Now that baseball season is over in Boston, the Patriots are going to be on autopilot straight to the the AFC championship, and the Celtics are still playing in the Warriors/Cavaliers NBA, the Boston Bruins are ready to take center stage. The Bruins have tortured fans the last two seasons by barely missing the playoffs and absolutely collapsing at the end of the year, but the team in black and gold is looking to set the record straight and make a deep run in the playoffs that the fans, players, and owner have come to expect. The Bruins biggest problems last season were on the blue line and logic would dictate they would go out and acquire a top pairing defense man with all the draft picks and young talent they possess, but the Bruins did a complete 180 on that and signed a center (the team's deepest position) that will allow them to mix and match line combinations to find out what works. Boston has the talent to make the playoffs and anything less, for the third straight year, will most likely bring a full house cleaning on Causeway Street.
Tuukka Rask is back in net. He will assume at least 60 games back there and hopefully he has grown a set of stones this season. While his numbers last year were pretty good, 2.56 GAA and a .915 SV%, he often let in soft back-breaking goals that absolutely needed to be stopped with this Bruins blue line in front of him. Rask is under contract long-term, so he will need to prove he is worth his $7 million cap hit.
Backing up Tuukka is familiar-face Anton Khudobin. Khudobin last played for the Bruins during the 2012-13 season and has since stopped in Anaheim and Carolina. Khudobin will be relied on to play the second half of back-to-backs and to give Rask an occasional breather. He is a more than capable back-up, but playing any more than 20 games will mean that the Bruins are in serious trouble.
The forwards are the strength of the Boston Bruins. I would list the different positions individually but the team looks like they will be using multiple centers on wings this year to put forth the best line combinations on the ice. Returning Bruins include the freshly extended Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Patrice Bergeron, Jimmy Hayes, David Krejci, David Pastrnak, Noel Acciari and Ryan Spooner. Adding to the depth at center the Bruins big signing was David Backes and they made complimentary acquisitions with Riley Nash, Dominic Moore, and Providence call-up Danton Heinen.
In a recent head scratching move, the Bruins placed Seth Griffith on waivers and he was claimed by rival Toronto. Griffith was a third- or fourth-line wing player on a roster that currently houses seven centers. While his dismissal is not a critical championship altering move, in recent years, players the Bruins have written off have gone on to become legit offensive players, looking at you Blake Wheeler and Reilly Smith.
The Bruins will rely on the same players as last season to carry their offense. Brad Marchand will look to build on his 37-goal season, and while he could match that total with these centers feeding him the puck, he will most likely regress to the 30-goal area. Bergeron is back and the should-be Captain should have no problem being a near point-per-game performer with David Pastrnak filling in on the opposite wing as Marchand. Krejci brings his elite passing ability with his biggest hurdle still being remaining on the ice. Coming off of offseason surgery, how he responds will go a long way in how far this team can run in the playoffs.
The key to the offense will be how Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey respond in their second year in black and gold. Beleskey was the splash signing the Bruins made last season and was looked upon as the replacement for Milan Lucic. Beleskey showed flashes of toughness and skill but never put it all together to give the team a consistent wing that can anchor the second line. Hopefully, he develops serious chemistry with whomever his center is this year and can net a 50-point season. Jimmy Hayes was awful last season. No other way to put it. He looked out of place and did not use his size to his advantage. It also seemed as if the pressure of playing for his hometown team got to him. It is rumored that he was the reason Jimmy Vesey did not sign with the Bruins because he told him the fans were too harsh when you did not perform. If that was the case, pack your bags Jimmy because you will not last another season here in Boston.
David Backes had a decent season last year with 45 points but is one of the centers that may end up being used on the wing to fill out a top line. Backes and Ryan Spooner are both capable third-line centers, but both may find it better to play off the wing of either Bergeron or Krejci as another skill player instead of a grinder. The use of the forwards comes down to how Coach Claude Julien wants to use them, if he wants to roll four lines, as always, and not let his best players play when needed, the Bruins will be stuck in neutral. However, if this is finally the year management told Julien to play the best players and not worry about getting the fourth line 10 minutes a game, then the Bruins have the potential to be one of the better offenses in the league, and they will need all the offense they can get this year with the major holes they have on the blue line.
The Bruins dropped the ball with their blue line. They had, and maybe still have, the chance to obtain a young defense man that they gave up when they traded Dougie Hamilton, which looks like a good move now, but they failed to do so. This is a strange position for the team because they now are faced with getting Claude Julien to play the young defense men he has and allow them to make mistakes so they can learn and become top-four NHL defense men for this team.
The Bruins blue line features returning members Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, John Michael Liles, Adam McQuaid, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, and Joe Morrow, as well as Providence call-ups Brandon Carlo and Rob O'Gara. Two of these players are already hurt, care to guess? That's right, overpaid and underwhelming Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid, who should make your blood boil as much as mine does when you realize how bad they are, find themselves on the shelf to begin the year. Miller is going to be out for a while, and I would expect McQuaid to let whatever injury he has nag him all year long.
The plus side to these injuries is that there is no way Claude cannot allow one of the young guys to play. Between Carlo and Miller, who have the potential to be top-four defense men, and Joe Morrow, who is the last remaining name of an awful trade that I will not mention, the Bruins only need to hit on one. It should be well known that, for whatever reason, Claude hates Colin Miller. Every time last year when he made one slip up it was healthy scratch time for Miller. Rob O'Gara should only play if the team loses another body, because he simply brings very little to the table.
The biggest problem with the blue line is the Bruins are relying on a slowing Zdeno Chara and an offensive-minded Torey Krug to anchor the defense. With other members being too young and unknown to project, C. Miller, Morrow, Carlo, or simply being too awful to care about, Liles, McQuaid, K. Miller, the Bruins could be in trouble to start the season.
Projected Line Combinations
LW C RW
Marchand Bergeron Pastrnak
Beleskey Krejci Backes
Nash Spooner Hayes
Heinen Acciari Moore