BOSTON — The World Hockey Association is not making a comeback, and unless commissioner Gary Bettman wakes up one morning and decides to go on a league-expanding rampage there won’t any new entries into the NHL to pillage the Bruins’ roster.
That alone puts this year’s Bruins ahead of the last Stanley Cup-winning team from 1972 in terms of an ability to repeat as champions.
After the ’72 Bruins won the title, Boston’s second in three years, with a six-game victory over the New York Rangers, the roster stripping began. Eddie Westfall went to the New York Islanders in the expansion draft and some of the Bruins’ biggest stars — Gerry Cheevers, Derek Sanderson, John McKenzie and Ted Green — bolted for the riches of the WHA.
The 1972-73 Bruins still had a deep pool of talent but not enough to get them past the first round of the playoffs.
Now you look at the 2010-11 roster and realize you might be witnessing the exploits of many of the same players that just won the Cup out on the Garden ice next winter. Of the 23 players who regularly took warm-ups at the end of Boston’s playoff run, only four — Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Tomas Kaberle and Shane Hnidy — are unrestricted free agents.
We know Recchi is pretty certain to retire (I won’t buy it until camp opens and he stays home). Hnidy was a midseason pick-up who looked quite rusty when forced into action. The Bruins aren’t likely to bring him back, especially with plenty of young blueliners waiting for his job. Ryder and Kaberle both present interesting cases to be brought back or allowed to walk. I’ll delve more into those cases soon enough.
Among the rest of the roster there’s just one restricted free agent — Brad Marchand. The rookie sensation figures to make a nice raise from his entry-level contract, which could put him at anywhere from $3 to $3.5 million. With Recchi’s money coming off the cap and the cap increasing, the Bruins should be able to get this done in short order with maybe just a haggle over term coming.
Eighteen other players are signed for 2011-12, including the Bruins’ entire first line and top four defensemen. And the youth among some of those core players is amazing, led by Milan Lucic (23), David Krejci (25) and Nathan Horton (26). Not to mention the Bruins have Tuukka Rask, a 24-year-old former league-leader in GAA and save percentage, waiting in the wings should their oldest player (sans Recchi) Tim Thomas (37) falter.
Obviously, the Bruins have to clear up the Marc Savard situation. Considering Savard’s inability to fly to Vancouver to be part of the celebration and his detached status as far as the media, things seem bleak for him. Retirement could open up cap space for the Bruins to really upgrade their club.
With Tyler Seguin now a grizzled Cup-winning veteran, he should be ready to take on more responsibility as a sophomore, and Jordan Caron, Jamie Arniel, Steven Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski all seem ready to contribute after a full year of pro hockey. There’s no telling which Bruins recent draft picks might be ready to make the jump to the NHL from juniors next season.
At least for now, general manager Peter Chiarelli doesn’t sound ready to embark on a major overhaul of his championship squad.
“We’re going to continue to tweak. We’re not going to be huge players in free agency, but you know we’re going to look at it. And we’ve got areas where we want to look at but you’re not going to see us hitting a few home runsm or what could be perceived as home runs, this summer,” he said during today’s press conference at TD Garden. “We’re just going to go into it with our eyes wide open and see where we end up. But we’re certainly not going to be big players.”
When you already have a stable of “big players” you don’t need to be big players. Fortunately for Chiarelli and his staff, he won’t have to fight off the claws that were reaching at the Bruins’ roster 39 years ago.