(ok, I'll post in reverse-order of predicted finish. And I'm too impatient to figure out how to hide the bulk of the post, so here it is...)
2006-07 record: 35-41-6, 76 points. Fifth in division/thirteenth in conference.
Coach: Claude Julien
General Manager: Peter Chiarelli
Home arena: TD Banknorth Garden
The Boston Bruins have had a rough going over the past two years, both on and off the ice. It seems ages ago that they finished in first place in the Northeast division with 104 points, losing just 19 games. Yet that was only three seasons ago, the last season before the NHL lockout, and so much has changed with the Bruins that it hardly seems like the same organization. Since then many names have departed, including Brian Rolston, Andrew Raycroft, Mike Knuble, and of course Joe Thornton who, almost immediately upon leaving Boston, turned his career around from talented underachiever to league MVP. The Bruins’ front office has also been in shambles – longtime General Manager Harry Sinden stepped aside, and made room for Mike O’Connell who ended up making moves that alienated a team and their once-loyal fanbase in New England. In this decade alone they have seen no less than seven head coaches attempt to lead the Bruins franchise to their first Stanley Cup since 1972.
The 2007 Bruins should hold no illusions about a Cup run this season, but at the very least hope to establish consistency and a competitiveness not seen in the last few seasons. New General Manager Peter Chiarelli has been applying his stamp to the franchise over the past year, most recently hiring (another) new head coach Claude Julien, fresh off a late-season firing in New Jersey where he had led the Devils to another division title. There is no lack of talent on the Bruins roster, but will it be enough to climb the ever-tightening Eastern Conference and threaten for playoff position?
|Marco Sturm||Marc Savard||Glen Murray|
|Peter Schaefer||Patrice Bergeron||Brandon Bochenski|
|P.J. Axelsson||Phil Kessel||Chuck Kobasew|
|Stanislav Chistov||Mark Mowers||Jeff Hoggan|
|Shawn Thornton||Jeremy Reich|
This is a team that should score more goals than last season’s lame total of 219 goals; there simply is too much talent among the top six or seven forwards for that lack of production. For some reason center Marc Savard hasn’t received the respect he deserves in the NHL. His junior career with the Oshawa Generals was nothing short of stellar, twice leading the league in scoring while averaging over two points per game. He had trouble getting a fair shake in the NHL, in part because of his size (listed at 5’ 10”) and in part because of a less-than-perfect reputation for work-ethic. Yet in Calgary and more prominently in Atlanta he became one of the premier setup men in the league. When Boston signed him as a free agent last year it wasn’t deemed one of the bigger signings as many thought his association with the big Atlanta guns was the primary reason for his 97 point season, yet he proved doubters wrong yet again by notching 96 points for an otherwise offensively-challenged club. Glen Murray, who has seemingly been around forever but is only 34, is still a top sniper and a perfect fit alongside the crafty Savard. Marco Sturm is an underrated scoring winger who may be a better fit on Boston’s second line, now that two-way winger Peter Schaefer was acquired from Ottawa. Schaefer would provide defensive support for Savard and Murray to concentrate more on their offensive duties.
Patrice Bergeron is only 22 and signed for the next four years – he has nearly unlimited offensive potential and with the right linemates could easily surpass the 90 point barrier. Phil Kessel is a big wild card for Boston – two years ago he seemed to be the de facto eventual first overall pick for the 2006 draft, but his stock fell enough during his freshman year at Minnesota that he fell to the fifth slot where the Bruins were eager to nab him. Kessel does not belong in a third/checking line situation – he is a one-way player, but a potentially exceptional one. The Bruins would be well-served to bump either him or Bergeron to wing and insure that Kessel gets as much offensive opportunity as possible. Brandon Bochenski has had a brief yet unique career already; there’s never been a question of his scoring ability as in the 2005 pre-season pundits were predicting a big rookie season for the former North Dakota Sioux winger when, on a line in Ottawa with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, he led the NHL in pre-season goals. Yet he only stuck with Ottawa for 20 games and was dealt to Chicago, and then a year later was flipped to the Bruins where he buried 11 goals in just 31 games.
