Though the dust has hardly settled on the heartbreaking end to the Bruins' season, time has already come to start planning for next year.
With a whirlwind offseason filled with black and gold headlines transitioning into the annual mid-summer lull, the NHL put hockey back in the headlines on Friday by releasing the 2013-14 schedule.
Though the long, hot months of August and September stand in the way of hockey's return, let's take a look at what's in store for the Bruins when the puck finally drops.
October 5 vs. Detroit Red Wings
Just two days after opening the season against new divisional foe Tampa Bay, the Bruins will get their first taste of a more fearsome Atlantic Division newcomer. Finally granted a long-sought move to the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Red Wings could forge yet another Original Six rivalry with the Bruins. The Wings have not missed the playoffs in 22 years, and they should pose a major threat to Boston's supremacy in the northeast. An early season victory for the Bruins should give them momentum and confidence as they prepare for countless contests with the Hockeytown juggernaut.
November 5 vs. Dallas Stars
Tyler Seguin won't have to wait long for his return to the TD Garden. He'll be back in Boston along with Rich Peverley in early November, and he could take the ice as the Stars' top center. On the other side of the red line, Loui Eriksson will hope to overshadow the young Seguin in his first tilt against his former team. The game could take on added significance if either Matt Fraser or Reilly Smith earns a spot on Boston's third line. Both former Dallas prospects could make an NHL impact this fall. This interconference clash should be emotional for both sides, and it will draw plenty of attention.
December 5 at Montreal Canadiens
In yet another big game scheduled for the fifth of the month, the Bruins will head to Montreal for the first matchup of the season with the rival Canadiens. The B's and Hab's took their battle for the Northeast Division crown down to the wire in 2013, and both project to contend for the inaugural Atlantic title. The Quebec club edged Boston for first place this past season, and the Bruins won't soon forget it. This game should see them begin their revenge attempt. Arguably the NHL's best rivalry, this age-old hate-fest never disappoints.
In addition to their familiar rivals from the now-defunct Northeast Division, the Bruins will be joined by a handful of threatening new foes in the recently named Atlantic Division.
The Detroit Red Wings led by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk project to be a perennial force in the new division, and they will be especially dangerous in 2013-14 with the additions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss. Despite their veteran firepower, the Wings won't be the only legitimate threat to win the division.
Just hours after Alfredsson signed with Detroit, the Ottawa Senators replaced their former captain by trading for high-scoring winger Bobby Ryan. Ryan will now join 2012 Norris winner Erik Karlsson on a young team that shocked the league with a postseason run in 2013. Paul McLean's emerging team should not be overlooked again.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs believe they have finally found their goaltender in Jonathan Bernier, and the defending Northeast-champion Canadiens remain mostly unchanged as they plot a repeat performance.
Though the Panthers, Lightning and Sabres don't seem ready to challenge for a division title just yet, they are worth watching. The two Florida teams picked in the top three of the 2013 draft, with Florida selecting Aleksander Barkov and Tampa nabbing Jonathan Drouin. Meanwhile Buffalo quietly enjoyed a superb draft reeling in defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov in the first round.
As it stands, the Atlantic looks to be the NHL's toughest division, meaning that the Bruins will have to ready themselves for quite a fight.
January 7 - 19:
All three west coast clubs made the playoffs last season, and they each look primed to contend once again this year. Anaheim, LA and San Jose should all be near the top of the Western Conference Standings and could hand the Bruins a series of tough losses if the jet-lag keeps them from playing their best hockey.
After their Golden State swing, the Bruins will return home for a big division matchup with Toronto before heading west once again. The latter part of the roadtrip includes visits to Dallas and Chicago.
In Dallas, Tyler Seguin will have the crowd on his side as he hopes to cut his former team down to size, and two days later at the Madhouse on Madison the Bruins will have to brace themselves for a battle with the Stanley Cup champions.
After six classic games in June that ended with the Blackhawks hoisting hockey's holy grail, the rematch projects to be another spectacular display.
After a long postseason run, the Bruins might be feeling fatigued come January. If it shows then this stretch won't go well.
A Stanley Cup hangover severely hampered the Bruins for stretches of the 2011-12 season, meaning that another up and down campaign can be expected. The 2011-12 team still managed to win the Northeast, but they were blessed with much gentler opposition than the current squad.
However, the Bruins remain the most complete team in the Atlantic Division, and the arrival of new talent should keep them fresh enough to comfortably reach the postseason.
Though Jimmy Howard, Carey Price and Craig Anderson may disagree, Tuukka Rask is the best goaltender in the division, and if he replicates his superb performance from last season, the Bruins will be just fine.
Boston's defensive corps should be rejuvenated by Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski, while the offense will ideally be more consistent with streaky wingers Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton playing elsewhere.
The treacherous Atlantic Division could produce any number of winners, so don't count on the Bruins clinching the inaugural title, but this is a playoff team without a doubt.
Expect Boston to snatch one of the three guaranteed playoff spots in the division, even if it doesn't finish at the top of the standings. The Bruins, Red Wings and Senators should each post 90 or more points, and each of the three is capable of being top dog.