That may be the most obvious storyline New England puckheads are raring to delve into, but the obviousness does not diminish the magnitude. Hamilton was chosen ninth overall with the last piece of compensation for Phil Kessel less than two weeks after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup and has since been stating and reiterating that he hardly has anything left to prove in major junior.
Since the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, the culmination of the waiting period for Hamilton has been little more than a matter of the NHL replacing its CBA. Lo and behold, everyone is still waiting on that.
Once the labor stalemate is resolved, the two-way defenseman’s arrival will top the preseason platter of Bruins storylines. Besides that No. 1 sidebar, here are a handful of close runners-up in ascending order.
This is inevitably confined to an honorable mention because its X-factor is a matter of sheer trivial coincidence. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating trend Bruins buffs can dream of rerunning.
In the Claude Julien era, Boston has twice been eliminated from the playoffs in seven games and then faced the same team in the same round the next year, attaining redemption in the form of a sweep. The Bruins did it with Montreal between 2008 and 2009 and turned the tables on Philadelphia in the same fashion between 2010 and 2011.
In addition, while Carolina did not make the playoffs after zapping Boston in 2009, the Bruins did clinch their 2010 tournament passport with a win over the Hurricanes. They did the same by winning a late regular-season game at Philadelphia in 2011.
As it stands right now, Boston is within bumping distance of the salary-cap ceiling and has seven NHL-caliber players set to hit free agency in July 2013. Those with contracts due to expire are forwards Jordan Caron and Nathan Horton, defensemen Andrew Ference and Aaron Johnson and goaltenders Anton Khudobin, Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas.
It is virtually impossible to envision some of those players getting away, particularly Ference, Horton and Rask. But Caron, a third-year professional who has had some slumps down in Providence amidst the NHL lockout, may have a shorter leash ahead of him.
All of this is to say nothing of potential trades for any given reason at any given time in the coming year.
If the NHL returns to action at the earliest possible date, Jan. 15, it will practically amount to a full year without extramural game action for Horton, one of their top-six wingers. A Jan. 22 concussion, his second since June of 2011, ended his 2011-12 season and the 27-year-old has had an extension on his recovery through the lockout.
A lack of input from Horton was hardly the top culprit in the Bruins’ loss to the Capitals last spring. Those who were healthy should have had a little more in them to compensate for his absence and found a way to win one more of those seven single-goal differences.
However, looking ahead, a return to old form on Horton’s part will be especially crucial in a shortened 2012-13 regular season. He mustered a 17-15-32 log in 46 appearances in 2011-12 and, if the NHL plays roughly the same number of games this year, should be ready to match or exceed that output.
Between Thomas’ announcement that he is sitting out 2012-13, the 38-year-old veteran’s hefty cap hit and the promise and long-standing patience of the 25-year-old Rask, it is safe to assume that Boston’s crease is Rask’s from here on out.
Rask has yet to match his rookie output from 2009-10, his busiest NHL campaign to date. That year, he went 22-12-5 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in 45 appearances.
After somewhat of a sophomore slide in 2010-11, when he went 11-14-2, Rask rebounded for another winning record and improved goaltending stats in 23 appearances last season.
Regardless of when the next season arrives, the preceding absence of normalcy will inevitably obscure the outlook to a degree. What is clear enough is that Rask is three years more seasoned than when he was a rookie and has spent the two intervening seasons competing for ice time with a celestial colleague.
While there is no substitute for the NHL in terms of overall competitive value, Tyler Seguin’s posture on the Swiss NLA scoring leaderboard amidst the lockout cannot neutralize Bruins fans' visions of his third season in Boston.
As of this weekend, with a 25-15-40 scoring log in 29 games (1.38 points per night), he is fourth among NLA point-getters, right up there with John Tavares, Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza and Henrik Zetterberg.
Coming off a hot-and-cold second NHL campaign, Seguin ought to be striving for his first demonstration of start-to-finish consistency. That will be a little harder to gauge in a shortened campaign, but hovering around a spot-on point-per-game median would be nothing shy of a sign that his development is on the right track.
A sequel to Seguin’s 2012 breakout combined with a quick acclimation for Hamilton, his fellow first-round draftee made possible by the Kessel trade, should be the long-term tone-setter that Boston buffs crave in 2013.