2013 NHL Season: 5 Bold Predictions for the Boston Bruins
The end of the NHL lockout is fantastic news for all hockey fans, but for Boston Bruins supporters, the news is especially awesome because their team has a fantastic opportunity to win another Stanley Cup this season.
The Bruins enter the lockout-shortened season with few weaknesses, just a couple players with injuries and plenty of depth.
Fans have high expectations for this team, and after last year's heartbreaking Game 7 loss in the first round of the playoffs, the team is highly motivated to make another championship run.
Let's look at five bold predictions for the Bruins in 2012-13.
Boston Will Enter the 2013 NHL Playoffs as No. 1 Seed in Eastern Conference
The Bruins have a fantastic chance to finish the season as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs if they don't have to deal with any significant injuries.
Boston last finished atop the East in 2001-02 and 2008-09, when they lost in the first and second rounds of the playoffs, respectively.
To earn the top seed, you have to be able to win on the road, and the Bruins proved they can do this by leading the league with 25 wins away from TD Garden.
Since the shortened schedule will include only Eastern Conference teams, the Bruins have a strong chance to finish with the best record in the conference because they usually perform very well against in-conference teams.
Boston had a record of 19-4-1 against Northeast Division opponents last season and should have similar success against their division rivals this season. The Bruins were also an impressive 38-23-3 against all East teams last year.
Since many Bruins players played overseas during the lockout, there shouldn't be too many guys out of shape.
Boston will be physically ready for the new season, and that will help the players avoid a poor start. The key to earning the top seed in a shortened season is to start off strongly and build an early lead in the standings.
The Bruins should be able to this because they have a team with few injuries and plenty of depth.
Dougie Hamilton Will Win the Calder Trophy
The most talented Bruins prospect is defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who recently played for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Russia.
According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, as expected, Hamilton will join the Bruins for training camp.
BOS will have Dougie Hamilton in camp, likely to start season in NHL. How long teams can keep them without burning yr is unclear.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 6, 2013
Hamilton will be a top candidate for the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) this season because of his spectacular offensive ability.
Even though head coach Claude Julien rarely gives a lot of ice time to rookies early in the season, Hamilton is too good to sit on the bench, especially when the Bruins are on the power play.
Hamilton is capable of being a playmaker from the blue line and will score goals with his slap shot from the point. He's also a smooth skater, and his offensive awareness is quite impressive.
To win the Calder Trophy as a defenseman (which has happened just twice since 2000), you have to score a lot of points. Hamilton will be able to rack up enough points and also play well enough defensively to be a Calder finalist this year because the Bruins will need to play him.
He was the best offensive defenseman in the OHL this year, and will finish his 2012-13 season for the Niagara Ice Dogs with 41 points (eight goals and 33 assists) in 32 games (unless he is sent back to the OHL, which is unlikely).
There will be a lot of competition for the Calder this season, but playing in a major hockey market on a Stanley Cup contender will help Hamilton get the attention he needs to become a finalist and get votes. Ultimately, his impressive two-way game will impress voters and help him win the Calder.
Nathan Horton Will Play a Full Season and Be One of Boston's Best Players
Nathan Horton will play a full season and won't be bothered by another concussion or concussion-like symptoms. According to Joe McDonald of ESPN Boston, Horton is all set to join his teammates for the upcoming season.
Horton's agent says "Nathan is all set and ready to go. Has been for a while now."— Joe McDonald (@ESPNJoeyMac) January 6, 2013
He last suffered a concussion in January of last year and was unable to return to the Bruins for their 2012 playoff run. With an extended period of time to rest and receive medical treatment/attention because of the lockout, Horton should be in great shape this season.
He may have to play a little less physically than he normally does in order to avoid another possible concussion, but this is normal for anyone who has dealt with that kind of injury.
