The Biggest Boston Bruins Storylines to Follow in 2014
Only once in this century, or even within the past three decades, has this league seen a losing playoff finalist bounce back the next year to return to the final round, let alone win it. The 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins pulled the rare feat a full 25 years after the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers did the same.
Naturally, there will be several sidebars worth scrutinizing between now and this spring as the Bruins seek to navigate through a multitude of roadblocks. Some of those challenges will be a direct product of residual wear and tear from last year, a side effect that has indubitably factored in to the shortcomings of past defending finalists.
In addition, how the Bruins fare and how certain players perform in the rest of their 2013-14 journey will likely hold sway on some summer storylines. Afterward, some more distant, less predictable items should begin to take over the chronicles when the start of the 2014-15 season rolls around.
For now, as 2013 morphs into 2014 this week, here are six storylines for Bruins followers to keep watching for.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.
Bruins players could make a noticeable impact on the 2014 Olympics. Likewise, the 2014 Olympics could make a noticeable impact on Bruins players.
Regular followers have surely seen this coming since the 2013 NHL playoffs ended, and now it is finally on the horizon. A handful of key Boston players are coming off a rigorous run and a limited window of time to recover in preparation for 2013-14 and an overseas commitment in the middle.
Canada’s Patrice Bergeron, the Czech Republic’s David Krejci, Slovakia’s Zdeno Chara and Finland’s Tuukka Rask are all viable candidates to travel to Russia and represent their countries this February. That potentially means yet more labor wearing on Boston’s two most leaned-on centers, the minute-munching defenseman and the workhorse goaltender.
Assuming all of those players are Sochi-bound, the month of March will lend a fascinating homestretch to Bruins bystanders. The team will need to find a balance between managing its top players in preparation for the playoffs and ensuring a favorable playoff berth to begin with.
If nothing else, a test of Boston’s depth in every position likely looms for the final weeks of winter and the outset of spring.
To Buy Out or Not to Buy Out?
Per capgeek.com, the Bruins currently project to employ 11 forwards, five defensemen and one goalie in the 2014-15 season. Together, those 17 players will consume $62,649,643 in cap space, of which there will be a maximum allotment of $71.1 million.
Barring much overhaul, this means there will be only $8,450,357 left to pay another two forwards, two defensemen and a backup goalie. Notable names still lacking a contract beyond this season include Matt Bartkowski, Jarome Iginla, Torey Krug, Reilly Smith, Niklas Svedberg and Shawn Thornton.
With that being said, general manager Peter Chiarelli can help his cause a bit with a little offseason overhaul. The Bruins still have yet to use the two compliance buyouts every team was given for the summers of 2013 and 2014.
In light of his erratic performances since the start of last season, Chris Kelly comes to mind as one logical buyout candidate, barring a convincing turnaround. After mustering all of three goals and six assists in 34 games last year, he has tallied merely three strikes and four helpers through 29 games this season.
Should Chiarelli choose to release Kelly by way of a buyout, it will open a clean $3 million in additional breathing room. That would be particularly helpful in terms of re-signing such youngsters as Krug, Smith and Svedberg. All figure to command a raise after their six-figure, entry-level pacts expire in July.
Another young specimen in Ryan Spooner may also put Kelly on the hot seat. Spooner, who is in the second year of his three-season, entry-level deal, has impressed in his first protracted NHL stint and may not be looking back at this point.
If he keeps that up, he just might solidify his case to supplant Kelly as the third-line center come 2014’s training camp.
In a last-minute, heavy-hitting headline for the year 2013, the Bruins have learned that defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has suffered a season-ending knee injury. Per an official team press release, the prognosis has Seidenberg resting and recovering until sometime between late June and late August.
With that timetable, the next training camp will be the earliest opportunity to see if Seidenberg is in full form. In the meantime, the Bruins need to decide if they are comfortable contending with a defensive sextet of half veterans and half freshmen/sophomores for the balance of 2013-14.
Entering New Year’s, their top six healthy rearguards consist of Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Bartkowski. Emergency call-up Kevan Miller figures to be the spare, seventh blueliner for at least an indefinite stretch.
Depending on how the team fares with that group, it will likely come as no surprise if Chiarelli springs for a trade when the March 5 deadline draws near. In that event, speculation as to the imported personnel ought to draw as much intrigue as the potential sacrifice.
If he is still struggling and the old “change of scenery” card comes up, the aforementioned Kelly and his $3 million cap hit is one conceivable option. By a similar logic, another possibility among forwards may be fourth-year professional Jordan Caron, who has a toe-curling single point and a team-low minus-six rating in 21 appearances this season.
In another player health-related development on the cusp of New Year’s, forward Loui Eriksson took his first skate in a little more than three weeks Monday. This comes after the offseason acquisition spent the preceding stretch recovering from his second confirmed concussion of the 2013-14 campaign.
With Bergeron, Nathan Horton and Marc Savard, just to name three, the Bruins have grown all too familiar with recurring concussions in recent years. For Eriksson’s sake, one can hope that higher-ups will apply the lessons they have learned from those mixed sagas to ensure the player’s long-term viability.
Assuming he can put his worst days of suffering behind him, Eriksson’s secondary question for 2014 revolves around his effectiveness as a relatively new top-six forward on the Boston depth chart. When he has been able to suit up, he has clicked off and on en route to a 5-9-14 scoring log through his first 24 appearances with the Spoked-B.
Iginla: Back for More or Back on the Market?
The aforementioned Iginla is spending this season in Boston as his second stop on an ongoing quest for an elusive Stanley Cup ring. As it happens, he will turn 37 on July 1, 2014, the same day that he is due to hit free agency unless he renews his alliance with the Bruins beforehand.
Iginla’s momentary stay with the Penguins last spring and the first half of this season in Boston have yielded ample evidence that he still has plenty to offer. Much of that is doubtlessly owed to his hunger for postseason fulfillment.
The can’t-miss question concerns what he does when the outcome of the 2013-14 season is settled. If the Bruins fall short, will he make like Ray Bourque in 2000 and re-sign, or will he once again channel Marian Hossa in 2008 and 2009 by seeking more fertile ice in another city?
On the other hand, if Boston pulls the nearly impossible feat of consecutive finals appearances and comes out on top in 2014, will that suffice for Iginla, or will it merely embolden his appetite for more?
Krug for the Calder?
Entering Monday night’s action, Krug was fifth among NHL rookies with 20 points, which makes him first among freshman defenders. Only six fellow first-year major leaguers have accumulated more ice time than Krug’s 687 minutes and 20 seconds.
Krug may not be the top Calder Trophy candidate at the moment, especially when Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson currently eclipses him in both of the two aforementioned categories. Likewise, there are recent big-name draftees such as Tomas Hertl, Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon each making their own cases. Then there is Chris Kreider, who is second to Hertl among all rookie scorers.
With all of that said, Krug still has a foundation to stay in contention for the moment. How he handles the second half of this season, particularly with Seidenberg’s injury potentially opening up extra minutes, should be the X-factor as to whether he is at least a finalist.