Regardless of how much of the Bruins’ 2010 playoff success through nine postseason games you credited to David Krejci, you have to admit that some semblance of complacency also caused the club’s collapse in the aftermath of the center’s season-ending injury.
It shouldn’t have been surprising that a team built around the same core that thought the ’09 Carolina Hurricanes were going to be an easy out after just one game of that second-round series, and thought that the ’09-10 season was theirs to pillage just because of the previous year’s success and the positive pontifications of preseason previews, would go out and think that winning just one more game against Philadelphia would be easy as a stroll through the North End.
The Bruins have found out the hard way the last two seasons, especially while losing that 3-0 series lead to the Flyers, that complacency kills. Now as the 2010-11 season draws closer and the players make their way to Wilmington, Mass., for captain’s practices, there are a multitude of reasons – in addition to the humbling results of the ’09 and ’10 playoffs – why there should be no room for the dreaded “C word” to enter the Bruins’ dressing room.
You can start with the number of players in the last year of their contracts who are staring down unrestricted free agency next summer. The total is comparable to the number Boston featured on last season’s roster – when you include Andrew Ference (signed to an extension in the spring) and Dennis Seidenberg (acquired at the trade deadline) – but in importance to the club’s fortunes, this year’s bunch dwarfs last year’s potential UFA crop.
It all starts with Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron. Both could be extended before the season, or each could be playing to prove to 29 other teams that he’s worthy of astronomical monetary reward. Mark Recchi is obviously back for another year for one reason, and one reason only: to go out as a Stanley Cup champion. Mark Stuart needs to prove he can bounce back from an injury-plagued campaign and get back on the right track in terms of development to be a mainstay on Boston’s back end.
And then there are the two veteran wingers, who many would rather not even see on Boston’s roster right now. Michael Ryder’s last “contract year” finished with him in the doghouse in Montreal. However, he still earned a $4 million per year contract from the Bruins, who are now hoping he can make his last year on Causeway Street one to celebrate. Marco Sturm, on the other hand, will have to wait to join the road to redemption because he’s still rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. Not only does he have to prove he can get back healthy, he must show he can again be a 25-goal scorer.
You add in Blake Wheeler and Matt Hunwick, two young players who took a step back last season and will be restricted free agents next summer, and you realize that a lot of goals, assists and victories this season will be tied into Boston’s on-ice success and a lot of individuals’ pocket books. If wins aren’t enough of a motivator for some guys, cold, hard cash should be.
There should be plenty of other players with a little extra fire lit under them when they get to the Hub. Goaltender Tuukka Rask must prove that he wasn’t a one-year wonder and that his sluggish play against the Flyers was an aberration. Since the Bruins were unable to move Tim Thomas, the former Vezina winner can serve as the personification of Rask’s need for redemption – after all, Boston won’t hesitate to switch back to Thomas if Rask can’t get the job done. On the other side of the goaltender coin, Thomas must bounce back this season – regardless of how much he plays – to either earn more playing time in Boston or prove to other clubs he can again be a No. 1.
It might be understandable that sometimes Nathan Horton wasn’t at his most motivated playing in South Florida. Now that excuse is buried in the sand, and Horton has to show that he’s worth what Boston will play him and what they gave up to acquire him. Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and the above-mentioned Krejci have to prove that they can be the dominant two-way forwards Boston bet they be when the Bruins signed them to long-term extensions. Tyler Seguin has to show he’s NHL-ready and can continue the comparisons between him and Taylor Hall at the game’s highest level.
Heck, every Bruins forward starts camp on notice for two big reasons. One is Sturm’s imminent return, which will force at least one player to be jettisoned for salary-cap reasons. Second is the legitimate threat that a prospect such as Jordan Caron, Joe Colborne or Max Sauve could make the leap. Last year, no one (for good reason) was afraid of losing his job to Zach Hamill, Mikko Lehtonen or Jeff Lovecchio. The competition for positions should be extremely heated.
On the back end, Johnny Boychuk, like Rask, has to prove he can avoid a sophomore slump, and Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg have to live up to their long-term extensions. There is no shortage of motivation throughout the 2010-11 Bruins’ roster.
Injuries could again take their toll this winter, or some players could just be revealed as unable to live up to expected production levels. The early-season schedule, which includes the overseas trip for two games with Phoenix and a return home to face New Jersey once and Washington twice, might make for a sluggish start to the regular season. But in dealing with the distractions and overcoming the obstacles that inevitably make each season a unique challenge, we should at least see every Bruins player giving optimum effort every night — a rarity last season — to make complacency as extinct as the wooden stick.