From a bottom-feeder in the Western Conference (Anaheim) to a constant favorite in the race for a Stanley Cup. The Boston Bruins are coming off a year in which they finished atop the Northeast Division and with the number two seed in the postseason. But, a disappointing seven-game defeat at the hands of the Capitals in round one abruptly ended what looked to be a shot at a second consecutive championship.
With the early exit, Boston could have panicked during the 2012 offseason. Instead, they decided to stick with the majority of their already loaded lineup and see if another year together could make the difference. It won’t be as easy to succeed with some of the improvements across the conference (most notably New York), but it would be foolish overlook this bunch.
2011-2012 Record: 49-29-4
Offseason Additions: D Garnet Exelby, LW Chris Bourque
Offseason Departures: G Tim Thomas, D Joe Corvo, D Greg Zanon, LW Benoit Pouliot, C Zach Hamill
Season Opener: Thursday, October 11th — at. Philadelphia Flyers
Breaking Down the Roster
Goaltending – It doesn’t matter how talented the Bruins are overall because this is the spot where the season will be won or lost. During the offseason, outstanding goaltender Tim Thomas announced that he would take a year off from hockey, which abruptly altered Boston’s plans between the pipes. It will now be up to Tuukka Rask. From seasoned veteran — and perhaps Hall of Fame candidate — to a 25-year-old who has never carried the title of a teams number one netminder. Naturally, this is a bit of a frightening situation. Rask hasn’t played in more than 30 contests since 2009-10 when Thomas was injured, so his ability to carry a team will be questioned. Fortunately for the Bruins, the kid has a lot of talent. He has a 47-35-11 record in his career, a goals against average of 2.20 and a save percentage near 93 percent. The key will be if Rask can sustain those numbers for an entire season — especially with the limited options that Boston has in the backup role.
Defensemen – While the goaltending situation isn’t as solid as Boston would have liked, they have the luxury of an outstanding defensive unit to protect Rask. This begins with one of the league’s top lines led by captain Zdeno Chara (52 points, +33 rating) and Johnny Boychuk (15 points, +27 rating). They should be the most valuable defensemen, but truly, the Bruins are loaded with serviceable players in all of their defensive rotations. The one important loss in the offseason was Joe Corvo. His 25 points and plus 10 rating only begins to explain his importance for Boston’s defensive unit. But, replacing him may not be all that difficult. The Bruins believe that top prospect Dougie Hamilton (72 points in 50 OHL games last season) could not only make the roster, but instantly become an impact player on the power play. If the visions come to fruition, Boston should have no problems picking up scoring from their defensemen and remaining in the top 10 in goals allowed per contest.
Forwards – Depth is the name of the game for the Bruins offensive attack. Last year, Boston finished as the NHL’s second best scoring team, and they will be bringing back their top eight scorers — nearly three full lines of forwards. This includes five guys that posted at least 55 points in 2011-12. Let’s be honest, few teams have the ability to make such a claim. And in the upcoming campaign, you should expect more of the same beginning with 20-year-old Tyler Seguin. He led the Bruins with 67 points last season, but should be able to improve that number as he continues to develop into a world-class scorer. As far as the offseason losses are concerned, Benoit Pouliot is the one name that stands out. Similar to Corvo, he wasn’t necessarily a go-to-guy if the Bruins needed offense, but his 32 points will be missed. On the other hand, letting him go does carry the benefit of opening up spots for younger players in the Boston arsenal. Regardless, this offense will once again be a force to be reckoned with.
Projecting the Top Three Lines
1. D Zdeno Chara, D Johnny Boychuk, F Milan Lucic, F David Krejci, F Nathan Horton
2. D Dennis Seidenberg, D Dougie Hamilton, F Brad Marchand, F Patrice Bergeron, F Tyler Seguin
3. D Andrew Ference, D Adam McQuaid, F Rich Peverley, F Chris Kelly, F Jordan Caron