The Bruins are hoping the 2020s truly become the “Roaring 20s”. At the very least, that means matching the success of the 2010s — a 10-year stretch that saw the club make three trips to the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s hard to predict things 10 years out. If I’d written this same piece at the top of 2010, I’m not sure I could’ve predicted any of what ended up taking place. The Bruins were a young team at the time with a core that seemed to only be getting better.
Here in 2020, the Bruins are aging, but have a young group behind them who look to be the guys they’ll ride with over the next 10 years.
At any rate, here are the four storylines (we know of) that will be the biggest the Bruins face over the next decade.
Torey Krug’s Contract
The Bruins will face the fate of this one within the next few months, and it’s a decision that will come to define the 2020s for them.
Torey Krug becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season. The feeling is that this will be his big, long-term deal and he’s expressed a desire to take less to stay in Boston. The big question boils down to just how much less will he be willing to take?
According to CapFriendly, Boston has roughly $17 million in cap space for next season. But with Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork and Matt Grzelcyk as restricted free agents, and Jaroslav Halak and Zdeno Chara as UFAs, that money is sure to go quickly.
Don Sweeney’s showed his talents at doing cap gymnastics when bringing back his own players, so it won’t surprise anyone if and when Sweeney gets everyone in under that $17 million.
If the Bruins re-sign Krug, which is the more likely option, he’ll be the offensive defenseman of the future. If it’s the long deal we assume it will be, the contract will end when Krug’s in his mid-30s. The 28-year-old won’t experience any big decline during that duration.
The bigger “what if” is if the Bruins are unable to meet Krug’s demands and he ducks out for more money elsewhere.
Boston won’t have one of the league’s premier power play quarterbacks. Barring a breakout season in points for Charlie McAvoy or Matt Grzelcyk, they won’t have their next dominant offensive d-man either.
Not bringing back Krug would be a move the Bruins would regret throughout the entirety of the 2020s.
Prediction: The Bruins re-sign Krug to an eight-year deal with an average annual value of $7 million.
Zdeno Chara’s Future
Here’s another issue the Bruins will come to face on the back-half of this 2019-20 campaign, and it’s one they’ve been facing for the past few seasons.
When will Zdeno Chara hang them up?
This isn’t something that will define the decade, but Chara is their captain and has been a franchise-defining player for them since he signed in Boston prior to the 2006-07 season.
Even at 42 years old, Chara’s still been an effective, shutdown defenseman for the Boston back-end this season. When he finally does decide to retire, it’s unclear at this moment who would fill his shoes.
When you have someone with Chara’s impact on and off the ice, nobody can really fill those shoes completely. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Patrice Bergeron would be promoted to team captain and Brandon Carlo would get other team’s top guns full-time.
But even with that, it would still be weird seeing the Bruins without their 6’9″ leader every night. It’s become quite the norm over the past 14 years.
Prediction: The Bruins bring Chara back next season on the same deal he got prior to this one — one year, $2 million. He retires after next season.
Moving on from David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron
The thought of a Bruins team without the anchors of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci at center seems a bit weird.
Bergeron’s time in Boston began in 2003 and Krejci’s first full season started in 2007. Because of their development into elite centers, the Bruins seldom had to worry who would run the top two lines during the 2010s.
But it will be something the Bruins will most likely have to face over the next 10 years.
— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) January 7, 2020
Krejci is up first. He’ll be a 35-year-old UFA after the 2020-21 season. He’s already received his big contract. His next deal will be short-term. It’s hard to project out that far what the Bruins cap situation will be in the summer of 2021. The only other big decision will be Tuukka Rask, who becomes a free agent at the same time.
The other option is Krejci could opt to leave the NHL and finish his career in the Czech Republic.
“In seven years from now, if we’ll have what we’re trying to achieve, then it’s going to be an easier decision to go back home,” Krejci said after signing his current deal in Sept. 2014. “I’ve always wanted to finish my career back home in my hometown. That would be a way easier decision, but if not then I would have to think twice about my next move.”
Bergeron will be 36 when he becomes a UFA in the summer of 2022. It’s hard to imagine Bergeron leaving Boston and at 36, he’ll still have some gas left in the tank to play in the NHL. The only thing leading him towards retirement would most likely be injuries.
Whatever the future of these two, there’s a very, very, very good chance they won’t last the entire decade with the Bruins. Krejci will be 43 in 10 years; Bergeron will be 44. Unless they chug from the Fountain of Youth, they’ll both be happily retired come 2029.
Then it’s on the Bruins to find the next two guys to build off of down the middle. The B’s recently signed Charlie Coyle through the 2025-26 season, so it’s almost a given he’s at least the second line center of the future.
In the system, the two centers the Bruins have the highest of hopes for are Jack Studnicka and John Beecher. Studnicka is projected to slot in with Boston next season. Beecher’s a freshman at Michigan.
There’s still a lot the Bruins can do before then. But no matter what they do and how they develop talent, one fact will always remain true: championship teams are built down the middle.
Prediction: Krejci leaves for the Czech Republic when his contract expires and Coyle assumes the center slot on the second line. Studnicka eventually works his way up to becoming the second line center. Bergeron returns on a two-year deal after his current one is up; he retires prior to the 2024-25 season, which is when Studnicka becomes the No. 1. Beecher begins as the third-line center midway through the decade and then works his way up to being the second-line center behind Studnicka.
Life After Tuukka Rask
Along with almost never having to worry about who the two centers were on the top two lines, the Bruins never had to worry about not having a starting goaltender during the 2010s. The biggest changes came when Tim Thomas took the starting job back for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons and Rask was promoted to full-time in 2012-13. But never once was there a worry over who the next starter will be.
That will change over the next 10 years.
As stated earlier, Rask’s current deal makes him a free agent after the 2020-21 campaign. He’ll be 34 at the end of it. It’s hard to imagine Sweeney signing Rask to another long-term deal with an expensive cap-hit. The more likely option is he gets re-signed to a shorter deal that’s less than what he’s earning now.
— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) December 31, 2019
Still, the Bruins will have to put brain power toward figuring out who the next man in net will be. It’s hard to imagine they have that guy currently in their system. Kyle Keyser, Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman all look alright. But none quite look like the future of the Bruins in net.
Life after Rask surely won’t be as simple as life with him has been — a reality that will strike many Bruins fans who’ve complained about him since his early days. There’s a very good chance the next man isn’t quite as consistent as No. 40.
And that just might be the biggest challenge the Bruins face over the next 10 years.
Prediction: Once he hits free agency, the Bruins bring Rask back on a three-year, $18 million deal. At an AAV of $6 million, it won’t be a huge hit against the cap considering what other starters are making around the league. Sweeney will want to pay less but will meet Rask’s demands because of a lack of a replacement. Three years is the perfect term for Rask to finish off his career in Boston.
It’s also the perfect term to go out and find the next starting goaltender and those three years will be dedicated to that.