After acquiring wingers Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie from the Anaheim Ducks in separate trades leading into the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline the Boston Bruins aren’t exactly any bigger or tougher than they were when they lost to the bigger and tougher St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. However, Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney is banking on something that could prove to be just as big as size, if not bigger: Redemption.
So far this season, the Bruins have used that heartbreak of losing to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final as motivation this season. They roared out to a blazing start in October and November and with the exception of some blips in late December and the first half of January, the Bruins (39-12-12, 90 points) have been one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. In fact, at the 3 PM deadline Monday, the B’s were eight points clear of the Washington Capitals (38-18-6, 82 points) and the Blues (36-17-10, 82 points) for the best record in the NHL.
Resilient Bruins Ready For Another Run
“I’ve been proud of our group. Where they were, losing in Game 7 last year and where they are today, I think they should be proud of themselves,” Sweeney said in his post-Deadline presser Monday.
Sweeney praised his team’s resilience even more later in the presser.
“I mean, again, I think the resiliency of the group, it says a lot,” he said. “To climb right back on that same hill and stare up and say, ‘Okay, I’m ready to climb it again.’ That’s really just a testament to them. We’ve spoken a lot about the leadership, but now our second layer of players have certainly
taken ownership of knowing what it takes, being battle-tested, and hopefully they can continue to take those same steps.”
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy shared the same sentiment with the media earlier in the day after practice.
“I love our team. I like our makeup,” Cassidy said. “I like our competitiveness. I like the goaltending, the balance in our group. Great team defense. We still score. Special teams are solid. There’s really not a lot to complain about.”
The stats support Cassidy’s assessment as the Bruins are sixth in scoring with 208 goals and first in goals-against at a stingy 158 goals allowed through 63 games.
Hoping Experience Overshadows Deficiencies
Multiple NHL sources confirmed to BHN leading into, at and after the deadline, that Sweeney, as reported, did push hard for New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider, but the uncertainty of whether Kreider would re-sign with the Rangers – as he ultimately did signing a seven-year contract with a $6.5 million AAV just before the deadline Wednesday – and the exuberant asking price of a 2020 first round pick, a roster player, a top prospect and potentially even a second or third round pick proved to be too much to wait on.
“I guess the timing depends,” Sweeney acknowledged when asked if the chance Kreider would resign affected his decision to use his first round pick on Kase instead. “Obviously, they took it right down to the wire, important player for them. Had been rumored to be in the marketplace. You’re trying to do your due diligence as general manager to know who’s available and whether or not they’re going to become available. And maybe you get tipped off somewhere along the way that they might get a deal done. But that’s between the player and agent and that team itself.”
So again, unless Nick Ritchie, 24, can do what his older brother Brett, 26, couldn’t do after being signed by the Bruins last July or better yet, suddenly become what Nathan Horton became for the 2010-11 Stanley Cup-winning Bruins, Sweeney still hasn’t found that big, gritty scoring winger for the second line he’s seemingly been looking for since he took as Bruins GM in May 2015 and traded Milan Lucic. The Bruins are hoping Nick can, unlike Brett, live up to at least some of the potential the Ducks saw when they drafted him tenth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft though.
“I knew I’d get asked the question. Did I get it right, get the right Ritchie this time? We’re hoping,” Sweeney said. “We do believe he adds an element to our hockey club that we didn’t have prior to today and we’re happy about it. There’s some big-bodied hockey that’s going to be played moving forward, and I think that he’s a part of that.”
Considering the remaining veteran core of that aforementioned 2010-11 Bruins team, and of the teams that lost in the 2013 and 2018 Finals still lead this current Bruins dressing room and based on the character the developing core of this team has shown, Sweeney is confident that combination can overcome other areas the Bruins are still lacking in.
“They just want to try and win. That’s all they care about,” Sweeney said of the Bruins’ tight-knit locker room. “They do care about who’s in their room and who can help them win and I’m very cognizant of that…these guys are driven to try and win and [we need to] give them as much as we possibly can. We’re trying to look at [our team] this year, next year and they’re a big part of it. They want guys who are pulling in the same direction as them and as hard as everyone would pull.”
What if they have to face arguably the two heaviest teams in the NHL in the Capitals and Blues to hoist the cup again?
“Are we built for who we are going to face?” asked Sweeney rhetorically. “Like last year we had to prepare to face four completely different teams in some sense. You just have to be a good hockey club. In order to move forward, you’ve got to stay healthy. Your goalie has to play really good. And you have to have depth. That’s just part of the business. To try to pick your opponent, or think you’re playing one opponent . . . you’re setting yourself up. You’ve just got to be a good hockey club and you’ve got to be playing your best hockey.”
You Need To Lose To Win
Former Bruins winger and current Pittsburgh Penguins Assistant Head Coach Mark Recchi is adamant to this day that if the Bruins didn’t blow a 3-0 series lead and Game 7 lead on home ice to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, they would never have won the Stanley Cup the following season.
“We don’t win it if we don’t blow that series and that game,” the Hall of Famer and three-time Stanley Cup champion said the night he hoisted the cup for the third time and in his final NHL game. “If we don’t feel that pain, that punch in the gut, we aren’t champions. I told those guys that the night we lost to Philly. I said ‘Feel that boys and let it stick with you until we finish what we started here and we will.”
That mission for redemption is exactly what Sweeney, Cassidy and the Bruins hope can be the deciding factor in winning one more game in June.
“I think guys are a lot further along,” said Cassidy referencing the younger core that has been learning the highs and lows of the NHL since losing to the Ottawa Senators in six games in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, “In terms of the grind of games, the expectation of what’s in front of you in playoff hockey. I think we are more weathered, experienced, ready for battle.”
As the mantra goes after every trade deadline, only time will tell, but what that younger core has acquired in the last three years could prove to be bigger than anything Sweeney could’ve acquired prior to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline.