5 Dates for Boston Bruins Fans to Mark After Week 1 of NHL Free Agency

Al DanielCorrespondent IIJuly 7, 2014

5 Dates for Boston Bruins Fans to Mark After Week 1 of NHL Free Agency

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    Shawn Thornton and Brian Gionta are no longer a part of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry, but they will both be a part of one of Boston's divisional foes.
    Shawn Thornton and Brian Gionta are no longer a part of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry, but they will both be a part of one of Boston's divisional foes.Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    A dearth of quantity and quality in acquisitions does not automatically equal a modicum of influence on the Boston Bruins in the NHL’s 2014 free-agency spree. Other teams are accumulating their lost assets or transferring familiar rivals to new markets.

    Because of those moves, there are some dates on the 2014-15 schedule worth upgrading to bold type, italics, underline or a combination of the three.

    Sure, when the schedule came out on June 22, New England puckheads were apt to highlight any and all Montreal meetings. That is an understandable ritual, particularly in the wake of a seven-game postseason loss to those rivals.

    It's hard to fault any partisans who are warming their palms in anticipation of the first Chicago, Los Angeles, New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh tilts. Even impartial followers can and do appreciate established marquee matchups.

    But there will be more games emitting extra intrigue besides playoff rematches and titanic tangles with fellow NHL heavyweights. That notion is becoming more apparent as free agency approaches the one-week mark and both signings and trades increase in frequency.

    Knowing who will play where this coming season, here are five nights of re-acquaintance with friends and foes on Boston’s 2014-15 itinerary.

     

    Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via hockey-reference.com

October 13 vs. Colorado

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    Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    It will not be a long wait for the Causeway congregants to see Jarome Iginla in person again. Boston’s fourth regular-season game overall and third at home will feature the return of the coveted free agent whom they lacked the resources to retain.

    Iginla signed with the Avalanche last week after a one-and-done contract with the Bruins expired. According to CapGeek, he is imposing a $5,333,333 cap hit over the next three seasons after garnering $6 million this past year.

    A recent Bruins ally will not be the only new face on the Avalanche's bench. Two days before the start of the free-agency spree, the Avs made a trade for Danny Briere from Montreal.

    Is it still too soon to mention that Iginla tallied Boston’s lone goal while Briere assisted on the icebreaker and inserted the insurance strike in Game 7 this past May? That will doubtlessly be on the minds of Bruins buffs going into this Columbus Day matinee.

    So, too, will the fact that Iginla chose Colorado with the expressed conviction that the team is on a rapid rise to contention. As it happens, this game will be the Bruins’ first look at a member of the presumably superior Western Conference.

    In other words, they will face the task of trying to make this matchup a mini-remake of the spring of 2013 against Pittsburgh.

October 18 at Buffalo

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    Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images

    Like the Avalanche, players from each side of last year’s Boston-Montreal playoff series will be sporting Sabres attire this coming season. Although, in this case, the former Canadiens in question figure to lend more intrigue.

    Considering how little he played during his rental, especially in the postseason, Andrej Meszaros will be a throwaway sidebar. Even if he performs in accordance with his $4,125,000 cap hit for Buffalo, he was not in Boston long enough to evoke sentimental flashbacks.

    There is more to say about Brian Gionta, a Boston College alum and the Habs' captain until last week. Ditto defenseman Josh Gorges, a trade acquisition and veteran of four Bruins-Canadiens postseason series (2008, 2009, 2011 and 2014).

    It is little wonder that, when introducing a link to the news of the latter two acquisitions, CSNNE.com editor Art Martone proclaimed that “The Sabres are turning into Montreal South.” That is only a mild-to-moderate exaggeration, and the moves in question amount to elements of one time-honored Boston rivalry transferring to another.

    The ex-Canadiens will join their new Sabres buddies in hosting the Bruins a second time on Oct. 30 before visiting Boston on Dec. 21.

November 4 vs. Florida

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    Steve Babineau/Getty Images

    This promises to be one of those returns with no indifference and no controversies on the part of the home crowd.

    The first installment of the 2014-15 Bruins-Panthers season series will also be new Florida Panthers fourth-liner Shawn Thornton’s first business trip to Boston. A mainstay in the Bruins lineup for seven seasons, he promptly found new employment after general manager Peter Chiarelli chose to take a different depth direction.

    But as Caryn Switaj wrote on the Bruins’ website on June 16, “While he won’t be in the Black & Gold next season, the Bostonian in him will always be part of the fabric of this city and for that, Bruins fans will be forever grateful.”

    Precisely one month prior, as quoted by ESPNBoston.com's Brendan C. Hall, Thornton reciprocated that notion by saying, "I’m hoping I’m back, I don’t know...If not, I’m still going to be in the community. I’m still going to be here. This is where we live now, this is home."

    Thornton’s vast commitment to community involvement and a year-round residence in Charlestown should lock away a warm reception in November. Ditto March 31, when the Panthers pay their second scheduled trip to the TD Garden.

November 21 at Columbus

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Although this pertains to a 2013 free agency move, circumstances pushed its relevance off by a year.

    Nathan Horton, a veteran of two journeys to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 and 2013, signed with the Blue Jackets last July. But offseason shoulder surgery and his subsequent recovery limited him to 35 appearances in 2013-14.

    Of those 35 appearances, none came against his previous club. Barring additional unforeseen developments, that means the Bruins will oppose Horton’s one-year replacement before they oppose Horton himself.

    But that meeting should finally occur at Nationwide Arena roughly 17 months after Horton’s last appearance in Bruins attire. Another two months will elapse before he makes his first appearance back on Bruins ice in mid-January.

    Depending on the venue, the New England Sports Network and TD Garden are all but certain to hype these games with highlight tributes. Those will not be hard to compile given Horton’s collection of playoff overtime strikes, series clinchers, two-in-ones and pregame water sprays.

February 13 at Vancouver

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    This will be Boston’s first chance to wage a mutual test with old front-office friend Jim Benning’s new-look Canucks.

    On the first two days of free agency in his new position as Vancouver’s GM, Benning nabbed goaltender Ryan Miller and Czech-winger Radim Vrbata.

    Before the veteran Czech made his decision, TSN’s Aaron Ward had cited the Bruins as one of his suitors in a June 30 tweet. But Vrbata ultimately accepted a lucrative deal with a $5 million cap hit ($2 million more than his previous career high, per CapGeek) to join the rebuilding Canucks.

    Multiple media outlets around Boston had mused that Vrbata could have plugged the right-side void Iginla left. Assuming that was a feasible proposition to begin with, Benning did not take long to dangle enough dough to deny his former higher-up, Chiarelli, that option.

    Miller, once a longtime divisional rival with the Sabres, has not opposed the Bruins since Dec. 19 of this past season. A 34-save performance that night bolstered a 4-2 Sabres victory and improved him to 26-9-7 in 42 career bouts with Boston.

    The Roberto Luongo saga is dead and buried, but Miller’s presence can help to make the next Bruins-Canucks card worth staying up for. For those who fall short on that front, the Canucks will return the visit a mere 11 nights later.