When a team wins a Stanley Cup, the general manager has a different job than his 29 counterparts. While everyone else is trying to improve their team to reach the promised land, the defending Stanley Cup champs are looking for ways to maintain the talent and chemistry that helped them win sports’ most hallowed trophy. Everyone from Dale Tallon to Dean Lombardi to Mike Gillis has an offseason mandate to improve their respective teams—Peter Chiarelli’s mandate is to put a team together that is only as successful as last year’s team.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.
There’s a reason that it’s been thirteen years since a team was able to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. It’s difficult to find the same motivation for a second consecutive year—but it’s also increasingly difficult to keep the same team together for multiple years. In the 1980s, the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers were able to rattle off multiple Cup runs because it was easier to keep the majority of their core players in town. Likewise, the Canadiens were able to keep Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer in Montreal as they won 4 straight Stanley Cups in the late 1970s. It’s a different era.
One of the most impressive feats for Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has been that he’s been able to put together a competitive team with an eye to the future. Guys like Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas are veterans who are two of the best players at their respective positions. On the flip side, the Bruins have youngsters like Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Milan Lucic who all have their best hockey ahead of them. Don’t look now, but the Bruins could very well be a better team next year than they were in 2010-11.
With all due respect to Boris Valabik, the major parts the Bruins lost in free agency were Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle. Even though fans had been calling for his head for years, Ryder provided some timely goal scoring during the Bruins Stanley Cup championship run. His 8 goals and 9 assists even put him in the top 10 for playoff scoring last season. With his departure to Dallas, the Bruins will expect to fill the void with a combination of newcomer Benoit Pouliot and an increased role for former #2 overall pick Tyler Seguin. Some people forget that Seguin was a healthy scratch periodically throughout his rookie season and only averaged about 12 minutes of ice-time per game. Towards the end of the season and during the playoffs, it looked like Seguin started to turn the corner. The Bruins will look for Seguin to breakout with an increased role next season. In fact, they expect it.
On defense, Tomas Kaberle was supposed to be the missing piece—and since the B’s won the Cup, there’s a little something to the argument. However, most people in Boston will tell you that Kaberle was one of the biggest liabilities on the Bruins roster throughout the playoffs. The only thing that helps fans forget the horrible Kaberle trade with the Maple Leafs is that big shiny chalice that the Bruins are touring the globe with this offseason. By all accounts, Kaberle was a disappointment on the ice in just about every facet of the game. He was brought in to specifically help the Boston power play, which, by the middle of the playoffs, was the biggest joke this side of Philadelphia’s goaltending.
With Kaberle signing with the Carolina Hurricanes as a free agent, the Bruins were given another chance to fill the void at the point on their power play. This time, they went the trade route by trading a 4th round pick to the same Hurricanes for Joe Corvo and his booming slap shot. He may not be the best defender in the league, but he’s proven that he can run an NHL power play. He scores with his howitzer from the blueline and also knows how to get his shot through the defense to create rebound opportunities for his teammates. On a team with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg eating up the major minutes, Corvo should be a nice depth player to help the Bruins improve their most glaring weakness.
Perhaps the biggest loss off of last year’s roster has nothing to do with free agency and everything to do with retirement. Mark Recchi provided invaluable leadership for the younger players on the team throughout the regular season and in the playoffs. Of course, it will be important to replace his 48 points from a season ago—but it will be just as important for the newly crowned champions to find someone to step into his leadership role. On the ice, prospect Jordan Caron has been knocking on the door for over a year and could finally get a chance at a permanent spot on the team this year. Caron is a different kind of player than Recchi: he’s more of a third-line guy who plays with energy and can get under the opponents skin. If he develops like the Bruins project, he’ll be able to chip in some points as well.
The Bruins are in a much different position than the Blackhawks faced last season. There was no post-season salary cap purge; there was no feeling of finality during the parade. This team has been put together for the long-term (as long as possible in today’s cap era) and should be just as competitive as they were a season ago. Now, the only question is if their Eastern Conference rivals have done enough to overtake them and win the Prince of Wales trophy next season.
Of course, there’s that other trophy they won as well last season.