The whole 2012-13 season will practically be a big homestretch, which will amplify any given team’s past strengths and weaknesses from the second half of the last season. That is unless, of course, those teams find a way to remedy the latter.
It will be strictly on head coach Claude Julien and company to address that. Meanwhile, it will be on general manager Peter Chiarelli to help Julien work with returning and arriving personnel and around the temporary or permanent absence of other key cogs.
Whether it is on sheets of ice or sheets of paper, the Bruins’ five most immediate issues entering the condensed campaign are assessed as follows.
Last year’s Bruins were 5-5-2 in games facing off at 1 p.m. or earlier, with two of those five wins requiring a shootout to clinch and eight of those games occurring in January onward. Starting with a 4-3 loss to Vancouver, they went 2-4-1 on home ice in early afternoon games and did not let a single adversary leave without at least one point in the standings.
In 2010-11, all six of the Bruins’ 1 p.m. faceoffs were at home, all took place between mid-January and the conclusion of the regular season and the Bruins went 3-3-0. They were 4-5-1 at that start time the season prior.
Odds are, the custom of frequent matinees at TD Garden will continue this winter and early spring. Given that the season is starting in January, there will be less room for error, meaning the Bruins will want a year more like 2008-09 when they went 6-1-3 in 1 p.m. starts and finished first in the Eastern Conference.
As noted in one of TSN’s bullet points on the terms of the new CBA, “The upper limit on the salary cap in the first year is $60 million, but teams can spend up to $70.2 million (all pro-rated). The cap floor will be $44 million.”
Under those terms, the Bruins are in good spending shape with a cap payroll totaling $68,867,976. With that said, it does not leave any realistic opportunity to go shopping if the need for another established NHL player arises.
Even so, addressing the impact of Thomas’ contract and salary is still something the Bruins must do if they have any means or if they have to force the issue.
The self-idled stopper is also taking up cap space with a $5 million hit, regardless of whether or not he plays provided the Bruins still have his rights.
As noted in the previous slide, TSN is reporting that the cap floor has been lowered to $44 million, which means all 30 teams are comfortably above it. In turn, the Bruins will simply need Thomas to have an abrupt change of heart and return to action for the shortened season like everybody else.
If that happens, and if there are any buyers seeking to take on a veteran goaltender on top of a way to discount Savard’s cap hit, then Boston should open enough space to add at least two new pieces without necessarily sacrificing an active player.
Otherwise, the fanbase and front office can only hope that everyone stays healthy and performs consistently throughout the 48- or 50-game sprint and subsequent postseason.
One of the reasons it will be critical to have the financial means to make a trade is because not all of the third-line pieces will be necessarily dependable this season.
The Bruins have 11 established, healthy forwards and two spots to be claimed by those who have been toiling in Providence since September.
Jordan Caron, a veteran of two split NHL-AHL seasons, should have been the logical shoo-in to give Boston a nightly quorum of 12 strikers. However, with the AHL season nearly half over, he has been prone to frostbite with goals in only four out of 31 games, including just two since Halloween.
Caron will not even be available for a reported three weeks. Providence skipper Bruce Cassidy recently told Providence Journal reporter Mark Divver that the young forward is out with an upper-body ailment, meaning the Bruins will have to fill their roster with other personnel to start the season.
None of the best candidates in meritocratic terms, rookie Ryan Spooner and journeymen Chris Bourque and Jamie Tardif, are as NHL-seasoned as Caron is. Caron has seen action in 71 major league games, Bourque has played in 33 (none since 2009-10) and Spooner and Tardif have combined for zero.
But at least one of them will need to be ready to serve as a spare forward with the parent club, if not take regular NHL shifts.
That is, unless Caron can rapidly recover and reawaken with a return to Julien’s dressing room or Chiarelli can find a way to acquire a new face.
One of his more seasoned colleagues, Adam McQuaid, will most likely miss the first portion of the season as he continues to recover from an autumn surgery.
In addition, the prolific point patroller from the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs should be prepared to start easing into a regular role on the power play, another area Boston could stand to improve. (What else is new?)