2014-15 NHL season preview: Boston Bruins

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This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the Boston Bruins.

What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?

Not much went wrong during the regular season for the Boston Bruins, as they claimed top spot in the NHL and the Presidents’ Trophy with 117 points.

A Vezina Trophy winning season from goaltender Tuukka Rask certainly helped. Rask posted his third consecutive season with a save percentage of .925 or better, although in 2011-12 he only played 23 games. Still, he’s the only active goaltender to have accomplished that while playing at least 20 games in each season, a noteworthy feat.

In his first full NHL season, centre Carl Soderberg provided some skill and playmaking ability to the Bruins’ bottom six. He finished third on the team with 16 powerplay points, and 4th with 32 assists, this despite only playing 14 minutes per game.

The Bruins had the league’s third best powerplay, behind only Pittsburgh and Washington. A big reason was the addition of Torey Krug, who tied for the team lead with 19 points with the man advantage.

Boston was also easily the best 5-on-5 team in the NHL, with a 1.53 goal ratio, far ahead of second place Anaheim who finished with 1.39.

To the surprise of some, the 2013-14 edition of the Bruins were also more disciplined, improving their penalty minutes per game for the third consecutive season.

What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?

Loui Eriksson was the centerpiece of the return Boston got for Tyler Seguin. Unfortunately his first year in beantown was a difficult one. Injury and new linemates/system/surroundings led to his lowest goal total (10) since his rookie season in 2006-07.

At 36 years old, Father Time may finally be catching up with “Big Z”, Zdeno Chara. The Bruins’ captain, while having a solid season, did seem a step or two slower and really struggled to contain the speedier forwards in the league some nights. He posted his lowest ice-time per game since 2003-04.

The injury bug really bit Boston’s defense hard last season, with Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid all missing significant time.

So what did they do to get better?

Not much. The Bruins are in a tough spot, salary cap-wise. They’re currently about $800,000 over the limit, with 21 players under contract. They still have unrestricted free agents Reilly Smith, the team’s 6th leading scorer last season, and Torey Krug left to sign.

Until someone is moved to make some room, it’s unlikely Boston will be able to bring in any help from outside the organization. The problem? 11 of the 12 highest salaries on the team come with various no-move or no-trade clauses. Something’s gotta give.

Player to watch

With Jarome Iginla gone, Loui Eriksson will be relied upon to not only stay healthy, but provide the kind of offense that made him one of the most consistent scorers in the NHL when he was in Dallas. Before being traded, Eriksson was accustomed to top line minutes, which is where he should find himself once again this season.

We’re slowly seeing the transition of the “Big Bad Bruins” to the “Hard-hitting, speedier Bruins”…

They will make the playoffs if…

…if nothing. The Bruins are a lock to make the playoffs, however questions remain whether or not they can do any damage once they get there this season. They do however need some of their promising young defensemen to take some pressure off Chara in order to keep him as fresh as possible for the post-season.

They will miss the playoffs if…

Tuukka Rask goes down with an injury. Solid backup Chad Johnson left town this summer as an unrestricted free agent, and there’s not much help that’s NHL-ready. Boston gives up more shots than most elite defensive teams (nearly 30 per game last season), so their goaltending needs to be good.

What should we expect this season?

We’re slowly seeing the transition of the “Big Bad Bruins” to the “Hard-hitting, speedier Bruins”, and this season will be no exception. It’s probably a good idea, seeing as how speed has been what’s beaten them the last two series they’ve lost against Montreal and Chicago.

One has to wonder whether what we’ve seen over the last calendar year from Zdeno Chara is an actual decline, or simply him getting worn out from playing so much hockey over the last few seasons. My gut tells me the former. Age is one opponent no athlete has ever beaten, and the tide seems to be turning in its match-up with the big defenseman.

Having said that, the Bruins are still a heavy team with a physical mentality that can wear teams down. If they manage to inject some speed into that mix, they’ll be tough to beat.

Prediction

48-25-9 105 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference

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Tags: 2014-15 NHL Season Previews Boston Bruins Carl Soderberg Loui Eriksson NHL Tuukka Rask Zdeno Chara

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