RW Nathan Horton, LW Gregory Campbell, D Nathan McIver
D Dennis Wideman, C Vladimir Sobotka
Things are tough all over for the Boston Bruins, a team looking to rebound from an embarrassing collapse in the Eastern Conference playoffs last year. The Bruins, who impressed many by disposing of division rival Buffalo in the quarterfinals, were themselves taken by storm after two separate 3-0 leads during the semis.
Boston’s offseason strategy, to get serious about offense and their window to win a Stanley Cup, was quite understated. The Bruins trade for Nathan Horton passed with little fanfare, and their incredible luck in drafting Tyler Seguin was overshadowed by Taylor Hall as the No. 1 selection.
Speaking of the Bruins offense, Marc Savard’s story has become one of the most pivotal to the success of the team. Initially, reports surfaced suggesting that Savard would be out for the season with post-concussion symptoms. Though the rumors were quickly dismissed, Savard’s absence during training camp and preseason only further fueled suspicion until it was confirmed that he would miss significant time this year.
With Savard out of the picture, the Bruins will turn to David Krejci once again to play top line center. Krejci broke out two seasons ago to aid Savard and the rest of the team as the Bruins thrived, but he suffered a major scoring drought last year until finishing strong. Krejci’s credentials will come under the microscope with the rookie Seguin potentially playing the same position behind him.
New acquisition Nathan Horton is familiar with scrutiny as well. Horton is a former top five selection who has never done better than a 31-goal, 62-point season and dragged like an anchor with the Florida Panthers. A change of scenery and pairing with the right center could give Horton the superstar push he’s always been waiting for.
Both Patrice Bergeron and Michael Ryder are returning to the lineup this season as well. Bergeron knows a thing or two about the post-concussion comeback trail, which he is still actively on and could be escaping once and for all this year. And Ryder, a several time 20-goal scorer, is going to have to compete for importance on a team full of young, agile scorers.
The Bruins boast another trio of strong, budding talents in Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler, and Daniel Paille for the offense. Though health again plays a factor for Lucic, both Wheeler and Paille are finding their niche in Boston. All reports indicate that Lucic is due for a huge year.
When the Boston defense hits the ice this season, it’ll likely perform to the same level it has over the past few years. Boston is one of the best defensive teams in the NHL, thanks to strong play from the massive Zdeno Chara. He may be at the end of his contract in Boston, but his play hasn’t declined and he’s still got the hardest shot in the NHL.
The remainder of Boston’s defense plays less on offense and caters more to the stay-at-home style. Call it traditional, but when players like Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick are on the ice, opponents have to find a way around a collapsing pocket.
Defensemen Dennis Seidenberg is hoping his latest stop in Boston will be his last, as he’s signed long-term for the first time in his career and could be a diamond in the rough to spark some offense amongst the blueline. Seidenberg, as well as Mark Stuart, could see more time playing the point in a position that Dennis Wideman occupied last year.
The situation in net for Boston is still something of a competition, as both Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask have shown they have what it takes to be a starter in the league. Rask appeared to have won the job last season, going 22-12 in 45 games with a dominant 1.97 goals against average and .931 save percentage. Rask has always appeared to be the goalie of the future for the Bruins, and may now be ready for a full season to prove it.
But if Rask falters, Thomas isn’t too far off from his big year either. In 2008-09, Thomas went 36-11-7 with incredibly similar goals against and save percentage totals to that of Rask last season. Perhaps it is just the system the Bruins play in, but it should be advised that the Bruins will have at least one competent goalie in net this year.
As if it wasn’t obvious we would, let’s talk about Tyler Seguin. The rookie drafted with a selection acquired for Phil Kessel, Seguin is a natural born goal scorer that, at only 18, may already have the tools to aggravate the opposition in the NHL. Seguin will see time on both the wing and at center this year as the Bruins attempt to find a good place for him to fit.
The Bruins are still offensively stacked and shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially if the goaltending has another big year.
Prediction: First in the Northeast, Third in the Eastern Conference