Boston Bruins

Aug 19, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins center David Krejci (46) and center Patrice Bergeron (37) celebrate the 2-1 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes following game five of the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

  • Captain Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, the Bruins’ one-two center punch for the better part of a decade and change, did Bruins general manager Don Sweeney their biggest solid yet Monday.

    In an offseason that had featured A.J. Greer as its most notable free agent addition and a one-for-one swap for Pavel Zacha as its big moves, the desires of Bergeron and Krejci to continue to play pro hockey in the only NHL cities they’ve called home led the Bruins to what can only be described as a pure bargain at center.

    Signed to one-year deals within hours of one another, Bergeron will return for a 19th season in Boston at the sweet, sweet price point of $2.5 million. Krejci, meanwhile, will return from a year in the Czech League (and strong showings at the Olympics and World Championships) and at just $1 million. Both contracts will come with performance-bonus incentives, with Bergeron able to make another $2.5 million in bonuses, while Krejci has $2 million in potential bonuses. Should they hit — and they almost certainly will — the Bruins will have to pay out that $4.5 million using their end of year cap space or see it deducted from next year’s ceiling.

    And let’s make one thing abundantly clear: This is not some genius move on the part of the Bruins. This is two pillars of the franchise doing them a favor and making a choice that benefits the Bruins. Bergeron and Krejci do not need the B’s nearly as much as they need them. Anybody reading this could have worked out these contracts.

    But it’ll be on Sweeney & Co. to make it count.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - FEBRUARY 27: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with David Krejci #46 after scoring a goal against the Dallas Stars during the third period at TD Garden on February 27, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Stars 4-3. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – FEBRUARY 27: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with David Krejci #46 after scoring a goal against the Stars at TD Garden on February 27, 2020. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    In a lot of ways, the Bruins have simply kicked the can down the road.

    A ‘retool’ is almost certainly going to have to come at a certain point. And that’s probably all it’ll ever be, as the Bruins as an organization have zero appetite for what you would consider a true, tear-it-to-the-ground rebuild. The mere thought seems to send a shiver down the spine of Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs.

    But the Bruins also feel some reluctancy to commit to a retooling when Bergeron and Brad Marchand are still playing at this level, and with Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy projected to be one of the league’s better left-right backend combos. They also want to maximize having a cheap goalie (Jeremy Swayman) while they can.

    Of top of all that, these Bruins were never going to bottom out in 2022-23. You’d have to go to the next level of roster building — and by that I mean roster demolition — for the Bruins to have any hope of a top-five pick. (No, seriously. Go look at what teams like the Blackhawks, Flyers, and Coyotes have done and tell me that the Bruins had a chance of even coming close to matching that ineptitude without trading half the team.)

    And though the Bruins are no stranger to kicking it on down the road in pursuit of one more Stanley Cup run for a core that’s been to three Finals, this upcoming landing spot for the kicked can will be the most impactful to date.

    Assuming the bonuses hit, and assuming pending unrestricted free agent David Pastrnak signs the Nikita Kucherov contract ($9.5 million per season) to stay with the Bruins beyond next season, the Bruins will have less than $12 million to build out a 2023-24 roster that currently has just five forwards signed to its roster. Also worth noting 2023 will have to come with new contracts for Swayman and Pavel Zacha, among others.

    This is as ‘Last Dance’ as it’s ever been for the Bruins.

  • Aug 23, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) celebrates with center David Krejci (46) and center Patrice Bergeron (37) after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in game one of the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 23, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) celebrates with center David Krejci (46) and center Patrice Bergeron (37). (John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports)

    Now, the problem for these Bruins and their ‘last dance’ is that the return of Bergeron and Krejci probably isn’t enough to elevate you from playoff threat to legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

    In addition to battling against the aging curve these guys have fought (and fought well) against for the better part of half a decade, the B’s are in the thick of the knife fight known as the Atlantic. This division accounted for four of the league’s top 10 teams a year ago, and teams like the Senators and Red Wings both had offseasons indicating that they’re ready to join the fight. At the very least, they’re no longer the gimmes they’ve been in the past.

