments. Game 7, Stanley Cup Finals, for the hometown team... We came up one game short, and it hurts probably as bad as you could imagine (and then some). However, I truly believe that accomplishing anything meaningful in life requires you to overcome the obstacles presented your way. This team always faces adversity head on, and we will continue to do so. Focused. Relentless. Together. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to EVERYONE (family, friends, fans) who have supported through the good times & the bad. Your words of encouragement push us more than you know. It certainly does not go unnoticed, especially from a kid who grew up a mile away. It’s been an unforgettable year, memories that will last a lifetime. Looking forward to many more!

A post shared by Matthew Grzelcyk (@matt.grzelcyk) on

Every time I laced up my skates or rollerbladed over to go play street hockey in Charlestown, I envisioned these very moments. Game 7, Stanley Cup Finals, for the hometown team... We came up one game short, and it hurts probably as bad as you could imagine (and then some). However, I truly believe that accomplishing anything meaningful in life requires you to overcome the obstacles presented your way. This team always faces adversity head on, and we will continue to do so. Focused. Relentless. Together.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to EVERYONE (family, friends, fans) who have supported through the good times & the bad. Your words of encouragement push us more than you know. It certainly does not go unnoticed, especially from a kid who grew up a mile away. It’s been an unforgettable year, memories that will last a lifetime. Looking forward to many more!

Grzelcyk was forced to miss most of the Stanley Cup Final after suffering an injury in Game 2, so it had to hurt even worse being physically unable to help his team. Even so, it's clear he's maintaining a remarkably positive attitude through the difficult circumstances.

Highlights from the B's 2019-20 schedule >>

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Don't expect a fireworks show from this Bruins team around July 1

Don't expect a fireworks show from this Bruins team around July 1

The period around the NHL Draft and the July 1 opening of free agency is always a time for hockey fans to let their fantasies fly free.

It’s a time when a big-ticket free agent like Artemi Panarin seems like a possibility, or there’s a P.K. Subban-type available in a trade just right around the corner. It’s a time when hope always springs eternal for all 31 of the NHL fan bases, and sweeping, wholesale improvements still feel like a possibility.

Unfortunately, Bruins fans will need to face the reality that it doesn’t look like the Bruins have much of a realistic shot of making those big-time improvements to an NHL roster that came within one Game 7 of capturing the Stanley Cup earlier this month.

All one needs do is look at the TSN trade bait list, which annually is the “go to” for NHL players in the rumor mill leading up to the July 1 opening of NHL free agency. There isn’t a single Bruins player listed in the Top 40 of NHL players likely to be moved around the free agency period when trades come fast and furiously.

Torey Krug isn’t listed on there despite being in the last year of a reasonable contract with the Black and Gold, and David Krejci isn’t listed either despite reduced no-trade protection (he can soon be traded to half the teams in the NHL) in his contract come July 1. Certainly there’s no David Backes on the list as nobody is in the market for a 35-year-old power forward making $6 million who is coming off a seven-goal season, and being a healthy scratch in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Blues.

The Bruins would like to make improvements to a team with an aging core group that showed their age at times during the postseason, but there’s going to be a pretty extreme limit to what they can do based on the salary cap. There’s also a delicate balance where it’s clear the B’s don’t want to do too much to mess with the mojo of a team that was good enough to play in 106 regular season and playoff games this past season.

Then again, it’s also a team that benefitted from the Lightning, Capitals and Penguins all losing in the first round of the playoffs, and that’s not likely to happen again next season or any other time soon during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We have everybody in the same room to talk about what’s the identity we’re trying to have as a hockey club, as an organization, and we’re going to stick to those. Now, there are some changes as the league continues to evolve. Does it work all the way from Game 1 of the regular season to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup? There’s a twisting along the road between those two points of time,” said Don Sweeney. “I think you have to have the balance. I think you have to have the depth in an organization and be able to match up in a bunch of different situations against a bunch of different teams to even give yourself a chance, so yes, we’ll have an identity.

“Bruce can speak to the tenets he wants his hockey players to play with, but you touched on a bunch of them. It’s hard to teach courage, it’s hard to teach speed, hockey sense piece is another area, so we’re trying to identify them, as every team is trying to identify those same things. We had a good team this year and it showed.”

The Bruins have roughly $12 million in salary cap space after signing Steven Kampfer to a two-year, $1.6 contract, and pretty much all of that is going to be used up to re-sign restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen.

Bruins President Cam Neely was forthright with his comments post-Cup run that the Bruins could use another top-six forward, and truthfully have needed one for the last couple of seasons while 34-year-old David Backes hasn’t worked out as that guy.

“What do we need moving forward or next year? Yeah, well, obviously I know it’s been talked about at length about another top-six forward, so we’ll see where that ends up,” said Neely. “I think our bottom six was pretty strong this year, so if we can strengthen in the immediate future our top six, you know, that’s something we’d like to try and do. We’ve talked about that for a couple years now.”

So how do they do that if they have no cap space, won’t trade Krejci or Krug and don’t have any way to remove Backes from their salary cap?

That would be pretty much impossible. As it is right now, they don’t have the money to pay the $5 million plus per season that Marcus Johansson is going to get in free agency and they don’t have the kind of cap space it’s going to take to trade for Jason Zucker, Phil Kessel, Chris Kreider, Nikolaj Ehlers or James Neal that might be available in trade talks over the next couple of weeks.

All of that could change if somebody approaches the Bruins with an offer they can’t refuse for Krug or really gives them good value for Krejci, but then the Bruins would suddenly have a hole for a 50-point scorer on defense or a No. 2 center when there isn’t a ready-made replacement in the organization. When you look at it from that perspective, making those big, sweeping deals does seem a bit rash with a Bruins team that’s built steadily upward over the last three seasons.

It also feels like the Bruins are stuck right now due to salary cap constraints, no-trade provisions and a farm system that doesn’t have any suitable replacements at the center position. So don’t expect major fireworks when NHL free agency hits on July 1 because it looks like the Bruins will be bringing back a hockey club that looks very similar to the one that left the Garden ice dejected after Game 7 just a couple of weeks ago. 

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