Five days after the Game 7 loss at home to the St. Louis Blues, fans and pundits alike are left wondering, what’s next for Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins organization?
First of all, it’s tough to reconcile what was such an inspired season for the B’s with how it all ended. On the one hand, if most were asked before the season started if they would be over the moon to see their team make it all the way to within one game of a Stanley Cup championship, the answer would be an emphatic affirmative. On the other hand, the way it all ended in a manner eerily reminiscent to what the Bruins did to the home Vancouver Canucks eight years ago has left many to vent their frustration and disappointment on the Boston radio airwaves and social media platforms.
Most fanbases would kill for a chance just to get to the Stanley Cup Final and give it a valiant run. But Boston is not most fanbases- with the number of championships the city has boasted since 2001, anything less than another duckboat parade was likely to be seen by many as an abject loss, no matter what went right along the way. To focus on the Bruins’ collective and individual failures to capture a seventh Stanley Cup championship in franchise history is a natural by-product of the way we are conditioned in the modern age. Sure, to those fair-minded folks out there, it can be disheartening to hear some of the more acerbic takes calling out as failures such stalwart performers such as Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, but that’s the way the game is played. When you battle through injuries and triumph in the deciding game, you become immortal legends of Bruins sports lore. When you come up short, you failed.
We don’t have to like it, and we can always argue the various factors and mitigating circumstances, but in the end- those who point to the ultimate inability to win two games in a row all series long, leading to a defeat for the third out of four games at TD Garden, are not wrong. Winners win, losers lose, and at the end of the day, the Bruins weren’t able to leverage home ice advantage into a championship. This is something that will stay with the players, coaches and front office for a long, long time.
So, what now?
The series is over and what we are now left with is the reality of looking ahead to what comes next for the Bruins, as this is a Boston-centric blog. St. Louis has their long summer of celebration ahead of them- we all experienced it eight years ago, so we’ll leave them to it. One more NHL franchise can check the Stanley Cup box as the Washington Capitals did in 2018, and for everyone else- the work has already begun on 2019-20.
Now, that the B’s came up agonizingly short because certain players were not able to outperform the Blues in a final decisive game does not mean that the 2018-19 season was a failure. Nor does it mean the diminishing championship window for Boston’s veteran core of players is definitively closed.
This is a crucial offseason: the NHL entry draft is happening this weekend, followed by free agency, and the B’s have some key RFA contracts that are due to be taken care of. Will the GM make some moves to free up cap space and/or streamline the organization? We already saw the team decline to offer contracts to 2017 draft selections Cedric Pare and Daniel Bukac, and there could be more players within the organization on the move to create more freedom of maneuver for Sweeney and his staff.
It’s tough for the team to have come this close and not come away with another title, but what comes next will be crucial to solidifying a promising foundation, or leaving this one chance behind and not getting over that one last hurdle. The B’s and their fans can now appreciate the anguish that Vancouver experienced in 2011…the Canucks have not come close to nearly reaching hockey’s summit since.
Let that be a cautionary tale in a league that is more competitive than ever.
So that leaves us with this announcement:
In the coming days, this blog space will publish a series of articles from the 3 Amigos: Dom, Kirk and Reed on how we see things shaking out for the Bruins. We’re not going to spend much time looking back at what went wrong- there’s plenty of material out there on why the Stanley Cup proved elusive in 2019. No, instead- we’ll attempt to break down for you the key events of the offseason and some of the major decision points confronting the GM and his staff. We’ll take a closer look at the draft in Vancouver, providing a before and after look at the players, and analyze Boston’s likely course of action in free agency and with upcoming contracts.
It was a grind of a season that lasted some 253 days and the Bruins were in it the whole time- we have the memories of the good and not-so-good, but at the Scouting Post, at least, we’re going to keep looking forward.