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Core Values: Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask lay Bruins' foundation

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

The Bruins boast one of the league's elite goalies in Tuukka Rask. (USATSI)
The Bruins boast one of the league's elite goalies in Tuukka Rask. (USATSI)

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In the salary cap era, where NHL teams have to be efficient with their money, it's important for each club to have a core group of players who set the foundation on which to build the rest of the team. This group often includes the players who consume the bulk of a team's cap space, while also providing the greatest on-ice impact.

With that in mind, Eye on Hockey introduces our summer series: "Core Values." We'll take the rest of summer to evaluate the group of five to seven players who make up the core of each team. Using criteria like point production, average age, how the players were acquired, total cost and cap hit, we'll detail which teams have the strongest cores and which need work. On top of that, we'll also gaze into the future to look at the players who could one day be part of this crucial group for each team.

The Boston Bruins plowed through the Eastern Conference during the regular season and finished the 82-game marathon with the President's Trophy. They seemed an easy favorite to make the Stanley Cup Final, like many President's Trophy winners do, but as we know that didn't happen.

The second-round playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens is undoubtedly sticking in the craw of the Bruins as a whole. However, as teams around them made moves to try to improve, the Bruins were immobilized by having restricted free agents to re-sign and very little (or no) cap space to do it. Jarome Iginla was forced to walk to Colorado after the Bruins couldn't work out a deal under the tight cap, which was due in large part to the overage penalty attached to Iginla reaching his performance bonuses last season.

There may be some more player movement ahead as the team still has not re-signed defenseman Torey Krug and forward Reilly Smith, both coming off stellar seasons. Even after Marc Savard's contract comes off the cap due to long-term injured reserve, the Bruins are still going to be crunched. They would obviusly like to sign the duo that played so well last season, but it likely won't come without trying to move some salary.

The good news is that the veteran group at the center of the team is as good as any in the league. The team has its stars in Tuukka Rask, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, and Patrice Bergeron, the most recent Frank Selke Award winner, as well as perennial Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara. That trio sets the foundation, while others like David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic bolster the veteran base of the club.

It's that foundation that should keep the Bruins competitive over a longer stretch, but there could be changes to the lineup over the next few years as players age and contracts expire.

Here's a look at the core as it stands today.

Core Values: Boston Bruins

Players (Age, term remaining on contract): C Patrice Bergeron (29, 8 years), G Tuukka Rask (27, 7 years), D Zdeno Chara (37, 4 years), LW Brad Marchand (26, 3 years), LW Milan Lucic (26, 2 years), C David Krejci (28, 1 year)

Total cap hit for 2014-15: $36,166,667 (52 percent of cap space consumed by six players)

Average age: 28.8

Total point production in 2013-14: 115 goals, 168 assists, 283 points (40 percent of team's total production)

Boston Bruins Player Usage Chart via ExtraSkater.com*:

*Circle size represents time on ice, shade of circle represents possession (5v5 Corsi For percentage -- total shot attempts for relative to total shot attempts against). Blue represents CF percentage of 50 or better. Red represents below 50 percent. The darker the shade, the further away from 50 percent.

About the Core

Patrice Bergeron has become one of the most dominant centers in the NHL. (USATSI)
Patrice Bergeron has become one of the most dominant centers in the NHL. (USATSI)

Patrice Bergeron: Though he may never put up a point total that will make him one of the game's superstars, Bergeron is one of the NHL's most effective players overall. Bergeron eclipsed 30 goals for just the second time in his career last season and posted 62 points, while earning the deserved honor of winning the Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward for the second time. Looking at the usage chart above, you can see that Bergeron is excelling while taking on some of the toughest matchups a team has to offer. He's given the tough assignments because he not only handles them, but in the case of last year, he dominated them. His team posted Corsi rates 9.7 percent higher with Bergeron on the ice. That's massive. There isn't a player on the Bruins roster, with the exception of Rask, that altered the game more than Bergeron. With a Stanley Cup, two Selkes and two Olympic gold medals, Bergeron has already accomplished so much. Now 29, Bergeron has a long contract and a lot of responsibility. As long as he stays healthy, he should help the Bruins for years to come. How he was acquired: 2003 NHL Entry Draft, second round, 45th overall

