Now that the astounding 2013 season is complete, the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins can step off their magic carpet rides and join the other 28 teams that are trying to retool and prepare for next season, thankfully one that will last more than 48 games. As so often happens after a deep run in the playoffs, the Hawks and Bruins will face challenges in keeping their rosters close to whole while staying under the new $64.3 million salary cap (down from $70.2 million), because a number of valuable role players revealed their increasing value with strong showings in the postseason.
Here's a quick look at what each team has in store:
They are better positioned to stay intact than they were after winning the Cup in 2010, when a cap crunch forced them to move valued role players Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg, and let starting goalie Antti Niemi go as a free agent, during the offseason in order to keep their core in place for several years. (Troy Brouwer departed via trade in June 2011.) GM Stan Bowman inherited much of his A-roster from Dale Tallon, who doesn't get nearly enough credit for putting it together, but give Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville full marks for taking a team that was depleted by financial constraints and building it back up with complementary parts such as overlooked draft gems Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad as well as ace penalty killers Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik.
Of everyone on Chicago's roster, power forward Bryan Bickell figures to cash in as an unrestricted free agent and could be positioned to do that somewhere else. Bickell benefited greatly from his periodic move to the Blackhawks' top line, where his emerging power game was a fine complement to the playmaking of Jonathan Toews and the sniping abilities of Patrick Kane, the latter of whom won the Conn Smythe Trophy after a clutch run in the playoffs.
Other Hawks -- forwards Michal Handzus and Viktor Stalberg, defenseman Michal Rozsival and goalie Ray Emery -- should re-sign or not be significantly missed if they go elsewhere. Expect Stalberg to leave, since he was openly disappointed with his reduced playing time in the playoffs. With most of the Hawks' top players signed to long term deals, the team's balanced lineup, with an under-30 nucleus of Toews (unrestricted in 2015-16), Kane (2015-16), Corey Crawford (2014-15), Duncan Keith (2023-24) and Brent Seabrook (2016-17) should keep Chicago poised for a long run at the top of the league.
Their future is less clear. Boston's defense looked tired at the end of the Cup final, especially 36-year-old captain Zdeno Chara, so having gotten some playoff seasoning for talented rookie Torey Krug, 22, and apprentices Dougie Hamilton, 20, and Matt Bartkowski, 25, should serve Boston well next season. Chara prides himself on being able to sustain heavy minutes on the ice, but he can't keep doing it forever, and the Blackhawks learned that in a long series, if they dumped the puck into his corner, turned him around and bumped him whenever possible, they could reduce his effectiveness. Veteran defensemen Andrew Ference and Wade Redden are also UFAs. Ference, 34, was a strong regular, and counting his early days on Calgary's 2004 Cup finalist team and then with the Bruins, he has logged 120 playoff games during his career. He's made $2.25 million per year for the last three years in Boston and the savvy backliner may be tough to keep at that price.
Forward Nathan Horton, who led the league with a +20 rating in the playoffs, is a UFA they'd miss. He made $5.5 million last season with a $4 million cap hit. He's a good Bruin, popular in the dressing room, and willing to subjugate his game for team success. He'll command a price on the open market and be tough to keep. At 41, Jaromir Jagr is also a UFA. He could certainly retire or go somewhere else, but given how much he enjoyed his stay in Boston, he may also play on the cheap if the Bruins think he has something left.
Expect restricted free agent goalie Tuukka Rask to sign a hefty longterm extension at an increase from the $3.5 million he made this season. With roughly $5.8 million available in cap space and 18 players re-signed for next year, the Bruins know they will need to keep some revenues in reserve if they want to re-sign star center Patrice Bergeron and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, both of whom will become UFAs after next season.
A Final thought
Boston fans will hate this analogy, but comparing the roller-coaster fate of the 2013 Bruins to any other pro sports organization almost requires a switch of cities and sports to recall -- cover your ears and hide your eyes, Boston -- the 2001 New York Yankees.
Hear it out.
The aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings brought back sad memories of the 9/11 disaster in New York. In both cities, the magical rides of sports teams seemed to offer a sense of distraction, if not quite normality, to populations that needed any forms of healing they could find. In the first baseball game played in New York 10 days after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Mets rallied for a dramatic late-inning victory against the Braves on Mike Piazza's two-run homer in the eighth inning. But it was the Yankees who seemed to be utterly charmed in their run to a championship. Twice in the World Series at Yankee Stadium, they were down to their last out when home runs sent Games 4 and 5 into extra innings, where they eventually won. Every hint of karma was going their way until the seventh game, when the fates turned upside-down and the Arizona Diamondbacks rallied against Mariano Rivera for two runs in the ninth inning of Game 7 to beat the Yankees, 3-2.
No team's journey came close to that one until the Bruins completed play this postseason. Surely their remarkable rally from three goals down in the third period in Game 7 of their opening-round series against the Maple Leafs indicated that the stars were aligned for them rather than against them. The script followed the same path until destiny bit them on the backside in the final game of the Stanley Cup Final against Chicago. Even so, once they get past the disappointment of losing, Bruins fans are likely to look back on the 2013 season in wonder as Yankee fans remembered 2001 and how that team was a balm and rallying point for their city.
So there's your day-after dose of sacrilege.