Horton’s return to the lineup will give the Bruins a much-needed boost on the power play and someone who can be relied on to score goals in the playoffs. The 27-year-old winger was on pace to have his best offensive season as a member of the Bruins before his most recent concussion sidelined him for the remainder of 2011-12.
Horton scored 17 points in 21 games during Boston’s Stanley Cup run two years ago, and this offensive production was sorely missed in last year’s first-round series against the Washington Capitals when the Bruins weren't able to score enough goals.
Expect Horton to have a bounce-back year and be one of the Bruins’ best players. He’s healthy and motivated to have a great season because he’s a free agent at the end of the year.
Peter Chiarelli Makes a Major Move Before the Trade Deadline
The Bruins will need to get under the salary cap ceiling of $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season, and even though general manager Peter Chiarelli will have two buyouts to use after this year, there aren’t any cap-burdening contracts that he needs to get rid of with a buyout (possibly Marc Savard if teams can no longer use long-term injury reserve to get rid of cap hits).
The best option for Chiarelli to get under the cap without letting all his veteran free agents leave in the summer and having to replace them with young, unproven players would be to make a trade. If he makes a deal, trading a center makes the most sense because the Bruins have so much depth at that position.
David Krejci is one player who the Bruins could dangle at the trade deadline to shed some salary and/or add some depth to the team. It’s also possible that Krejci could help the Bruins get another first-round pick this year, which would be helpful to Boston since the 2013 draft class is so strong.
Krejci was involved in trade rumors last year, and since he’s a talented top-six center with just two-plus seasons remaining on his contract (including a manageable $5.25 million cap hit), he should have good value on the trade market.
The 26-year-old center doesn’t have a no-trade or no-movement clause in his contract and is a top-tier offensive player who also performs at a high level in the playoffs.
Chiarelli is going to need more depth on the wings if Jordan Caron, Chris Bourque and other bottom-six wingers don’t play well, or if injuries create depth problems.
If Krejci was traded, the Bruins could fill his spot on the top line with Tyler Seguin or Rich Peverley, both of whom are natural centers.
Horton is another player who could possibly be traded if the Bruins determine that they won’t re-sign him and want to get some value before he hits free agency. However, it's hard to imagine Horton having much trade value given his recent health problems
Krejci has more value because of his contract and the fact that he’s durable and a more reliable offensive player.
Don't be surprised if Chiarelli makes a move at the trade deadline to bolster his team for the playoffs and/or to get under the 2013-14 salary cap.
The Bruins Will Win the Stanley Cup
The Bruins will lift the Stanley Cup for the second time in the last three seasons when they are the last team standing after an exciting shortened season.
The Bruins will benefit tremendously from the lockout-shortened season because they won’t have to go through a full 82-game season playing their physical style of hockey.
Fewer games and a few extra months of rest will benefit a physical team like Boston, and when you also consider the strength of their blue line, the quality of the goaltending and the depth of their forward group, this is a team built for playoff success.
The Bruins finished second in goals scored and sixth in goals against last season, and could improve in both areas this year with a more talented roster.
Winning the Eastern Conference will be a tough challenge because there are several quality teams that could stand in Boston’s way of a return trip to the Cup Final.
The New York Rangers may have a better team on paper but don’t have the same playoff experience as Boston. The Pittsburgh Penguins have the experience and offensive talent needed for a deep playoff run, but there are real concerns about their blue line and goaltending. The Philadelphia Flyers will also be hard to beat, but goaltending is a major problem for them.
If the Bruins don’t have to deal with any significant injuries, they will reach the Cup Final. The two most likely opponents that Boston would play in the Cup Final are the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks.
Both of those teams have well-rounded rosters, plenty of experience and strong goaltending, but the Bruins match up very well on paper with any Western Conference team.
Injuries could impact the Bruins’ success in a major way, but if they can stay healthy, they has everything they need for another Stanley Cup run in 2013.
Nicholas Goss is a Boston Bruins Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and has covered the team firsthand since the 2010-11 season. He was also the B/R's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston.