Biggest Potential Problems for Boston Bruins 2013-14 Season
The Boston Bruins certainly have enough talent to chase another Stanley Cup, but plenty of things could foil their plans.
Aside from injuries and unlucky bounces, which both played parts in Boston's 2013 Stanley Cup Final loss, a few concerns ought to be on the minds of the Bruins as the season begins.
Winning a championship demands excellence from every member of a team, and there is some doubt about whether or not certain Bruins stars will be up to the task this season.
Here are the biggest potential problems for the Black and Gold:
1. Zdeno Chara Could Show His Age
Zdeno Chara has been the engine behind Boston's success since his arrival in 2006. The captain has consistently been one of the NHL's best defensemen over the last few seasons, but his age is starting to raise questions.
The 36-year-old Chara put in another strong season last year, logging massive minutes for Claude Julien. However, he might be losing a step.
In the Stanley Cup Final, Patrick Kane repeatedly exposed Chara's lack of speed. Though few d-men in the league can match Kane's quickness, Chara's pace is likely to dip even more this season.
His unparalleled size isn't going anywhere, and he should still employ the league's best poke-check. However, sluggish play might take him out the Norris Trophy race and hurt Boston's reputation as a truly dominant defensive team.
After a short offseason, his endurance may also come into question. Chara is famously well conditioned, but his workload will likely shrink over the next few years.
The defensively deep Bruins can afford a slight step backwards from Chara, but a significant drop-off might cripple the Big Bad B's.
2. Brad Marchand Could Regress
Since helping Boston to a championship in his rookie year, Brad Marchand has steadily improved. 2013 was his best season yet.
The 25-year-old led the Bruins in both goals (18) and points (36), but a close look at the numbers suggests that Marchand's career year might have been fool's gold.
He converted on a career-high 19.8 percent of his shots in 2013. To put that in perspective, he shot more effectively than NHL goal-scoring leaders Alex Ovechkin (14.5 percent), Steven Stamkos (18.5 percent) and John Tavares (17.3 percent).
In fact, Marchand's shooting percentage was the best of any player with 18 or more goals.
Perhaps, he has actually become one of the NHL's best sharpshooters, but it is more likely that the shortened season highlighted an upswing for Marchand in the naturally fluctuating statistical category.
The winger's career 15.3 shooting percentage probably tells a more accurate story about the state of his game. His 7.0 percent scoring rate in the 2013 postseason proved that he can't maintain his 45-game rate from last season.
In the playoffs, Marchand also reverted to the undisciplined game often seen in his first two seasons. The pesky forward is at his best when agitating, but he proved in the last regular season that he can get under opponents' skin without visiting the sin bin.
If Marchand's goal total drops and he racks up penalty minutes, the Bruins won't be nearly as difficult to beat.
3. Tuukka Rask Might Falter Under the Weight of His New Contract
Tuukka Rask earned a massive contract extension with a masterful 2013 campaign, and the Bruins were happy to give him one.
Rask's postseason brilliance alone guaranteed him big money, but any time a team commits eight years and $56 million to a player, scrutiny is bound to follow.
Betting on long-term success from a goaltender is notoriously dangerous. Lucrative deals given to goalies like Rick DiPietro, Roberto Luongo and Ilya Bryzgalov have made numerous general managers look silly in recent years.
It is worth nothing that Rask has never started more than 45 games in a season. He reached that mark back in 2009-10 when he briefly stole Tim Thomas' starting gig.
As Boston's workhorse, he'll start roughly 60 games this year, if not more. With trusted backup Anton Khudobin now playing for the Carolina Hurricanes, Boston has little in the way of reliable insurance.
Backup Chad Johnson has just 10 games of NHL experience, and AHL star Niklas Svedberg has never played on hockey's biggest stage.
There's no particular reason to believe that Rask won't be an elite goaltender this season. He should be entering the prime of his career, and Vezina Trophy contention is absolutely possible.
However, if Rask melts down or succumbs to injury, the Bruins will be in real trouble.