By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
(Welcome to 98.5 The Sports Hub's The Weekend Wraparound -- or just The Wraparound, WW, Wrap, or whatever you care to call it. I'm not big on names. But here's what you should know about it: It's a new weekly column that will run every Saturday in addition to our complete coverage of the Boston Bruins, with or without ice available.)
For the first time since the Boston Bruins captured the Stanley Cup seven years ago, as many Eastern Conference teams have won hockey's ultimate prize as those in the Western Conference. In the immediate post-Bruins Cup world, it was the West that dominated, with four straight Cup victories from 2012 through 2015 as the Kings and Blackhawks traded championships (Chicago's 2013 title coming against the B's expense and in heartbreaking fashion, of course). But then the Penguins brought the Cup back towards the Atlantic with back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017, and now the Capitals are hockey's top dog.
This means that the Bruins are back on the clock with legitimate expectations.
Oh, and that this summer is buying time if you're Bruins general manager Don Sweeney.
Already given the second-best odds of winning the 2019 Stanley Cup, let's first start by acknowledging that the expectations should be on the rise for the Bruins. If we go back to the start of Bruce Cassidy replacing Claude Julien, the Bruins are a ridiculous 68-28-13 under Cassidy. That's good for the second-most wins (trailing only the Nashville Predators) and third-most points (behind just the Preds and Tampa Bay Lightning) in all of hockey over that span. Cassidy and The Kids also got their first taste of playoff success this year, too, as the Black and Gold's first-round series victory over the Maple Leafs stood at their first postseason series victory since 2014's first-round win against the Red Wings. That came two months before the 2014 Draft that restocked the B's farm and before we even knew Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy.
And in the league where trends indicate that you often have to lose multiple times in the postseason before you can win, back-to-back postseason appearances from the upstart Bruins should set them up for a deep run next season.
But that's not the only reason why the Bruins should buy.
Just look around the Atlantic Division.
The win-now Lightning, certainly set to be bolstered by a full year of Ryan McDonagh in the frame next season, are not going anywhere. Steve Yzerman's masterful cap-maneuvering has by all means guaranteed that. (That financial flexibility is something that Sweeney has tried to replicate since taking over in Boston, by the way.) The Maple Leafs should be better with continued growth and development from Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. All bets are off if and when they can acquire the top-four defenseman that they've desperately needed to truly begin this process. The Panthers are cooking up something good in Sunrise. You would also have to assume that at some point the Canadiens, Red Wings, Sabres, and Senators stop being gigantic embarrassments given the importance of successful hockey operations in each city.
This allows the Bruins, who subtly bellyached about what a hard road their playoff bracket features with a three-headed monster featuring themselves, the Maple Leafs, and Lightning, to now know what their competition will offer in the spring. This would also mean that the Black and Gold are cognizant of the fact that the road won't get any easier.
The Bruins are also in a better position than -- or at least have a leg-up on -- the majority of that competition.
It's just about maximizing that advantage while they still have it.
With seven free agents (many of whom were bottom-sixers and/or depth rentals on expiring contracts), and at least $13 million in projected cap space, no door seems closed for the Bruins this summer. Be it via trade or in a top-heavy free agent class. Barring Sweeney falling in love with the results of last year's team and overextending himself to keep everybody in town (something he's essentially said he won't do), too, the Bruins have money and assets to play with this summer.
Most of all, they have that without the potential of it compromising and/or destroying what they've rebuilt on the fly.
Even if it involves moving another first-round pick (the Bruins lost theirs in the Rick Nash trade earlier this season) via trade.
Now, don't kid yourself into overvaluing first-round picks for this Bruins team: In addition to the promise that comes with their future (which you saw at the NHL level this past season), the Bruins have also elevated their franchise into a decidedly win-now situation. Not that they really needed much of a shove to get themselves there in the first place.
Quite simply, you don't give David Backes $30 million over five years to pile up first-round picks. You don't extend the 41-year-old Zdeno Chara this past season if you don't believe you're this close to the second championship of the 6-foot-9 captain's NHL career. And you don't stick by 2011 playoff hero David Krejci at $7.25 million per year and 2013 playoff standout Tuukka Rask at $7 million per season if the primary goal is to merely maintain a death grip on your future assets.
And how many more first-round picks do the Bruins really need to be competitive right now?
Without trying to demean their value, look across the organizational depth chart and try to find room at the inn.
Behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, the center depth chart includes Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. Behind Brad Marchand on the left side, the Bruins have DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, and Ryan Fitzgerald. Behind the still-incredibly-young David Pastrnak on the right side, there's Anders Bjork, Zach Senyshyn, and both Heinen and Peter Cehlarik have spent some time on the right side during their NHL careers. Behind Chara, the Bruins have a prospect pool loaded with left-side defensemen, from first-round picks Jakub Zboril (2015), Urho Vaakanainen (2017), to Jeremy Lauzon and Emil Johansson. Their right side is headlined by the 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy and 21-year-old Brandon Carlo, two players already boasting heavy NHL experience at this point. The Bruins even have options behind Rask, too, with Daniel Vladar and Jeremy Swayman both showing early promise as potential long-term solutions.
It almost goes without saying that not all of these players will hit and be pieces of a Cup-winning squad. Or even crack the NHL as a legitimate full-timer. But if they trend the right way, it's obvious there's already a ton of promise within this pipeline.
Enough to make you ask where they'll all fit in (doubly true when that list above doesn't factor in those roleplayers already under contract at the big league level), and where another first-round pick would fit in. Especially in regards to this current window headlined by the spinal cord of those still logging the most important minutes that Bruins hockey has to offer. (That's Bergeron, Chara, Krejci, Marchand, and Rask by the way.)
Using those established prospects, those knocking at the door, and those yet to be assigned a name (i.e future draft picks), and specifically speaking in regards to the lone known seller, the Bruins have to assets to make a trade with the Hurricanes work.
Noah Hanifin, the Massachusetts native the Bruins were so enamored with that they tried a complicated and massive trade-up at the 2015 NHL Draft to nab, checks off several boxes for the Bruins as a left-shot defenseman with size, a smooth skating game, and offensive pop. And continuing their attempt to revamp their roster under a new owner and general manager, the Hurricanes have also let teams know that they want a prospect and a first-round pick for Jeff Skinner. The 26-year-old Skinner, who plays both left and right wing, is entering the final year of a contract that comes with a $5.75 million cap hit, and has scored the 13th-most goals in the National Hockey League since the start of the 2015 season.
With a core largely in its 30s, and with the cap flexibility to make another short-term risk before the prospects need money, Sweeney and the Bruins do not have an excuse to stay out of those conversations. Or any conversation that can end with them having the additional weapons required to legitimately rise above their division and conference en route to another title.
With the ability to reap the rewards of their patience, this summer should be simple: Buy. Buy. Buy.
Loose Pucks: I was thrilled to see Alexander Ovechkin finally capture a Stanley Cup. Ovechkin is one of these players that you either love or hate, I know, but this is a player that's been dead and buried too many times to count, but finally found a way to piece together the perfect postseason resume... For those that obsess over size on a defensive unit: Look at Christian Djoos. This is a defenseman that is listed at weighing less than 170 pounds. Worked just fine for the Capitals. The NHL is changing. Stop trying to deny it... Nothing groundbreaking on the talks between the Bruins and their pending free agents. I expect that Anton Khudobin will likely be the first domino to fall (er, re-sign). Then it's on to the Nash forwards.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.