It has been over two months since the last sign of hockey in Boston, which is usually a good telling considering that’s when the Stanley Cup Final rolls around. As we are all aware, however, the Bruins were on the short end of the seven-game battle with the St. Louis Blues for Lord Stanley, and it has left a permanent hole in many fans’ hearts and souls. Not often is a team so gifted with talent and ability to make it to the championship, but the Bruins were and came up just two periods short of immortalizing themselves as the Stanley Cup Champions.
A common thing that happens to teams in the Stanley Cup Final is they experience the likes of a “hangover season,” where a team has a lackluster year just after being one of the league’s best, due to their lack of rest and constant training. I don’t see the Bruins being any different this coming Fall, as I think they’re due for a large fall from grace compared to last year.
The 2018-2019 Boston Bruins were a different beast than years prior, under the fresh leadership of Head Coach Bruce Cassidy. He lead the Bruins to a dominant 49-24-9 record this past season and saw his squad easily cruise into the playoffs. The Bruins, according to most, had the easiest path between teams in the playoffs, facing what seemed to be their toughest opponent in the first round, taking Toronto in seven games. Their lack of a challenge in the later rounds was ultimately part of their demise in their seven-game fall to St. Louis.
Looking to the future, the Bruins haven’t lost many key players. Fourth-line center Noel Acciari left to head down south to play for the Panthers and playoff hero Marcus Johansson heads west to Buffalo, where the two hope to have a bigger role with their respective teams. The Bruins will also add some new faces, as players like Anders Bjork and Urho Vaakanainen both could be seeing significant NHL time this season, among plenty of others.
However, although all signs point upward for the future of this team, I don’t see it being plausible that the Bruins can repeat last year’s success. It is not because the team has gotten worse, but rather because the Bruins struck gold with a lot of key players last year.
Tuukka Rask last season was easily playing some of the best hockey of his life, and at times it was hard to believe anyone could get the puck by him. As a goalie who is viewed as inconsistent to some fans, there was no arguing his pure greatness in Boston’s playoff run last year. A lot of that run is owed to his back up, Jaroslav Halak, who also had a career-year while helping Rask get the rest he needed in order to provide dominant results for his teammates. However, Halak is one year older now, at 34, and it’s a question-mark still if he can provide for Rask again like he did last year. It is clear that in order for Rask to perform, he needs sufficient help from his back up, and whether Jaro can manage that workload or not this year is only to be told as the season begins.
Another player with an amazing year in 2019 was captain Zdeno Chara. Although he’s the oldest player in the NHL, he didn’t make it seem so the way he played last year, as he tallied the most minutes by a defenseman on the entire team last season. Where he lacked in speed, he made up for in defensive ability and experience on Boston’s first defensive unit next to Charlie McAvoy. Being able to battle through a broken jaw in the St. Louis series, and fighting off injuries all season, there’s no other man who deserves the C on his chest. Entering the last year of his contract, this could very well be Chara’s farewell tour, although Boston athletes don’t tend to quit very easily, even at an old age. It doesn’t seem like he’s ready to retire, but you have to wonder how much longer this man can keep up his NHL form, given his size and workload.
It is also to be noted that Boston will definitely be facing a challenge from lots of other teams this season in order to try and get back into the Final. Although they shocked the world with their first-round exit last year, Tampa Bay still managed to improve their team, bringing in the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk to help Bolster their already top-tier defensive corps. Goalie Andrei Vasielvskiy is bound to have another Vezina-level year between the pipes, and who knows how many points Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kuckerov will decide to put up this year.
Another team to look out for – again – is divisional rival Toronto. Managing to retain most of last year’s team, they are bound to give Boston another run for their money come to the tail end of the regular season. Seemingly one of the biggest rivalries in the NHL at the moment, there’s really no telling which way a seven-game series would go, even given Boston’s recent upper hand.
And it’s not just those two teams, either. Washington, Pittsburgh, Carolina, the Islanders, Las Vegas, Calgary, San Jose, Winnipeg, just to name a few, all have very similar chances to hoist Lord Stanley come June. The odds are certainly stacked against Boston, but again, that’s usually how they like them. Bring on the new season!