Tuukka Rask: The reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Rask deserves as much credit as anyone for the Bruins' success last season. The Finnish netminder posted a sparkling .930 save percentage and 2.04 goals-against average while leading the league with seven shutouts. In 196 career appearances, Rask has a .928 save percentage and since he became an NHL regular in 2009-10 (though he started out in tandem with Tim Thomas), no goaltender has a better save percentage (Cory Schneider has a .928 mark as well). He has also put up spectacular numbers in the playoffs with a career .930 save percentage in 47 postseason appearances. To put it very simply, Rask has become one of the game's elite goaltenders. At just 27 years old, Rask has plenty of time to continue to maximize his ability. Even if his long contract outlives his effectiveness, the work he's doing now and over the next few years will probably make it worth it. How he was acquired: Traded by the Toronto Maple Leafs for Andrew Raycroft on June 24, 2006

Zdeno Chara: Perhaps he's a bit older, and maybe he's starting to lose a step, but Zdeno Chara remains one of the most dominant defensemen in the NHL. At 36 years old, he was the runner up for the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman. It's an award he has won once and been a finalist for six times. In 77 games last season, Chara put up 17 goals, two shy of his career best, and 40 points. He still averaged nearly 25 minutes a game and often saw the toughest minutes head coach Claude Julien could throw at him. The Bruins captain has four years remaining on his contract, which will expire when he turns 41. The decline may be beginning, but the good news for the Bruins is that there's a long way to go before he gets to the point where he isn't one of the game's best defensemen. In 602 career games in Boston, Chara has 343 points and has averaged nearly 26 minutes per game. Chara is indeed a beast in size, but perhaps more so in ability. How he was acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2006

Brad Marchand: Though best known for his ability to annoy and agitate opponents as effectively as anyone in the league, Marchand also boosts the Bruins' skill level up front and he has the production to show for it. Marchand posted his third 20-plus goal season in 2013-14 with 25. He finished fifth on the team with 53 points. Now that Iginla is gone, the Bruins will likely be looking for Marchand to step up further to help replace some of the scoring the team will lose in the wake of Iginla's departure. At 26 years old, Marchand's best years could be ahead of him. He has played just four full seasons in the NHL and arrived later than most high-end prospects would, but he has been a constant source of offense since he made the full-time leap. In 300 games, Marchand has 186 points. How he was acquired: 2006 NHL Entry Draft, third round, 71st overall

Milan Lucic: One of the more punishing forwards in all of hockey, Lucic is the type of player that it seems most teams drool over. His abrasive, physical style of hockey combined with some keen offensive touch has allowed Lucic to grow into one of those players that can satisfy traditionalists and new-school thinkers alike. With a 30-goal season in his recent past, Lucic's numbers have dipped slightly over the past two seasons. He still had a pretty solid showing in 2013-14 with 24 goals and 59 points to finish fourth on the team. He drops the gloves occasionally and is often eager to drop the big hit -- he was credited with 240 hits last season. It will be interesting to watch what happens over the next two years as Lucic plays out the end of his current contract. He's the type of guy that a lot of teams would be falling over to sign as an UFA, but odds are, Boston sees him as a long-term Bruin. How he was acquired: 2006 NHL Entry Draft, second round, 50th overall

David Krejci: The Bruins' leading scorer from a season ago, Krejci has been a constant source of production thanks to tremendous offensive skill. The gifted playmaker had 50 assists and 69 points last season, but he will be playing on the last year of his contract this season. Should the Bruins not be able to work out an extension, and figuring out the salary cap implications of signing him to a new deal is going to be hard enough, there's a chance Krejci could see his time in Boston end. It's not necessarily likely at this point, but it's an option. Though it seems like he has been around forever, Krejci is just 28 years old. He has 378 points in 504 games, all with the Bruins, and he remains an extremely effective forward. The decision on Krejci will be a tough one as the Bruins have to think about their future a bit. They're starting to bring in more high-end prospects at forward, but they probably wouldn't be able to match Krejci's production for a while. That means Krejci's value to the team only rises as would his salary. It's going to be an interesting scenario that has a long way to go before it can play out as the B's first have to figure out how to stay under the cap this season. How he was acquired: 2004 NHL Entry Draft, second round, 63rd overall

