By: James Swindells | Follow me on Twitter @jimswindells68
The 2022-’23 Boston Bruins continue rolling toward an inevitable appointment with the NHL’s President’s Trophy, given to the team that compiles the league’s best regular season record. Should Boston end their season-long march as the league’s most dominant team and claim the President’s Trophy, history presumes the Bruins will meet the same fate as 78% of previous Predient’s Trophy winners.
The President’s Trophy has been awarded since 1986, with 36 winners and a mere eight teams raising Lord Stanley at the end of the NHL’s grueling playoff season. Since 2013, only the Chicago Blackhawks have bucked the odds and raised the Cup. While there are plenty of reasons for the eventual demise of a regular-season champion, it becomes easy to fall back on their ouster from playoff hockey as a “curse.”
In reality, they succumb to many of the same factors that non-regular season champs do: injuries, hot goaltending, uneven/inept special teams play, and victims of crazy bounces that seals their fate. Something Edmonton’s Steve Smith can attest to as the Oilers dynasty was denied a potential run of five consecutive championships from 1984-1988 in a disastrous 1986 matchup with the Calgary Flames.
Since the birth of free agency in 1995, the list of Cup winners dwindles to five. With parity injected into the mix, the task of the regular season champion running the table becomes more difficult. Building a championship-caliber roster falls to general managers who walk a fine line of attempting to bring players on that will complement a roster on the verge of being a title contender or extending the run of a previous Stanley Cup champ.
Factoring free agency in addition to implementing a league-wide salary cap in 2005, the list of President’s Trophy winners turned Stanley Cup champions totals two teams, the 2013 Blackhawks and the 2008 Red Wings. The start of the salary cap era made a challenging task all the more difficult while trying to stay compliant inside the salary cap structure.
The 2010-11 Bruins played their part in derailing a President’s Trophy champion when they defeated the regular season champion Vancouver Canucks on the back of Tim Thomas and his Conn Smythe Trophy performance as he backstopped the Bruins with a postseason performance for the ages. Thomas could be singled out as the best example of a team riding the hot hand of a netminder on their way to a championship, as Boston’s power play betrayed them, and Thomas’ performance made up for the Bruins’ powerless power play.
The Bruins are three-time failures as President’s Trophy champs. They were bounced in the 2014 playoffs in the 2nd Round by the Montreal Canadiens. Carey Price outplayed eventual Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask and Price was unbeatable in Game Six and held Boston to a lone goal in Game Seven. It would mark the end of a fever-pitch portion of their rivalry in which Montreal and Boston had been embroiled in since 2008.
In the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season, the Bruins were eliminated by Tampa Bay in the bubble in Toronto. Boston lost its regular season number-one seeding in a round-robin tournament versus Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Washington by finishing 0-3 and was reseeded fourth. Boston faced Tampa Bay, the NHL’s top-scoring squad, without Tuukka Rask, who opted out of play in a series win vs. Carolina after Game Two, and Boston proceeded with Jaroslav Halak in net. Tampa defeated the Tuukka-less Bruins, as Boston struggled to score goals in 5-on-5 play and defended poorly in front of Halak, leading to their demise versus the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
The 1989-90 Bruins breezed to the Stanley Cup Final vs. Edmonton and would eventually be undone by a lack of goal-scoring. Boston totaled eight goals in five games as former Bruins netminder Bill Ranford stood tall in 18 periods of play. Ranford, the Conn Smythe trophy winner, surrendered no more than two goals in the five games and turned aside 50 of 52 shots in a 3-2 triple-overtime victory in Game One at Boston Garden. In comparison, the Jennings Trophy-winning tandem of Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin gave up 20 goals in the series. Game One was the longest in Stanley Cup Final history, and the Bruins never recovered from Petr Klima’s game-winner.
With his team facing what could be a last-ditch attempt to bring another Stanley Cup championship to an aging core of players, Bruins GM Don Sweeney has made numerous changes to the roster in hopes of finding the perfect mixture. It started in the offseason with a trade that brought Pavel Zacha to Boston and culminated with a pair of trade deadline moves.
The deals in which the Bruins acquired Garnet Hathaway and Dmitry Orlov from Washington and Tyler Bertuzzi from Detroit were done to avoid disturbing the chemistry inside the locker room. At the same time, Sweeney mortgaged the franchise’s future by trading future entry draft picks for the trio of newly acquired players while not uprooting its prospect pool.
With six weeks left until the start of the 2023 NHL Playoffs, the Bruins are well aware of their pending place in NHL history. They have a goaltending tandem comprised of future Jennings Trophy winners Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. Ullmark is amidst a record-setting season and is entrenched as the front-runner for Vezina Trophy. Swayman has recovered from an injury and rebounded from early-season struggles to give the Bruins a formidable two-headed monster in the crease.
David Pastrnak, Pavel Zacha, Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm, Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic, Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, and Derek Forbort are all compiling career seasons and give the Bruins the look of a squad that, come playoff time, will be an absolute nightmare to line up against. Spearheading all that makes this Bruins squad special is the leadership core of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Nick Foligno, who keep the team moving forward in pursuit of the goal set in the offseason.
In a perfect world, this Bruins team should run through the playoffs with the ease with which they’ve dispatched all comers during the regular season. A Stanley Cup championship is the most challenging professional championship to win due to the grueling nature of the playoffs, in which there will be inevitable bumps in the road. The hope is that Sweeney has given his players all they need to fulfill the promise of this season, head coach Jim Montgomery’s style and structure continue to work with a team that has bought into every aspect he has implemented, and the team and franchise, as a whole, embrace the challenge and exorcise the “curse” of President’s Trophy winners of years gone by.
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