Number two: Stanley Cup
After four decades, the Cup was brought home to the Causeway. No city in America has hungered for a championship at this level. The other three teams in town had won recently. The entire career of the legendary Ray Bourque was allowed to elapse without a Stanley Cup. Adam Oates, Cam Neely, Andy Moog all passed time in the spoked-b and never got a parade. Don Sweeney played and went to the front office rising in the ranks and helping young players reach the NHL. Claude Julien weathered years, and years of constant criticism by fans, former coaches, players running away to play elsewhere in the division.
To win the Cup, all the Bruins had to do was overcome major concussions to three of their top six forwards. They only needed to integrate three new players from three different teams and systems. They only needed to overcome a powerplay that was the worst in history. They only needed to overcome the top offense in the NHL, smother Stamkos, St Louis, the Sedins. It was just a small matter of overcoming Dwayne Roloson, Vezina nominee Roberto Luongo, Selke winner Ryan Kesler, arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens. Along side all of that they had to overcome history. Multiple failures, non more spectacular or recent than their collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers the year before.
But they did all of it. They won. The captain who’s leadership was questioned. The goalie who was doubted and discarded. A forward group who was ridiculed right, left and center for lacking a true superstar. A coach who averaged 100+ point seasons but had been fired across the conference. The general manager shredded in public for getting “no return” on Kessel. The ownership constantly mocked for spend thrift ways. From Jeremy Jacobs to the least of the assistants getting the locker rooms, practice facility and travel arrangements ready to Julien, the scouts, Bergeron, Thomas, Marchand, Chara and all the rest. One team, one quest, one goal one cup.
Number One: Reaching For Dynasty
Repeating as champion in any sport is difficult. You need to beat the odds, not once, but twice. Even if you’re skilled you need to be healthy. If you have chalked up luck, skill and health there is still the question of heart. As we’ve seen in teams in hockey, and in other sports luck all by itself only gets you so far. All the skill in the world can only carry a team to the cusp of greatness. The Bruins had all those elements at once, and the will to seize the opportunity in front of them. They did.
In the salary cap era, no team has managed to repeat. No back to back championships for any NHL team. The Detroit Red Wings came closest, but in that last gasp against the Penguins it all slipped away. They’ve drifted further and further from the top each year as health, and heart slip away. The Penguins had an enormous fire sale after winning the Stanley Cup in their second straight trip to the finals. The Chicago Blackhawks cap handling issues were so well known that everyone knew this was the one shot they had to make good on the dream. Their firesale was in such dire need they couldn’t even wait for the team to have all the players have their day with the Stanley Cup. More than half the roster was turned over. The Bruins don’t find themselves in any of those situations.
The Boston Bruins started their follow up season with almost the same roster they won the cup with. Just three players gone. One who didn’t fit. One who was aging and retired. A third was talented but not part of the core. A lucky strike in free agency added to the treasure trove of talent. Resigning a critical RFA was immense. Contributions from the farm system also helped. Today, six months after winning the last horn sounded in Vancouver, the Boston Bruins are a better team than they were. Because there was so little change and so much hope, despite the soul sucking hangover of the early season, the teams sellout streak continues, other teams have to play up to them. The odds say they are the best, their scoring and defense say so as well. The standings don’t add doubt. The standings, the odds, the skill the heart, and championship roster await only health, luck and opportunity to win it all again. That makes the reach for dynasty the best of 2011.