Sep 052008
 

The Bruins made the playoffs with one of the league’s worst PK units and offense, yet managed to sneak into the playoffs. The bears caught fire at season’s end and put up a formidable fight against the top-ranked Habs. The Bruins are one of the more physical teams in the East with emphasis on defense, although after captain Zdeno Chara the talent level of the defensive corps dives right off a cliff.

Marc Savard is perhaps one of the most skilled playmakers in the game, and with coach Claude Julien‘s help, he has become a stronger two-way player as well. Savard’s 63 assists ranked third in the league and that total alone is more than the second-leading Bruin scorer (Marco Sturm with 56). The Bruins will also be counting on Chuck Kobasew and Phil Kessel to improve on their 22 and 19-goal campaigns respectively. Kobasew’s 22 markers is a career high and Kessel improved 8 goals from the previous season. More importantly, Patrice Bergeron is once again healthy, after missing 72 games last year with a concussion. The young centre is one of the best players in the game today and will give Boston’s offense (24th) and powerplay (16th) a big boost. The Bruins may not be the most talented team in the East, but what they lack in talent they make up for in size and grit. Milan Lucic became a fan favourite with his hard-nosed, never-back-down style that Bostonians love, and he will provide a strong forechecking presence as well as the ability to pot at least 10 goals. Also figuring into the mix is David Krejci, who may break the 50-point barrier this season after his 56-game, 27-point debut. Also to keep an eye out for is Michael Ryder, who has been reunited with Julien whom he has had the most success with. However, veterans Peter Schaefer and PJ Axelsson‘s futures may not look so bright, at least in the yellow and black. Schaefer has at times played himself out of Julien’s favour and could find a home elsewhere by midseason, while Axelsson is in the last year of his contract. Should the Bruins fail to qualify for the playoffs he will be trade bait at the deadline.

Boston’s defense ranked in the top half of the league, their PK was near death last (28th) with a 78.6% efficiency. After Julien took the reigns the team did a complete 360 and played a defense-first game. The Bruins chopped off roughly 70 GA from their previous year’s total, and was thus granted a playoff spot and managed to keep a high-octane Habs offense relatively in check. Asides from Chara, and enough things have been written about him over the years, the rest of the defensive corps doesn’t look too good. Dennis Wideman is coming off another strong season and is definitely benefiting from being Chara’s partner. After that comes veteran mule Aaron Ward, then Andrew Ference and Andy Alberts. It’s not exactly an elite group, but the Bruins defensemen buy into Julien’s system and block lots of shots, but most often overlooked is the two-way play of their players, in particular, Axelsson and Lucic. Axelsson has been hailed as one of the league’s premier defense forwards, while Lucic will take any body in his own end. Underrated also are the two-way plays of Savard, Bergeron, and Kessel, who is slowly establishing himself as a strong two-way player.

The Bruins once again enter the season with two starters, but this time Tim Thomas is penciled in as the number one. The perpetual underdog will finally enter the season without having to look over his back as Manny Fernandez continues to get healthy. Both goaltenders are in their final year of their contracts so both will be looking to maximize their playtime, and some healthy competition might do the ultra-competitive Thomas good, but Fernandez’s noted poor temperament may cause some troubles. Tuuka Rask will spend another year in the AHL to resolve some consistency issues, but may not stay down there long, as Fernandez’s $4.5m contract may be on the way out. Management wants Rask to get one more full season’s worth of gametime before deciding if the young netminder is ready for the NHL.

The Bruins are cutting it a little tight by being only $1.5m under the cap, which means come Christmas-time Peter Chiarelli may be looking to unload some contracts to make room for call-ups. Axelsson ($1.85m, 1 year remaining), Schaefer ($2.1m, 2YR), and Alberts ($1.25m, 1YR) are potential trade bait. There will be no significant rookies stepping into the Bruins’ lineup this year, although Zach Hamill or Blake Wheeler may challenge for a spot, but he would be better off spending a season in Providence first. However, a lot of sophomore players will be expected to do further step up their game (Vladimir Sobotka and Petteri Nokelainen) while some may get more than just a couple of call-ups (Martins Karsums).

Boston’s future stars, Kessel and Bergeron, need to have excellent seasons to allow this team to stay in contention all-year, while Lucic needs to establish himself as a 10-15 goal scorer as well as a hard-hitter. He could very well supplant Kessel or Bergeron as the face of the Bruins, so Lucic needs to stay away from the sophomore slump before fickle Boston fans pick him apart.

The Bruins will again find it tough get into the playoffs this year. The team remains largely unchanged from last year, save for Bergeron’s health and the recently bought out Glen Murray. While Bergeron’s return will definitely help take some pressure off Savard, he is not enough to vault this team into the playoffs. They still have too many question marks surrounding their goal scorers and consistency issues in net that need to be worked out.

Projected Lines:
Peter Schaefer – Marc Savard – Phil Kessel
Marco Sturm – Patrice Bergeron – Chuck Kobasew
Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Michael Ryder
PJ Axelsson – Stephane Yelle – Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara – Dennis Wideman
Mark Stuart – Aaron Ward
Andrew Alberts – Andrew Ference

Tim Thomas – Manny Fernandez

scratches: Petteri Nokelainen, Vladimir Sobotka, Shane Hnidy

Head Coach: Claude Julien
GM: Peter Chiarelli

Projected Finish: 4th Northeast, 11th East

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