It goes without saying that 2011 was the year of the Bruins. It was the year Tim Thomas established himself as the best in the business, the year the B’s brought home the Stanley Cup for the first time in 39 years, and the year the team added another key piece to its future in Dougie Hamilton with another top-10 pick.
That was 2011, though, and it’s time to close the book on it and look ahead to 2012. Looking at the way the Bruins are constructed and the fact that they win big even on the nights they look beatable, it’s only natural to wonder whether 2012 is the year that the folks of Boston can begin talking about a new dynasty.
Boston has seen its fair share of dynasties. The Celtics in the late '50s through the '60s (arguably again in the early to mid-'80s), the Patriots in the early 21st century, and even the Red Sox, with World Series titles in a four-year span from 1915-1918, have been able to rack up the championships over certain periods to give Boston a history of winning.
What exactly a “dynasty” is is up for debate. For the sake of having something to work off, let’s say a team needs at least three titles in a five-year span to be considered a dynasty. The Bruins have never done that, though they won the Cup in both 1970 and 1972, finishing with the best record in the NHL in ’71 before being bounced in the first round by the eventual Cup champion Canadiens.
There’s no questioning that this Bruins squad has the talent and the depth to sustain long-term dominance, but will it go according to plan? Here are some reasons as to why Bruins fans could be looking at a new dynasty in Boston.
The Bruins roll out four lines, and they win. This is a team that trusted its fourth line to change the momentum in the first period of the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals, and it worked.
Entering Saturday, the Bruins averaged 3.47 goals per game, which is tops in the NHL, yet they only have two players with 30 points this season in Tyler Seguin (31) and Brad Marchand (30).
They may not have players with the flashiest stats, but what they do have is a whopping nine players with 21 points or more. That’s depth at its finest, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
The Bruins have certainly established themselves as the class of the Eastern Conference this season, and while they saw last season that winning it all isn’t easy, it seems the B’s are easily the favorites to come out of the East again this year. They have beaten the likes of the Penguins and Flyers this season, and given their depth and goaltending appear capable of beating any Eastern Conference team in a seven-game series. The puck bounces in funny ways, but anything short of an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals might have to be considered a disappointment this season. Can you imagine thinking that a year ago?
PETER CHIARELLI KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING
That’s an understatement, but remember back to the first round of the playoffs last year, when the Habs jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the Bruins. Not only did Claude Julien seem headed for unemployment if the B’s were to be eliminated early, but Chiarelli even wondered whether he would keep his job.
That didn’t happen, of course. Chris Kelly, one of three players Chiarelli added to the NHL roster via trade in February, had four points over Games 3 and 4, and the Bruins tied the series and eventually won it in seven games. Rich Peverley, another February acquisition, ended up getting first line minutes in the Cup finals after Nathan Horton went down, and it was clear that Chiarelli had a couple of keepers in Peverley and Kelly. Though the trade for Tomas Kaberle was costly for how little they got from the defenseman, Chiarelli didn’t feel the need to keep Kaberle on big dollars to justify the trade, and, correctly, let him walk this offseason.
Perhaps the Bruins’ general manager hasn’t gotten enough credit for how well he’s set the Bruins up to be both dominant now and competitive down the road. Zdeno Chara, the toughest defenseman in the league to play against and a solid contributor offensively, is still in the prime of his career and under contract for the six more seasons after the conclusion of this campaign. He isn’t the only major piece the Bruins have under control for a while. Here’s a look how long the Bruins have some of their top players for:
David Krejci: 2015 (Unrestricted free agent)
Rich Peverley: 2015 (UFA)
Adam McQuaid: 2015 (UFA)
Patrice Bergeron: 2014 (UFA)
Dennis Seidenberg: 2014 (UFA)
Then consider that Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin will be restricted free agents when their current deals expire after the 2012-13 season, meaning they will remain under the Bruins’ control. All three members of the Merlot Line – Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille – as well as Kelly will be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, and Horton will be unrestricted after next season. Depending on what happens with the next CBA and the salary cap, the B’s should have somewhere around $12.25 million in cap space at the end of the season (and they can go over the cap by an addition $4.017 million if Marc Savard goes on long term injured reserve). Keep in mind Tuukka Rask is also a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Speaking of which…
THEY MIGHT BE ABLE TO WIN WITH EITHER OF THEIR GOALIES
The best goaltender in the league may be aging, but don’t forget about the other guy.
The Bruins have two of the best goalies in the NHL, and this season, they have two of the best three goalies from a statistical standpoint. Tim Thomas won’t be here forever, so the Bruins should be looking at a transition to Rask as the main guy, whenever that may come.
Things might get interesting with Rask a restricted free agent this summer. Should he keep up his pace this season (as of Saturday he led the league in both goals against average and save percentage), he will have been a top statistical goaltender in two of the last three seasons. That kind of play earns a player a pretty big pay day, especially when that player is 24 years old (he’ll be 25 this summer) and hasn’t even entered the prime of his career.
Rask’s current deal carries an annual cap hit of $1.25 million, and you can bet he’ll be getting quite the pay raise. How much that is remains to be seen, just like it remains to be seen whether Rask wants to stick around if he has to play second fiddle to Thomas again next season.
Still, all of this is an incredibly good problem to have. If the Bruins do end up being the next dynasty in Boston, they’ll probably have to win championships with Rask as the main guy once Thomas retires. Thomas’ deal expires after next season, and though he initially figured he’d retire at that point, he recently told WEEI.com he isn’t sure when he’ll hang them up.
Assuming the job does eventually become Rask’s, he’ll need to prove he can dominate in the playoffs like Thomas did last postseason. Rask’s only playoff experience to this point was two seasons ago, when he beat Vezina winner Ryan Miller in the first round but seemed to tire as the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers.
THE FUTURE LOOKS STRONG
There is no player more important to the Bruins’ future than Rask, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only player who figures to be a superstar in the coming years.
While some might consider Seguin an elite player now, he still hasn’t fully reached his potential. With more consistency, he figures to become one of the top scorers in the league.
So consider that with as good as the likes of Rask, Marchand and Seguin are now, any one of them could be perennial All-Stars in just a few years.
Then there are the kids currently stashed away in the OHL. Hamilton currently has 45 points (12 G, 13 A) through 30 games for the Niagara Ice Dogs and in addition to projecting to be a top pairing defenseman, is an asset on the power play as well. Forward Alexander Khokhlachev, the team’s second-round pick in June, has 47 points (17 G, 30 A) in 35 games for the Windsor Spitfires this year, while 2010 second-rounders Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner continue to impress, with 33 and 32 points, respectively.
The Bruins look unbeatable right now, and they’re set up to stay that way for quite some time. Does that mean the B’s will become Boston’s next dynasty? The answer may begin to come in 2012.