I'm a summer guy.
I admit it, there is nothing like the three months of summer in New England. Whether it's going to the beaches in Newport, enjoying the night life in Boston, or camping in Vermont, nothing beats a New England summer.
This summer began in grand fashion, as the Boston Celtics completed their worst-to-first turnaround and became NBA champions for the 17th time in their storied history. Although I am no fan of the Red Sox, they dominate the summer headlines here in New England, and late summer is filled with anticipation as the NFL season starts.
What is missing from this picture? Well, the only professional sport that makes me anticipate winter—hockey. The Boston Bruins are often lost in the shuffle of New England sports, rarely getting airtime on sports radio and television.
However, this writer thinks this season will be the Bruins' best in quite awhile, and could shift the attention of New England fans back to hockey, where they will be competing with the Patriots and Celtics.
Last season, the Bruins were ravaged by injuries; in fact, they were third in the league with an astounding 358 Man Games Lost to injuries. Only the Panthers and the Islanders had more.
In spite of losing players like star Patrice Bergeron and defenseman Andrew Alberts to cheap shots by the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bruins played well enough to make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed and take the rival Canadiens to seven games, something no one thought was possible.
This year, the Bruins are back and ready to contend for a playoff spot once again. Bergeron is healthy and will help set up other players for opportunities, as well as score when he gets the chance. If there is any question as to whether or not Bergeron can go, just know that he had three assists and a goal the other night in a preseason win over Montreal. Not bad for not playing in almost a year.
Goalie Manny Fernandez, who missed the vast majority of last season, is also healthy and will probably split time with the aging Tim Thomas, who did a great job on the whole last season.
The Bruins didn't really make a huge splash in the free agent market, as they didn't have much room to work with in order to stay under the salary cap. However, they did acquire Michael Ryder from Montreal to give them an extra boost in the scoring department. A 30-goal scorer in 2005-06 and 2006-07, Ryder had a dip in his stats last year, but should bring some high-energy offense to the Bruins.
One player to watch out for this season is Phil Kessel. Bruins fans have noticed his exciting style of play, as well as his affinity for the shootout. Only 20 years old, Kessel is coming off of a 19-goal season, but look for him to have a breakout year, especially if he is on the same line as Bergeron, who will compliment him nicely. I expect to see him score anywhere from 25-to-30 goals and possibly make his first all-star team.
Milan Lucic is another young gun who has been getting a lot of burn this preseason with the first line and Marc Savard. Lucic is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Boston for his hard-nosed style, a winger who can score and isn't afraid to drop the gloves when he has to. If that sounds familiar, you're thinking of Bruins legend Cam Neely.
Marc Savard should have a great season, as well, as I expect him to finish the year somewhere in the 90-point range. "Big Z," Zdeno Chara, will continue to punish players, although he has lost a step or two since coming over from Ottawa.
I expect the Bruins to be much better in Claude Julien's second year with the team, as they should make the playoffs. I'm going to predict a fifth seed in the tournament, barring any major injuries. If the Bruins can stay healthy, they should be able to stay relevant in the busy New England sports market.
Maybe I'm a winter guy now.