- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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That's a good mindset to have as he enters his fifth year in the organization.
During his career with the Bruins, Bartkowski, 26, has experienced all the highs and lows of playing professional hockey. He's spent the majority of his pro career in the AHL, and he only played his first full season with the Bruins in 2013-14.
He witnessed a Stanley Cup championship as a black ace in 2011. The Bruins attempted to trade him at the deadline during the 2012-13 season to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Jarome Iginla, but the deal fell through when Iginla waived his no-trade clause to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
During the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, Bartkowski scored his only NHL goal to date in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Bartkowski then began the 2013-2014 season as a healthy scratch and eventually worked his way into the lineup after Boston's blue line suffered numerous injuries. He became a mainstay during the regular season and into the playoffs before the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Bruins in seven games in the second round.
When the league announced next season's salary cap would stand at $69 million, which was a bit lower than most thought, the Bruins found themselves in a challenging position. General manager Peter Chiarelli was forced to make some difficult decisions, specifically not to re-sign Iginla, who had played one season with the Bruins on an incentive-laden contract.
The Bruins will have nine NHL-caliber defensemen once training camp begins in September. Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, Bartkowski, Kevan Miller and David Warsofsky make up Boston's depth on the blue line.
Chiarelli said recently that he's confident in the organization's depth and youth, but he's also not opposed to making a trade at some point this summer, during training camp, or once the season begins. That means one or two of those nine -- including Bartkowski -- could end up elsewhere.
Boychuk will earn $3.36 million next season before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer. McQuaid will earn $1.5 million and also becomes a UFA at season's end, as does Bartkowski. Krug is considered an entry-level free agent and may have to play on a one-year deal before the Bruins give him the raise he deserves. Miller remains under contract for the next two years at $800,000 per season.
Chiarelli also made it a point this summer to say he's been impressed with Warsofsky's development with the P-Bruins and believes he's ready for the NHL.
So, Bartkowski's right. Anything can happen.
"You can't assume anything, and when I say I expect to play, that's what I expect out of myself," he said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "It starts from having a good summer and being in shape coming into camp. You have to expect it out of yourself. Otherwise, what's your motivation? What are you playing for? You want to be able to help the team every way you can, and I think expecting that of yourself to be able to play and be able to play well night in, night out, is the best thing you can do."
Bartkowski said he doesn't pay attention to the trade rumors.
"There's no real reason to," he said. "I think it's only just a hindrance to worry about where you're going to end up and all that. You just prepare for what you can, and the team you're on, and if something happens, it happens. It's out of our hands. There's really no reason for me to worry about it. I just try to focus on my summer workouts and being as ready as I can for next season."
The Bruins' inexperience on defense and mental miscues were two of the primary reasons for Boston's premature exodus in the second round to the Canadiens. Chiarelli admitted as much after the series. Bartkowski believes the inexperienced core of defensemen learned from it.
"I don't think any mistake is really acceptable. ... When you're younger it's more, I guess, expected in some areas. But it is definitely not acceptable," he said.
Bartkowski has played in 84 regular-season games and another 15 Stanley Cup playoff games for the Bruins. He's a good skater and can move the puck well. But he needs to be more physical in the defensive zone, and add a little more offense at the other end of the ice. If he does that, he could stick around for a while.
Then again, as Bartkowski well knows, anything can happen.
9dScott Burnside and Craig Custance