That has been made clear with the re-signings of centers Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell this week on the heels of forward Daniel Paille's extension earlier this month. That could also be a concern considering those 2011-12 Bruins were ousted from the playoffs in the opening round.
But the 2012-13 Bruins will also look an awful lot like the 2010-11 Bruins. That's a little more reassuring considering the fact that it was that group that finally ended Boston's 39-year Stanley Cup drought. That championship came less than a year ago, with the first anniversary of the Bruins' Game 7 win in Vancouver coming on Friday.
With that victory still so fresh, it makes sense that the Bruins would do everything they can to keep the core of that championship squad together. That process included making sure Kelly and Campbell remained in the fold.
"Both these guys are glue guys," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said on a conference call to discuss the signings on Wednesday. "They're two really important pieces to our team, and to our effort to try to keep the team together as much as possible."
The Bruins now have 12 forwards under contract to return from last year's team. Those 12 forwards were all part of that Cup-winning team as well. Chiarelli had considered the possibility of making some changes, and he stated at the club's breakup day after the Bruins were eliminated in the playoffs that he would be in the market for a top-nine forward.
That may still happen, but there isn't going to be a radical makeover of the team. And if there are no opportunities to add a free agent forward that Chiarelli feels comfortable with, he's perfectly content with the forward corps he has now.
"I feel really good with our lineup right now," Chiarelli said. "To add a player liked I talked about still isn't out of the realm of possibility. It gives me a lot of flexibility going into free agency, but this is as solid a forward group as you can get.
"If we do nothing, that's fine," Chiarelli added. "But if something comes across that looks attractive and we have to look at it, we'll certainly look at it."
Chiarelli also hasn't ruled out bringing back yet another forward from last year. Benoit Pouliot wasn't a part of the 2011 championship, but he did show flashes of the skill that made him the fourth overall pick of the 2005 draft and the Bruins are still considering re-signing the restricted free agent. Chiarelli said he didn't "have any news on him at this point," Chiarelli said. "He's a possibility [to return]."
Even without Pouliot or any additions through free agency or trades, the Bruins appear pretty solid up front. While there are still some concerns about Nathan Horton's return from a concussion that ended his season in January, the Bruins did finish tied for second in the NHL in scoring after averaging 3.17 goals a game and featured six 20-goal scorers.
They have the opportunity to keep together lines with proven chemistry with David Krejci between Milan Lucic and Horton, Patrice Bergeron flanked by Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin and the fourth unit once again featuring Campbell between Paille and Shawn Thornton. Kelly will again center the third line, likely reuniting with Rich Peverley with Jordan Caron holding the inside track for the opposite wing unless Pouliot returns or another veteran is added.
There will still be competition for spots though, with Chris Bourque added, prospects Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner close to being ready to make the leap to the NHL and the likes of Lane MacDermid, Craig Cunningham and Max Sauve vying to move up from Providence.
That continuity hasn't come cheap, with all 12 of the returning veterans up front featuring cap hits in excess of $1 million. That includes Campbell's new three-year deal with an annual cap hit of $1.6 million and Kelly's four-year deal worth $3 million annually. In all, the Bruins have nearly $36 million tied up in their top 12 forwards. That doesn't include the $4 million Marc Savard will make, though that won't be an issue cap-wise with the ability to put him on long-term injured reserve as he is not expected to play again with ongoing post-concussion symptoms.
The $5 million of dead money for Tim Thomas while he sits out the upcoming season is a bigger problem, but Chiarelli stated that he does not believe that will prevent him from assembling the team he wants next year.
It just so happens that the team Chiarelli wants looks pretty familiar. If these Bruins can produce the kind of results they did in the spring of 2011, that will be a very good thing for Boston indeed.
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