5 Bold Predictions for the Boston Bruins in the New Year
Letting a lead get away for the umpteenth time, they granted the opposition an automatic point via the regulation tie for the sixth time in 10 games. For the fourth time in that span, they let the adversary claim the extra point in the resultant bonus round.
What can they do to break out of that limbo for the better? Will any internal or external resorts redress their outlook in time for a stronger second half in the 2014-15 regular season?
Depending on where their trends turn in the second half, what could it mean for their make-up beyond 2014-15?
The following five predictions shall attempt to answer those questions while raising a lofty bar for friendly bettors.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com
Jarome Iginla, Blake Wheeler Will Outscore Every Current Bruin
Besides their own team’s results, the achievements of old friends out west ought to tell Bruins buffs what is missing in New England this winter.
It is all but a foregone conclusion that Dallas’ Tyler Seguin, he of an NHL-leading 26 goals and a second-most 46 points, will produce more than any of his former teammates. But can you imagine two other ex-Bruins right wings finishing 2014-15 with higher point totals than Boston’s top producer?
Jarome Iginla, who signed with Colorado over the summer after one season as a Bruin, has that feat within lassoing distance. Blake Wheeler, a Bruin-turned-Thrasher/Jet from a 2011 trade, is already ahead in the race.
Entering Sunday’s action, Iginla had 24 points through the Avalanche’s first 38 games. Wheeler, who has two teammates ahead of him, had 29 through 39 outings with Winnipeg. At the same mark, Patrice Bergeron and Carl Soderberg were tied to lead the Bruins with 27 points apiece.
As Western Conference wingers capable of consuming top-six minutes, Iginla and Wheeler are more inclined to maintain, if not accelerate, their pace than those Boston centers.
Bergeron is a two-way specialist, which means his defensive-minded assignments will always mildly detract from his offensive output. Soderberg has long proven that he is third-line material, nothing more and nothing less.
Likewise, Seth Griffith, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith are not about to go on an unprecedented hot streak. Despite missing 20 games, David Krejci could still break the 50-point plateau by season’s end, but his former teammates will still surpass him with relatively facility.
Zdeno Chara Will Play His Last Game As Captain
The Bruins ought to know they need an identity reformation. Regardless of what happens in the second half of 2014-15, that will hold true for the sake of subsequent seasons.
One way to turn in that direction would be to swap the letters of leadership between two players. This would entail blueliner Zdeno Chara, who will be 38 in March, trading the captain’s “C” to Bergeron, who turns 30 in July, for his “A.”
Not only is Chara past his peak, but defense has ceased to be a decisively topmost winning ingredient. The Bruins need more balance in their focus between each zone, and there is no better way to signal that realization than by elevating Bergeron’s leadership responsibilities.
When his teammates are on top of their game, Bergeron is a Selke-caliber forward capable of hovering around the 30-goal and 60-point marks.
No one can be more balanced than that, so he best represents what the Bruins want to do as a team. Remember, Chicago and Los Angeles, the two incumbent model franchises, have responsible two-way forwards in Jonathan Toews and Dustin Brown as their respective captains.
Add Bergeron’s peerless tenure with the franchise and his proven leadership capabilities, which came to light all the more during Chara’s injury-enforced absence this past fall.
Granted, Chara still has three full seasons on his contract before he will likely retire in 2018. But he should be inclined to make the necessary tweaks if he and other core Boston players want to contend for another Stanley Cup in that time frame.
Loui Eriksson Will Lead the Team in Goals
Although the aforementioned Soderberg is third-line material, he has been a consistent producer in that role. The same holds true for his compatriot and right side linemate Loui Eriksson.
Through 39 games, Eriksson is tied for second on the Bruins with nine goals and third in points with 25. Much of that output is a product of his chemistry with Soderberg.
Even if he is bound to keep playing third-line minutes, he can still maintain that pace and position. Depending on when or if Boston obtains a better right wing for the top six, he will likely see occasional, temporary tours of duty on the top unit.
Those occasional tweaks, which one can expect based on the rate the team is going, will put Eriksson in a position to surpass Marchand for the goalscoring lead. Though he has had a couple of goal droughts, lasting eight and 12 games respectively, he trails Marchand by two under that heading.
As long as there is more consistency in the Bruins lineup going forward, Eriksson and Soderberg should continue to collaborate productively. Limited stints with the likes of Krejci and Bergeron should see the winger serving as a sparkplug before normalcy is restored.
After a shaky, injury-laden first season in Boston, during which he missed 21 games, Eriksson is bound to pounce on every opportunity he receives. The worst of his transition from Dallas is behind him, provided he punctuates that notion.
David Pastrnak Will Win AHL Rookie Honors
Despite appearing in at least 10 fewer games than his immediate competitors, David Pastrnak remains third among AHL rookie scorers with 27 points.
Since his first go-around with Boston and subsequent two-week leave for the World Junior Hockey Championship, Pastrnak has been the subject of some understandable debate. One could make a respectable case for the Bruins to permanently promote him to the parent club for the second half of 2014-15.
But because he is still only 18 years of age, still short on size and still short on North American seasoning, Providence is still his place. While he may have little to prove in the way of pure production, he needs to pace his transition to the Show.
More than three full months remain on the P-Bruins schedule, with the potential for Calder Cup playoff action. Boston will more than likely decide to let Pastrnak take the majority of that slate to learn the system and learn to withstand the physicality of the North American professional game.
With all of that being said, his production rate of 27 points through 23 games ought not to let up. Look for him to teeter on a point-per-game pace for roughly 65 total appearances. That should suffice for Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award consideration.
While it is unrealistic to expect Pastrnak to make any NHL impact this season, he can foster the requisite confidence to hit the Boston ice sprinting by 2015 training camp. Earning a token of supremacy among AHL neophytes would be one way to do that.
They Will Miss the 2015 Playoffs
Currently two spots out of the Eastern Conference wild-card perch at 19-15-5, the Bruins need a bona fide roster upgrade if they want to secure a second-half turnaround. The fact they had a losing record (4-5-0 after Oct. 23, 5-6-0 after Oct. 28) before their slew of key injuries is ample evidence of that.
Pursuing a trade for that piece will be tricky, considering the cap constraints that have already barred Boston from re-signing Iginla and effectively prompted the Johnny Boychuk trade. Even if they have a cost-effective target in mind, whether the Bruins have the right pieces to woo the right seller and shed additional space is a separate issue.
Even if they could pull off a deal before the March 2 trade deadline, they will do so amid an unprecedented cramming session. It will not be like previous seasons, when they were in a more comfortable position to cement a playoff berth.
With a slimmer window of opportunity and an almost nonexistent margin for error, gelling the revised group will be more urgent.
This is not to say they should not bother pursuing the right acquisitions if and when the opportunity arises. Short- and long-term benefits alike should be on general manager Peter Chiarelli’s mind for the next two months.
The fact is, though, that the 2014-15 roster’s inherent shortcomings have induced the first-half bleeding. The Bruins do not have the means to compress the wound in time to claw back into the playoff picture, let alone stay there through April 11.