Bruins: 10 Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrun
The Stanley Cup hangover might become a weary and tiresome subject for the Boston Bruins.
But it sure beats the topic du jour from a year ago in training camp: just how the B's would try to bounce back from the epic playoff collapse of the previous spring when they blew a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia.
This year's topic? Much better.
"It's a lot easier to talk about," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com, referring to the Cup hangover. "What's ironic is that collapse [May 2010] and how we dealt with it was one of the big reasons why we won last season."
The Bruins became a tougher team mentally, learning from that collapse. They showed that mental toughness in the Stanley Cup finals, when they came back from a 2-0 series deficit to trounce the spooked Vancouver Canucks.
"The collapse in the playoffs helped us to become the team that we were last year and especially in the playoffs when we showed some character," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron told ESPN.com. "I'm not really surprised at the way we've developed as a team and became a team with a lot of character."
Now that mental toughness will be tested again as the Bruins try to defy the odds and become only the second team in 14 years (Detroit, 1998) to win back-to-back NHL titles.
1. Team is intact
Unlike its Cup-winning predecessor in Chicago, Boston didn't have to blow up its championship roster. Far from it. Gone are Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle. They are replaced by Benoit Pouliot, Joe Corvo and Chris Clark, if he makes the team on a tryout.
Otherwise, the core is completely back. That's impressive work by Chiarelli, who navigated salary-cap issues last season to get his team in good financial shape. The Bruins' GM honestly does not get enough credit for the work he's done with the Cup champions.
"Peter made a marvelous job," B's coach Claude Julien told ESPN.com. "He made sure we kept the right guys locked up and made sure not to get caught in a position with the cap. We're in real good shape. We'll miss the three players that we lost, they had an impact on our playoffs, but we feel we have people that are capable of stepping in and replacing those guys. You'll never replace the experience of Mark Recchi and that's something we understand, but the quality of players we brought in will help fill those gaps."
More than anything, it ensures the Bruins won't have to struggle to find team chemistry like the Hawks did a year ago.
2. Dreaded hangover
We're not talking about the kind where you end up in Vegas without any pants on. We're talking about the mentally and physically challenging grind of repeating as a Stanley Cup champion. The bottom line: The short summer, the celebrating, the feeling of incredible satisfaction, the lack of proper time to have the body totally recharge -- those are cold, hard facts with modern-day Cup champs. They are hard to overcome.
"We can't avoid that subject," Chiarelli said. "We talk about turning the page but we also know that's something that can't be avoided physically and mentally. We asked them to climb Everest [last season], and they did. It's about a bunch of different little things that you have to keep your eye on. I've talked to a lot of managers, coaches and players that have won and specifically how you deal with this stuff, and the common denominator is that you can't avoid it. There's no magic. It's just going to take some finesse."
The key, Julien says, is to not look too far ahead. Otherwise, the task seems too daunting.
"That's going to be the best way for us to approach the season," the Bruins' coach said. "Repeat is a big word. Repeat is something we know is extremely hard. When you look at the past Stanley Cup championship teams, they've struggled a little bit to make the playoffs. It's not an easy thing to do. I think for us to look at the word repeat, that can be extremely dangerous because there's an 82-game schedule ahead of us that's going to be just as important to us as having an opportunity in the playoffs."
Bring it on, Bergeron said.
"We're aware that it's been since '97 [and '98] with the Red Wings that a team won two Stanley Cups in a row," Bergeron said. "But it's a good challenge for us. ... The feeling you had after Game 7 and winning, you want to relive that. You want to have another taste."
3. Kaberle-Corvo swap (oh, and the power play)
Kaberle never did quite fit in that well after coming over from Toronto last season before the trade deadline. He landed in Carolina via free agency, and his replacement came from those same Hurricanes. Corvo will be counted on to play top-four minutes but especially try to help a Bruins power play that struggled last season.
"He's a right shot, he's got a good shot, he's a strong player and good skater -- those are not the exact same elements as what we had in Kaberle, but he's an offensive defenseman that will help us," Chiarelli said. "We wanted to make sure that we had those attributes, and Joe has that."
The power-play savior he is not, however, Julien warned.
"He's a nice addition but I'm going to say the same thing when Kaberle came in: He's not the only guy that can make the power play go," the Bruins' coach said. "Last year we had a group that seemed to feel the pressure of having to perform on the power play. ... You saw at times a power play that was very poor and at times a power play that I thought did well. I thought it was pretty decent against Vancouver. We just never seem to be consistent. We got to find some stability there."
4. Step right up, Mr. Seguin
Tyler Seguin was brought slowly and carefully into the Bruins' fold last season. He played limited minutes; some nights he didn't play at all. But the hope is that the second overall pick from the June 2010 draft learned a ton. Because in his second pro season, he has an opportunity to step up, especially with the losses of Ryder and Recchi.
"In Tyler's case, it's pretty obvious that everything that will happen this year is up to him," Julien said. "Because the opportunity is there. He's got a year under his belt. I think he learned a lot last year, whether it was from the coaching staff or from being around his teammates. We see the potential; we know how good he can be. It's up to him now [to] go out there and show how good he can be on a consistent basis. If he does that, I think we have ourselves a really good player. I think last year we handled him the way we thought we should based on what we saw or his age and with a team that we had. I think we handled him the right way. But this year, it's really up to him because there's spots there for him to take if he wants it."
5. What now, Mr. Thomas?
Well, what does a man do for an encore after winning the Vezina Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy en route to a Stanley Cup ring?
"He was asked that and he said, 'Do it again,'" Chiarelli said, chuckling.
