The last team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups was the 1997-98 Red Wings, and that occurred well before the NHL introduced a salary cap that has produced a fair amount of parity in the league and made it nearly impossible for on-ice dynasties to develop.
Still, the Bruins, whose 2010-11 championship effort came as a bit of a surprise, are in a good position to make another run at Lord Stanley this season thanks to a solid foundation of talent that remains largely intact and quite possibly bolstered by some promising young forwards.
The Bruins’ most important contributor last season ended up being goalie Tim Thomas, who was originally expected to be a backup. He’s returning to man Boston’s nets in 2011-12, which is obviously a good thing, but if he were to suffer an injury, the team probably wouldn’t skip a beat thanks to the presence of his extremely capable backup, Tuukka Rask.
Underlining the balanced nature of a Bruins’ attack that notched a solid, 244 goals in 2010-11 (good for fifth in the league) is that no one scored more than 62 points for the team last season. That’s not to say that Boston does not boast talent up front, but it was the team’s overall depth – three lines with scoring punch and a capable energy line – that served them well in the long haul. Despite the loss of the talented but inconsistent Michael Ryder and grizzled leader Mark Recchi, the nucleus up front essentially remains intact. Milan Lucic has emerged as a bona fide power forward, Nathan Horton has revived his fortunes in Boston, and Patrice Bergeron continues to quietly go about the business of being one of the league’s top two-way pivots. Meanwhile, players like David Krejci, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand have yet to tap their full potential, a frightening reality for the rest of the league. Add to that nice role players like Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, plus several promising youngsters such as Jordan Caron, Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner, and it’s not difficult to imagine continued success.
Perhaps the Bruins’ most indispensable player is captain and blueline anchor, Zdeno Chara, an ice-time eating, shut-down defender who sets the tone for the team’s defensively-responsible ways. Joining him on the Boston backline is a fine blend of players whose utility in real terms generally outweighs their fantasy upside. Dennis Seidenberg is a tank on skates, Andrew Ference is a savvy vet who excels at the transition game, Johnny Boychuck has a rocket for a shot and Adam McQuaid has gone from being a liability to a stout defender who keeps on getting better. Meanwhile, newcomer Joe Corvo will have to fall flat on his face to not be an upgrade over the much-maligned Tomas Kaberle.
Coach Claude Julien has had his share of detractors during his tenure as Boston’s coach, but to his credit he’s never wavered in his approach and the players have obviously bought into his system. As long as he can keep his squad in focus and away from the sort of championship hangover that $150,000 bottles of champagne can buy, the pieces are in place for Boston to enjoy another extended postseason run in 2011-12.
THE BIG GUNS
Tim Thomas (G): Thomas, who claimed his second Vezina Trophy this past season, is coming off a stellar postseason run in which he led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup, while also claiming the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. All of this was from a player who was expected to take a back seat to Tuukka Rask this past season on the heels of offseason hip surgery. Needless to say, Thomas bounced back in a big way, reclaiming the starting gig in Boston, en route to compiling a 35-11-9 record, with a sparking 2.00 GAA and .938 save percentage in 57 games (including 55 starts). At 37, the unorthodox/acrobatic Thomas is on top of his game and he'll enter next season as the B's undisputed starter. Fortunately for the team, the capable Rask will remain on hand to take some of the workload burden off of Thomas.
Zdeno Chara (D): Chara, who recorded 14 goals and 44 points in 81 games in 2010-11, led the NHL with a plus-33 mark, a figure that is most impressive given the fact that he is so often deployed against opponents' top offensive threats. He continued his shutdown ways in the playoffs, compiling a postseason high plus-16 rating. Chara will return to anchor the B's blue line in 2011-12, where he will reprise his role as an ice-time-gobbling physical force. About the only flaw we can find in his game is that Chara's deliberate windup sometimes prevents his rocket of a shot from being as effective a weapon as it could be. If it gets through a few more times next season, resulting in a handful more points, then Chara could easily move up in the Norris Trophy voting next year. He finished third this past season, as it is.
Milan Lucic (LW): Lucic, who broke out this past season with 30 goals and 62 points to go along with 121 PIMs and a plus-28 rating, will enter the 2011-12 season as one of the higher ranked fantasy left wingers on most people's draft boards, especially in leagues that count more non-scoring categories. He's a freight train on skates, who displays a surprising amount of touch (both as a shooter and a passer) for such a big bruiser.
Nathan Horton (RW): Horton, whose postseason was cut short by a nasty concussion, was also dealing with a shoulder injury throughout the playoffs. He's expected back at full strength next season and is slated to once again skate on the B's top line. While his 26 goals and 53 points in 80 games weren't eye-popping, he was one of the Bruins' most dangerous forwards all season long, while also recording a plus-29 rating. Horton has a terrific blend of size and skill and whatever character drive/questions he had previously attached to him as a Panther seem to have evaporated. A 30-goal season while being a key member of a balanced attack in Boston seems to be a reasonable expectation for Horton in 2011-12, now that he's reportedly past the head injury.
