By Dylan Botelho, Staff Writer
It’s been a tough few seasons for the Boston Bruins. After a stretch of dominance preceding from their 2011 Stanley Cup victory until 2015, the Bruins have been toeing the line of qualifying for the playoffs.
They barely missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons after being bounced in the 2014-15 season. Finally, last season, the Bruins managed to squeak their way in, despite losing to the Senators in six games.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. Bruins fans aren’t used to seeing the Senators making their way to the Eastern Conference Finals like they did last season. They aren’t used to even seeing them get out of the first round if they qualify.
Let’s face the facts though: The Bruins were battered and bruised, missing some of their top players, including breakout defenseman Torey Krug. They had no right beating the Senators once in that series, never mind bringing them to six close games.
They did, however, thanks to one man, rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy. Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney, had a choice going into the playoffs with his heavily injured roster:
Have McAvoy play the playoffs out in the AHL with the Providence Bruins to prepare him for a role on the team next season, or burn the first year of his contract to slot McAvoy in for the Senators series.
Sweeney chose the latter and McAvoy made his NHL debut in Game One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was a lot of weight on this situation.
The Boston University defenseman wasn’t just any prospect, he was the top prospect in the Bruins organization and one of the top defensive prospects in the entire league.
McAvoy didn’t just meet his high expectations, he blew them out of the water. Plenty of people were skeptical of the move and weren’t willing to burn an entire year for what many people expected to be four games.
Although it was only six, McAvoy proved he deserves to be on the main roster and packed up the hype surrounding him.
McAvoy is the perfect representation of this 2017-18 Bruins squad. The slow burn from a gritty, hard-hitting team, that tried its best to replicate the Big Bad Bruins of old, to a young, quick, and skillful team that better fits the pace of today’s NHL seems to have finally finished.
This isn’t 2011 anymore. Star players have come and gone, management and coaching has turned hands. This is a new team, built more around expectations of prospects than veteran free agent draws.
Of the historic 2011 Stanley Cup team, only six players remain. Along with prior free agent signing, David Backes, those seven are the Bruins leaders, the only remnants of a more hard-nose game that will hopefully guide the surplus of rookies and breakout players to success.
It’s been hard for fans of the team, seeing the team fall from grace so quickly. Luckily, with the talent on the predicted roster, they’ve rebuilt just as quick as they fell.
The one piece that will ultimately determine the Bruins future was star right wing, David Pastrnak, and after a summer-long standoff surrounding a contract negotiation, the Bruins finally locked down the 21-year old superstar for six more years.
His 70 points in 75 games put him only behind Brad Marchand who had 85 points in 80 games. Oh, did I mention that Marchand just recently signed an 8-year contract that’ll keep him on the team until 2025?
If there’s one thing Don Sweeney has exceled at it, it’s keeping his team together through the build. Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak have all been locked up together until at least 2021.
One of the deadliest first lines in the league is coming off career years and contracts, but there’s still nowhere to go but up when you put those three superstars together.
Every team’s success, though, starts from the net out. The Bruins have got the net part nailed down, as Tuukka Rask, one of the league’s top goaltenders (although not top 10, according to NHL network), continuously proves why he deserves to be ranked higher. It’s the next step after Rask that the Bruins run into issues.
The defense has been the bane of their team, often times leaving Rask out to dry. The Bruins were once a defense first team, keeping teams to low scores and barely providing enough offense to squeak by.
Now the tables have turned, the high-powered offense can only score so many goals to make up for the defensive woes.
That’s why the addition of McAvoy is so important. Brandon Carlo proved that he was ready for the NHL in his rookie year last season and could breakout in a lesser role this season since he won’t have to carry the top-pairing load with team captain Zdeno Chara.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, almost every team in the division has improved in some way. Montreal, Ottawa, and the Leafs will be right back in the playoff picture.
The Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 straight seasons and perennial Atlantic power houses, the Tampa Bay Lightning, missed the playoffs due to major injuries.
The Florida Panthers took a major step-back last season, but no one should be surprised if the young guns down south manage to jump right back in.
For one of those teams to get in, one of the four that were in last season will likely be bounced out. Montreal will no doubt be back on top of the Atlantic but after them, the division playoff spots are up for grabs.
The Bruins could finish second in the division, they could finish fifth; it’s that much of a toss-up.
Maybe it’s my blind optimism and overly high hopes, but I believe they’ll finish in that second spot and make a deeper run into the playoffs if rookies meet or beat expectations.