Many folks have criticized the Boston Bruins after a quiet offseason, but the reality is that the team is undergoing and will undergo more big changes over the next 6-to-12 months. Point 21 of Elliotte Friedman’s weekly piece, 31 Thoughts, seems to confirm this changing of the guard:
21. When Boston was eliminated by Tampa Bay, the post-series Zoom calls were incredibly emotional. One reason that this group of Bruins won a Cup and reached two other Finals is they are determined and they care. But one source warned it was deeper than that: “They look like they know this might be it for this group,” he said at the time.
A very telling paragraph. Of particular interest is the last line that seems to indicate the group knew that was the last hurrah for this core group of Bruins. Further, the statement also seems to imply that the team had a pretty good idea that their captain was likely done as a Bruin. Unfortunately, Bruin fans should prepare themselves for what might transpire with two other members of the core group – Tuukka Rask and David Krejčí.
Two More Core Bruins Reaching UFA Status
Both Rask and Krejčí will become UFAs after this shortened NHL season. Whether his early exit from the Toronto bubble during the 2020 playoffs has something to do with it, there has been on-going speculation that the Bruins are shopping the 33-year-old goaltender. Should Rask last the season it will likely be his last in Boston. His tandem mate, 37-year-old Jaroslav Halák, will also reach UFA status after this season. That is $9.25 million of salary that the team can re-direct and also implies that Bruins fans should expect some big changes in the crease.
Boston does have a young goaltending prospect that has spent the last two seasons with the AHL Providence Bruins – 6-foot-5, Dan Vladař. The 23-year-old Czech is a former 3rd round pick by the Bruins from 2015. Last season he managed to earn 14 wins with a goals against average of 1.79 and a save percentage of .936 in 25 AHL games. Solid numbers that might suggest he is close to being able to take on a back up role in the NHL.
We will not bring up his one and only 2020 playoff performance and will chalk that up to the Toronto bubble. Either way, the Bruins will likely be able to determine whether the big goalie is ready as he will likely be on the Bruins Taxi Squad.
Turning back to Krejčí – if he decides to stay in Boston it will undoubtedly be for less than his current $7.25 million (AAV) salary. The 34-year-old has slowed but is still capable of productive numbers. Last season he had 43 points in 61 games but had 73 in 81 games during the 2019-20 campaign. A Bruin core player since 2008, he has been an exceptional warrior for this team. I could see him wanting to finish his career as a Bruin.
A New Core Emerging
That would mean there are two remaining core Bruin players in their 30’s – Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Both players have etched a place in Bruin history and should be around for at least two more seasons. The 35-year-old Bergeron will become an UFA after the 2021-22 season ($6.875 million AAV). 32-year-old Marchand is under contract until the 2025-26 season ($6.125 million AAV). Will these three Boston greats (including Krejčí) retire as Bruins?
Change is always hard, and many pundits think that the Bruins time as a contender will end as this core ages/leaves. However, a new core group of Bruins is rapidly emerging. The new forward group is led by 24-year-old David Pastrňák but also includes Charlie Coyle (28), Jake DeBrusk (24), and Nick Ritchie (25). I would not write off a fully healthy Ondřej Kaše (24) either. The new back end lead will be Charlie MaAvoy (23), followed by Matt Grzelcyk (27) and Brandon Carlo (24).
A solid group young players.
The point is that the Bruins window for winning might be slowly closing as the changing of the proverbial guard evolves. However, GM Don Sweeney seems to have changed his focus toward the young core so that team can be in a better position to keep the window propped open or quickly re-open it after it fully closes.
Either way, fans should brace for more change in Suffolk County because it is probably ‘in the mail’.
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