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3 things Blackhawks can learn from Bruins in retooling

Boston has successfully retooled around a core of stars, while Chicago has been outside the playoff bubble for three straight seasons. What’s the difference?

Boston Bruins v Detroit Red Wings”t Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

The Blackhawks and Bruins are two of the most successful NHL franchises during the past dozen years, with an obscene number of regular season points and playoff series wins.

In 2020, however, the Blackhawks are on track to miss the playoffs for a third straight season, while the Bruins are on pace for a Presidents’ Trophy win — their first since 2013-14, the season after Boston lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final.

Chicago, in fact, hasn’t won a playoff series since defeating the Lightning in the 2015 Cup Final, while the Bruins — who missed the postseason in 2015 and 2016 — are coming off a heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the Cup Final last June against a mutual rival in the Blues.

Look, the Blackhawks won three championships in six years and hold an advantage over every team in the category in the shootout era. When it comes to figuring out how to adapt to an ever increasingly fast paced game within the constraints of a salary cap, the Bruins have navigated those waters much more smoothly.

Here are three reasons why:

Draft hits

The 2014 NHL draft was a massive success for the Bruins, who took 2019-20 co-leading goal scorer and right wing David Pastrnak with the No. 25 overall pick. They also added center Ryan Donato (later flipped for center Charlie Coyle), center Danton Heinen (traded this season for left wing Nick Ritchie) and left wing Anders Bjork, all of whom have become regular NHLers. Other key additions via the draft include left wing Jake DeBrusk (2015, No. 14), defensemen Brandon Carlo (2015, No. 37) and Charlie McAvoy (2016, No. 14) and Jack Studnicka (2017, No. 53), all of whom will play huge roles in future success.

Successful coaching change

Bruins fans were dismayed when then head coach Claude Julien was fired in 2017, but it didn’t take too much to realize the 2011 Cup winner had run his course in Boston. Enter AHL affiliate coach Bruce Cassidy, who has guided the Bruins to a regular season record of 161-66-34 on top of an Eastern Conference championship in 2019. The post Joel Quenneville era in Chicago has been less than inspiring, to say the least.

Julien focused on a heavy, defensively-minded system, and to great effect as the Bruins bullied their way to a Cup win over the Canucks in 2011. Cassidy’s mandate was to help Boston general manager Don Sweeney transform the Bruins into a more up-tempo squad that relies more on speed and skill, surrounding the veteran core with young talent the new coach worked with in the AHL.

It’s a good reminder that roster composition and coaching style must go hand in hand.

Salary cap buy-in

This is where the Bruins have set themselves apart: managing to convince key players to re-sign for well below market value. The trio of center Patrice Bergeron ($6.875 million), Pastrnak ($6.66M) and left wing Brad Marchand ($6.125M) earn less than center Jonathan Toews and right wing Patrick Kane combined, and they’re producing at elite levels. Carlo and McAvoy recently agreed to team-friendly bridge deals as restricted free agents, and only center David Krejci ($7.25M) and goaltender Tuukka Rask ($7M) have anything even close to a questionable contract. If Sweeney can convince defenseman Torey Krug to re-sign, he might be given a key to the city.

It might be too late for the Blackhawks to learn lessons from the Bruins that can be used to build around their winning core from days past.

Toews, Kane and defenseman Brent Seabrook (at the very least) were handed deals that hamstrung Chicago cap-wise; draft misses (Alex DeBrincat aside) failed to replenish the system with affordable talent; and Jeremy Colliton has not proven to be a suitable replacement for a legendary coach.

A wholesale rebuild may not be possible, but Chicago general manager Stan Bowman and company should focus more on the future than trying to push square pegs through round holes.