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Bruins weigh whether to 'get younger' after being eliminated by Lightning – NHL.com

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The Boston Bruins once again are facing the question of whether their core players can help them win another Stanley Cup championship.

And after the Bruins were eliminated in five games by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Second Round on Monday, the question seems suddenly more pressing.

“The reality is as every team gets a year older, there’s an effect on the team,” coach Bruce Cassidy said Wednesday. “For us, I think every summer [general manager Don Sweeney] would tell you, we sit down, go over our team, we’re always trying to get bigger, faster, stronger, better. That’s just the way it is.

“Does that mean moving out younger guys, older guys, middle-of-the-road guys? There’s always that discussion.”

The first question is whether or not defenseman Zdeno Chara will return to the Bruins. The 43-year-old captain, the oldest player in the NHL, can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He signed a one-year contract in each of the past two seasons in March but did not do so this season. Chara said Monday that he has not decided whether he’ll seek to continue playing.

The other four members of the older core — centers Patrice Bergeron, 35, and David Krejci, 34; goalie Tuukka Rask, 33; and forward Brad Marchand, 32 — remain under contract for next season. Other key players, like 29-year-old defenseman Torey Krug, do not. The pending unrestricted free agent has become a significant part of the Bruins, including through runs to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013, when they they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, and 2019, when they lost to the St. Louis Blues in seven games.

Whether or not Krug and/or Chara return to the Bruins could go a long way toward shaping the way they look next season. After finishing ninth in the NHL this season with an average of 3.24 goals per game, Boston stumbled offensively in the postseason, scoring 2.23 goals per game, which ranks 18th. Cassidy cited two areas that will be crucial in improving that area: getting more shots through from the blue line and finishing once the puck arrives at the net.

The Bruins have some players emerging, including Charlie McAvoy, a 22-year-old who has taken over for Chara as the No. 1 defenseman. They have David Pastrnak, a 24-year-old forward who tied Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals for the NHL lead in goals this season with 48, and who Cassidy said played the entire postseason with a lower-body injury. Forwards Jake DeBrusk, 23; Karson Kuhlman, 24; Jack Studnicka, 21; and Anders Bjork, 24, have shown promise.

Video: What’s Next for the Boston Bruins After 2020 Season

Putting those pieces together with possible additions through free agency will be the main task in the offseason. It will be about how to squeeze as much as possible out of the remaining core and determining if Boston will then need a full rebuild or whether there’s a way to transition smoothly from one core to another.

“How do you supplement a core that’s got another year on them?” Cassidy said. “I think we’ve done some good with that over the years. Obviously, to stay very competitive, be one of the elite teams in the League, we’re going to have to supplement more. We’re going to have to look at, are the right pieces around them? Are we coaching them the right way? Do we need to change our systems now because of the way we’ve lost out in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs? So those are all realistic questions.”

There are other areas that the Bruins will have to address, including whether they have the personnel to defeat the Lightning after two five-game exits in the second round against their Atlantic Division rivals in three seasons.

“We just have to be careful, sit back for a bit and say, OK, is there reason — do we need to get younger?” Cassidy said of a roster that has an average age of 27.4, tied with the Florida Panthers for 13th-youngest in the NHL. “Have some of these guys aged out? Did we put them in the right position to succeed? Is there a lot more to give? I think there is, personally.”

This core won a Stanley Cup championship in 2011 by defeating the Vancouver Canucks and has made the Final two other times. At some point, the Bruins need to transition to the next group. When that happens and who is part of that core are questions that need to be answered.

“We want that continuation to start at some point for the second layer,” Cassidy said.

Those were the players that Cassidy challenged to step up during the back-to-back games in the playoffs, especially in Game 3 against the Lightning.

The Bruins lost 7-1.

“Going forward I think they do have to be a little more accountable to the group if this team is going to have another decade like we just had,” Cassidy said. “That’s really getting ahead of ourselves, but the messaging is that, ‘We’re relying on you guys. Now you’ve watched the Bergerons, Charas, Marchands, Krejcis, now it’s your turn to take control a little bit.'”

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