Although they may not be the greatest team this year, and adding Michael Ryder at $4 million per year didn't help, the Boston Bruins have an outside shot at playoff contention (like they did last year).
Boston's offense won't scare many teams. Other than Patrice Bergeron (who needs to regain his form after playing only 10 games last year due to concussion) and Marc Savard, there aren't any elite offensive players.
However, the wingmen will hopefully benefit from the production of the two centers. Marco Sturm, the last holdover from the Joe Thornton deal, has produced 27 goals each of the past two years, and Chuck Kobasew, who is talented but inconsistent, should start in the first-line winger spots.
Elsewhere on the roster are Michael Ryder (given $12 million over three years after a 14-goal, 31-point season...shows how easily GMs give away their money these days), and Phil Kessel, who could be in line for a breakout season if he plays on a line with Bergeron. Overall, a below-average group which isn't a team strength.
Boston has one of the best two-way blueliners in the game in Zdeno Chara (17 goals, 51 points, +14) and a speedy puckhandler in Dennis Wideman. After that, physical defensemen with not as much speed skate on the bottom two pairings.
Rookie defenseman Matt Lashoff should help the defense, which could be more talented but falls only at average due to its lack of foot speed. However, Boston's defense is great at shutting down offenses in the third period: The Bruins were 31-0-4 in games that they led after two periods. The Bruins may not have too much offense from the line, but they are called defensemen for a reason: they block shots and break up plays well.
Tim Thomas has proven doubters wrong time and time again, claiming the starting goaltending job in front of veteran Manny Fernandez. Thomas is greatly underrated, though he is a notch below the elite. Prospect Tuukka Rask should take over the No. 1 job eventually, but will spend the season in the AHL until he is ready.
The B's should pull out a lot of close wins with their above-average goaltending, and their offense should get a boost from the return of center Patrice Bergeron. You can argue that they are playoff material, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the playoffs come April. But you can only have so many good games from Tim Thomas.
Team Grade: B-
Prediction: 10th in East
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