The Vancouver Canucks can still learn lessons from the "Boston Model"
It's Game 7!
I had a chance to speak with Scott Stevens on Tuesday. He played in 13 Game 7s in his career, including two in the Stanley Cup Final. He shared some great insight into what these last two days have been like for the Blues and the Bruins, how he prepared his teams as a captain, and what he'll be watching for in the game tonight. Check out my story:
Much has been made about the Blues' amazing turnaround this season, but Boston has also managed to climb back among the league's elite after falling into a pretty deep crater.
After losing to Chicago in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins won the Presidents' Trophy in 2013-14, but lost to Montreal in the second round. Then, they missed the playoffs in the two subsequent years and Claude Julien was fired 55 games into 2016-17. The Bruins were 26-23-6 when Julien was dismissed on February 7, 2017, having fallen out of a playoff spot after losing six of their previous nine games.
From there, Bruce Cassidy took Boston on an 18-8-1 run for a .685 winning percentage. That got them back into the playoffs, where they lost in the first round to Ottawa.
Remarkably, Cassidy was able to sustain that regular-season success rate for a full year in 2017-18. The Bruins finished 50-20-12 for a .683 winning percentage, and their 112 points were fourth-best in the league. They won a round, against Toronto, but then lost in five to the third-best team, Tampa Bay.
This year, Boston's regular-season record dipped just slightly, to 107 points and a .652 winning percentage. But remember all the injuries they dealt with earlier in the season—how almost their entire regular defense corps was out for awhile?
Now, Cassidy has gotten his team to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. His regular-season record with the Bruins is 117-52-22 in 191 games. That's just 27 more games than Travis Green has coached with the Canucks. He has gone 66-76-22 for a .470 winning percentage over two seasons, although he is trending up. He went from .445 in his first year to .494 last season.
I bring this up as further evidence that it's possible to engineer a quick turnaround in the NHL without taking years upon years to draft and develop. That approach paid dividends this year for the Carolina Hurricanes—and their impressive franchise depth was further rewarded when the Charlotte Checkers won their first-ever AHL Calder Cup last weekend, so they have more players coming.
But while the veteran core of 2011 holdovers Chara, Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci and Rask tends to get a lot of the attention in Boston, the Bruins have also managed to infuse a ton of important young talent into their roster.
It's a bit startling now to remember that Torey Krug was just an undersized, undrafted college defenseman when the Bruins signed him in 2012 at the end of his junior year—and got him into two games right away to trigger that first season of his entry-level contract. That was back during the Peter Chiarelli-Jim Benning regime. Tonight, Krug goes into Game 7 with a one-point lead over Alex Pietrangelo as the highest-scoring defenseman in this year's playoffs. He and Marchand lead the postseason with 12 power-play points each.
Another important player from Benning's era in Boston is defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. A third-rounder in 2012—and another undersized blueliner—Grzelcyk went through four years of college and still signed with the Bs on April 1, 2016. At 25, this has been his first year as a full-time NHLer.
After missing the last four games with a concussion, Grzelcyk has been medically cleared and is expected to re-join the Bruins lineup tonight.
Here's a comparison of the key players that the Canucks and Bruins have drafted since Benning moved to Vancouver before the 2014 draft. I'm only including players in the NHL, who are currently with the teams.
Bruins - David Pastrnak (25th), Danton Heinen (116th)
Canucks - Jake Virtanen (6th), Thatcher Demko (36th)
Bruins - Jake DeBrusk (14th), Brandon Carlo (37th)
Canucks - Brock Boeser (23rd), Adam Gaudette (149th)
Bruins - Charlie McAvoy (14th)
Canucks - none
Bruins - none
Canucks - Elias Pettersson (5th)
Bruins - none
Canucks - Quinn Hughes (7th)
I'd pretty much call that a wash?
But from there, the Bruins have filled out their roster with some key trades. Rick Nash didn't pay off last year but Don Sweeney was active at the trade deadline again this season and did fantastically with his acquisitions of Charlie Coyle, who he gets to keep for one more season, and impending UFA Marcus Johansson. Though we haven't seen him in the playoffs, Jaroslav Halak was also a great off-season signing, and is also under contract for one more year.
My point in all of this is to acknowledge that Trevor Linden wasn't wrong when he cited the "Boston Model" as what the Canucks wanted to pursue when he signed on as team president in 2014. Though Benning and Peter Chiarelli moved on, Sweeney and Cam Neely have both now been with the Bruins for more than a decade and as a franchise, they're still doing just fine.
Aaah, Neely. Would he be president of the Canucks today if not for that ill-fated trade that sent the promising power forward to Boston on his 21st birthday in 1986, after three seasons in Vancouver?
Here's one more dose of Canucks content to finish things off: in 2011, 15-year-old Danton Heinen of Langley's West Valley Hawks from the BC Minor Midget League attended Game 7 at Rogers Arena. I bet he wasn't the only kid in the building that night that dreamed he'd be there himself some day. On Wednesday, that dream comes true.