The Boston Bruins entered the Toronto bubble as the recipients of the Presidents’ Trophy. They exited without any additional hardware.
Now they’re left with questions of “what if?”
Such queries include: “What if the regular season hadn’t come to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic?” Or: “What if Tuukka Rask hadn’t exited the bubble to attend to a family matter?” And even: “What if Don Sweeney acquired the likes of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow instead of Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase?”
OK, maybe that’s an exercise more for Twitter and sports radio. But there’s one question everyone has following the Bruins’ season-ending loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5:
How much longer do the Bruins have to win another Stanley Cup with this core?
The Bruins had five leftovers from their 2011 championship squad entering the season: Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Rask.
The patriarch of this group, Chara, turned 43 in March and will hang up the skates sooner rather than later. Doc Emerick hinted that the 6-foot-9 captain may call it a career during the handshake line, but Chara, obviously, hasn’t made that decision. He said he’ll have an ‘open-mind’ when encountering this questioned during the off-season.
— #StanleyCup Playoffs on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) September 1, 2020
With or without Chara, the Bruins should still be in decent shape for next season. Bergeron would all but certain ascend to the captaincy.
Even so, they may very well see another important cog depart. Torey Krug will no doubt make top dollar on the open market, and the Bruins don’t necessarily have the cap flexibility to keep him in black and gold.
Both Krejci and Rask enter their final years of their contracts in 2020-21. Both are in their mid-30’s. The Bruins have depth behind Krejci in the system, including the talented Jack Studnicka, but the Tampa series proved that they may need Rask beyond next season. Then again, regardless of the man between the pipes — Rask, Jaroslav Halak or Dan Vladar — the Bruins didn’t match up well with the skilled and physical Bolts.
Bergeron enters the final two years of his deal this season. Marchand is under contract for another five years. I can’t see the Bruins not signing Marchand’s longtime partner in crime even though he’ll turn 37 in the 2022 off-season.
So yes, the window for this core to win another Cup isn’t long at all. But the window for the Bruins isn’t that short either.
Not when you have a game-changer in David Pastrnak who transitioned from a promising young star to a perennial All-Star to a bonafide superstar. Yes, he struggled a bit in these playoffs, but Pastrnak already has a bevy of accolades under his belt at the age of 24. The Bruins have him under contract through 2022-23.
Not when you have Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo anchoring the right side of the defense. Yes, they’re on bridge deals, but it’s hard to imagine the Bruins parting ways with either blue-liner once their second RFA contracts expire.
Not when you have Jake DeBrusk (a pending RFA) or Charlie Coyle anchoring the middle of the lineup. Couple all this with a young and promising stud in Jack Studnicka highlighting a core of talented prospects and you have yourselves a fine-looking future.
Sweeney still has some holes to fill, however, especially if Krug and Chara depart on the back-end. Then add the seemingly never-ending quest for a second-line winger — and Kase isn’t the answer. We don’t know how the league will handle things scheduling around the COVID-19 pandemic to start 2020-21. Regardless, Sweeney has a tough task ahead with roughly $15 million in cap space to work with to add outside help all while trying to re-sign Krug, DeBrusk, and Matt Grzelcyk.
The Bruins are at a crossroads. Their core from the last decade-plus doesn’t have many chances left at hoisting another Stanley Cup. But they’re nowhere close to entering a rebuilding stage either.
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