On April 21st, 2008, the Boston Bruins were eliminated from the playoffs in Game 7 against the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens, and the game wasn’t close. The Bruins lost 5-0. Looking back, almost every Bruins fan had the same reaction: what a great year. After finishing with the third worst record in the Eastern Conference the previous season, pushing the rival Canadiens to seven games was a monumental feat, and definitely something to be proud of. Bruins fans weren’t even talking about the 5-0 defeat, instead looking back to the electric 5-4 victory in Game 6 and looking forward to the next season.
In the 2013 playoffs, a first round exit for the Boston Bruins would have gotten a number of people fired, and “great” would be the last adjective fans would use to describe the year. Team talent and ticket prices usually go hand in hand (Balcony tickets in 2007-08 came in at just $10), and both have been going up for the Boston Bruins ever since that Game 7 loss in 2008. After two Northeast Division titles, two Stanley Cup Finals appearances, and one Stanley Cup Championship since then, there are new expectations for the Black and Gold. There’s a new normal. And looking at their 2013 offseason, the Bruins certainly know it.
The blockbuster move to send forward Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Loui Eriksson and three prospects underscores the message of the Bruins’ offseason: they want to win now. On a team in the middle of the pack, Seguin’s talent would far outweigh any on-ice concerns about his consistency and off-ice concerns about his maturity. If the Bruins were expected to just make the playoffs and try their luck, they could afford to live with Seguin’s growing pains in the hopes that he’d turn into their franchise player sometime down the road. But this Bruins team doesn’t have the time to wait for Seguin, because they’re built to compete for the Cup right now. With the clock ticking on Zdeno Chara’s time as an elite defenseman, the Bruins opted to go with the player who would help their team more in 2013-14, and that’s Eriksson. Seguin might end up being the best player in the trade, but the Bruins aren’t interested in having the best player. They’re interested in having the best team.
The Bruins’ offseason also featured the signing of winger Jarome Iginla, who will most likely end up playing alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic on Boston’s top line. With Iginla just turning 36 this past July (coupled with the one-year deal), it’s obvious that he’s not part of the long-term future for Boston. Instead, the Bruins inked Iginla to help them come even closer to another championship than they did this June. Nobody understands the “win now” mentality moreso than Iginla, who is chasing a Stanley Cup before he retires.
The Bruins urgent mentality is a good one. There are no guarantees in the NHL: the Pittsburgh Penguins went from legitimate Stanley Cup contender to clinging to a playoff spot after losing both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin during the 2010-11 season. The underlying message? There’s no way of knowing when the championship window will end, so the Bruins can’t bank on being a perennial contender all the time. And once the window is closed, it’s a long road back to the top, and Boston knows this better than most teams as they’ve already had to rebuild the team almost from the ground up after the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
While the Bruins signed both Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron to eight-year deals this offseason, Boston’s management knows that they might not be this close to a title toward the latter half of those contracts. The eight-year deals mean that the Bruins are looking to Bergeron and Rask to be in Boston for the long haul, but rest assured that management’s first priority is bringing another banner to the Boston Garden during the next three years.
That’s just how things go when you’re one of the league’s elite teams, and there’s no denying that Boston will once again be one of the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have come a long way since 2008, and the organization has definitely embraced the ‘new normal.’ Starting in October, all thirty NHL teams will have a new chance to try and win the Stanley Cup. That the Boston Bruins will compete isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s expected.