Well, the last two seasons haven’t gone the way Bruins fans have hoped, but with a good amount of roster changeover, there are plenty of questions facing this years Bruins squad.
Last year, the Bruins failed to make the playoffs after stumbling down the stretch (again) and breaking my heart (again). And, after plenty of speculation about the future’s of Claude Julien and Cam Neely, both remain in Boston, for at least the start of the season. However, longtime assistant coach Doug Jarvis is not back with the B’s this year. The preseason went about as everyone scripted. Some nice close wins against Columbus, and two times against Philadelphia, one in a shootout and one in overtime. But mixed in those hard fought wins was yet another loss to the Canadiens and a blowout loss to the Detroit Red Wings, who are destined to make the playoffs for the 1,000th straight year.
This offseason wasn’t quite the firestorm it was the last few seasons, when the Bruins unloaded 90% of their top tier talent within a 24-month period, but the loss of Loui Eriksson to Vancouver will hurt this team where it was best last year, in the offensive department. Eriksson was the third leading goal scorer and was second in points. Theoretically, the Bruins replace the scoring punch of Eriksson with the two-way play of long time St. Louis Blue David Backes.
The 32-year-old forward was signed to a five-year deal, which could look good for now, but let’s see how the deal looks when he’s 35. He’s a good team leader, and was the captain of the Blues for a couple years. Backes’ scoring numbers dropped in the regular season last year, but he had 14 points in 20 postseason games.
The team brought back John-Michael Liles, who was brought over in a trade that did not work out for Boston, Tommy Cross and Tyler Randell on one-year deals. The Bruins signed Riley Nash and Anton Khudobin, who spent parts of three seasons with the Bruins from 2011-2013.
Before free agency started, the B’s also announced that defensemen Torey Krug and Kevan Miller would both be back on four year deals.
But the major signing for the Bruins was re-upping Brad Marchand for eight years and 49 million dollars. Once again, a great contract for the now, but what will it look like when he’s 36? Marchand is coming off a spectacular 2015-2016 year. A year where he broke out and scored 37 goals, which was good for sixth in the entire NHL. He and Patrice Bergeron continue to get better together, and it showed on the international stage against the top players in the world at the World Cup of Hockey.
Playing alongside Sidney Crosby, Marchand score five goals, including the tournament winner with under a minute left. Patrice Bergeron also had himself a nice campaign, with four goals and three assists in six games. But now, the pressure is on Marchand to elevate his game even more. He had a great season last year and a strong World Cup and is now getting paid like the star he is. But now it is time to show that you earned it and will continue to earn it.
Clearly the needle on this team has not moved too much. They’re still not good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup, and aren’t bad enough to get top end talent in the draft. In the 2016 draft, the Bruins picked Boston University product Charlie McAvoy. Despite being only 6’ and 200 pounds, his right-handed shot and higher ceiling make him a good grab at 14th overall even with Logan Stanley (6’7”, 224) still on the board.
As for the actual regular season goes, the Bruins start off against five teams that didn’t make the playoffs, including the Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets. These three teams had the top three picks in last year’s draft. The B’s return home to play the New Jersey Devils and the hated Montreal Canadiens on October 22nd. Unfortunately, should-be-captain Patrice Bergeron will be out for the opener and is day-to-day, while Kevan Miller is projected to miss six weeks after surgery on his hand.
November projects to be a tough month for Boston, as they Tampa Bay Lightning twice. The Lightning are my pick to take home the Stanley Cup. The Bruins welcome the St. Louis Blues to the TD Garden on November 22nd, and the Blues are my pick to win the West. However, outside of those two games against Tampa Bay, the Bruins only play four games within the division. One of those games happens to be against the Habs on November 8th.
Apparently the NHL enjoys games between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in December, because they play three times over the course of 28 days. The home and home against the Sabres could be a good warm up for an absolutely brutal month of January. In between those matchups with Buffalo, a six game stretch starting on December 12th against Montreal to December 22nd against the Florida Panthers should be a good barometer as to where this team stacks up against the best of the best. In that six game stretch, Boston travels to Pittsburgh to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Then, the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and New York Islanders are welcomed to Boston.
