The straight truth with the Boston Bruins is that nobody knows what awaits them beyond this season.
Sure, they aren’t completely ripping it down to the foundation with top defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm signed long term, and with at least a couple more years of Brad Marchand at the back end of his brilliant chop-busting prime. They have a strong, young goaltending duo of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman in place that assures the Black and Gold won’t fall off a cliff or sink into any kind of epic tailspin they can’t possibly pull out of.
Long story short, some big pieces are in place but there’s a great deal of unknown as to how they’ll fit together if their top two centers are removed from the board.
This is essentially the sales pitch to looming free agent David Pastrnak as laid out by Boston Bruins President Cam Neely during this week’s media day at Warrior Ice Arena.
“Obviously, a shot-first winger certainly wants to know who his centerman is going to be. We’ve made it very clear to David that we’re very aware of that particular position moving forward and we’re going to do everything we possibly can to fill that void when that happens,” said Neely, while honestly having no idea how they could/would replace Bergeron and Krejci if this is indeed the last ride for that duo. “I think that he also sees that we signed Charlie McAvoy long-term, we signed two good goaltenders that are with us, we got Lindholm long-term, Taylor Hall is here for a few more years, we got Brad Marchand for a couple more years. So, we’re not stripping it down by any means. I think he’s certainly been told that, and he recognizes that, and he knows that we’re in a good position this year. We’re here to show everybody that we’re not stripping this thing down. We’re going to continue to build on it.”
But it should also be very clear to everybody, even the most fervent Black and Gold-colored glasses kind of supporter, that the Boston Bruins just might look very different after this coming season. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are signed to one-year, incentive-laden deals that carry with them a heavy salary cap penalty for the following season, a feature that almost guarantees this will be it for them with both players inching closer to 40 years old.
Pastrnak is also facing free agency after this season with no clear progress made toward making him the highest paid player on the Boston Bruins, a development that’s going to have to happen if he’s sticking in Boston.
There was a big time them of this being “one last dance” with the Boston Bruins, as we now know them, from a fans perspective once Bergeron and Krejci were officially coming back, and nobody has really disputed that seasonal narrative in training camp.
“These are two guys we’re talking about that play a big part in Boston, you know? They’ve done an unbelievable job from a leadership standpoint to winning a Cup here. Pretty much they leave everything out there every night and you really recognize that as a young player,” said Pastrnak. “You want to do everything possible to make it enjoyable for them. You never know, right? The careers are short, and it goes by quickly, so there is all this stuff you want to recognize. ‘
“We obviously want to have a special year and do it for those two, you know? The legacy and the leadership isn’t going to disappear when they leave. It’s going to be up to us and the younger players to make sure it stays here. Boston is known for [competing] for the Cup. We are always contenders. All you need to is make the playoffs every year and pretty much anything can happen from there. LA won two Cups from the wild card [spot], so I don’t worry about that. I know Boston is going to be a playoff team for a long time.”
The good part about all of this is the teamwide theme that this could be a special season because it may be the last with the legendary No. 37 steering the ship as captain, and with Cup champion and big game player Krejci pushing him as always as the No. 2 center. Certainly, it’s going to be much different when they’re gone with the Bruins further away from Cup contention, and missing some big time pieces of their culture, leadership and history once Bergeron calls it a brilliant, Hall of Fame career.
Not to mention the gaping hole that will be left in the middle of the forward lineup.
“I think that’s the underlying tone [to this season] honestly is that we don’t know what the future holds,” said Nick Foligno. “As you get older, it always feels like that. You realize how fortunate you are to play so many years in the league and the opportunities that you do get.
“You don’t want to waste them. That’s the message in here. Last year we had a great season in a lot of regards, but we fell short [in the playoffs].
“You don’t know what’s going to happen. You can’t predict things. So it’s getting off to a good start. Be where your feet are in a sense and not get too far ahead, but also know there’s a pretty special thing going on with this group. That’s why so many guys want to be a part of it. It’s a great room in here. We feel like we’re only getting better and excited to put that out [on the ice].”
So what does all of this mean?
It’s a variation on the theme of last season.
Boston Bruins fans, and media, and everybody else associated with the B’s should appreciate the great moments to come in the near term. There will be wonderful high points like Bergeron closing out the regular season with three goals to assure he’d hit 400 career goals in his NHL career regardless of his future plans, or the entire team catching fire in January once the forward lines were tweaked.
With both top centers in the unknown category for next season and with a salary cap situation that will look different if David Pastrnak gets his $10 plus million per season “Huberdeau” contract extension, it would leave Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha as the top two returning centers for next season. Clearly the Bruins will need to make a move to fortify the middle if the likely scenario ends up becoming a reality, but that should be a long-term probability that could make Boston Bruins fans realize exactly what they have going on this season.
This “last dance” for the Boston Bruins has a chance to be something really special, and the Bruins players themselves are believers in that already after a competitive training camp that’s now come to a close.
“I think it’s very fair,” said Neely, when asked if it’s fair to view this as one last run with this particular Bruins group. “We talked about earlier with Bergy — it’s really up to him, and I think with Krejci the same way. These guys have had long, successful careers.
“I think this group in the locker room feels like something special can happen this year. It’s a close team, and when I say team, it’s a real team. I think their teammates look at this and say this might be the last year we have the ability to play with these guys, so let’s take as much advantage as we can. That’s the feeling I get inside the locker room.”
It won’t be easy for the Boston Bruins, of course, as they’ll need to march through the early season absences of Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy, and the Pastrnak contract situation has a chance to devolve into a team distraction if it’s not finalized at some point during the year.
But the mere presence of both Bergeron and Krejci has always portended good things ahead for the Boston Bruins, and that the Bruins will be playing for something more than themselves over the course of a season.
Enjoy the Bruins last dance. There’s no telling when it might be like this again for a familiar B’s group that may just look significantly different once this season has concluded, for better or for worse.