By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Now that the Stanley Cup has finally found it’s way to Washington, D.C. after 44 years since the Capitals came into the league in 1974, the heavy lifting for the other 30 clubs who came up short in their chase for Lord Stanley’s challis begins. And nowhere may there be more to lift or higher expectations to fill than in Boston with the Bruins.
Coming into a season in which saw the B’s roster resemble that of an AHL team to begin the campaign – largely due to injuries to it’s aging core of veterans – head coach Bruce Cassidy did what few around the league thought could be done. In his first full year as the bench boss for the Black and Gold, he turned a group that was tagged as a wild card candidate, at best in September, into a 112 point Eastern Conference Champion contender by the season’s end in April.
After bowing out to a clearly better team in the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs four games to one, it was easy to see that there were two gaping holes on the remarkably rebuilt Bruins team – size on the left side of their blue line, and secondary scoring.
Neither of which will be easy – or inexpensive – to find as the draft approaches in less than two weeks (June 22nd) and free agency begins on July 1st.
Sweeney is in an interesting position as he heads towards these landmark dates on the NHL’s offseason calendar. Without a first-round pick in the annual harvesting of hockey talent – and their first selection currently sitting near the bottom of the second at No. 57 – the B’s GM doesn’t have a lot of capital to spend heading into Dallas when it comes to picks in his pocket for this year.
However, what he does have is a depth of prospects that many teams are seemingly envious – and desirous – of.
In the 2017-18 season alone, the Bruins had six players who scored their first goals in the NHL (Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk, and Ryan Donato.). And with the likes of Jakub Zboril, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Jesse Gabrielle, and Urho Vaakanainen ready to play his first season in North American in 2018-19 after averaging over 22 minutes a game in the Finnish Elite League as a 19-year-old last season, Sweeney sure has a stash of valued prospect cash to deal from.
If he hopes to make a major move to bolster his blue line or find a second line scorer to compliment the aging David Krejci – assuming that the 33-year-old Rick Nash is not brought back, which would be a mistake as he is clearly in decline – he may have to look at dealing some like DeBrusk. And that likely wouldn’t go over well in a town that values the grit and skill he showed in his rookie season.
By all accounts, if Sweeney wants to swing a deal for a second pairing sizable D-Man, it would likely come at the cost of Torey Krug, who has recorded 110 points over the last two seasons as the quarterback of a very successful Bruins powerplay. It has also been widely speculated, in order to pull off such a deal for an Oscar Klefbom, Noah Hanifin, or (enter name here), it would require dealing at least another prospect, preferably NHL ready.
The Bruins brass plan of adding a considerable shot of youth into what is still an elite core headed by Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, an emerging David Pastrnak, the ever-ageless Chara, and a somewhat mercurial Tuukka Rask, worked wonders last season.
However, it a hockey town like Boston, a step back after so many unexpected steps forward will be looked up as a failure. Sweeney and team president Cam Neely – who just 12 months ago were sitting on hot seats that no beach in New England could replicate this summer – are perhaps under more pressure now, as opposed to when they were seemingly fighting for their jobs then.
Bruins fans expect a real Cup contender next season. Anything else will be considered unacceptable.
Good luck, boys. You are officially on the clock.