"Well there hasn't been too many repeat champions in a while and the one thing that I know right now, my feeling is I'd like to be one of those," Bruins coach Claude Julien said at the club's breakup day. "Once you've been there, you want it even more."
Julien is right, teams don't usually get to sip from the Cup in successive years anymore. Gone are the days of the Oilers' dynasty winning five titles in seven seasons from 1984-1990, which followed the Islanders winning four straight and the Canadiens claiming four of their own right before that.
No team has won even two in a row since the Red Wings repeated in 1997 and 1998. Detroit was the only team in the last nine years to even come close, losing to Pittsburgh in the 2009 Final one year after beating the Penguins. Of the other eight champions since 2002, only one even managed to get past the opening round of the playoffs the following year, while Carolina didn't even qualify for the postseason to defend its title in 2007.
There are plenty of reasons to explain the struggles recent champs have had in retaining their titles. It is difficult to keep a championship roster intact in the salary cap era. The 2010 Blackhawks are an extreme example with how they were forced to dismantle their lineup, but every team that wins faces difficulties keeping some players, as success comes at a hefty price come contract time.
The Bruins are one of the rare championship teams to have largely avoided that fate. They lost a few regulars, most notably with Mark Recchi retiring and Michael Ryder signing with Dallas, while deadline acquisition Tomas Kaberle signed with Carolina and depth defenseman Shane Hnidy will not return. But everyone else is back, as the Bruins retain 12 of the 14 forwards from their playoff roster, six of their top eight defensemen and both goalies.
"It's great," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "We were talking about it after we won, almost everyone is coming back. That's a really good feeling. The great thing is we're still a young team. We shared the best thing together as a group, and I think when you do something like that and you get to go back out there and play with the guys you just won with, there's always going to be that excitement playing with each other."
The Bruins won't be able to avoid some of the other factors that have stymied recent Cup champion's quests to repeat.
The grind of the Stanley Cup playoffs takes a toll the following season. The Bruins played 25 games in the postseason. That's the equivalent of more than a quarter of a full regular season, with each of those games played at an intensity far greater than any regular-season contest. Boston now faces a short offseason to recuperate and prepare for a new season.
When that season does start, they'll find they suddenly have a bull's-eye on them, as every team they play will bring a little extra intensity than usual in an effort to knock off the champs.
"It's going to be a challenge, not many teams repeat," Bruins forward Gregory Campbell said. "Everybody measures themselves against the champions. But I think we'll have a great team next year."
The Bruins do have the makings of a great team for many years to come. Of the players projected to open the season in Boston, 10 are 25 or younger, with another six under 30. Only captain Zdeno Chara (34), goalie Tim Thomas (37), defenseman Andrew Ference (32), forwards Shawn Thornton (33) and Chris Kelly (30) and newcomer Joe Corvo (34) can be considered graybeards among this group.
"Peter's done a good job," Thornton said of how general manager Peter Chiarelli has assembled the club's roster. "The team's still young. Other than myself and a couple of other guys, everybody's in their mid-20s or early-20s, just hitting their stride and they're locked up for a few years. So it could be exciting around here for years to come."
The Bruins would be wise not to squander the special opportunity they have here. Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Co. won just two Cups with their amazing assembly of talent in the early 1970s, and Boston had to wait nearly four decades for another title. Injuries and defections to the World Hockey Association helped bring an end to that budding dynasty.
The Bruins hope to avoid any injuries to key players, but they will have their own economic issues to deal with. While the team returns largely intact for this season, they have David Krejci, Adam McQuaid, Benoit Pouliot and Tuukka Rask scheduled to be restricted free agents and Kelly, Thornton, Campbell, Rich Peverley, Daniel Paille, Johnny Boychuk and Corvo unrestricted free agents next summer. Lucic, Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin, Ference and Thomas will be up for new deals the following year.
Keeping this team together won't be easy, especially if the cap is reduced after a new CBA is hammered out next year. But if Chiarelli can keep this young core together, the Bruins could have a chance to enjoy spending some more time on duckboats in the coming years.
NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be answering one question facing the Bruins this offseason each day until Aug. 8.
Wednesday, July 13: How long before Dougie Hamilton can make an impact in Boston?
Friday, July 15: Will the Bruins miss Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle?
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