"He's the type of guy that always wants to do more and get better," Bergeron said. "I'm expecting some great things again."
The Bruins need to be careful not to overtax Thomas, 37. They did a good job with that last season, spotting backup Tuukka Rask 29 games.
"What's important with Tim is that he knows part of his success is due to the number of games he plays," Chiarelli said. "He works in tandem with Tuukka. At the end of the day, we're trying to do the 55-game thing. We have two real good goalies so we have that luxury."
6. Now we know you, Mr. Seidenberg
Dennis Seidenberg, frankly, was almost an afterthought a year ago on the eve of the season. A slow start didn't help, either. But by the time the beard was fully grown in the spring and a Stanley Cup rested at the top of his outstretched arms, hockey fans around the league knew all about the German native. Seidenberg delivered a standout playoff performance, partnering with Zdeno Chara to form a sensational shutdown pair.
"He's just a solid, two-way defenseman," said Chiarelli, who scooped him up from Florida two years ago. "Very compatible playing with Chara or anybody else. His game is a simple game but tremendously effective. He's stronger than most people think. He can log a lot of minutes. He's a real good person who wants to win. He started slow last year, but he gained in confidence and on a lot of nights [in the playoffs], he might have been our best player."
7. Coach is redeemed
There are few people on the Bruins who found more redemption in a Cup than Julien, fired by New Jersey and Montreal in previous coaching stops despite a winning record. And even in Boston, rumors swirled at different times last season when the B's were stumbling -- especially when his team went down 2-0 to Montreal in the first round -- that Julien would face the ax. The Cup ring silenced his critics.
"Really happy for him," Bergeron said. "It was well-deserved for him. ... We were trying to stay in our own bubble during the playoffs, but that being said, we were hearing what was being said during the Montreal series with him being criticized. So we're happy for him, but we're not surprised. As a team, we're all behind him. He's a great coach."
8. Cap. What cap?
The Bruins begin the season with more than $5 million of cap room, and that's with injured Marc Savard and his $4 million hit counting against the cap. Which means the B's can pick up $5 million worth of cap hits in trades this season and then $4 million more if they choose to go over the cap by putting Savard on LTI.
Either way, Chiarelli has done a fantastic job managing his team's payroll and gives himself all kinds of options should he need to make a few moves to inject a jolt in his lineup this season. So keep an eye on the Bruins' GM. He could be an active man if the Cup hangover takes hold.
9. Offense is fine, thank you
The Bruins entered last season having been reminded all too often that they were dead last in goals scored in 2009-10 at 2.39 per game. Well, just like their playoff collapse of that season, that's old news. The Cup champions exploded for the fifth-highest tally in goals last season at 2.98, and despite the losses of Ryder and Recchi, there's no reason to believe they can't keep up the pace this season, especially given the expected development of Seguin. A top-six group of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand, Bergeron and Seguin should have no problem finding the back of the net.
10. Motivated players
You know what they say about players in contract years, right? Well, the Bruins have no fewer than 10 players with expiring contracts after this season, including the likes of Krejci, Corvo and Rask. That's not a bad thing if you're the Bruins. One of the biggest challenges of a Cup defense is finding the proper motivation. Nothing like a contract year for half the team to take care of that.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering ninth NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 1
• Claude Julien took over a non-playoff team four years ago when he arrived on the scene in Beantown. He's a major reason the B's made the long journey from basement team to Cup champs. Not to mention that they've made the playoffs every season Julien has been behind the bench.
Chiarelli refers to his coach as a "significant piece."
"He knows how to communicate with the players," Chiarelli said. "The players respect him. He knows how to adapt during games. In a journey like we had last year, there's so many highs and lows, he kept an even keel. And technically, he's one of the best in the business." -- Pierre LeBrun
Best bet: Zdeno Chara
Zdeno Chara is a multifaceted fantasy dreamboat almost straight across the board. Although a few more power-play points would be nice, the big 'Z' provides more than enough positive fodder in plus-minus, ice time, shots and penalty minutes to make up for it. Don't expect the recent Stanley Cup victory to diminish Chara's hunger, either. If anything, the ambition to repeat as champions could provide a little extra incentive. -- Victoria Matiash
Risky pick: Patrice Bergeron
Bergeron led one of the best lines in the NHL through the middle of last season, when he, Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi steamrolled over every defense in their way. The trio slowed down by the end of the season, but the chemistry was evident. Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin might fit the bill with Recchi's retirement, but it is hard to imagine them sparking the same kind of chemistry that helped Bergeron pick up 17 points in 14 games in January. Bergeron will be a 20-goal, 50-point, second-line center, but expecting his line to excel like last season will be asking too much. -- Sean Allen
Sleeper pick: Tyler Seguin
The 2010-11 season is not a true indication of Seguin's potential. The second-overall pick in the 2010 draft was buried on the third and sometimes fourth line. He put up 22 points in 74 games, and spent the most time on a line with Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler. While he has the potential to do a lot more damage, fantasy owners will have to remain patient. He is destined for more third-line time because Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are locked ahead of him on the depth chart. -- S.A.
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Bruins:
• July 1: Signed LW Benoit Pouliot.
• July 1: Re-signed C Trent Whitfield and G Anton Khudobin.
• July 5: Acquired D Joe Corvo from Carolina for a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft.
• July 14: Re-signed D Adam McQuaid.
• Sept. 14: Re-signed C Brad Marchand.
• D Tomas Kaberle (unrestricted free agent, signed by Carolina)
• RW Michael Ryder (unrestricted free agent, signed by Dallas)
• RW Mark Recchi (retired)
• D Shane Hnidy (retired)