1. A gosh-darn loaded top 9.
From 2010-14, no team scored more even strength goals than the Boston Bruins. They did this despite having only one player reach 30 goals in that span. They accomplished this by loading the top six with good offensive players who could deliver 20-25 goals year in, year out. Secondary scoring was also strong, with third-line players often chipping in roughly 15 goals a year. But in 2014-15, that changed. Only three players cracked 20 goals. That’s the fewest since the 2009-10 season, when the Bruins finished near the bottom of the league in scoring.
But this season looks to be different. Out are Milan Lucic, Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith. New additions Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes -- plus full seasons from Brett Connolly, David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner -- should more than make up for those departures. For the first time in the Claude Julien era, the Bruins will have three true scoring lines. Everyone who projects to make the top nine will threaten to break 20 goals or 50 points. I really can’t remember a season where that was the case. That kind of scoring depth could very likely turn the Bruins back into the even-strength scoring powerhouse they were in previous seasons.
2. Addition by subtraction on the 4th line.
In the years following 2011, the Bruins’ fourth line went from "MERLOT" cheer-inducing to a possession black hole and roster stain. There were casualties along the way. The team lost Shawn Thornton. Gregory Campbell became Boston fans’ whipping boy. Daniel Paille lost both of his hands. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Campbell, for some inexplicable reason, had a vice grip on the position as Boston's shutdown center. Chris Kelly, meanwhile, was relegated to the left wing of Carl Soderberg. This weakened the Soderberg line’s scoring potential, and weakened Kelly’s impact as one of the top defensive centers in the league.
I think many people misunderstand how awesome a Kelly-led fourth line could be. He’s no Marcus Kruger, but he’s closer than you might imagine. Last season, Kelly was second only to Patrice Bergeron on the Bruins in dCAImpact, which measures a player's impact on shots allowed while he's on the ice. He had a dCAImpact of minus-58, close to some elite two-way centers like Ryan O’Reilly, who had a dCAImpact of minus-60. Compared to all left wingers, he was 18th, and to centers, he was 21st. Keep in mind, he didn’t even play his natural position of center. Left wingers have less of an impact on what goes on in their end than centers do, and he still had a position impact comparable to great two-way centers. A Kelly-centered fourth line will be a major improvement over what the team had last season. Not even Zac Rinaldo could screw that up.
3. 2 U’s, 2 K’s, sub-2 goals-against games.
Even in a down year, Tuukka Rask still was excellent. His 93.13 percent even-strength save percentage was still well, well above average. The Bruins played him for 70 freaking games last season, and he seemed to show little to no sign of wear and tear as the season went on. Backup? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ BACKUP! Those weren’t easy games, either, as the Bruins' even-strength shot attempts sunk from 12th in the league in 13-14 to 20th in 14-15. As a result, expect Tuukka’s 15.65 GSAA -- goals saved above average -- from last season to increase, as his save percentage will most likely rebound and, looking at the defense, the number of shots he faces likely will as well.
1. Defense. Everything about it.
The Bruins were a very different team in 2014-15 than they were the couple years prior. Their defense finally looked shaky for the first time in a while. When they were at their best, they made mistakes. When they were below their best, they made really bad mistakes.
From the opening of the season to the end, practically nothing went right for the Boston blue line. Zdeno Chara took a very early knee injury and started to play like he was in fact a mortal and not a walking shot suppressor when he came back. Dennis Seidenberg’s faults became all the more apparent and much more painful to watch, and now he’s out for the first few weeks. Adam McQuaid’s injury and speed woes continued, as did Kevan Miller’s. Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug were bright spots, to be sure, but in general the loss of Johnny Boychuk hurt the ill-prepared depth badly. The recent loss of Hamilton and the most recent Seidenberg surgery mean that the Bruins will have to lean on the 38-year-old Chara again to play nearly 30 minutes a night, and the (generally) unproven depth of the Bruins will have to step up and fill some seriously big holes in the main roster’s blueline that they may not be able to.
Putting it simply: If Chara gets hurt again, the defense is toast.
2. Team health.
The Chara injury hurt the Bruins out of the gate last year. The one-two punch of David Krejci injuries let a lot of possible momentum straight out of the team. Much of the defense was at some point on injured reserve or day-to-day due to some injury. But most importantly, players like Krejci -- who may not necessarily drive possession, but certainly impact their linemates in positive ways -- tended to get injured. The team suffered badly for it. And most agonizing was the absence of Hamilton. Without him the team basically gave up, conceded its last two games and missed out on the playoffs for the first time in years. While most players appear to be in better shape now that they’ve had an offseason to recover, many of them still have nagging injuries, some of them are still on the IR and a couple are pegged to miss substantial amounts of ice-time. Including one they just extended.
3. Gambling on shot percentage.
The Bruins in general were pretty bad at generating shots in 2014-15. A legendary hero in David Pastrnak was a good shot in the arm to fixing that, but to no avail. Swapped out players might help in a way, but Matt Beleskey just came off of the best year of his life with a shot percentage that wouldn’t necessarily seem out of place if his trends were in any way consistent and not a roller coaster. On top of that, only three players who played more than 50 games were able to consistently fire at the net at a rate above 9.5 percent last year. Some players just weren’t shooting that much, while others struggled because they were being used in roles that didn't necessarily suit them. As with all gambles, this one relies purely on fate (and a bunch of fancy statistics about probability) being on the Bruins’ side. Fate has not been on the Bruins' side lately, so leaving stuff like this up to chance is probably not in their best interest.
1. Who backs up Tuukka Rask?
2. Can the young defensemen flourish in the spots open to them?
3. Who plays with Bergeron and Marchand?
Get the answers to these questions at Stanley Cup of Chowder.
BEST CASE SCENARIO
The sudden injection of youth early in the season means everyone is working in tandem, everyone is playing intelligently and Claude Julien manages to give them the right assignments. The young defense clicks and plays well all season, proving that all they were looking for was a fighting chance. Tuukka Rask is still a phenom in net, setting records in save percentage once again. The young David Pastrnak cements his ongoing legend as he manages to score 25 goals on a well supported line. In fact, the first three lines manage to click with speed and strength, giving the Bruins a wealth of depth to dazzle the fanbase and front office all the way into the playoffs.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
by Cornelius Hardenbergh
The Bruins' defensive woes are as bad as we fear. They turn into the Flyers of the last few years, with a great forward corps and no defense. This sinks them in games, as the defense can’t spring the forwards on attack nor protect the goalie from oncoming attackers. Claude Julien is fired early on, and a good replacement is impossible to find. Chara, in his old age, loses multiple steps, and the young defensemen that made not signing Christian Ehrhoff or Cody Franson okay can’t step up to fill in. Jeremy Jacobs reveals that he is immortal, and has sold jersey ads. The Bruins are embarrassed in the Winter Classic. Sweeney sells off the good players at the deadline, but can’t get rid of Dennis Seidenberg. The Bruins find themselves tanking for Auston Matthews, but the Oilers still win the draft lottery.