It’s amazing how quickly the blissful memories of winning a Stanley Cup can be forgotten. Hockey is a “what have you done for me lately” kind of business, and after earning eight of a possible twenty-two points to start the year, people are wondering what’s wrong with the Bruins. Are they really suffering the from the famous Stanley Cup Hangover?
Some Boston Bruins fans are calling for major changes, but it is far too early to consider breaking up the defending Stanley Cup champions. The reality is that no team in the NHL trades core players until after Christmas. The longer a GM holds onto an asset, the greater the eventual return. Every year at the trade deadline there is a team who thinks they are one player away from winning the Cup, and they are willing to pay a premium for that player.
If Bruins fans are looking for a cautionary tale they need only look six years into the rear view mirror. On August 11, 2005 the Bruins re-signed Joe Thornton to a 3-year $20 million dollar contract. On November 30, 2005 the Bruins traded Thornton to the San Jose Sharks for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau. No matter what you think of Thornton, this was a horrible trade for the Bruins. Even the biggest detractors of Thornton would concede that if the Bruins had waited until the deadline, they could have received a king’s ransom for “Jumbo Joe.”
So why are the defending Stanley Cup champions struggling to start the year? Firstly, it’s completely normal for a Stanley Cup winner to start the next year slowly. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2003-2004, Tampa Bay had to wait until after the lockout to defend their title. In 2006 they barely made the playoffs and were eliminated by Ottawa in five games. In 2007 they were once again eliminated in the first round, this time by the Devils in 6 games. Then the bottom truly fell out and Tampa was the worst team in the NHL the following two years. Those two dismal seasons led to the drafting of Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos so it wasn’t all bad, but the line between success and failure in the NHL is thin.
Take the Carolina Hurricanes as another classic example. They won the Cup in 2005-2006, but the following year they finished eleventh in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs. In fact, Carolina has made the playoffs only once since winning the Stanley Cup in ’06. How about the 2010 Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks? Last year they made the playoffs on the last day of the season, after the Dallas Stars lost their final game.
So what is common amongst these championship teams? They all went through a grueling, exhausting playoff run. Last spring the Bruins went to a game 7 in three of four rounds of the playoffs. That means they played 25 more games than teams that missed the playoffs, and up to 21 games more than everyone else. That is a lot of hockey and it’s a huge toll both emotionally and physically. Most Stanley Cup winners have a couple easy rounds along their Cup run, but that wasn’t the case in Boston last year. The Bruins had to scratch and claw their way through each and every round, and they easily could have been eliminated by Montreal in the first round. The Canadiens had a 2-0 series lead and were heading home but the Bruins found a way to tie it up, and then win the series in overtime in game 7. In the third round Tampa Bay gave Boston all they could handle, and the President Cup champion Canucks didn’t go down easy.
It is also important to note that certain Bruins players played the best hockey of their career during Boston’s Cup run, and it’s unrealistic to expect that level of play throughout this season. Tim Thomas played out of his mind for two months straight, Dennis Siedenberg played like a number one defencemen, and rookie forward Brad Marchand was dominant at times. These are all good players but you can’t expect them to play at that level for 82 games.
It’s easy to get caught up in wins and losses early in the season, but it is far too early to panic. Winning the Stanley Cup is extremely hard, repeating is even harder, Bruins fans need to relax.