The Boston Bruins started looking ahead immediately after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Second Round.
"At the end of the year this year it was pretty frustrating, to feel like the team that we had was really good, and to think we could do something special and to see the way it ended up, it's not fun," Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said in July. "But I'm excited for this year. It's encouraging to get more experience, to keep going.
"Hopefully we're on a trend: first round two years ago, second round last year, and hopefully we'll get there soon."
That's the idea for the Bruins: continued seasoning, continued improvement, continued runs through the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final, where they last went in 2013 and won in 2011.
It started last season, when the Bruins, who were predicted to be on the playoff bubble, finished second in the Eastern Conference with 112 points while integrating a half-dozen rookies into the lineup.
That bodes well for 2018-19, when the Bruins will have the core of their lineup back: defenseman Zdeno Chara and forwards Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, along with promising young forwards Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly, and defensemen Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo and McAvoy.
Though the Bruins were unable to land any of their major free agent targets -- forward Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the Los Angeles Kings; center John Tavares opted for the Toronto Maple Leafs; and Bruins forward Rick Nash remains unsure of his future because of health reasons -- they will look to fill significant openings internally.
Rookies Ryan Donato or Anders Bjork could grab a top-six right wing spot, and the third-line center position that opened when free agent Riley Nash signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets could be filled by Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson or Jack Studnicka.
"I feel like we feel pretty comfortable that some of our players have emerged to handle some of those things," general manager Don Sweeney said. "There's a graduating aspect to that to make sure that they can. … I actually feel very comfortable in terms of where our younger guys are and it's next guy up. I've said that on record, it's not just about putting another guy in there, you have to take the job."
But even with that continued youth movement, the Bruins intend to be a force this season and believe signing free agent goaltender Jaroslav Halak and depth forwards Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner each to a two-year contract July 1 will be enough to put them back in the mix.
Among defensemen, though, it will be interesting. Boston has a glut of NHL-caliber defensemen, with eight on the roster after signing John Moore to a five-year, $13.75 million contract July 1, including Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, McAvoy, Carlo, and Grzelcyk.
"Depth is huge," McAvoy said. "It's really important to have that many guys. But then you have eight really good, competent defensemen that feel like we should be playing every single night. We're all going to push each other."
Or perhaps by the start of the season, or at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, one of those defensemen will have found a home elsewhere.
Either way, there is optimism in Boston. Optimism that, as McAvoy said, the upward trend will continue, even with the understanding that the Atlantic Division is stacked with the likes of the Lightning and Maple Leafs.
"I think the potential for us to be a good team is definitely there," Marchand said. "We have some really good exciting young players, we have a veteran core, and we have a good goalie (Tuukka Rask), so we have the makings of a good group. But we have to come together the way we were able to last year."