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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Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

The Edmonton Oilers were finally able to move a difficult contract this weekend when they shipped Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal in a rare trade between Battle of Alberta rivals.

Calgary also received a conditional third-round pick in 2020 along with the Oilers retaining 12.5 percent of the remainder of Lucic’s contract, which will see him at a $5.25 million cap hit with the Flames for the next four seasons. The Oilers are rid of the Lucic contract, but they’re still on the hook for four years of Neal, 31, at $5.75 million after he, too, showed serious signs of decline last season with the Flames.

These are the kinds of “no real winner” trades that the Bruins would have to engage in if they wanted to move 35-year-old David Backes in the final years of his contract. Sure, the Backes contract has never been good value and it became something else last season when the power forward’s production dropped to just seven goals and 20 points in 70 games amid concussion issues on top of decreased production.

Lucic, 31, had similar numbers last season with six goals and 20 points in 79 games with the Oilers, and it’s been clear for a couple of seasons that his best days are behind him as one of the NHL’s premier power forwards. The argument could be made, though, that those heavy skating legs might have been energized a bit by a return to Boston and certainly his fighting, snarling game is a little more in line with what the B’s need to protect some of their younger players these days.

Could the Bruins have engineered a similar trade involving Backes with the Oilers to get Lucic back at $5.25 million with Edmonton retaining some salary thus saving the B's almost $1 million cap space the next couple of seasons?

Absolutely.

The question becomes whether it would have been worth it to take on a couple more years of Lucic when Backes is going to be finishing up his deal two seasons from now and becomes a prime buyout candidate at this time next year.

This is why it’s become almost impossible to move Backes. It’s going to be very difficult to find a deal for another problem contract where the B’s aren’t inheriting more years indebted to the player coming back in a trade. Or it’s going to take a first-round pick sweetener for another team to accept the Backes contract along with Boston potentially picking up some of the money.

One of the few remaining players out there the Bruins could potentially swap bad contracts for is old friend Loui Eriksson with the Vancouver. It was Backes who the B’s signed when Eriksson walked in free agency, and the 34-year-old Swedish winger hasn’t come close to repeating his final Boston season while with the Canucks.

Eriksson had 11 goals and 29 points in 81 games for Vancouver last season and has been pretty consistent while averaging 10 goals and 25 points in his three underperforming seasons with the Canucks. Again, though, the Bruins would be taking on one additional season at the $6 million cap hit in 2021-22 if they were to do an even swap of Backes-for-Eriksson if both teams signed off on the one-for-one trade.

Even that doesn’t make sound business sense for the Black and Gold if they can just squeeze one more season of productivity out of Backes as a bottom-six winger willing to stand up for his teammates and show leadership.

What does all of this mean?

It means the Bruins aren’t going to find many, if any, realistic trade scenarios with Backes that are going to help their bottom line on the salary cap. They may just need to make the best out of one more season with No. 42 and then revisit things again next summer when there could be a few more options at their disposal.

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Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

He might not have quite the cachet of Jack Studnicka or Jakub Lauko as an uber-prospect for the Bruins. Just by virtue of not being drafted or playing forward, young goaltender Kyle Keyser is more of a blip on the radar screen as another young B’s player headed into a key developmental year with the organization.

Keyser, like Studnicka and Lauko, didn’t take part in the on-ice portion of this summer’s development camp and only played in a single regular-season game for the Providence Bruins in the AHL at the end of this past season. That came after Keyser, 20, posted a .915 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average in his final regular season with the Oshawa Generals and preceded a run for the young goalie as part of the Black Aces in this spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

“The playoff time in Oshawa was something truly awesome to experience,” said Keyser, who posted a sterling .925 save percentage in Oshawa’s 15-game run through the Memorial Cup playoffs. “Being with those guys in my first long playoff run and the camaraderie of being in a group playing for one another was something special. It was great to be around.”

It’s also something for Keyser to build on as he enters the first season of a three-year, entry-level contract signed with Boston back in Oct. 2017 after the 6-foot-2, 180-pound goalie from Coral Springs, Fla., took part in B’s development camp as a free-agent prospect.

Now is an exceedingly interesting time for the young puck-stopper as the Bruins boasted one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL last season in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Certainly, it was educational for Keyser to get an up-front seat to the way Rask performed while helping bring the B’s all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Final with a brilliant couple of months in the postseason.

It’s very likely that will be the same NHL tandem for Boston again this year with Rask and Halak signed for next year and Rask signed for another season at $7 million afterward.

“Being here at the end of the season and being around these guys at playoff time was incredible,” said Keyser, who has essentially been a Black Ace practice goalie with the Bruins in each of their last two postseasons. “Being at the Garden for every game and seeing the atmosphere gives you chills whether it was the first game or the last one.

“Watching Tuukka every single game, everybody saw the performance he put up in the playoffs. Just learning from every single minute with him and watching him as closely as possible, it was an incredible experience. It was probably one of the best goaltending performances that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, and maybe of all time. To witness that in person was something special. You don’t take that for granted.”

One thing not under debate: The role of “goalie of the future” in the Bruins organization is completely up for grabs headed into this season and Keyser will be in that mix.

Certainly, Keyser and Daniel Vladar, 21, will both be competing to be that guy in the AHL next season with free-agent signee Max Lagace around as the veteran mentor. The 6-5 Vladar, coming off a disappointing year where he posted an .898 save percentage in his first full AHL season, is entering the final year of his entry-level contract with the Black and Gold.

There’s also Jeremy Swayman further down the organizational depth chart while still in development as the No. 1 goalie for the University of Maine, but he’s years away from potentially pushing into the NHL picture.

All three will get a chance to show they might be worthy of being Rask’s backup in 2020-21 when Halak has presumably moved on, and the B’s are getting much closer to deciding on Tuukka’s future in Boston.

It’s going to be Keyser’s time to step up and push into the Bruins' organizational picture and show that there’s a potential young option for Boston should injuries, or something else, create an NHL goaltending opening. It’s doubtful there would be any kind of scenario, other than injury, that would create a goalie need in Boston this season, but one can’t rule anything out in the long-term future given Boston’s tight salary-cap situation.

It’s the exact kind of opportunity that Keyser is hoping to run with as he enters his first full pro season with the B’s organization.

“To get with the strength and conditioning guys and with the nutrition [staff] is great any time of year, but even more now in the summer when you’re trying to get stronger,” said Keyser. “You’re trying to get stronger and put yourself in the best position to succeed next year. I want to make sure I’m doing everything to make sure I’m fresh and ready to go when next season starts.”

It will be a gigantic, first impression-type season for Keyser next year. Getting through development camp last month was one of the hurdles in getting ready to seize the moment, but there’s a long way to go for Keyser and the rest of Boston’s young goalie crew.

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