    There’s obvious hope that a full year of Krejci between Pastrnak and Taylor Hall is exactly what the doctor ordered (there’s no doubt that it’ll be an upgrade over the Erik Haula-centered version of that line last year), but this is basically the same offensive core that failed to get you out of the second round in 2021.

    The need for someone else to pop — someone! anyone! — remains.

  • Nov 29, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins center David Krejci (46) (right) celebrates his game winning goal in overtime with right wing David Pastrnak (88) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) in their 3-2 win over the New York Rangers TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 29, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins center David Krejci (46) (right) celebrates his game winning goal in overtime with right wing David Pastrnak (88) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) in their 3-2 win over the New York Rangers TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

    The Bruins will also need more from their backend.

    Lindholm is an obvious upgrade over what the Bruins have trotted out post-Chara and Krug, but his ideal fit remains a question. Ex-B’s coach Bruce Cassidy liked stacking Lindholm with McAvoy to create a super pairing, but is that something the Bruins can afford to roll out in 2022-23 when fully healthy? Brandon Carlo is also looking to reverse what’s been a multi-year regression, both Matt Grzelcyk and Mike Reilly are looking to rebound from frustrating 2022 seasons, and Jakub Zboril is working his way back from a torn ACL. Oh, and the Bruins are slated to play without McAvoy, their do-it-all Norris contender, for about the first two months of the season.

    This is where you hope new head coach Jim Montgomery and assistant coach John Gruden have cooked up something fresh and exciting to give this backend some new life.

    If these things elude the Bruins, it’ll be on one of Linus Ullmark and Swayman to elevate their own game and put the team on their back. That, as it turns out, has actually been the only way these Bruins have escaped their second-round ceiling, as the Bruins have only advanced to the third round or deeper in this post-lockout world with their goaltenders (Tim Thomas in 2011 and Tuukka Rask in 2013 and 2019) in the midst of a .930 run.

  • MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JULY 07: President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins look on during Round One of the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bell Centre on July 07, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    MONTREAL, QUEBEC – JULY 07: President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins look on during Round One of the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bell Centre on July 07, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    The return of Bergeron and Krejci certainly provides the locker room with more believability, too. The presence alone gives the rest of the room the feeling that the Bruins are indeed trying to compete for a Stanley Cup in 2022-23. I would make the case that the Bruins angled for something similar with the hiring of Jim Montgomery, too. That’s a coaching hire that a win-now team would want to make, as Montgomery’s extensive — and largely winning — background naturally came with a bit more internal fanfare than hiring a Jay Leach or David Quinn.

    But, again, it’s entirely possible that this is still not enough.

    And if that is indeed the case, how do the Bruins make it work?

  • May 6, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) congratulates goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) after their win over the Carolina Hurricanes in game three of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    May 6, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) congratulates goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) after their win over the Carolina Hurricanes in game three of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

    What makes this newest potential final run with No. 37 and No. 46 all the more interesting is that the Bruins are going to do it with the least amount of wiggle room in the Sweeney era.

    Assuming they are ever fully healthy (read as: when Grzelcyk, Marchand, and McAvoy have to come off the long-term injured reserve sometime in late November or early December), someone’s going to have to be moved.

    The Bruins, for what it’s worth, are rightfully terrified of trading a defenseman off this roster given what their defense has looked like at the end of countless unsuccessful runs. And the Bruins  don’t exactly have a ton of bottom-six forward trade chips that could be moved without tacking on additional assets.

    And let’s say that the Bruins want to make an addition without compromising their current group? Well, first of all good luck. But secondly, the Bruins will enter the season without a second-round pick in 2023 or 2024, and with a prospect pool that ranks towards the bottom of the league. There’s not a lot of room to simply add. You could also make the strong case that the Bruins have to stop parting with top-64 picks like there’s no tomorrow, as they have already traded eight first- or second-round picks since the 2016 trade deadline.

    But if this is the end — and the math alone says that this might be it — how could the Bruins possibly not take advantage of their bargains in pursuit of one more Stanley Cup?

    For the Bruins, Monday was about as easy as it’ll get for Bergeron, Krejci, and the team’s 2023 Cup hopes.

    Making their favors actually count for something this time around, however, will require a lot more. And from everybody involved, no less.