The Boston Bruins should have an easier time repeating than the last team to win the Stanley Cup.
Unlike the Chicago Blackhawks of a year ago, the Bruins are well-positioned under the salary cap to bring back virtually the same squad that ended a long championship drought.
In fact, only four players that suited up for Wednesday's Game 7 victory over the Vancouver Canucks are headed for free agency and one of them, 43-year-old forward Mark Recchi, has already announced that he's retiring.
No wonder some members of the team took a break between sips of champagne and allowed themselves to look ahead.
"The future looks bright with all the guys that we have," said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron, who had two goals in the deciding game.
If anything, general manager Peter Chiarelli might be looking to add a few pieces. He has US$52.2 million committed to 18 players next season — leaving him roughly $10 million to spend with the cap expected to be set around $62 million.
He'll also likely get back the $4 million in cap space dedicated to forward Marc Savard, who is expected to retire because of ongoing concussion symptoms.
Chiarelli's biggest decision will be determining the fate of defenceman Tomas Kaberle, who failed to provide the power-play boost the Bruins were looking for when they acquired him in a trade from Toronto midway through the year. The veteran earned $4.25 this season and is an unrestricted free agent.
Forward Michael Ryder is also eligible to become unrestricted on July 1 after earning $4 million.
The only other Bruins regular in need of a contract is Brad Marchand, who earned himself some extra money by scoring 11 times in the playoffs, including twice in Game 7 against Vancouver. The pesky forward is a restricted free agent who averaged a little over $821,000 on his entry-level deal.
Chiarelli's fingerprints were all over this Bruins roster. Just five players who appeared in Game 7 were originally drafted by the organization — Bergeron, Marchand, Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and David Krejci — while three of them were brought over at the trade deadline (Kaberle, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley).
"I think that Peter has put together a dream team — his dream," Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said prior to the Stanley Cup final.
A year ago, the Chicago Blackhawks had to dismantle a good portion of their roster almost immediately after lifting the trophy. GM Stan Bowman had all kinds of cap issues and dealt away Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel while walking away from goaltender Antti Niemi after salary arbitration.
They were weakened as a result and didn't lock up a playoff spot until the final day of the regular season. Vancouver eliminated the Blackhawks in the first round.
The changes should be far more subtle in Boston this summer. Chiarelli will likely look to add some depth and experience to the lineup while allowing prospects such as Steven Kampfer, Jordan Caron, Jamie Arniel and Zach Hamill to compete for a regular spot.
The expectations should be pretty high when training camp opens in 13 short weeks as Boston sets out to become the NHL's first repeat champion since Detroit in 1997 and 1998.
"I know it's early to say ... but you hope you get another shot at this, because it was a lot of fun," said Bruins coach Claude Julien.