BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: Boston Bruins
Preface: The preseason is weird.
Luke Schenn seems to be a Norris and a Calder Trophy candidate (that is, if defensive defensemen ever got consideration for the Calder), the Dallas Stars have one win, and the St Louis Blues have three players atop the scoring race.
Ken Armer is silently crying in an armchair, facing the fire with a glass of brandy in his hand at this news, while the Detroit Red Wings are silently chuckling to themselves, as they re-examine film of Manny Legace of his days as a Red Wing so as to expose his weaknesses when the games matter.
Alan Bass, meanwhile, is hiding out under the buffet table in the Philadelphia Flyers' media room—so much for college.
I'm going to acknowledge something right now: There are a lot of unknowns in the Northeast Division.
Is Carey Price going to be better this year? We don't know, although all signs point to yes.
Are the Ottawa Senators over last season's (cue Jim Hughson) malfunction of maganimous proportions, and do they have the offensive depth to compete when Heatley, Alfredsson, and Spezza aren't all on the same line? I don't know.
Can the Bruins prove to be a successful dark horse in the Northeast Division? Who knows?
Will the Sabres bounce back from an off year last year and instill Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, and Thomas Vanek as the next great trio? I don't know.
And what the hell will happen with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season? Good luck with that one.
Either way, someone's going to get the shaft in the Northeast this season, and it'll lead to a whole lot of yelling, as it normally does. Remember the scene from Tropic Thunder where everyone's yelling and they completely miss the explosion that Danny McBride (you'd know him as "Cody the crazy pyro") rigged up? Then after the explosion, they just go back to fighting? That's the way the Northeast is.
The regular season is the buildup, the playoffs are the explosion, culminating in the Stanley Cup Finals—which we all shut up and watch, and then go right back to fighting the day after.
And we wonder why some of the other teams in the NHL can't stand us...
Roster Additions: Michael Ryder-F (F.A.), Johnny Boychuk-D (Trade), Mark Marquardt-F (F.A).
Roster Subtractions: Glen Murray-F (F.A./Buyout), Alex Zhamnov-F (F.A.), Glen Metropolit-F (F.A.), Bobby Allen-D (F.A.), Alex Auld-G (F.A.)
How did 2007-08 go? 49-21-12, Eighth in conference, third in Northeast division, lost in first round of Eastern Conference playoffs.
2008-09 Goal: Second in Northeast, Fifth to seventh in conference.
Let's break'er down...
Speaking of the Senators in a roundabout way, they tied with the Bruins for the eighth playoff spot last season, but actually finished in seventh. By virtue of the schedule-makers not making the season longer, the Sens were fortunate to hang on to the seventh spot.
Either way, though, the Bruins made their first-round series with Montreal exciting, and they proved to be a scrappy team that doesn't quit.
With some exciting youth sprinkled throughout the roster, the Bruins could really make a push this season.
Then again, Sean Crowe will probably tell me Jeremy Jacobs will find a way to mess it up. Although I don't necessarily doubt it, if Jacobs can just chill this season and not try to "change the franchise for the better"—you know, like trading Joe Thornton—then the B's will be on the right track.
Timmy-T and Manz Ferdinand hunker down in the bunker of twine
In between the pipes, the Boston Bruins are older than anyone may actually know.
Although he only has three NHL seasons of 30 games or more, Tim Thomas is 34 heading into the season—just teetering on that point in time when goalies start to lose their edge. Because he was such a late bloomer however, Thomas may have an advantage, as he's come within two wins of posting back-to-back 30 win seasons. Although his GAA was high in 2006-07 (3.13), Thomas worked to control the game better last season and drop it to a manageable 2.44.
Although Thomas is barely above average when it comes to starting goalies in the NHL, he wins games much like Chris Osgood of Detroit. In a division like the Northeast, which could be tight this season, that's what you need.
Manny Fernandez will be rounding out the goalie tandem—and as history shows, Fernandez does his best work in pairs. The 34-year-old is coming off a season cut drastically short by knee troubles, so it'll be interesting to see how he bounces back.