Patrice Bergeron (C): Bergeron, who was a plus-20 with 57 points (22 goals) over 80 regular season games last season, continues to earn his keep as Boston's best two-way forward. His ability on draws and sound defensive play accompany a solid offensive skill-set, though in fantasy terms, he's more consistent in that department than explosive. A word of caution though, Bergeron does have a history of concussions and every bone-jarring hit delivered on him brings a wince to Bruins' fans. Heading into 2011-12, look for him to center a well-rounded, upper-tier line with some scoring upside, though keep in mind much of what makes him so important to the Bruins doesn't show up on the score sheet.
ON THE RISE
David Krejci (C): His 62-point output in 75 regular season games was solid enough, but to anyone paying attention it's obvious that Krejci is a gifted setup man who possesses patience, soft hands and 90-100-point upside. After leading the postseason in both goals (12) and points (23) he's no longer going to fly under the radar, however, so don't expect any bargains on draft day. Still, with Marc Savard’s career likely finished, Krejci’s status as the Bruins’ top playmaker is now undisputed.
Tyler Seguin (C): While Seguin scored just 22 points in 74 regular season games as a rookie, he flashed signs of future stardom with occasional displays of his blazing speed and laser shot. Expect an increase in production from him this coming season, but superstardom may have to wait just a bit as the second overall pick in the 2010 draft continues to mature both physically and as a player. Plenty of electric plays are one tap for Seguin this season, but it’s not until he becomes a bit more adept at the little things that don’t show up on SportsCenter, that he’ll reach his full potential.
Brad Marchand (LW): The Bruins’ feisty rookie forward finished the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 11 goals and eight assists in 25 games and was a force throughout the Stanley Cup Final. Marchand was productive enough in the regular season, scoring 21 goals and 41 points overall, but after seeing the show he put on in the postseason, it's fair to expect more from him in 2011-12. Either way, he's a relentless bundle of energy who agitates opponents and lifts his teammates. At press time he was a restricted free agent, but has been clear on his desire to remain in Boston and the Bruins would be foolish not to re-sign their sparkplug for the long haul.
TWO TO AVOID
Marc Savard (C): When healthy, Savard is an extremely talented playmaker but his ongoing battle with post-concussion syndrome poses a serious threat to his playing future. In fact, he’s not expected to suit up in 2011-12, making it easy to pass over him in fantasy drafts.
Joe Corvo (D): Perhaps we are reaching here, but coming off a Stanley Cup winning season and cutting ties with potential “to avoid” types like Tomas Kaberle and Michael Ryder, we’ll turn to Corvo, an offseason acquisition who still must prove that he can fit in with the B’s. He racked up 40 points in 82 games this past season with Carolina -- 18 of them on the power play -- and perhaps he can do more for the B's on the man advantage than the often-maligned Kaberle did during his stint with the team, but that’s hardly a lock. Corvo is in the last year of a deal that pays him $2.25 million, a price tag that is $2 million less than what Kaberle got from Carolina, so the price is right. An unfortunate assault incident from the past is something Corvo has tried to put behind him and evidently the Bruins are confident that he has matured enough as a player to help out in the puck-moving department.
Jared Knight (C): Knight, selected 32d overall in the 2010 NHL draft, racked up 70 points in 68 games for OHL London this past season. He's viewed as a solid competitor with some offensive skills and he could make a run at a roster spot with the big club this fall.
Ryan Spooner (C): Spooner, who was drafted by the B's 45th overall in the 2010 draft, racked up 35 goals and 81 points in 64 games with OHL Peterborough and Kingston this past season. He's already a skilled pivot, but he'll need to round out his game defensively in order to have a chance to stick with the big club next fall.
Jordan Caron (RW): The B's may not have a lot of turnover personnel-wise this coming season, but there will be some holes to fill up front following the departures of Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder. Caron, who scored seven points in 23 games with the big club spent a majority of the 2010-11 season with AL Providence, recording 28 points in 47 games. First on his to-do list, will be simply making the team, but we think he's probably the best equipped of the B's young forwards to step in for the departed vets. To start, he figures to be a modest fantasy producer, but in time, has the upside to develop into a solid power forward at the NHL level.
Dougie Hamilton (D): The Bruins selected Hamilton with the ninth overall pick in June's NHL Entry Draft, passing up an opportunity to scoop up dynamic puck-moving defenseman Ryan Murphy. In time, Bruins' fans figure to be happy with the pick, given the Rob Blake comparisons Hamilton has drawn, as the result of his nice combination of size and skill at both ends of the ice. Even though he still has some filling out to do, he could be a good option in a year or two and is one to target in keeper leagues.