BOSTON - The Bruins' core group continues to play at an elite level.
Some 10 years after they hoisted the Stanley Cup, Patrice Bergeron is once again a finalist for the Selke Trophy, Brad Marchand is likely to finish in the top five of the Hart Trophy voting, Tuukka Rask is one year removed from being a Vezina Trophy finalist, and David Krejci remains the anchor of Boston's second line.
But there is no slowing down Father Time. Don Sweeney knows that well.
With Rask and Krejci set to hit unrestricted free agency later this summer and Bergeron and Marchand having added even more miles to their odometers - albeit a few less than usual during the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign - Sweeney knows that the status quo is unlikely to be good enough when it comes to competing for another Stanley Cup.
"I think we have to continue to add to the group. I don't think you can expect to bring the band back together if it wasn't able to complete and accomplish the ultimate goal in the last couple years," Sweeney said during his end-of-season media availability on Tuesday morning.
"And obviously they've been extremely close on several occasions. And having won it several years ago, they put themselves back into a position to compete for it and, ultimately, that's really what they ask. They ask you as an organization to surround them with quality people like themselves that can elevate their game and grow.
"To me, that's what it's all about. Can they continue to do it? The tread life of the tires, you don't get to swap that out. So, it's going to drop off. The performance level of several of the guys we've discussed has been pretty damn proficient over the years and we've been fortunate in that regard.
"They play hard. But they want to win and, ultimately, they want to be surrounded by good players, good teammates, and that's what we're going to try and continue to do."
Video: Sweeney talks following the '20-'21 season
Sweeney, no doubt, has his work cut out for him as the Bruins enter the offseason coming off their second consecutive second-round defeat. Now two years removed from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins remain committed to competing for another championship with Marchand and Bergeron leading the way.
But to do that, the B's brass knows it must complement their top dogs with supplemental talent.
"Charlie Coyle is an example of that. He came in and has done a good job," said Sweeney. "But we need to do a better job if we expect to win at the highest level and that's what we try and do as an organization. And those top-end players - albeit they've moved on a little bit the last couple years from an age standpoint - are still awfully competitive and still awfully productive players.
"[David] Pastrnak is a great example. [Charlie] McAvoy is a great example. These guys that are also at the elite level now can help drive and supplement and complement the group. As a management staff, we have to continue to find the right pieces to surround all those guys if they continue playing."
Sweeney believes that, in some regards, there is also a natural progression already underway within the Bruins dressing room as the group continues to integrate a younger core- McAvoy, Pastrnak, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk included - into more of a leading role.
"I think that's where our leadership group welcomes the opportunity for the newest player," said Sweeney. "Charlie in that case or Brandon in that case, a [players'] union representative. I think we're moving and allowing that to organically come to the surface without forcing anybody into those roles. And we're going to have to continue to do that.
"As the players age and move on, you have to have the next players, the next wave…and integrate those players into it so that they feel more comfortable as responsibility comes their way."
Bruins president Cam Neely was similarly frank in his assessment of where the group stands, saying that the club has to take "a hard look" at the roster this summer if they expect to contend for a Stanley Cup next season.
"I don't think we can look at the roster now when you lose in the second round and say you can compete for a Stanley Cup," said Neely. "I mean, players that are on that roster that are coming back certainly need to improve. Need to get more out of the third and fourth line…the second line, we didn't get enough of in that last series. I think we have to look at improving our roster to improve our chances to win a Cup.
"We've had a pretty good stretch here where we've gotten to the Finals a couple other times. Just haven't been able to close the door. We've got to take a hard look at our roster this summer. It ticks off one year older and that's something we're looking at.
"What do we need to do for this next wave here? It's something we have to work towards this offseason."
Video: Neely speaks with the media following '20-'21 season
In addition to Boston's existing free agents and the expansion draft taking priority over the next six to eight weeks, Sweeney noted the need to add more quality depth from the outside to make up for what was lacking in the B's loss to the New York Islanders.
"It showed up through the Islanders series, where we get dinged up and ran into some injuries," said Sweeney. "I think the depth of the Islanders roster and their scoring ability showed up and we just didn't get it done to the level that we needed to. Otherwise, we'd still be playing. So, we have to acknowledge the shortcomings, both at a player level and at a management level in terms of the roster composition.
"We have to target some areas and expect some improvement in some players that they would admit, and did admit, that they fell short in. How the pieces fall - we've been a very competitive team and we put ourselves in a position to compete at the Stanley Cup level. And we've just fallen short.
"Obviously, we got to the ultimate level a few years ago. Had really strong regular season, beat a very good team in Carolina a few years ago. Beat a very good team in Washington this year. We've just fallen short and haven't performed at the same level in the next round. That's what we want to do and do better."
Ultimately, Neely said, the exact direction of the Bruins' offseason will depend largely on whether the club can re-sign unrestricted free agents Krejci, Rask, and Taylor Hall.
"We have some holes if we can't get those guys signed and that will certainly dictate what direction we may have to go in," said Neely. "I can tell you this, I know that March and Bergy, understandably, would like us to take another run. If we get the pieces signed that we'd like to, I think it's worth taking one more shot at it here."