While the Boston Bruins were far from some ragtag eighth seed going into the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, few people outside of the Massachusetts area expected them to beat the mighty Vancouver Canucks. It wasn’t really about the Bruins, either; most people gave Boston a reasonable amount of respect as they chose the Canucks based on their sterling regular season and improving play as the postseason went along.
Those expectations went out the window beginning in Game 3 at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, though. The Bruins played the Canucks tough in the two opening games of the series, but they showed that they more than belonged on the same ice sheet once the games shifted to their home. They used top notch defense from Zdeno Chara, historically great goaltending from Tim Thomas and an underrated (and diverse) offensive attack to dominate Vancouver 23-8 overall in the series while winning in Game 7.
Of course, after seeing the Chicago Blackhawks need a Dallas Stars defeat on the last game of the season to even get into the playoffs after dominating on their way to last year’s Cup, many wonder what’s in store for the Bruins. While it is impossible to predict how much of an impact aging (and having a new bulls-eye on their backs as defending champions) will have on the team, an earlier study of their off-season questions shows that Boston is in a good position for next season.
Here is an updated version of those thoughts:
Boston will just try to make some tweaks
The Bruins roster probably won’t see too many huge changes. That’s not to say they lack a tough choice or two, though. Let’s take a look at their biggest free agent questions, keeping in mind that the Bruins will likely have about $8.3-$11.3 million to work with this summer.
Note: money amount refers to what they made in the 2010-11 season while their free agent status (restricted or unrestricted) is also listed.
Brad Marchand ($821K, restricted) – The agitating rookie was strong in the regular season (18 goals, 41 points) and nearly essential in the playoffs (19 points in 25 postseason games) as he lead all rookies in points. Despite Tyler Seguin‘s explosive two-game burst, Marchand has still been the best rookie in Boston. He scored seven points in the seven-game Stanley Cup finals, most notably two goals and one assist in a Game 7 that won’t be forgotten anytime soon … and certainly not at the negotiating table.
Michael Ryder ($4 million, unrestricted) – Ryder’s offensive production hasn’t always been reliable, but when he’s hot, he’s a dangerous forward. He produced two nice playoff runs (17 points in 2011, 13 in 08-09) that should really improve his value. That 17-point output ranked him fifth on the team. The Bruins face a much tougher call about Ryder than many thought going into the postseason, for sure.
Tomas Kaberle ($4.25 million, unrestricted) – Not only is Kaberle an unlikely returnee, he probably damaged his free agent value substantially in his belly flop in Boston.
Since we last checked, Marchand went from “in line for a nice raise” to “primed for a really nice raise.” While he can walk the line of agitation and self-destruction, the Bruins probably won’t hesitate to open up their wallets for him. Ryder has a great shot too while Kaberle is, again, a goner.
Kaberle was supposed to plug perhaps the Bruins’ biggest hole: a power play QB on defense. Boston might have the cap space to go after an unrestricted free agent, although the market for scoring defensemen is pretty weak. Claude Julien might not be crazy with error-prone journeyman James Wisniewski and the team might not have been blown away by free agent Canucks such as Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa, either.
Conclusions (plus the poll)
The most important thing is that the Bruins’ big guns are locked up. Thomas has two years left on his deal, Chara will likely retire by the time his contract expires and the team’s useful forwards have at least one more year left. Let’s not forget that Seguin could also take off in his sophomore season either with a giant step forward (like Steven Stamkos) or perhaps in a more incremental way (like John Tavares).
Since they aren’t likely to suffer many major losses in personnel, the biggest question becomes very simple: do you think they’re good enough to win it all next year? Let us know if you think the Bruins will repeat as champions next year by voting in the poll below.