Who's next in line

Dougie Hamilton leads a group of youngsters that could make a long-term impact. (USATSI)
Dougie Hamilton leads a group of youngsters that could make a long-term impact. (USATSI)

One of the great things about the Bruins as they are presently constructed is what they're getting out of their depth players. The fact that the core has to do a lot of the big work, but not wholly carry the team helps the Bruins a great deal. It's OK to lean on the core, but the less you have to, the better off you'll be.

What's also interesting is the youth that's starting to populate an aging roster. It seems reasonable that defenseman Dougie Hamilton is going to be the future of this Bruins team. After Tyler Seguin was traded away, the pressure is on Hamilton to ensure the full value of the Phil Kessel trade with Toronto is attained. The youngster was given more responsibility last season, but he still has a lot to learn, which is why I hesitated putting him in the core now even though most indicators would suggest he should be. One more step forward this season and the Bruins can start thinking about long-term plans for the young rearguard.

It's not just Hamilton though. Defenseman Torey Krug had a tremendous rookie season with 40 points from the blue line. The undersized defenseman has to be protected in his usage, but as long as he's taking advantage of it, that's all that matters.

Reilly Smith, acquired as part of the Seguin trade with the Dallas Stars, had a fantastic season with 20 goals and 51 points. He very well could be a core player of the future.

That said, neither Krug nor Smith are signed right now and await new deals as restricted free agents. The club has to find a way to keep cap compliant and get them new deals. That's a tough task.

Though not necessarily young, Carl Soderberg is still relatively new to the NHL. His 48 points in 73 games last season was a pleasant surprise for the Bruins and they'll be looking for more of the same from the talented, yet blue-collar Swede.

There's also some quality in the prospect system with goaltender Malcolm Subban showing a lot of promise, as well as highly skilled Russian Alexander Khokhlachev. Each had breakout season in the AHL in 2013-14.

Additionally, the team just drafted a prospect it is very high on already in Czech native David Pastrnak. He played in the Swedish pro leagues last season and had 24 points in 36 games, a stunning total for a player of his age. Pastrnak may even have a chance to make the Bruins out of camp this season.

Overview

Boston's core group is important, but as noted, a lot of the Bruins' success has to do with their depth. The layers of scoring they have to their lineup is so helpful.

Dennis Seidenberg has been a top defenseman for the club, but after losing most of last season to a severe injury, I thought it a tad too risky to include him as a core player going forward. The 33-year-old blueliner has four years remaining on his contract and likely remains a vital part of the defensive corps as he has recovered from his season-ending injury.

Johnny Boychuk, who has one year remaining on his deal, is also of intrigue on the back end. He could be a trade chip if the team gets desperate under the cap, but his value to the club remains high.

Additionally, trying to get a fully healthy season out of Loui Eriksson could help mitigate some of the lost offense from Iginla's departure. Eriksson, part of the Seguin trade with Dallas, missed 21 games last season with injuries including concussions. If he can get his legs back under him and stay on the ice, it would be fair to expect a big uptick in production from the Swede.

Once the Bruins can get the salary cap situation settled this summer and sign Krug and Smith, they'll be better able to lay out long-term plans for the organization.

Again, it comes back to that base. Bergeron and Rask as the nucleus is a good place to be as an organization. There are few players in the league that can impact the game as effectively as those two.

As Chara ages, the team will have to hope it can put more responsibility on the shoulders of the likes of Hamilton and possibly others. It will be on those players to step up and try to ensure less of a drop off when the perennial Norris contender is done. That won't be easy.

The Bruins are in an enviable position currently with their lineup, even with the salary cap headaches. They'll have to try to infuse a little more youth over the next few years, but the club has a really solid foundation already set and should be one of the East's toughest teams once again in 2014-15.

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