Right wing reformation wasted little time nudging the aftermath of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals to the side in the Boston Bruins headlines this past July. Through a combination of one trade and two free-agency moves, Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin gave way to Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla in that position.
Roughly three months later, the Bruins are raring to start percolating regular news again. Their 2013-14 regular season begins this Thursday with a visit from the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of their new divisional cohabitants in the realigned, eight-team NHL Atlantic.
Can the fresh faces also lend fresh legs and fresh air to a team that was shagged out and shattered as runners-up in late June? Will such key returnees as Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask have enough in them to lead the team in their respective positions again?
Can young blueliners Matt Bartkowsi, Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton build on their respective foundations from last year and round out a stable sextet on defense? Will they, along with the lower-tier forwards, pick up their share of the offensive production to supplement a dependable top-six portion of the strike force?
Those are all critical storylines for Bruins buffs to watch for in 2013-14. Here is a closer look at how those sidebars might play out most noticeably as Boston seeks 2013 redemption and a 2011 throwback.
Arrivals: Loui Eriksson, Jarome Iginla, Chad Johnson, Reilly Smith
Departures: Andrew Ference, Nathan Horton, Anton Khudobin, Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin
Boston is losing a certifiable leader and gaining another through its various summer transactions. Iginla was the captain for the Calgary Flames while Ference, a defenseman who left via free agency and at times wore an alternate captain’s “A,” recently garnered Edmonton’s captaincy.
Through the blockbuster deal with Dallas, the Bruins are essentially swapping out Seguin in favor of Eriksson. In addition, Peverley's export creates an opening for the likes of Smith and/or a homegrown specimen such as Jordan Caron or Carl Soderberg to fill.
|Milan Lucic||David Krejci||Jarome Iginla|
|Brad Marchand||Patrice Bergeron||Loui Eriksson|
|Carl Soderberg||Chris Kelly||Jordan Caron/Reilly Smith|
|Daniel Paille||Gregory Campbell||Shawn Thornton|
As noted in the previous two slides, Iginla replaces Horton and Eriksson spells Seguin as the top-two right wings, while Kelly will have new company on the third line. The fabled "Merlot Line," also known as the fourth line, figures to stay intact.
|Zdeno Chara||Johnny Boychuk|
|Dennis Seidenberg||Torey Krug|
|Adam McQuaid||Matt Bartkowski/Dougie Hamilton|
The assignments for the three youngsters is subject to change more than anything else on the roster. Krug, however, carries an experiential advantage over Bartkowski and Hamilton, having logged 15 games worth of seasoning in the 2013 playoffs, as well as an enticing puck-moving pedigree.
|Tuukka Rask||Chad Johnson/Niklas Svedberg|
Rask gets the bulk of the workload while Johnson should see action in at least two or three handfuls of games. It would also not be surprising in the least if Svedberg, the reigning AHL goaltender of the year, got a few sparse looks.
The adage that success starts from the net applies to the Bruins in 2013-14.
Through his first six professional seasons, Rask was working to establish himself as an NHL-caliber starter. He spent three of the last four battling to ensure himself a new contract with Boston.
Now he enters this season with an eight-year deal worth a cumulative $56 million at hand. In exchange for that, he will need to prove that he can thrive under a different form of pressure and not grow lax over long-term alliances.
In addition, even though 2012-13 was technically his first season as the clear-cut No. 1 netminder, this will be his first 82-game, 29-opponent regular season in that position. This means facing the question as to whether or not he can instill consistent confidence in his skating mates for 60-plus nights over six months and sustain enough stamina through that much labor and continental travel.
Success in that department will validate the notion that the Bruins are in just as good hands with Rask as they were with Tim Thomas circa 2007-2012. It will all but mean having a dependable last line of defense to keep them competitive from October to April.
Failure in that department, however, will mean delving deeper into the mystery bag that is the backup compartment. The journeyman Johnson enters this season with a sparse 10 NHL games on his transcript, while Svedberg and Malcolm Subban combine for zero, which means gradual seasoning is best for them.
Rask plays a stable 60-odd games in the regular season behind a squad of skaters that feeds off the motivation and veteran presence of Iginla. Lucic and Krejci benefit the most from the seasoned winger on their line as they turn in career campaigns, while Eriksson makes a seamless transition from Dallas to round out a sturdy top six.
Riding on home ice through at least the first half of the playoffs by virtue of placing first in the Atlantic, the Bruins reach the third round. There, they become the NHL’s first back-to-back conference champion since Pittsburgh in 2008-09, but run out of gas in the Cup Final.
Much like it did in 2011-12, the returning core either consciously or subconsciously resigns itself to the consequences of residual wear and tear. A struggle for home ice in merely one postseason series ensues.
Chara shows more frequent and more severe signs of athletic aging, and the recently battered Bergeron plays a vain game of catch-up as he tries to sustain his form, thus rolling undue added pressure unto Rask. To compound that nuisance, the three younger defensemen all prove they are far from finished with their growing pains as they deal with their first full-length NHL itinerary.
In turn, home ice or not, Boston trips and falls out of the first round in a matchup of the division’s second and third seeds.
The Bruins, on the one hand, will be hungrier coming off a losing cause in the Cup Final than they were when they were coming off a victory in 2011. That will help to a degree.
On the other hand, though, added work and mileage for key players representing their countries in the Olympics will hinder them in the homestretch and postseason.
Cap constraints will complicate any attempts to tweak the roster and inject fresher bodies at any point, let alone the trade deadline. This means relying on rest-deprived versions of Bergeron, Chara, Krejci and Rask, first and foremost, in every key aspect of the game.
Virtually everybody else will benefit from the break in February, but that will only yield so much benefit for so long when they are trying to recompense their leaned-on leaders’ shortcomings.
Meanwhile, the divisional rival Senators are knocking on the door to the contender’s club and will benefit from Boston’s breakdown the most. After two seasons as an inspiring underdog, the opportunistic Ottawa team will bustle its way to bigwig status by finishing ahead of the Bruins for first place in the Atlantic.
A few weeks thereafter, Paul MacLean’s burgeroning, battle-tested pupils will prevail in a seven-game, second-round thriller, sending the Bruins to spring cleaning in mid-May. A healthy collection of Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek, Bobby Ryan and Jason Spezza will overwhelm Boston’s drained defensive cogs and spell the difference in an otherwise even matchup.