Power Ranking the Boston Bruins' Most Important Players
The Boston Bruins have all the talent needed to make a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final, but there won't be a championship parade with Duck Boats traveling down Boylston Street if the performance of a select group of players doesn't meet expectations.
Since 1990, the only team to lose in the Stanley Cup Final and get back there the following year was the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins.
As Boston sports fans eagerly await the return of Bruins hockey, let's take a look at the team's most important players for the 2013-14 NHL season.
5. Chris Kelly, Center
Chris Kelly had an awful year in 2013. One season after scoring a career-high 20 goals during a contract year in 2011-12, the veteran center found the back of the net just three times in 34 games last season.
As the playmaker on the Bruins' third line, a unit that has been a major weakness of the team for the last three years, Kelly has to perform at a much higher level for Boston to have enough scoring depth.
Kelly's dip in offensive production was one reason why the Bruins went from being the second-highest scoring team in 2011-12 to the 13th in 2013. To be fair, the 32-year-old veteran brings several other qualities to the ice, including faceoff skill, leadership and impressive defensive abilities.
But when the 2013 Stanley Cup Final began, the Bruins' bottom-six forwards were constantly outplayed by their Chicago Blackhawks counterparts, and it was a key reason why Boston fell in six games. Kelly's inability to make an impact offensively was a huge part of that failure.
A bounce-back season from Kelly would make the B's offense far more dangerous.
4. Milan Lucic, Left Wing
Milan Lucic is one of the top power forwards in the NHL. Not only is he a major physical force who drops the gloves when necessary, the 25-year-old winger also has the ability to score 25-30 goals in a season.
When Lucic is playing at a high level, he's one of the most difficult players in the league to defend. The problem for the Vancouver native is inconsistency because far too often his offense disappears for long stretches of the season.
Lucic had goalless droughts of six, nine and 15 games last season, while also failing to score in back-to-back games. Fortunately for the Bruins, he came alive in the playoffs and scored some important goals. He finished the postseason with seven goals and 19 assists in 22 games.
For the Bruins to be successful, Lucic cannot be effective only in the playoffs. His consistency must improve, and the goal for him is to return to the level he showed during the 2010-11 season, one that ended with a career-high 30 goals and 62 points.
Lucic's performance impacts the entire club. When he's playing a physical game, skating well and creating scoring chances, the Bruins become a difficult team to defend. His aggressiveness in the attacking zone opens up space for linemate David Krejci to use his exceptional playmaking skills to generate offense.
For the Bruins to win an improved Atlantic Division and earn home-ice advantage in the playoffs, Lucic needs a strong 2013-14 season from start to finish.
3. Patrice Bergeron, Center
Patrice Bergeron is one of the most respected players in the NHL, as well as the heart and soul of the Bruins. The fact that he even played at the end of the 2013 playoffs with a punctured lung, separated shoulder and cracked rib was just remarkable.
He's one of the elite two-way players in the NHL, evidenced by his two consecutive nominations for the Selke Trophy (he won the award in 2011-12).
As the best faceoff man in the NHL, Bergeron's ability to win draws and help the Bruins maintain possession of the puck is critical to the team's offensive success. Even though he's not a prolific scorer, the 28-year-old is capable of tallying anywhere from 45-65 points per season.
From a defensive standpoint, Bergeron is a smart, responsible player who blocks shots, breaks up passes and steals the puck. He also has the ability to completely shutdown elite scorers, which was evident in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final, when his exceptional defense resulted in Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby scoring zero points in a playoff series for the first time.
As a player who excels in all types of situations (even-strength, special teams, etc.), Bergeron is by far the most important forward on the Bruins. As we saw in Game 5 and Game 6 of last year's Cup Final, when Bergeron is at less than 100 percent healthy, Boston is a much easier team to beat.
2. Tuukka Rask, Goaltender
Without a lot of elite offensive skill, the Bruins are prone to lengthy stretches of games where the offense evaporates (April of last season, for example).
This would be a concern for most NHL teams, but Boston is still able to win games when it struggles to score consistently because of Tuukka Rask's brilliant and consistent performance in net.
In his second full year as a starter, Rask went 19-10-5 and ranked third in save percentage (.929), fifth in GAA (2.00) and first in shutouts (five) last season. When the playoffs started, the 26-year-old took his game to another level and led the Bruins to within two wins of another championship.
The Bruins are a team built from the net out, and with a talented goaltender like Rask signed for eight more years, this Original Six club is going to have a solid foundation at the most important position in hockey for a long time.
The departure of reliable backup goalie Anton Khudobin to the Carolina Hurricanes via free agency this summer makes Rask's presence on the ice even more important. Boston will go into next season with an unproven backup—Chad Johnson or Niklas Svedberg—which is a problem this team hasn't dealt with in several years.
If Rask struggles or suffers an injury, the Bruins would be in a lot of trouble. They don't have a reliable player to replace him right now.
1. Zdeno Chara, Defenseman
When the Bruins signed Zdeno Chara as a free agent in the summer of 2006 to be the cornerstone of their blue line, the team instantly became a lot more difficult to score against.
The club captain is the toughest player in the league for opposing forwards to play against because of his long reach, incredible size (6'9" and 255 pounds), toughness and defensive awareness.
Since Chara logs more ice time than almost every other player in the league and is always put on the ice to defend opposing teams' best players, his role as the No. 1 shutdown defenseman is so important to the team's success, especially on the penalty kill.
No other player on the roster can come close to having the same impact in the defensive zone as Chara, which is why he needs to be healthy and well-rested going into the playoffs because there will be games when the 36-year-old is forced to play 30-40 minutes.
In addition to his defensive brilliance, Chara is also a force in the attacking zone. He consistently tallies 40-plus points from the blue line and his record-breaking shot from the point is a key component of the power play.
As a great leader and the league's top defenseman, Chara is the one player the Bruins cannot afford to lose.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft.