The Boston Bruins have achieved something few teams have over the last decade-plus in the NHL, which is to have built and presided over a sustainable ecosystem in salary cap era.
Three entries in the Stanley Cup Final spaced out well over the last 10 seasons is a remarkable achievement in this day of age, but what has really reflected the organization's strength has been its low points. Its worst season in 14 years was a 93-point campaign in 2015-16 where Boston missed the postseason by one count in "ROW" and finished with a goal differential 21 points better than the team that would qualify in its place.
There are several factors which feed into this contendership loop — buy-in, culture, draft and development are chief among them. But as we've learned and been forced to discuss and discuss some more in the salary cap era, no variable has a stronger influence on continued success than payroll management.
The Bruins are still reaping the benefits of locking their best players into team-friendly contracts before Connor McDavid moved the bar, establishing an internal hierarchy and ultimately preserving an important measure of roster flexibility. Put to good use, the Bruins did what other contenders couldn't even dream of this summer, attracting an assemblage of free agents for market value while also re-signing former MVP winner Taylor Hall.
We do also understand, however, that nothing lasts forever. And after the Bruins restored themselves over another summer, we might have the first sign of things inevitably falling apart.
Boston's captain and beating pulse, Patrice Bergeron, told reporters at the team's re-introductory golf event on Wednesday that he has no plans of signing a new contract this season, stating, “I’m going to play out this year and then talk about (contract matters) after."
This sort of quote could be filed under highly concerning for most athletes, but presumably not Bergeron. He's a lifelong Bruin, of course, who isn't looking to send a message to the organization or deflect from some other truth.
But the important context is that Boston's captain has been through a meat-grinder of a career to this point. Bergeron has a horrific injury history, once famously competing in the Stanley Cup Final with a punctured lung, while more importantly dealing acutely with nagging injuries over the last few seasons. He's remained productive and the axis of one of the best lines in hockey season after season, but the attrition of a lengthy career has unquestionably taken its toll.
Therefore, it's a legitimate question to ask: where will he be at the end of the 2021-22 season — his 18th in the league? And if Bergeron wasn't asking this question himself, why wouldn't he be eager to bring pen to paper on an extension — even if just for one season — as soon as possible? There would be no reason not to, unless Bergeron sees a scenario in which this season is the end.
Unlike other contract situations, this one won't bleed into other areas of the operation.
If anything, Bergeron's hesitance should place a heightened importance on this season. Fortunately for Boston, it's one that the Bruins seem uniquely prepared for — in large part due to those built-in advantages Bergeron has helped to cultivate.
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