By Sports Editor Tom Griffin
Four months removed from a botched Stanley Cup Final game seven, the Boston Bruins are, for the most part, all set to climb for the Stanley Cup again.
This season’s roster is lined top to bottom in familiar faces. The team’s core group of veteran stars – Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask – all return from last season’s championship-contending team.
Despite having what many analysts believe is the highest-rated and most talented first-line in the NHL, the returning depth talent provides new consistency to a previously lopsided and top-heavy roster.
Backing up Marchand at left wing is Jake Debrusk, whose sudden rise in goals scored from this past season exemplifies preparedness for the highest level of play in his third season as a Bruin. Charlie Coyle, Sean Kuraly and David Backes all proved indispensable to healthy rotation as third and fourth-line forwards.
Zdeno Chara, the aging, lumbering, 6-foot-9 iron giant that he is, has been an insular curtain for the Bruins’ blue line since his addition to the team in 2006. Joining Tom Brady at the Fountain of Youth (conveniently located in Southie) at the ripe age of 42, Chara is now the oldest active player in the NHL.
Despite his long tenure and, arguably, top-level play amongst NHL defenders, signs of age are beginning to show. While still an immovable wall, he is noticeably slower, and his slapshot is weaker than it has been in seasons past. Following an injury to his jaw in the Stanley Cup Finals that left his mouth wired shut, the threat of injuries to the elder statesman throw the remaining length of his tenure in question.
Fortunately, up-and-coming stars bolster the Bruins defensive lineup, with 8-year Boston veteran Torey Krug more than capable of filling Chara’s gargantuan shoes. Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton, all returning from last year’s deep playoff run, served as reliable complements to Tuukka Rask in net.
The Bruins’ push for a cup demanded new signings to flesh out a contending roster for championship play. Coming up empty-handed, and running dangerously close to the team’s salary cap, financial bloodletting was a necessary evil. Where Brandon Carlo, Connor Clifton, and Charlie McAvoy managed to re-sign and extend their current contracts, other key depth pieces found themselves to be cap casualties by the end of June.
Marcus Johansson, after having just been traded to Boston the year prior and starting to gel with Bruce Cassidy’s offense, was quickly signed by the Buffalo Sabres after his contract expired. Noel Acciari, who had fallen victim to an uncalled slew foot that marked a turning point in the Finals, was allowed to walk in free agency and quickly found a job with the Florida Panthers. Lee Stempniak, after a fourteen-year NHL stint as a career journeyman, hung up the skates for good following a particularly silent, low-productivity season with the Bruins.
As a team, the same familiar, tried-and-true faces have returned to retry last year’s outcome for a better result. Only this time, the team’s talent may find itself a bit short-handed.