As previously mentioned, January is a month straight out of hell for this club. Of the 14 games played in January, 11 of them are against teams that made the playoffs. The only three teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year are the New Jersey Devils, Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes, all of whom are projected to take big steps forward, especially Edmonton with Connor McDavid. A four game road trip at the beginning of the month includes the Florida Panthers, Blues and Nashville Predators.
A quick two game home stand welcomes super sleeper team Philadelphia Flyers and the Islanders. The next two weeks have the B’s traveling up and down the East coast, and a quick trip to Detroit (I know it’s not on the East coast) starts it off on January 18th. On the 20th, Boston returns home for one game against the Chicago Blackhawks, then travels to Pittsburgh on the 22nd. Then, it’s back home for two games against Detroit and Pittsburgh. The month closes with a trip down south to Tampa Bay.
February doesn’t get much easier, with the month beginning in Washington against the Capitals. A four game home stand, that includes games against number one overall pick Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens. Following the All-Star break, the Bruins swing out west for games against San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Dallas, in a game that will remind me once again that we used to have Tyler Seguin.
Nine conference clashes highlight March, which includes five division games. A short three game trip to the west coast in the middle of the month provides a break in the conference action. The five games in April feature four teams that made the playoffs and the Ottawa Senators. The Bruins travel to Chicago and get Tampa Bay and Washington at home in three of their last four games.
The schedule much like last year’s, where it gets tougher as the year progresses.
Much of this roster remains in tact from last year, and one of the biggest criticisms of Claude Julien and his staff was the use of the young players down the stretch. Young guns such as Noel Acciari and Frank Vatrano impressed in limited action, but we passed over for experienced players like Max Talbot. These moves may have cost the Bruins the chance at the playoffs. With the depth at center for the Bruins, it will be tough to find playing time for them. Austin Czarnik played well in preseason, but was diagnosed with a concussion just a few days ago, which sucks.
The top line of Marchand, Bergeron (when he gets healthy) and David Pastrnak will have to do a ton of heavy lifting for this team in the scoring department. All three will likely approach the 30-goal plateau, and Marchand could get 40. The second line of Backes, David Krejci and Ryan Spooner will be an interesting trio. The third and fourth line grinders of Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey will have to provide the toughness that this team lacks up front (minus Backes).
Newcomers Riley Nash and Dominic Moore will likely take up two more spots in the starting lineup, which leaves only three spots for guys like Vatrano, Acciari, Czarnik, Danton Heinen, Brian Ferlin and Zac Rinaldo.
Offense shouldn’t be the problem for this team, but the defense is among the worst in the NHL. Zdeno Chara is pretty washed up and is just a big body and a leadership guy at this point. Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid are both injured to begin this season, which will likely provide playing time for Rob O’Gara and Brandon Carlo.
O’Gara played his cawlidge hawkey at Yale, and is a big 6’4” 223 pound body. Still young at just 23 years old, O’Gara is still learning the defensive position and projects to be a solid two-way defender, but his strength is in the defensive zone.
Brandon Carlo has the chance to break the roster at the age of 19 years old. The 6’5” 200 pound defenseman played most of his 2015-2016 campaign with the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League and had 27 points in 52 games. Carlo is a complete defenseman and solid skater, and his size should clear out the crease in front of Tuukka Rask, who is looking to have a bounce back season following the disappointment of last year. If the Bruins can tread water with an iffy defensive corps before McQuaid and Miller get back, they could surprise some people, but I doubt that will happen.
Bringing back Torey Krug for four years after a dismal 2015-2016 campaign was slightly head scratching, but he’s still young and has good history of being an offensive defenseman. John-Michael Liles was somehow resigned, in a move that I can’t believe even to this day.
After assessing the Bruins roster, schedule and overall makeup, this is a team that might be on the outside looking in come playoff time. I think 89 points will get them 9th place in the East, the same spot where they’ve finished the last two seasons. Sorry Bruins fans, I just don’t think it’s in the cards this season.
Cover Photo via CBSBoston.com