Is NHL’s Return-To-Play Plan Good Or Bad For Bruins’ Stanley Cup Quest?

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So, how will the bubble life affect the Boston Bruins?

It’s an impossible question to answer with any sort of certainty. The NHL’s return-to-play plan is unprecedented, and we’ve never seen anything like it in modern sports let alone the modern NHL. Like anything related to the coronavirus in the last four months of hell, anyone who claims to know how it’s going to play out probably has no idea.

But that doesn’t stop us from speculating and predicting and trying to assess the situation. As it relates to the Bruins, few teams’ situations are as interesting upon entering the bubble in Toronto or Edmonton.

The Bruins’ biggest concern (from a hockey perspective, at least) has to be rust. And in that same vein, can Boston’s older roster regain its legs and be ready to pick up right where it left off in March?

Only two remaining teams, Nashville and the New York Islanders, entered the season with older rosters than the Bruins. Now, Boston’s average age did dip a little when it traded David Backes, and there are some younger players who could contribute if called upon over the next two months. The thing about the Bruins, though, is some of their most important players are a little longer in the tooth. Zdeno Chara, of course, is the NHL’s oldest player. Patrice Bergeron turns 35 at the end of the month, and that’s a hard 35 given his injury history and the fact he made his debut at 18. The Bruins’ two goalies, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, are 33 and 34, respectively. David Krejci is 34 with more than 1,000 career games (counting playoffs) under his belt.

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It’s not just the age. The NHL’s COVID-19 pause forced players to stay away from their practice facilities, and quarantines kept them out of the local rinks for three months. For just about every NHLer, that’s the longest they’ve gone in decades without stepping on the ice. Now, they’re attempting to return from what’s essentially an extended offseason — with about two weeks of true ramp-up time. That could be tough for the older players. Or it could be a blessing in disguise. Maybe they all come back fresh and rejuvenated. Maybe the time off was just what a player like Bergeron, who has been running on empty at the end of long postseason runs, needed to recharge.

In addition to the age thing, it’s fair to wonder whether the Bruins as a team can once again be the dominant team they were before the pause. The Bruins’ final regular-season game was a dominant 2-0 road win over the Flyers on March 10. They went 16-4-0 over their last 20 games. They were the NHL’s best team, and they were rolling. Can they regain that? Of course. But it’s also not like they’re going to finish the regular season. If the Bruins — or any team — struggle early in the bubble, it will be a quick return trip home.

If you’re a Bruins fan, however, there’s also plenty of reason for optimism. Barring injury or virus outbreak or some Monstars-like talent drain, the Bruins are still really damn good. Like, really, really good. You’d rather be the best team going back to play than the worst, right?

Not only that, but Boston’s leadership group — led by players like Chara and Bergeron — is also as good as any other in the NHL or any sport for that matter. They have been through just about everything you could go through as NHL players. It’s going to take a special kind of focus for a team to go on the road for months at a time, take the proper precautions to ensure they don’t contract a highly infectious disease and, oh yeah, try to win the most demanding tournament in sports.

“We’re asking the leadership (group), I’m not sure it’s every day we’re drilling that into them, but can we carry that message and make sure players understand what’s at stake?” head coach Bruce Cassidy recently said. “You guys have been through it a little bit more and understand the sacrifices to win a Stanley Cup, and our players listen to them.”

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