The Boston Bruins did not have the season they wanted in 2014-2015. Once considered one of the most dominant teams in the National Hockey League, the Bruins fell short and missed the playoffs. They had 96 points, two short of the last wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
The off-season has seen all sorts of changes impact the organization, from the firing of general manager Peter Chiarelli to the departure of some key players. Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton, Reilly Smith, and Carl Soderberg were all traded away, with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes joining Boston. Some are hopeful, while others aren’t so sure the Bruins received satisfactory returns.
For all intents and purposes, the team may not be done transitioning to the 2015-2016 season. Team president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney said that some big deals fell through during the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, but they’ve also publicly stated that they’re willing to act if the right opportunities present themselves. As of right now, the Bruins are a fascinating team – to say the least.
It’s hard to argue that the Bruins are in a rebuild mode along the same lines of the Arizona Coyotes, but it’s also hard to argue that this is the Bruins team of yesteryear. This is a club struggling with issues of identity and that could come home to roost in 2015-2016. Up front, however, Boston still has a lot to work with.
With a solid core group that includes the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Loui Eriksson, and the newly acquired Beleskey, the Bruins have a well-balanced and capable attack up front. Beleskey is coming off a career year and could be a gamble for the team, especially if they’re hoping he replaces Lucic. That’s not likely to happen, but Beleskey can work the corners and handle the physical stuff. The bad news is that he’s not a natural offensive talent, even if he notched 22 goals last season.
But the Bruins aren’t known for their top-flight scoring, so any surprises from Beleskey could prove to be a non-issue. This is a team that smothers and grinds away the opposition, which is where favourites like Bergeron, Marchand and Chris Kelly come in handy. Their ability to asphyxiate and contain the play should continue to serve the Bruins well, even when they don’t find the scoreboard.
There’s also some youth in the system, with David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner worth mentioning. Spooner in particular has tremendous upside as a solid two-way centre with some leadership qualities. Brett Connolly could also be in the mix, with a dozen goals in 55 games last season.
Defensively, the Bruins are a bit more of a puzzle. They have an aging core group in Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, which could spell trouble for the future. They’re still a capable, minute-munching pair and they should still be able to contain and control the opposition for the near future, but it’s clearly time for the Bruins to start thinking big picture. Chara’s production is dipping and he’s no longer the defensive threat he once was, while Seidenberg is slowing down considerably.
Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid follow in the depth chart and that’s a problem. The 24-year-old Krug is a capable offensive defenceman and a slick puck-mover, plus he’s gifted in terms of positioning. He’ll make things happen on the power play, but he doesn’t exactly fit the shutdown system and he’s struggled with larger forwards. And McQuaid has had it tough in the injury department for the last three seasons, which could also present problems.
With an aging duo at the lead and some serious question marks to follow, is anyone really confident in the Bruins’ defensive capabilities? That’s a tough question to answer at this point. The off-season could still yield that one breakaway blueliner to turn the tide and Boston fans have to be hoping it does, but at this point the situation looks dire.
Tuukka Rask is still the man in Boston and that’s a good thing. He played in 70 games last season and finished with a 2.30 goals against average. He won 34 games and is still arguably the best thing going for these Bruins. He covers a lot of the goal and has superior reflexes, which means he’s rarely out of position. He makes big saves and can steal some games. Rask can carry the day for this team, if he can stay healthy.
It gets tricky from here, though, with Malcolm Subban currently slated as backup on most depth charts. That could change come the start of 2015-2016, but the 21-year-old is certainly an interesting choice and he could turn some heads. He’s extremely athletic, for one, and he can dig himself back into the play even when he looks out of it. He’s not consistent enough to be a starter, but the Bruins could do a lot worse than to take a chance on this kid.
Apart from the aforementioned Spooner, Pastrnak and Subban, the Bruins will have some good looks at camp this year. Alexander Khokhlachev has some upside at the centre position and he’s seen action in the NHL with Boston before. The 21-year-old was drafted by the Bruins in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and could have a chance to crack the main roster this year.
Goalie Zane McIntyre is another possibility. He played his junior season in North Dakota in 2014-2015 and could see some rubber at the NHL level in the upcoming season, depending on how things pan out. The 22-year-old was drafted by the Bruins in 2010 and is an adept puck handler, earning comparisons to Marty Turco.
The Path Ahead
This should be an interesting year for the Bruins. With the current roster, they could be in for an uphill climb if they intend to play their game the way they’ve been playing it. But with a few adjustments and some youthful additions, the required transition may not cost them in the long run. They’re still a team with an excellent netminder and some talented veteran presence. That counts for a lot.
But life in the Eastern Conference will continue to be tough and that’s where some further additions could come in handy. At this point, defence will be an issue. They can build and learn from this experience, but the forthcoming season could be a long one.