The Bruins followed a disappointing playoff miss in 2014-15 with an even more disappointing miss last season, getting their doors blown off by Ottawa in a must-win final game that led to the Detroit Red Wings getting in on a tie-breaker. The consensus heading into the offseason was that the Bruins needed to address their defense. Instead, they didn’t acquire a top-4 defenseman and let their second-best defensive forward, Loui Eriksson, walk in favor of David Backes.
The team has as much top-6 talent as any other team in the division and an elite goalie in Tuukka Rask, but the weakness along the blueline can’t be overlooked. For the team to have a shot at going anywhere, a young defenseman like Rob O’Gara, Brandon Carlo or Jakub Zboril will have to (surprisingly) be ready for top-4 minutes, which isn’t likely. The team will, once again, lean on an aging Zdeno Chara to play heavy minutes, on Rask to bail out his defense, and on Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to carry the load up front.
Say, isn’t there some saying about doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results?
Who is going to step up and fill the defensive void?
Where is the secondary scoring going to come from?
Can the bottom-6 contribute regularly?
BEST CASE SCENARIO
A younger blueline sees some players step up and assume larger roles, easing the strain on Chara. The players benefit from Julien’s defense-first system and develop more quickly than anticipated, turning the defense from a huge weakness to a slight defect. Bergeron and Marchand continue to churn out points. David Krejci regains his form after surgery, David Pastrnak continues to grow and Vatrano translates his astronomical AHL numbers into NHL success.
The new assistant coaches help shore up special teams, and Rask regains his Vezina-worthy form playing behind a slightly less terrible defense. Benefiting from a less-than-stellar division, the Bruins hold off one (or both) of the Florida teams to finish near the top of the Atlantic Division and end the playoff drought.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
The team has a slow start and management overreacts, firing Julien. Without his defensive guidance, the defense gets even worse, with kids playing over their heads and Chara getting way more minutes than he can handle. Rask suffers behind this inferior defense, and goals-against start to pile up.
Bergeron and Marchand get little support from the rest of the offense, with players like Pastrnak, Vatrano and Spooner failing to take the next step in their development. Backes ends up declining, with the Bruins ending up pining for the good ol’ days of Erikssons Past.
With the defense no better and the offense struggling, the Bruins end up being bad enough to be outside of the playoff picture, but not bad enough to hit the bottom of the league.
Oh, and if we’re going truly worst case: Tyler Seguin wins the Art Ross, Dougie Hamilton wins the Norris and Milan Lucic tells Bruins fans he never really liked them anyway.