Are changes coming in Boston?
The Bruins were the league’s top team in the regular season, cruising to 100 points in 70 games.
But regular season success doesn’t matter if you don’t go anywhere in the playoffs. The Bruins did just that after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In these last two seasons the Bruins have reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and most recently won the Presidents’ Trophy.
The Bruins should still be considered a Stanley Cup contender going into 2020-21 and because of that Bruins President Cam Neely doesn’t think a blow up of the team is absolutely needed.
However, Neely realizes that Stanley Cup window is rapidly closing and admits they need to be “brutally honest” about where the franchise is going in the coming years.
Part of being brutally honest about the roster and where it’s at is figuring out what it will take to get over the hump and ultimately past the issues that has continued to prevent them from their first Stanley Cup title since 2011.
"Can we compete for a Stanley Cup? And if we can, what do we have to do to our roster to do that? We have to really be honest with ourselves in assessing our team and assessing our players in the organization. See where we’re going, where we think we really are going to be,” said Neely.
“I mean, we have to be as honest, as brutally honest as possible, about where we think we’re going to be in the next couple years and we have to react accordingly to that."
The Bruins core is still very solid, and a core that can lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup. But the reality is their core is not getting any younger.
Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are 35 and 34-years old respectively. Tuukka Rask is 33 and Brad Marchand is 32.
Then there’s the uncertainty facing Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, both of whom are unrestricted free agents once the Stanley Cup is awarded to one of the four teams remaining in the NHL’s bubble.
From their run to Game 7, to the extension of the season into the summer and then a soon-to-be short turnaround to begin the 20-21 season, the Bruins core has a lot of mileage under their belt.
“We’ve got some guys that have played a lot of good hockey for us, a lot of years for us,” said Neely. “Their careers are somewhat winding down and we have to really take a hard look at where we are as an organization.”
One of the areas that’s a bit concerning moving forward is the Bruins depth at the center position. Bergeron and Krejci are on the back nine of their career with Krejci entering a contract year next season.
Charlie Coyle is a nice replacement for either Bergeron or Krejci, but after that the depth comes with a lot of uncertainty.
Jack Studnicka was impressive at times during the playoffs. Trent Federic has some snarl to his game, but it’s tough to see him developing into a top-six center. 19-year old John Beecher has a high ceiling, but the 2019 1st round pick still has a lot of workto do before making his professional hockey debut.
“We know that Bergy and Krech are certainly on the other side of 30 now. We’re hoping Jack Studnicka – I think he showed some positive signs in the bubble there – where eventually he could step in and be one of those offensive centermen. It remains to be seen where Frederic and Beecher end up,” said Neely. “It’s something that we’ve talked about internally.”
There’s no denying the Lightning were the better team than the Bruins in the series. Their core group is rock solid, and their depth could not be matched. But the Bruins are a talented hockey team and are good enough to skate with the Lightning.
But Neely knows certain areas where the Bruins failed need to be addressed. Things like more consistent scoring five-on-five and getting inside the faceoff dots are two of those areas.
“I think we’ve got to try to produce a little more five-on-five, especially in the playoffs. Obviously, the specialty teams are key but we didn’t really generate enough chances five-on-five and when we did, we had a tough time burying them,” said Neely.”
“Then we got to Tampa, which is a very, very strong hockey club. I just look at the size of their D and for us to try and get inside the dots was a little more challenging. We refused to shoot the puck and when we did shoot the puck, we missed the net. So, we made it a little bit easier on their D than what we could have. Having said that, we have to get inside the dots more than we did that last series.”
Part of getting inside the dots and generating scoring chances against teams with bigger and stronger defensemen begins with matching that size. The Bruins tried to address that at the trade deadline by bringing in Nick Ritchie from the Anaheim Ducks.
But the Nick Ritchie experiment in Boston turned into a disaster and the former Duck failed to do anything special with the Bruins in his short sample size.
Whether it’s via trade or free agency, it sounds like if management truly believes this team can still compete for a Stanley Cup—something they very much can do—some roster turnover is required.
“Let’s really take a look and see where we’re going to be. Can we compete for the Stanley Cup and if everyone feels we can compete for the Stanley Cup, what do we have to do to get back to that final twosome and have a legitimate shot to win?” Neely asked.
It sounds like the Bruins will either find a way to shove a wedge into their Stanley Cup window, keeping it open for as long as possible, or they’ll slam it shut and start try and rebuild a winning product.
Either way an interesting offseason awaits.