Fernandez has worked well in the past riding the tandem bicycle with Dwayne Roloson in Minnesota. If he can come back healthy, Manny could produce a solid 20-win season with 40-45 games of work.
If either of those two run into injury problems, then former-Leaf Tuuka Rask should be ready to step in. To be honest, we all saw it coming last season, when he debuted against the Leafs and stopped 30 of 32 shots to crush his former team. Although the added insurance of Alex Auld will be missed, Rask should be able to step in ably in the event of an injury.
Bergeron's back in black after (Rock and Roll) Train(ing) hard
There was probably a better AC/DC reference in there somewhere, I'm just not sure what it was.
But while I'm out here giving props, here's another. To Bill Simmons and Dave Damesheck—if you're reading this, this is for you:
Milan Lucic is the greatest player and the greatest name in the history of the NHL.
While I may not—or, you know, flat-out don't—agree entirely on both accounts, I have to say that the Bruins have one of the scariest up-and-coming power forwards in the NHL right now. The name "Lucic" helps one to envision a rebirth of the Incredible Hulk with the speaking eloquence of Sylvester Stallone. Although I can't comment on Lucic's dialogue, he lives up to his name size-wise, weighing in at a "hulking'" 6'4" and 200 lbs.
He proved to be a late-bloomer in the WHL, not scoring 30 goals until his final season—but it's hard not to believe that if Lucic can assert himself in the dressing room and on the ice, he'll be a special talent.
Lucic also has the opportunity to combine with two extremely dangerous players in their own rights this season—Patrice Bergeron and Phil Kessel.
We'll start with Bergeron, who—even before training camp was underway—seemed to be the consensus pick for comeback player of the year, after having his season viciously cut short at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Early in the preseason, it's looked like Bergeron is past the concussion problems, and is back to his old playmaking self, combining his shiftiness and playmaking ability into one quality package. He was easily a 70-point player before the injuries, and looks to be eyeing that level once again this season. It's not like I'm the first one to say expect a huge rebound year from him.
To compliment Lucic's "crash and bang" mentality and Bergeron's playmaking and craftiness, Phil Kessel brings a heavy shot to the table. Kessel finished last year playing in all 82 games, and he cashed in on quality scoring chances 19 times, combining that with 18 assists.
Although his point totals are a bit low, Kessel is going to be the goal-scorer on his line, and he could break 30 this year if the stars align (or, if Bergeron doesn't start seeing them).
Patrice Bergeron isn't the only Bruin eyeing a bounce-back season, though. Following a miserable 14-goal season, Michael Ryder saw his ice-time dramatically cut in Montreal. He was eventually benched, and his walking papers were all but signed by the organization.
Once a prized 30-goal scorer, the wheels just seemed to fall off last season for Ryder. He looks to be more than a one-time wonder though—he has two 30-goal and one 25-goal season to his credit in the NHL and a 34-goal season in the AHL. The added motivation of playing in the same division as his former team could drive Ryder to once again attain the prowess that once made him so popular.
Then there's Marc Savard, who is one of the quietest, yet most consistent playmakers in the league. If it wasn't for a back injury cutting his time short last season, Savard could have posted his second-straight 70-assist season. He was one away from making it three straight in 2005-06.
With the quality of young talent surrounding him, Savard should be even better this season. Although he's no Joe Thornton, he certainly provides the playmaking presence the Bruins needed since trading Mighty Joe Young.
Side note: I'm past the stage of calling Marc Savard underrated, but you want to know what is? The fact that Charlize Theron was in Mighty Joe Young. Yeah, I had forgotten it too, but it was probably the best casting move ever made by Disney and I was too young to appreciate it. Granted she's hotter at 33 than she was at 23 (the longer hair has a lot to do with it) and she was starring opposite a Gorilla (which a 10-year-old BT would have been more concerned with) but she's still in it, which is kind of hot in and of itself. Yep, these are the kinds of things I think you should know.
