Signings, trades and drafts: How the Stanley Cup finalists were built

HC analyst Brian Burke joins the Starting Lineup to discuss the St. Louis Blues story as one we'll take about historically, going from dead last in January to the Stanley Cup Final.

The stage is set for the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, and what a journey it’s been to get there.

The St. Louis Blues completed one of the greatest comebacks we’ve ever seen just to get into the post-season and then raised the bar yet again by defeating the Jets, Stars and Sharks to return to the Cup Final for a rematch 49 years in the making.

The Boston Bruins, meanwhile, survived a spring filled with upsets to get back to the Final for the third time since 2011, going through Toronto, Columbus and Carolina in the process.

Both teams’ general managers, St. Louis’s Doug Armstrong and Boston’s Don Sweeney, were named finalists for GM of the year — not surprising, considering the success of their respective teams. But in taking a closer look at how each roster has come together, it’s interesting to see how these two GMs built their squad and compare the makeup of the two.

They’re pretty different.

For example, Armstrong has proven to be a savvy trader, landing several key players on the market, while Sweeney’s shorter tenure at the helm in Boston has seen him focus on fine-tuning his roster and re-signing franchise cornerstones to make the strong core already in place even stronger.

It’s worth noting here that while both teams have seen a long list of players suit up over the course of the 2018-19 campaign, we’re keeping this deep dive limited to the current 23-man roster of players who spent the bulk of the regular season with the big club or who have factored in significantly to the team’s playoff run.

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BOSTON BRUINS

We’ve seen a lot of new faces this spring, with several surprise teams making unexpected Cup runs — but the Bruins aren’t one of them. This is Boston’s third trip to the Stanley Cup Final in the salary cap era (Boston won the Cup in 2011 and lost it in 2013) and they’ve managed to keep the same core intact: Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask. Rask, of course, was Tim Thomas’ backup during the Bruins’ Cup win and now has another shot to win it as the starter.

Since the salary cap was enforced in 2005, we’ve seen five teams that, like Boston, have made it to at least two Stanley Cup Finals and won at least one of them: Detroit (won in 2008, lost in 2009), Pittsburgh (lost in 2008, won in 2009, 2016, and 2017), Chicago (won in 2010, 2013, 2015) and Los Angeles (won in 2012 and 2014). All five teams made multiple trips to the Final using the same consistent core.

Sweeney inherited this rock-solid core when he replaced Peter Chiarelli in May 2015, and has since safely navigated the club through several team-friendly negotiations. He re-signed Marchand (8 years, $49M) and Krug (four years, $21M), locked up Pastrnak (six years, $40M), kept veteran Chara while drafting tomorrow’s stars and added some important complimentary pieces along the way.

Highest-paid: David Krejci ($7.25M | signed through 2020-21)
Longest-tenured: Patrice Bergeron (15 seasons, 1028 games)
Oldest: Zdeno Chara (41)
Youngest: Charlie McAvoy (21)

Here’s a look at the makeup of this current Bruins team:

Acquired via draft: Charlie McAvoy (2016), Jake DeBrusk (2015), Brandon Carlo (2015), David Pastrnak (2014), Danton Heinen (2014), Matt Grzelcyk (2012), Brad Marchand (2006), David Krejci (2004), Patrice Bergeron (2003).

Sweeney’s signature pick: Jake DeBrusk
Sweeney’s first draft as GM of the Bruins in 2015 was certainly his busiest as he stocked up on picks — including three consecutive first-rounders — in an effort to put his stamp on this team. Sweeney used the 13th overall pick (via L.A.) to select Jakub Zboril and took Zachary Senyshyn with the 15th pick (via Calgary). In the middle, using the Bruins’ own pick, he took DeBrusk. An unpopular pick at first considering the three players chosen right after Boston went, DeBrusk has evolved into a solid young forward who perfectly embodies the Bruins’ gritty style — he’ll be a thorn in your side and he’ll get on the scoreboard, too.

