By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON -- The one thing that might just save the Bruins in this Stanley Cup hangover season: The playoff-hardened youth that the Bs roster is built on.
The 22 players most likely to make up the Bs roster when the team breaks camp in the beginning of October averages slightly over 27 years old, and could be one of the many reasons the Bruins can buck a 14-year trend.
No team has been able to win back-to-back Stanley Cups over those 14 years, but its difficult to recall a defending champ with a nucleus as fresh-faced as the Bruins. Its hard to believe, but Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, Tuukka Rask and Nathan Horton are all 26 years old or younger and just entering the prime of their hockey careers.
That means the organization can still expect better performances from many of the players entering their athletic peaks, and should be locked in for at least another five years of elite performance in the Eastern Conference.
Certainly Tim Thomas is perhaps the single biggest singe factor behind Bostons run to the Cup, and the seasoned netminder is at an age (37) when most goaltenders have become coaches running goalie clinics. But if the Bruins are going to have continued success this season after capturing the Cup its going to be on the strength of the young skating legs up and down the roster.
It also means the rest of the young core needs to take ownership of the team within the dressing room, and become a big part of the leadership group policing themselves and each other. Bergeron is the most visible given his role as an alternate captain, and the fact that hes already been in the NHL for seven full seasons gives him the most gravity of any voice in the room.
I think we have to do it," said Bergeron. "We have to all find ways to be more vocal and grab some of that void that Mark Recchi left in that leadership role. We've just got to all step up and find a way to do it.
It's not about not being ourselves. Youve got to make sure you stay yourself and it comes out the right way. You can't just force it. That's the biggest thing when you make sure the message goes out.
Its certainly easier said than done, but the proof is in the performances moving forward. Horton was a playoff hero with Game 7 goals and an intimidating physicality, but the winger only scored 24 regular-season goals while adjusting to his first season in Boston. Krejci nearly matched his season goal production in 75 games with a team-best 12 goals in 25 Stanley Cup playoff games, and admits theres another level of consistency he can reach with the Bruins.
Lucic may be hard-pressed to again reach 30 goals this upcoming season as he did while breaking through last year, but theres no reason to think that Lucic and Marchand cant combine offense and tone-setting physicality for a team that thrives on both skills mixed together.
Rask is there to spell Thomas during the regular season and provide the 37-year-old netminder with a little bit of rest after the Vezina Trophy winner played in a whopping 82 games last year.
Perhaps the biggest X-factor is Seguin, who should be able to build on a promise-filled rookie campaign and could be the scoring catalyst that helps the Bruins pass right on by their hangover doldrums.
After all, hangovers were a lot less painful at 19 years old, werent they?
I think the one thing thats for sure is that weve still got a young team," Claude Julien said. "When you look at players on our top two lines they generally are all young. And it got a lot younger with Mark Recchi retiring. But somebody else is going to step in there and replace Recchi and its probably going to be a young player as well.
Theres no doubt that theres room to grow still and a lot of it will be experience. Last year with the experience from the playoffs it is certainly going to serve us well this year . . . if they want it to serve us well.
Older veterans like Andrew Ference, Shawn Thornton, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are still veterans capable of contributing heavily to whatever the Bruins do this season. But youth will have to be served if the Black and Gold are going to fare better than some of their fellow Stanley Cup champs over the years but the good news is that veteran youth is perhaps unlike anything the NHL has experienced in a long, long time.
Its going to be an interesting hockey season in Boston, and it starts with a group of homegrown young players that have grown to savor the taste of winning.