The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the Boston Bruins.
Stanley Cup odds: 33-1
Key additions: Paul Postma, D
Key departures: Colin Miller, D; Dominic Moore, C; Joe Morrow, D
How can a team that barely made the playoffs and bowed out in the first round of a weak Eastern Conference expect to improve after doing virtually nothing to its roster in the off-season?
Well, the Bruins are obviously hoping to build on the momentum they gained down the stretch when they went 18-8-1 with Bruce Cassidy behind the bench after they fired Claude Julien. There’s a lot to like about the Bruins, starting with their top two lines. Patrice Bergeron shows no signs of slowing down and David Pastrnak, who signed a long-term deal just before training camp started, will be looking to build on his credentials. There are some real unknowns, however, beyond the Bruins’ top two lines, but they’re hoping that some of their young players might be able to make the step up to full-time NHL work and contribute with consistency. Charlie McAvoy’s push during the playoffs gave the Bruins a lot of hope on the blueline.
Now the not-so-good stuff. The Bruins don’t have a whole lot of scoring depth and look to have gotten themselves into a pickle by signing aging veterans such as Matt Beleskey and David Backes to fill those roles. And it boggles the mind to consider that GM Don Sweeney did nothing to upgrade the team’s goaltending from last season, a year when the absence of a reliable backup seemed to wear Tuukka Rask down. The Bruins are skewing younger these days and nobody really knows how that experiment is going to ultimately turn out.
Brad Marchand was out to prove he wasn’t a one-year wonder last season and did so with a brilliant 39-goal, 85-point performance. Meanwhile, Pastrnak impressed with a 34-goal, 70-point campaign that established him as a star-caliber winger, and Bergeron continued to be, well, Bergeron. There’s no better two-way center in the world. With a solid top line, the Bruins can focus on starting a youth movement.
The face of the movement will be McAvoy, a 19-year-old rearguard who appears primed for a Zach Werenski-esque rookie season. McAvoy had three points in Boston’s short six-game playoff run, but it’s the minute-munching quality that wowed onlookers. He played more than 26 minutes per night. If he’s the real deal – and he looks to be – he immediately gives the Bruins an heir to Zdeno Chara’s No. 1 defenseman throne. Should McAvoy succeed and other freshmen, such as Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Anders Bjork, become contributors, the B’s will ride their offensive firepower, defensive depth and Rask’s goaltending to the playoffs.
When Rask joined the Bruins in 2009-10, he usurped Tim Thomas for the starting job and put his name into Calder and Vezina Trophy contention by leading the league in save percentage and goals-against average. But where has that Rask gone? Since capturing his first and only Vezina in 2013-14, Rask’s numbers have taken a downturn. He had a .930 save percentage and 2.04 GAA in his Vezina year, but he’s been average in the three seasons since, posting a combined .918 save percentage. There are times when Rask looks like a world-beater and others when he looks suspect.
The Bruins need more of the former than the latter, particularly given two young defensemen, McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, will be taking on big-minute roles on the blueline. McAvoy and Carlo aren’t the biggest concerns, though. Chara is 40 and simply not as effective at either end of the ice as he once was, and the depth is dubious. Despite a supercharged offense two seasons ago, the Bruins weren’t able to escape their defensive and goaltending woes to make the playoffs. We might see a repeat of that season.
THN’s PREDICTION: 5th in Atlantic. If you’re not moving ahead in the NHL these days, you’re falling behind. This looks like a group that is relying on a small core of players to do more than it’s capable of doing.
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