The Boston Bruins biggest offseason moves this year were the resigning of 3rd line center Chris Kelly and recently appointed starting goalie Tuukka Rask. They also added veteran depth to the blue line with Garnet Exelby and Aaron Johnson joining the fray. Another “move” the Bruins made was sending under-achieving and former 1st round pick center Zach Hamil to the Washington Capitals in return for winger Chris Bourque whose biggest claims to fame are that he led the AHL in scoring last year with 93 points in 73 games and he happens to be Boston Bruins legend, Ray Bourque’s son. While the resigning of Kelly and Rask are solid deals that keep the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup winning core intact for another season, one has to wonder if it will it be enough in an Eastern Conference that saw the Pittsburgh Penguins not get any worse, Rick Nash join the New York Rangers and Jordan Staal & Alexander Semin joining the Carolina Hurricanes?
In the Bruins defense they didn’t start this offseason with much cap space and had the majority of their team already under contract. Barring a trade of ex-superhero goalie turned massive headache Tim Thomas to a team attempting to reach the cap floor (he’s allegedly sitting out all of the 2012-13 NHL season for personal reasons) or finding a way to dump Marc Savard’s salary, Savard has been out of hockey for more than a year and a half now since suffering back to back concussions, the B’s were never really going to be able to sign guys like Alexander Semin, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter or trade for players like Rick Nash or Bobby Ryan. Trading for Ryan is still a possibility for the B’s albeit not a very good one. Especially since Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli seems to be against parting ways with any of his young core players like Milan Lucic and David Krejci. It’s rumored it would take Lucic or krejci with a pick and a prospect to attain Ryan, an asking price that seems to be too high for Chiarelli.
One of the main defenses for Chiarelli’s inactivity this offseason is the assertion that this core of guys did win a Stanley Cup just two seasons ago. I know as a Bruins fan I’ll never forget that summer and am forever grateful however that doesn’t mean this team will continually get free passes like the one it was given this past season after being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Washington Capitals in 7 games. It was widely discussed how the B’s must’ve been tired after a long Cup run the summer before but coming into this season they won’t have that excuse. Also, during that Cup run a lot of things fell into place for the B’s. My boss at my real job (yes I know, hard to believe I don’t get paid to be a writer) likes to remind me constantly things may have been different for the B’s had certain teams and players been healthier and able to put up more of a fight. I know he’s just giving me a hard time because theres always a certain amount of luck that goes into winning a championship at any level. A lot of things must go right for you and wrong for the other guys, but I digress.
Another defense of Chiarelli’s lack of offseason moves has been because he has a lot of faith in this core group of guys, their chemistry, their ability to play head coach Claude Julien’s system and the fact most of them are young and should only continue to get better. Expected to fill the 6th defensemen role is big (physically and in expectations) prospect Dougie Hamilton and undersized, speedy defensemen Torey Krug. Both very young, highly skilled players but both are still question marks and unproven at the NHL level. However, it’s this writers belief that they can’t really do much worse than previous players like Tomas Kaberle and Joe Corvo. Also, I’ll remind you again that Chiarelli did add defensive depth (key word “defensive” as neither of these guys will be lighting up the score sheet or on the power play) with Exelby and Johnson. So, while there is pressure to perform and perform right away on Krug and Hamilton, they can be brought a long slowly if needed.
There are still questions about the B’s anemic power play and it appears once again Chiarelli is putting a lot of stock into the players he has under contract to solve the issue. The continued improved development of Milan Lucic and David Krecji, both of whom could use a dose of consistency in their games, should help as well as a healthy Nathan Horton returning to the lineup this season after fully recovering from a concussion. The continued development of former 2nd overall pick, Tyler “I only score highlight reel goals” Seguin and pesky but talented winger Brad Marchand should also help the B’s dreadful power play. Dougie Hamilton can also contribute immediately on a power play that only scored 43 goals last year, good for 22nd in the league.
The final question mark for some people when talking about the Bruins comes in net. Tim Thomas has apparently lost his mind and would rather sit at home and post political rantings on Facebook than play goalie for the B’s next season. As the great play caller Doc Emrick once said, “goalies are different people”. That leaves them with young but somewhat proven goalie Tuukka Rask as the starter and Anton Khudobin as the backup. Rask was the starter for the B’s during the 2009-2010 campaign and complied a 22-12-5 record in 45 games to go a long with a .931 save % and a 1.97 GAA. Sadly, that season will be remembered for Rask and his teammates epic collapse and elimination in the 2nd round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia Flyers after blowing a 3-0 series lead and an early 3-0 lead in game 7. The knocks on Rask are the questions about his mental toughness and he’s tall and lanky so many question his ability to be a perennial workhorse starting net minder. The Bruins wisely signed him to a one year deal allowing the goalie a chance to prove himself. Khudobin on the other hand is 26 years old and hasn’t been seen much unless you’re a season ticket holder to the Providence Bruins. He looked very solid in his one NHL appearance last season, a 45 save effort in a 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa when the Senators were still fighting for a playoff spot, so its safe to say he deserves a look. The B’s also drafted a very athletic and talented goalie with a high ceiling in Malcolm Subban in the first round of this years NHL entry draft. So, while there may be some doubt, I don’t feel theres much cause for concern for the B’s in the crease.
In closing, the Bruins have kept their young core intact, resigned some key pieces and they have their leaders locked up long term with captain and annual Norris trophy candidate Zdeno Chara being signed through 2017-18 and head coach Claude Julien having just signed a multi-year contract extension himself. It’s also a core that already knows what it takes to win a championship and demonstrated it can win a Stanley Cup. The Bruins should only continue to get better as individuals and as a team so there’s cause for hope. The only thing that worries me and should worry Bruins fans is that there’s a lot of “should” and “could” when there could’ve been “they will be better”.
Feel free to follow Billy Bryson on Twitter @BillyBrysonNHL for hockey talk and other ramblings.