NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
Many words have been written about the difficulties of repeating in recent NHL history.
It's true: No champion has defended its title since 1998 and it has happened only twice since 1989. Far less, however, has been written about the runners-up, the team that comes painfully close to capturing hockey's holy grail only to watch someone else celebrate the triumph.
The run to the Stanley Cup Final takes a similar toll on the loser, but without the reward. Sure, that provides motivation the following season, but it historically has been much harder to go from runner-up to champion than it is to defend a title.
The Pittsburgh Penguins did it recently, beating the Detroit Red Wings in a Final rematch in 2009. But it is a feat accomplished only three times since the League expanded beyond six times and only twice in the past 44 years. The Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s began when they defeated the New York Islanders in another rematch in the 1984 Cup Final.
|ONES TO WATCH
|R. Spooner, F
|M. Fraser, F
|J. Knight, F
|J. Morrow, D
|K. Miller, D
|N. Svedberg, G
That is the challenge the Boston Bruins face this season. The run to a second Cup Final in three years certainly exacted a physical toll -- several players finished the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs with injuries that lingered into the summer. Most famous among were the multitude of maladies Patrice Bergeron tried to play through against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Final, and the broken leg that Gregory Campbell sustained in the Eastern Conference Final.
"I think it should motivate us a lot," Bergeron said. "I mean, every year that you don't necessarily accomplish what you're there for, it's always motivation -- extra motivation -- that should help you the next year. I think refocusing is very important also. We can't really think too much about last year, but we need to use that as motivation for sure."
There were some significant changes during the offseason, but the spine of a twice-in-three-years Eastern Conference champion remains intact. The Bruins once again will be expected to compete for the Stanley Cup.
There are some key new faces among the forward corps, but the strength of the Bruins remains down the middle of the ice. Bergeron has proven himself as one of the top two-way centers in the sport, finishing in the top four in Selke Trophy voting the past three seasons.
His play in 2012-13 and in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs reinforced the notion that Bergeron is one of the top players in the sport, regardless of position or label. He would be a true No. 1, franchise-type center on many NHL teams, but he and David Krejci are in a 1A/1B situation for the Bruins. Krejci rarely gets mentioned among the top players at his position, but he's led the NHL in postseason scoring two of the past three seasons, including 26 points in 22 games last season.
Chris Kelly and Campbell will center the bottom two lines, and if Campbell and Bergeron show no ill-effects from their injuries, the Bruins again will have one of the deepest collections of two-way talent at a critical position.
The wings on the top three lines will look quite different for the Bruins in 2013-14. Gone are Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr, Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley, The first two were lost to free agency while the latter two were sent to the Dallas Stars in a major offseason trade.
Boston signed Jarome Iginla to replace Horton, and Loui Eriksson, acquired from the Dallas Stars as part of the Seguin trade, will slide into the Jagr/Seguin spot on Bergeron's line.
"I plan on just being myself,” Iginla said. “I definitely don't come in thinking that they need any leadership help or anything. They're a very strong crew and they've had a lot of success together, been together a long time, know each other well. I want to come and be myself. I don't want to be just a fly on the wall. But I think the biggest thing is just play hard and compete, and I think that's what these guys do so well."
Both Iginla and Eriksson could excel with the Bruins, but how the club replenishes the third line could play a large role. Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser, two players obtained along with Eriksson in the deal for Seguin and Peverley, have been competing with Carl Soderberg, Jordan Caron and Ryan Spooner for the wing spots alongside Kelly..
Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton should be reunited on the fourth line, or as it’s better known, the "Merlot Line." The Bruins are one of the best teams in the League at even strength, and the diverse abilities of its forward group are a big reason why.
Bergeron paired with the defense tandem of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg has become what Pavel Datsyuk (or Henrik Zetterberg), Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski were to the Red Wings during their back-to-back trips to the Final -- a devastating defensive triangle. Coach Claude Julien went away from that trio against the Blackhawks in the 2013 Final, possibly in part because of injuries to Bergeron and Chara.
IN: Loui Eriksson, RW (trade, Stars); Jarome Iginla, RW (free agent, Penguins), Reilly Smith, RW (trade, Stars); Matt Fraser, RW (trade, Stars); Joe Morrow, D (trade, Stars); Chad Johnson, G (free agent, Coyotes); Nick Johnson RW (free agent, Coyotes)
OUT: Tyler Seguin, RW (trade, Stars); Rich Peverley , C/RW (trade, Stars); Nathan Horton, RW (free agent, Blue Jackets); Andrew Ference, D (free agent, Oilers); Kaspars Daugavins, LW (free agent); Jay Pandolfo, LW (retired); Wade Redden, D (free agent); Aaron Johnson, D (free agent, NY Rangers); Jaromir Jagr, RW (free agent, Devils)
Still, Chara and Seidenberg are a menace to play against, though Julien could split them up for stretches of the regular season like he has done the past couple of seasons. Chara remains a consistent Norris Trophy candidate, while Seidenberg might be one of the top defense-first defensemen in the League.
Johnny Boychuk also is a big, physical defenseman who would likely play with Chara if Seidenberg does not. He offers more offensive aptitude than Seidenberg, but lacks some of his tactical savvy. The fourth spot among Boston's top four belonged to Andrew Ference, but he left for the Edmonton Oilers in free agency, and replacing him has been another key battle during training camp.
Dougie Hamilton offers the most upside, and likely will get the first opportunity to claim the job in the regular season. Torey Krug passed him on the depth chart during the postseason, and could continue to exceed expectations despite his diminutive frame (5-foot-9, 180 pounds). Another young defenseman, Matt Bartkowski, also is in the mix, but he is more likely to either serve as the team's seventh defenseman or split time with the steady Adam McQuaid.
"Obviously there are guys that are fixed in their position, but when you look at those three [Hamilton, Krug and Bartkowski], there's really three [defensemen] for two spots," general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "So I guess that doesn't rule out other [defensemen] that may be the seven. But common sense would dictate right now that it would be those three guys for those two spots. And they have embraced it and they've played well."
Tuukka Rask watched Tim Thomas help the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011, but the net will be his for a long time in Boston.
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Rask finished fifth in the Vezina Trophy voting last season, and then was a top candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy for helping the Bruins to the Cup Final. Rask then signed an eight-year, $56 million contract, and the expectations for him to repeat his 2012-13 success will be immense.
Anton Khudobin had a nice season as Rask's backup but left as a free agent. Chad Johnson was signed to a one-year contract to be Rask’s backup, but the Bruins also have a pair of enticing options in the system. Niklas Svedberg had a quality regular season with the club’s American Hockey League team in Providence before a disappointing Calder Cup Playoffs, and Malcolm Subban was the club's first-round pick (No. 24) in the 2012 NHL Draft. Svedberg and Subban could split time in Providence, or Svedberg could push his way into the backup role behind Rask.