Acquired via free agency: Jaroslav Halak (2018), Connor Clifton (2018), Joakim Nordstrom (2018), John Moore (2018), Chris Wagner (2018) David Backes (2016), Noel Acciari* (2015), Torey Krug* (2012), Kevan Miller* (2011), Zdeno Chara (2006).
*undrafted free agent signings

Best signing of 2018-19: Jaroslav Halak
Never underestimate the power of a good backup goaltender. Sweeney sure didn’t. When he signed Halak to a two-year, $5.5-million contract last July, he instantly eased Rask’s workload in 2018-19 — and it’s paying off big time this spring as the 32-year-old is looking well-rested and fresh. Rask’s 45 starts in 2018-19 was his lowest game count since taking over as Boston’s No. 1 netminder, and Halak’s 22-11-4 performance, including some clutch play down the stretch, gave the Bruins every confidence in their crease.

Acquired via trade: Charlie Coyle (2019), Marcus Johansson (2019), Sean Kuraly (2015), Tuukka Rask (2006).

Top trade of 2018-19: Charlie Coyle
The Bruins’ best trade target on this squad is definitely Rask, who was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Andrew Raycroft back in 2006 during then-interim GM Jeff Gorton’s two months on the job.

But in an effort to capture Sweeney’s impact, let’s look at Coyle, who was acquired at this year’s trade deadline to add some depth scoring. He’s been thriving while playing for his hometown team. The 27-year-old, who comes at an affordable $3.2 million for one more season, has tallied six goals and 12 points through 17 playoff games this year and is getting plenty of looks on the Bruins’ excellent power play.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Doug Armstrong joined the Blues as vice president of player personnel in 2008 and took over as GM in 2010, which means his fingerprints are all over this roster. While many contenders tend to keep off-season moves to the fine-tuning variety, Armstrong did not.

The 2018-19 campaign may have been his busiest season yet — he hired, fired, signed, and traded — and saw his club go from last place on Jan. 3 to the Stanley Cup Final.

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Blues GM on going from the worst in the NHL to the Stanley Cup Final
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It’s interesting to note that, compared to the Bruins’ makeup, the Blues have acquired a number of impact players via the trade market. They brought in key players this past off-season so started with plenty of new faces as opposed to the tried-and-true core of the Bruins.

Highest-paid: Vladimir Tarasenko & Ryan O’Reilly ($7.5M cap hit | signed through 2022-23)
Longest-tenured: Alexander Steen (11 seasons, 710 games)
Oldest: Jay Bouwmeester (35)
Youngest: Robert Thomas (19)

Here’s how this current 23-man roster is made up:

Acquired via draft: Robert Thomas (2017), Vince Dunn (2015), Sammy Blais (2014), Ivan Barbashev (2014), Robby Fabbri (2014), Colton Parayko (2012), Joel Edmundson (2011), Jordan Binnington (2011), Jaden Schwartz (2010), Vladimir Tarasenko (2010), Alex Pietrangelo (2008), Jake Allen (2008).

Armstrong’s latest draft impact: Robert Thomas
Thomas put together a solid rookie campaign this year, and is clearly just getting started. The last teen standing this spring has brought a jolt of energy into this lineup deep into the playoffs, contributing six post-season points while greatly benefiting from his time skating alongside veterans Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon.

Acquired via free agency: David Perron (2018), Patrick Maroon (2018), Tyler Bozak (2018).

Best signing of 2018-19: Pat Maroon
Armstrong brought in three solid veterans last summer, and each one is proving to be a smart signing this spring, but no one has captured the hearts of Missourians like Maroon, whose double overtime heroics in Game 7 on home ice against the Stars took the club to the Western Conference Final. The 31-year-old signed a one-year, $1.75-million deal with his hometown team last summer and has brought plenty of size and grit to the lineup that already had a lot of it, making this squad tough to match up against.

Acquired via trade: Ryan O’Reilly (2018), Brayden Schenn (2017), Oskar Sundqvist (2017), Zach Sanford (2017), Robert Bortuzzo (2015), Carl Gunnarsson (2014), Jay Bouwmeester (2013), Alexander Steen (2008).

Top trade of 2018-19: Ryan O’Reilly
The Blues sent a handful of assets (three forwards, a first-round pick and a second-rounder) to Buffalo to bring O’Reilly to the midwest, and it looks like it was totally worth it as one of the final pieces of this Cup contender’s puzzle. The 28-year-old has thrived in St. Louis, getting a much-needed fresh start and posting career-highs in goals (28), assists (49) and points (77) in 2018-19 while adding 14 points in 19 playoff games — his longest post-season stint after two short runs with Colorado in 2010 and 2014.

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