As with most teams, depth becomes a considerable issue after the top two lines, and the makeup of the third and fourth lines will likely be in flux for some time. P.J. Axelsson is a very valuable defensive forward who will be a regular fixture against opponents’ top lines and while the Bruins are short-handed. Chuck Kobasew is a stereotypical “great scorer if he can get the puck” player who will need to work every shift to earn his ice-time. Stan Chistov, Mark Mowers, Jeff Hoggan, and Jeremy Reich will be among those rotating in and out as depth forwards.
|Zdeno Chara||Aaron Ward|
|Dennis Wideman||Andrew Alberts|
|Andrew Ference||Mark Stuart|
rookies/callups: Matt Lashoff
The Bruins defensive play last year was nothing short of awful, giving up 285 goals (only Philadelphia allowed more) and often leaving their goaltenders with very little support. Big-ticket free agent acquisition Zdeno Chara (5 years at $7.5 million per) did not provide the leadership and intimidating presence as advertised, and seemed to have trouble adjusting to being an undisputed number one defenseman. Chara improved late in the season and while he may never fully live up to the enormous sum of money thrown at him, the Bruins should expect him to become more of an overall presence this season.
Beyond Chara the Bruins defence is a mixed bag, one that has yet to play even half a season together as a single unit. Aaron Ward and Andrew Ference are the experienced veterans, Ward having won two Stanley Cups (Detroit and Carolina) while Ference has gone deep into the playoffs with Pittsburgh and Calgary. Both are relatively safe if unspectacular players. Mark Stuart and Dennis Wideman are where the upside can come from, even if they are very different types of players. Stuart is a strong stay-at-home type, the primary type of defenceman the Bruins need to keep the game simple and smartly play the body. Wideman is nearly the complete opposite - an outstanding offensive player who was a dominant force in his junior days with the London Knights, one who must be allowed to play his high-risk style for him to be effective. Look for Wideman to get ample opportunity as the top point man on the Boston powerplay. Andrew Alberts followed Bobby Allen at Boston College, and the two of them will round out the defense, Alberts the younger and more physical of the two.
It seems like ages ago that the Bruins were solid in the netminding department – the late 80s/early 90s saw the excellent tandem of Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin tending goal for some powerful teams, but since then there have been a number of one-year wonders and castoffs (Blaine Lacher, Jim Carey, Andrew Raycroft) – nobody outside of Byron Dafoe has held down the top job for multiple seasons.
Last season’s goaltending duties were in the hands of Hannu Toivonen and Tim Thomas, Thomas initially being an afterthought but eventually became the clear number one in winning the job from Toivonen, who was eventually let go after the season in a deal with St. Louis. However this summer the Bruins dealt with the Minnesota Wild for Manny Fernandez. Fernandez is a mostly unknown commodity amongst NHL fans but is an outstanding goaltender who brings excellent puck-handling skills to the Boston crease.
Whether they now have a short-term plan or not may be debatable but for sure the Boston Bruins are counting on 20 year old Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask as being the future between the pipes for Boston. Rask came over from Toronto last year in a deal for Raycroft, leaving Fernandez and Thomas to battle for top status over the next two seasons until Rask is deemed NHL-ready.
A side result of Boston’s poor play defensively last year was an inability to get the puck to the forwards and keep pressure on the opposition; more than lack of quality forwards, this was the primary reason the Bruins were outscored by such a wide margin last season (289-219). Last season was one of constant change for Boston, so it is imperative that the Bruins’ defensive unit remains intact and develops – this is the biggest key to their season. The team has the offensive capability to make an impact in the East this year, and the tandem of Fernandez and Thomas in net should be good enough to keep them in most games. Look for the Bruins to be better this season, but it’s a tall order to expect them to reverse their goal differential enough to force them into the top eight this season – if everything goes right the Bruins could break .500 and threaten the 90 point barrier this year but they’ll need a complete devotion to team-wide defensive play to avoid missing the post-season for the third straight season.