There's a common phrase in professional sports that says if youre not getting better, then youre getting worse.
If thats the case then the entire Eastern Conference outside of New York City and Carolina is getting worse, including the Boston Bruins.
The Nashville Predators matched the 14-year, mega-bucks offer sheet for stud defenseman Shea Weber, leaving the Flyers with a gaping defensive hole rather than a Chris Pronger replacement.
Ryan Suter and Zach Parise both went to the Minnesota Wild and the Western Conference.
In essence, the Rangers improved because they added Rick Nash without giving up any of their core pieces, and they addressed an offense that can at times be the teams biggest liability in John Tortorellas defensive system.
That makes a Rangers team that already gives the Bruins fits that much better.
Hes a good a really good player. Hes a very good goal scorer. Hes a big, strong player, said Peter Chiarelli. I dont really get into details as far as our negotiations, our discussions with Columbus.
The fact that the Rangers got him, I think its going to help their team. Theyre obviously in our conference and we play them more than we would play a team in the Western Conference.
The Carolina Hurricanes also were big winners this summer by trading for Jordan Staal and giving the Canes a pair of legit centers to go with the up-and-coming players around them.
The Bruins re-signed their own players and kept their core together the biggest priority after they won the Stanley Cup two years ago but avoided bringing in any players from the outside. Perhaps watching the Joe Corvo disaster unfold in Boston last season made them a little hesitant to bring in players from outside the Black and Gold program.
At the end of the day, when you look at it, its about the team. When certain players come in your lineup, it doesnt mean that its always going to work. Youve seen teams in the past that have loaded up with extremely skilled players and nothing was accomplished that they had hoped for, said Claude Julien. So Im one of those guys that believe in team. I think my example was my first year here. If you really look at the talent we had that first year compared to now, and we still made the playoffs.
It was because of team. That goes a long way. So they can do that, and theres no doubt they improve. But they still have to show it. My confidence right now is that this team is capable of playing against any team in this league with this lineup that we have right now.
While that belief is there across the board, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is still watching closely at whats going on around the league.
Were going to continue to improve. I dont want it to be misconstrued by just keeping the core intact that were standing pat here. When rivals make moves like that, when Philly has the offer sheet on Shea Weber, I dont lose sight of that stuff. I know that these are good teams that are getting better, said Chiarelli. So our foundation, our team right now, is quite good. Weve got some things that we may do at a later point.
We may wait until later this season. Were not standing still. With the Weber thing and the Nash thing, those are things that we certainly dont ignore we dont react right away but we certainly dont ignore."
But who else monumentally improved in the Eastern Conference?
The Penguins missed out on their big targets and lost Jordan Staal in one fell swoop. So not only did Pittsburgh not get any better, but theyre demonstrably worse than last year without addressing their defensive issues.
The Flyers traded away an up-and-coming scorer in James van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs for an overrated defenseman in Luke Schenn, and missed out on the summer's premium targets.
Bobby Ryan is still available, of course, but there are serious questions whether Anaheim will deal the high-scoring winger after watching the unimpressive return Columbus got in the Nash deal.
The Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres both got tougher and grittier in moves that will make the Northeast Division much like the old Adams Division bloodbaths of the past. But they havent done much to improve themselves otherwise.
Tampa Bay got a goaltender in Anders Lindback, but hes not even a proven starter at the NHL level. The Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators were playoff teams and didnt suffer big roster losses, but they havent made wholesale major improvements either.
Roberto Luongo may get traded to Florida, but he doesnt exactly strike fear into the hearts of anyone hailing from Boston.
Then there are the Eastern Conference teams that got demonstrably worse through departures and free agent desertions.
The New Jersey Devils were decimated by the departure of Parise and wont be making it back to the Stanley Cup Finals next season. The Washington Capitals lost the one coach in Dale Hunter that had managed to get Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin to buy into a system capable of winning hockey games, and Semin doesnt look like hell be going back to Washington.
It will certainly be more of a dog fight for the Bruins within their division next season. But theres nothing happening within the Eastern Conference to indicate Boston wont once again win the division next season, and perhaps do it as comfortably as they did last year in topping the Ottawa Senators by 10 points.
That would keep the Bruins among the top three finishers in the East as theyve been in three of the last four years, and among an elite group of Eastern Conference teams that havent exactly reinvented themselves this summer.