The Boston Bruins have been one of the best teams in the NHL’s salary-cap era. They’ve been to the Stanley Cup Final three times, winning once, and have made the playoffs in all but four of the 14 salary-cap seasons. You can bet they’ll be there again this season, but the end of their reign is coming.
In The Athletic’s farm system rankings, Corey Pronman has the Bruins ranked 29th out of 31 teams. That puts them two places down from where they were last year. “As a contender, the Bruins have traded a few picks in recent years, picked high and two-thirds of their 2015 first-round picks have not looked incredibly promising, resulting in a bottom tier farm system. ” (from ‘2019 NHL farm system rankings: No. 29 Boston Bruins,’ The Athletic – 13/08/19)
Not a good look for a team that is aging in all the wrong places. As Pronman mentions, the beginning of these painful rankings can be traced back to the 2015 NHL Draft — where the Bruins held three first-round picks. In that draft, they held the 13th, 14th, and 15th overall selections. This is a franchise-altering scenario, especially when you consider how good the Bruins would remain for years to come. That would have allowed ample time for the development of the 2015 draft class.
What’s puzzling, and it was at the time as well, is why the Bruins went off the board with all three picks. If there was a consensus at the time as to where the three players would be picked, it would have been late-first round. To make matters worse, the Bruins had a chance to move back in the first round, but declined because they wanted Zach Senyshen so bad.
“Sweeney said the team could have moved back, but decided against it because they weren’t sure that Senyshyn would still be there.” (from ‘Bruins use trio of first-round picks on a defenseman, two wings,’ Boston Globe – 26/6/15)
Looking back, the first day of the 2015 NHL Draft turned out worse than expected for the Bruins. Here’s a look at where some outlets had the Bruins’ three picks in their final rankings.
|Player||Bruins||ISS Hockey||Hockey Prospect||McKenzie|
DeBrusk is the exception in the group. He’s developed into an excellent player for the Bruins and will be for years to come. However, that one reach that panned out doesn’t erase the other two missteps when we consider the quality of the 2015 draft — and where it left the Bruins’ future. Of the three rankings listed above, only Bob McKenzie had any ranked in the teens.
Zboril and Senyshen have combined for four NHL games. While Zboril has shown some improvement from his first AHL season to his second, the same can’t be said for Senyshen. At this point in time, the future for Senyshen is bleak as an NHL player. Sure, teams reach in the first round all the time — they don’t reach three times in a row in the first round during the same draft.
Though they still have a good player in DeBrusk, this is important because the three players chosen immediately after the Bruins selected Senyshen were Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot. None of those players would have been a reach. Some would have been a steal just based on the rankings by the three outlets above. It’s easy to picture a different outcome in the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals with those three players in the lineup. All they had to do was stay on the board.
They’re Still Great, For Now
Now, I recognize that the Bruins are still a top NHL team, but that is going to end at some point thanks to their lack of depth in their prospect system. Patrice Bergeron is 34 years old, David Krejci is 33, Brad Marchand is 31, David Backes is 35, and Zdeno Chara is as old as Gandalf.
With no new (really talented) blood coming up, the Bruins are left staring at an aging group with no replacements. It’s certainly less upsetting when you are one of the best teams in the league, but it has to be in the back of everyone’s minds as the clock continues to tick. There won’t be much help coming for the prospect pool, either, as the Bruins figure to be late-first-round picks for at least the next two seasons.
They remain an annual contender thanks to the incredible contracts of Bergeron, Marchand, and David Pastrnak, and the flexibility that comes with that. They’ve been able to mask some overpayments with these contracts. By the time Bergeron’s contract ends, age should have caught up to most of the Bruins star players. The true impact players that will be left are Charlie McAvoy, DeBrusk, Pastrnak, and — to a lesser extent — a 34-year-old Marchand. As great as Bergeron is, age 37 isn’t kind to anyone.
That group will still keep them competitive, but they won’t be the Stanley Cup contenders they currently are. The Bruins’ long reign has been impressive and, to a certain degree, has flown under the radar in the shadows of the Penguins, Blackhawks, and Kings. Three Stanley Cup Finals appearances in 14 years is a difficult achievement, but they are looking at a very long road back when their stars have aged beyond repair.