The Boston Bruins started their 92nd season in the NHL with a 6-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, setting a tone that saw them miss the post-season for the second straight season. They finished fourth in the Atlantic Division with a 42-31-9 record, scoring an impressive 240 goals but allowing a not-so-impressive 230 goals against.
Despite finishing fifth in goals scored, the Bruins’ defensive struggles managed to sink their playoff hopes. And despite the disappointment, general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely gave head coach Claude Julien a vote of confidence – making him the longest-tenured coach in the NHL.
While the Bruins fell short of the playoffs, there is a sense that they didn’t miss by much. And because of this relative proximity to the Promised Land, Boston’s feeling appears to be to avoid making any foundational changes. As such, the off-season has thus far been a period of addition by subtraction. Of particular note, the arrival of David Backes and the departure Loui Eriksson.
Losing Eriksson will hurt, make no mistake about it. But Boston’s attack remains largely the same, with Patrice Bergeron leading the way in scoring. He had 68 points in 80 games last season, coming up with 32 goals in the process. As one of the top two-way forwards in the game, the 31-year-old gives the Bruins a versatile look up front.
Agitating winger Brad Marchand had a tremendous year, putting up 37 goals for a total of 61 points in 77 games. The 28-year-old from Halifax has been a top-tier performer for the Bruins and will continue to do so, especially if he builds on his 18:36 of ice time a game. David Krejci had 63 points in 72 games and continues to prove his excellent vision for the game, especially when it comes to his playmaking abilities.
The arrival of Backes potentially stacks the Bruins down the middle, although the 32-year-old can slip to the wing if necessary. He had 45 points in 79 games and added 14 points in 20 playoff games. He’s not the most consistent player in the league, but he brings grit and resolve to the game and that’ll bear fruit in Boston.
Centre Ryan Spooner also had a terrific year, with 49 points in 80 games. The 24-year-old from Ottawa is another solid playmaker and another versatile forward, which means he can play down the middle or along the wing. With natural wingers like 20-year-old David Pastrnak and Matt Beleskey in the mix, the Bruins should once again score plenty of goals.
Defensively, little has changed in Boston. Zdeno Chara continues to chart at the top of the roster, but he’s 39-years-old and just about ready to go. The 250-pound defenceman had 37 points last season and still threw his body around as only he can, but there are some issues in defending smaller, faster players and he continues to have issues with taking bad penalties.
The Bruins are hoping Torey Krug will pick up the slack as a top blueliner and that’s a pretty good bet. The 25-year-old from Livonia is a stellar puck-mover and a power play quarterback, which gives Boston the ability to feed their deep centre core from the back. Krug had 44 points in 2015-2016 and averaged 21:36 of ice time again. Look for those totals to increase with Chara in decline.
John-Michael Liles is another veteran presence on the blueline and that’s not necessarily a comforting thought. He had 21 points last season and is still prone to difficulty in his own end, even if his offensive prowess gives him a boost. 29-year-old Adam McQuaid will also see serious ice time, but he won’t find the scoreboard often. He’s a sound, aggressive player in his own end.
The tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jonas Gustavsson failed to put up convincing numbers in 2015-2016. Gustavsson flew the coop and 30-year-old Anton Khudobin was brought in as a new backup. That leaves Rask with the lion’s share again, but the 29-year-old workhorse will be up for it. Rask posted a 2.56 goals against average with a .915 save percentage last season, posting four shutouts and winning 31 games.
Khudobin, on the other hand, is inconsistent. While he was the ECHL goalie of the year in 2007-2008, little has happened since to put the netminder on the map. His arrival may be just the thing to put Malcom Subban in the mix, with the 20-year-old from Toronto showcasing an athletic and tenacious style between the pipes.
While the current prospect pool may be shy on elite forwards, there is a lot of depth in all positions coming down the line for the Bruins. That’s a good thing. The aforementioned Subban is one of the most notable talents and he could be ready to make the jump, while defenceman Jakub Zboril is another thrilling option. The CHL blueliner is very nearly NHL ready.
Speaking of goalies, Zane McIntyre is also worth a look. The Bruins selected him in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and the Grand Forks native has been playing a throwback style. He played out his junior season in North Dakota in 2014-2015 and signed an entry level deal in June of 2015, where he slotted in for Providence in the 2015-2016 season.
The Path Ahead
The Bruins will go with more of the same this season and that could give them some trouble down the line. Defensively, they’re an aging group and will likely allow plenty of goals once more. Offensively, they’ll hope to make it up in the balance and outscore the opposition. By most accounts, it’ll be another close call when it comes to making the playoffs.