It was just 24 hours ago there was a sense of cautious optimism surrounding New England when it came to the Boston Bruins. Yes, they were facing a 3-1 deficit in the series against the East’s top team. However, all season they have battled back and done the impossible. At the very least, they could push this series to seven.
However, it was not meant to be.
Despite scoring the first goal of game five, the Bruins watched the Lightning seize the lead in the second and never let it go. The rink long empty-netter with 90 seconds remaining seemed inevitable at that point. As the seconds ticked away and the Tampa crowd cheered, a golden opportunity seemed to have been squandered by a team expected to do so much more.
“It’s very disappointing, with the team that we have and the way we’ve played all year,” said Patrice Bergeron after the game. “We were finding ways and making things, I guess, easier for ourselves or just winning games. Everybody was contributing, so we believed we had a great group and are disappointed we couldn’t do a lot more.”
The reality of it is, this team had already far exceeded expectations. At some point during the season, the Bruins went from a team happy to compete in the first round in 2017 to a Stanley Cup favorite by March of 2018. It was an unbelievable jump in expectations for a team that ultimately wasn’t quite ready. But that is not necessarily a negative.
First and foremost, after one full season, it is clear Bruce Cassidy is the man for the job. Since taking over late in the 2016-17 season, Cassidy has led the Bruins to a 68-27-13 record. Good for a .690 winning percentage. Yes, at times he was outcoached by both Mike Babcock and Jon Cooper in the playoffs but he has a knack for getting the most out of his young talent. Something his predecessor was unable to do. Another year of growth for both he and the young players should net some very nice results.
Speaking of young talent, the Bruins are flush in that department. Currently signed under contract for at least the 2018-19 season are nine players age 25 and under.
|10||Anders Bjork||us||LW||21||L/-||R||4 G, 8 A, 12 P||$925,000||2014 BOS 5th (146)|
|25||Brandon Carlo||us||D||21||R/-||1||0 G, 6 A, 6 P||$817,500||2015 BOS 2nd (37)|
|74||Jake DeBrusk||ca||LW||21||L/-||R||16 G, 27 A, 43 P||$925,000||2015 BOS 1st (14)|
|17||Ryan Donato||us||C||21||R/-||R||5 G, 4 A, 9 P||$875,000||2014 BOS 2nd (56)|
|48||Matt Grzelcyk||us||D||24||L/-||1||3 G, 12 A, 15 P||$925,000||2012 BOS 3rd (85)|
|43||Danton Heinen||ca||C||22||L/-||1||16 G, 31 A, 47 P||$925,000||2014 BOS 4th (116)|
|52||Sean Kuraly||us||C||25||L/-||1||6 G, 8 A, 14 P||$925,000||2011 SJS 5th (133)|
|73||Charlie McAvoy||us||D||20||R/-||R||7 G, 25 A, 32 P||$925,000||2016 BOS 1st (14)|
|88||David Pastrnak||cz||RW||21||R/-||3||35 G, 45 A, 80 P||$8,000,000||2014 BOS 1st (25)|
In addition, Rick Nash and Nick Holden’s salaries will come off the books as both are unrestricted free agents. Plus, several salaries such as David Backes and Patrice Bergeron start to decrease giving them a bit more cap room to work with. It should give the Bruins an opportunity to add a top-six forward in free agency or another defender. Or begin to lock up some of their soon-to-be restricted free agents. Either way, a complete overhaul of the team is unnecessary. Minor tweaks here and there should be enough to help push this team to the next level.
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The Bruins veteran core, consisting of the likes of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci are in their early thirties. Captain Zdeno Chara, after signing a contract extension, has one year left. It will likely be his final season as he will be 42 by year’s end. Barring anything unexpected, Bergeron will take over the captaincy once Chara retires, keeping the group intact as the young guys continue to develop.
The Bruins will have a number of restricted free agent contracts to negotiate in the coming years. However, a major free agent decision will not likely not come until after the 2021-22 season. Giving the Bruins ample opportunity to make a good run over the next several seasons.
If young players such as Jake DeBrusk and Ryan Donato continue to progress (Donato should be on the opening day roster), the Bruins should be right back in contention next season.