By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn
For a few years now, we’ve heard the shouts from fans saying, “We need to get this core group one more cup!”. As hard as it is, though, it’s time to let go of that notion and move on to a new core of Boston Bruins. Yes, there are still some familiar faces on the roster, namely Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. If you look any further, though, even the group that made the 2019 Stanley Cup Final is much smaller than I think many of us realized.
For a while, I think the core of the Bruins could be defined as a group of five. Bergeron and Marchand, combined with David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, and Tuukka Rask, formed a formidable group that had the ability to take over games and control the play throughout a series. This group was together for 11 seasons, from the time Brad Marchand played his first 20 games in the NHL in 2009–2010 to the day Big Z moved on from the Bruins after the 2019–2020 season.
In those 11 seasons, the Bruins made three appearances in the Stanley Cup finals, winning hockey’s most coveted prize in 2011. They also won two Presidents’ Trophies as the team with the most regular-season points and four division titles in that time.
Without a doubt, they were one of the most successful groups in Bruins’ history. There may be questions, however, about whether this core should have won even more than they did. 2019 and 2020 stand out as missed opportunities, but for different reasons. In 2019 everything seemed to fall into place for the Bruins.
Their top competition, the Tampa Bay Lightning, was swept in the first round in one of the most shocking upsets in recent history by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Their next toughest opposition, the defending champion Washington Capitals, also were bounced in the first round by the wild-card Carolina Hurricanes, who went on to beat the New York Islanders.
After grinding through a tough series against the Maple Leafs, the Bruins only had to face the other two wild-card teams to win the Eastern Conference, which they did, defeating the Blue Jackets in six games and sweeping the Hurricanes. Waiting for them in the Cup Final was the St. Louis Blues, who, just months prior, had been last in the entire NHL. It was almost a dream scenario for the Bruins and Bruins fans. We could almost taste that second Stanley Cup of the decade.
But it didn’t happen. The Bruins lost. The following year was almost just as painful. After bulldozing through the league in the regular season and winning one of those four Presidents’ Trophies, the world shut down. When things resumed, the team that seemed unstoppable before the pandemic was now sputtering. They looked shaky in the warm-up games, and despite getting through the Hurricanes again in five games, they were demolished by the Lightning in round two and hadn’t looked like a threat since.
After David Krejci decided to return to Czechia to play in front of his family, and Tuukka Rask decided it was time to hang up his pads earlier this season, what we knew for so long as the core of our beloved team is in shambles. Bergeron and Marchand are the only ones left. So, if that core is gone, who is the new core? Or better yet, is there a new core? I think there is, and I think it actually is much more promising than I realized.
For the first member of the new core, I’d like to nominate Charlie McAvoy. He is the top defenseman in most people’s eyes and has been a top-pairing defenseman long enough that it’s time for him to run a team. I personally don’t think he’ll ever win a Norris Trophy, but I’d love to be proven wrong.
Rounding out the big three, in my opinion, are David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo. One of the best scorers in the league and one of the best stay-at-home defensemen in the league, respectively; these guys will hopefully be in Boston for years to come and are young enough that their best years may still be ahead of them.
The next two spots I want to fill are players who are a bit newer but certainly just as important. First, I think, is the recent trade deadline acquisition of Hampus Lindholm. The 28-year-old stud is starting the first year of an eight-year contract extension next year and is the Bruins’ best all-around defenseman, in my opinion. I think he is exactly what the Bruins needed to sure up the defensive core and gives the Bruins one of the best top pairings in the league.
The other spot is really going to be filled by two players, but I’m counting them as one spot because they are mutually exclusive. Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman make what should be a frightening transition from a decade of stability much easier. I feel confident in either one of them playing between the pipes, and both of them could easily play in the home crease at TD Garden for five years and potentially more for Swayman.
Between Pastrnak, McAvoy, Carlo, Lindholm, Ullmark, and Swayman, there are two potential starting goalies, two top-pairing defensemen, a solid defensive defenseman, and one of the most elite scorers in the world. Of the four skaters in that list, three of them will also probably wear letters for the Bruins when Bergeron and Marchand move on.
That’s another important quality to have in a winning team, and by playing for the Bruins, they’ve learned from some of the best leaders in the league. They’ll need some help around them, but having a core like that is a great way to stay in the running for championships year after year.