BOSTON -- After the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in June, general manager Peter Chiarelli & Co. decided to take a hands-off approach to the team's roster because it was clear the current makeup and chemistry was successful and the team could make a serious run as repeat champions in 2011-2012.
There hasn't been a repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Teams that have won the Cup each year since have had plenty of turnover, including the Chicago Blackhawks team that won in 2010.
The Bruins are different.
Of course, it may be a tad premature to think the Bruins can hoist the Cup once again, but the team is definitely in great shape this season and for the foreseeable future. Boston is built with youth, and even some of its veteran players are still only in their mid-20s.
Even money isn't an issue.
Chiarelli has done a terrific job managing the team's payroll and the Bruins enter the season -- which begins Thursday night with a banner-raising ceremony before the puck drops against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Garden -- with $5 million remaining in cap space (of course, a good chunk of that space comes as a result of Marc Savard's absence). That means if the team needs to add a player or two to the mix during the season, Chiarelli has the resources to do it.
The way the current roster is set up, as long as players remain healthy, Chiarelli won't need to make any changes. This team is satisfied with who it has in the locker room and on the ice.
The only players who did not return from last season are Mark Recchi (retired), Michael Ryder (signed as a free agent with Dallas) and Tomas Kaberle (signed as a free agent with Carolina). Recchi's leadership will be missed, but Patrice Bergeron is expected to fill the void. Ryder was valuable in the playoffs, but there are others who can contribute. Kaberle was a disappointment after he was acquired at the trade deadline, so after he signed with the Hurricanes the Bruins grabbed Joe Corvo to replace him.
Other than that, everything is the same.
The Bruins expect bigger and better contributions from forwards Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin and Jordan Caron. Goaltending will once again be a major strength with Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask between the pipes. Defensively, the Bruins are sound, too.
And, of course, the biggest intangible is the fact the Bruins are defending Stanley Cup champions. They've tasted what a championship means to this city and the players want it again.
"I think you get a taste of winning, it's a pretty good taste, so we got a great group of guys, great character, still fairly young team for the most part that I think aren't tired of winning yet," said team president Cam Neely said. "I think our future, both this season and for years to come, bodes pretty well for us. We're going to have some new faces in the lineup that haven't necessarily won, so you know they're going to be hungry as well."
Bruins coach Claude Julien kept the team focused last season, only a year after a historic collapse (losing a 3-0 series lead and eventually falling to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals). Boston used that meltdown as motivation last season. In fact, when those teams met again in the second round of the playoffs, the Bruins won with a four-game sweep.
During the Bruins' one-on-one exit meetings only days after winning the Cup, Julien joked that he didn't tell each player much because he didn't think they would remember anything amid all the celebrating. But apparently not much talk was needed, because each player arrived at camp focused and ready to go.
"I like our group," Julien said. "Our group is a good group. It's a very humble group. I like where we are right now. Again, the right things are ahead. Now we have to do the right things. My feeling is from knowing these players they have the right attitude. ... I'm pretty confident that we're going to be OK.
"We know there are going to be challenges that every team that's won that Stanley Cup [has faced] -- some ups and downs during the season -- but hopefully by the end of this we'll be in a position where we'll be able to challenge for another Cup."
You can't underestimate how a team's strong chemistry behind closed doors can translate to the ice. The Bruins know exactly how that works.
"We have a very tight unit here and it's one of the big advantages I feel that we have over some other teams," Ference said.
"We all know how hard it is to even make it into the playoffs first off -- let alone the little bounces and the good help that you need in the playoffs to have success," he added. "We know the challenge that faces us no matter what year it is -- whether you're defending or not. Everything that we built up last year we feel like we are just reinforcing and there's some good carry-over from all the lessons that we learned last year in how to be successful. With all that said, you still have to go out there and prove it, and actions definitely speak louder than words -- so we'll have to get some good wins under our belts to prove it to ourselves."
Of course, there's the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover, the affliction that hits Cup-winning teams the season after winning it all, the result of a long, draining playoff run and a short offseason.
"It shows itself in some shape or form, like level or period of fatigue, physical or mental fatigue," Chiarelli said. "So we've done a number of things and we will do a number of things to try and address those things when we see them and we identify them. But it's unavoidable, is what I'm told. I hate harping on it because sometimes I think it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, but all the people I've talked to have said that it does show itself up in some shape or form ... we're just going to have to be on top of it."
So the banner goes up Thursday night, the sixth in franchise history. The quest for No. 7 begins Thursday night at the Garden.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.