Marco Sturm, meanwhile, is one of those players who benefits greatly from being paired with a smart playmaker. Acquired in the deal sending the aforementioned Thornton to San Jose, Sturm has never registered fewer than 22 goals in a season for the Bruins. He is coming off back-to-back 27 goal seasons, making him a solid 25-goal threat that Bruins' opposition should keep an eye on. If he's allowed to go unnoticed on the ice, he has the potential to come back and bite them.
David Krejci is another player for the Bruins who could turn into a solid playmaker down the road, but he needs a bit more NHL experience. In his 56 games in the NHL last season, Krejci looked especially at-home plying his trade on the power play, where he picked up nine assists. If he can somehow wiggle into an expanded role for the Bruins this season, he may or may not flourish—but look for him to really come into his own in two or three years.
Chuck Kobasew had a solid season in Boston, bouncing back to the 20-goal plateau, bookending a disappointing 2006-07. Kobasew may not turn into a superstar in Boston, but he'll definitely be able to light the lamp, and he could be a 45-point, 20-goal player for a few years in his career.
As far as depth goes, the most useful player the Bruins have is Stephane Yelle. Probably one of the most under-sought free agents of this offseason, Yelle brings quality experience, leadership, and faceoff skills. Granted he'll never produce a ton of points, but he's invaluable in getting to and playing in the playoffs—a useful tool if Boston has expectations of making noise in the post season.
Peter Schaeffer, meanwhile, will offer the Bruins a solid two-way presence while P.J. Axelsson offers the same—except with a bit more scoring aptitude—while Blake Wheeler and Vladimir Sobotka will be interesting players to watch if they can find their hands at the NHL level.
Wouldn't it be great if the Bruins also signed the shortest defenseman in the NHL?
As if you haven't noticed by now, I have a soft-spot in my heart for former London Knights that make it (not necessarily big) in the NHL.
Aside from Rick Nash, Dennis Wideman is my favorite Knight currently in the NHL. Just so you know I'm an equal opportunist, John Erskine would probably be third.
Although most remember Wideman from his St Louis days when he tripped himself up in the shootout, he's really developed into a strong power play guy—of his 36 points last season, 20 of them came on the man advantage. He had a strong year last year in respect to plus-minus as well, posting a plus-11, and he could really start to develop into a good NHL defenseman in even-strength situations too.
The undisputed leader of the Bruins' defense (and the team as a whole) though is Zdeno Chara. It takes a large, aggressive man to use Bryan McCabe as a rag doll, and Chara is that man. The NBA-sized centre posted his first ever 50-point season (51) last year, and has really developed into one of the more recognizable defenders in the NHL due to his style of play as well as his size.
Although his size can sometimes hinder him with the more fleet-footed NHLers, Chara will continue to be dominant this season, most likely posting another 50-point year.
In the gritty veteran department, the Bruins have Aaron Ward who's coming off of a solid season, while Andrew Ference can offer a physical depth option, and Mark Stuart is developing into a solid, dependable shut-down defenseman.
Andrew Alberts will be intriguing to watch, as he relies mainly on his physical tools rather than his offensive game, and it'll be interesting to see if he comes back fully healthy after struggling with a bit of head trouble last season.
There's some good young depth in the system with Matt Lashoff and Matt Hunwick, but both may need a little more time before they're prepared to face the NHL full-time.
So what's it all mean?
The Bruins are going to need to get consistent goaltending to be a threat in the Northeast.
If it were just Tim Thomas or just Manny Fernandez, then I'd be a little worried. However, with the tandem system working in their favor, the Bruins should be okay.
Granted, the Bruins were a bit of an enigma last season—they were the only playoff team to allow more goals than they scored—but their offense will be better and as a whole I think they'll be tighter defensively.
Second will be a dogfight: I think the Bruins and Sens will be fighting it out throughout the entire season, and the Sabres will offer a hell of a fight too.
I think the Bruins muscle their way in, though.
Second in the Northeast
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile. You can also read all of his previous work in his archives.
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