The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Season Preview series dives into off-season transactions, best- and worst-case scenarios and one burning question for each team in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds.
Stanley Cup odds: 10-1
Key Additions: John Moore, D; Jaroslav Halak, G; Steven Kampfer, D; Joakim Nordstrom, LW; Chris Wagner, C
Key Departures: Rick Nash, LW; Riley Nash, C; Nick Holden, D; Anton Khudobin, G; Adam McQuaid, D; Tim Schaller, C; Tommy Wingels, C; Brian Gionta, RW; Paul Postma, D; Austin Czarnik, C
At its best and when all are healthy, Boston’s top unit of Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is without peer at both ends of the ice. And with a glut of defensemen, the Bruins have the deepest blueline in the Atlantic, perhaps the entire NHL. Those two factors can carry a team a long way, particularly one that is backstopped by the capable Tuukka Rask and supplemented by Jaroslav Halak, who instantly becomes one of the league’s best back-ups and will give Rask opportunity to rest. If Rask does go down, Halak is more than capable of stringing together wins.
The Bruins have eight defensemen who are capable of patrolling an NHL blueline. That will buttress them against injuries. But what if they take one of those blueline assets, perhaps a package involving Torey Krug, and swing for the fences to acquire an offensive talent such as Artemi Panarin from Columbus or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from Edmonton? That would instantly allow the Bruins to run with Atlantic Division rivals Tampa Bay and Toronto from an offensive perspective and give them the forward depth they need to take another serious charge at the Stanley Cup.
If the young players who were integrated into the lineup last season stall in their development, the Bruins don’t have enough depth, especially at forward, to make up for the shortfall. Both Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk had outstanding first seasons in the NHL, but if one or both fall victim to the sophomore jinx, they’re both so high on the team’s depth chart that there’s no doubt the team’s performance would take a hit. The Bruins employed five full-time rookies last season, so it’s not a stretch to suggest some of those players will regress in Year 2.
A long-term injury to a key player – especially one of Bergeron, Marchand or Pastrnak – would spell disaster. Beyond the first line, the Bruins don’t have a whole lot of forward depth. David Krejci will start the season as the second-line center, but these days it’s anyone’s guess which version of Krejci shows up. We should all be so lucky to find the fountain of youth from which Zdeno Chara has been guzzling the past few years, but relying on a defenseman who will be 42 by the end of the season as your defensive linchpin and half of your top pairing is risky. If a few things go bad, the B’s will be battling for a wild-card spot.
Is Ryan Donato a sneaky Calder Trophy candidate?
As noted, Boston ran with a deep stable of rookies last season, including DeBrusk, McAvoy, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly. But at the tail end of the season, the Bruins were getting additional offensive support from another fresh face: Ryan Donato, who snuck into the final dozen games of the campaign and provided quite the scoring punch, notching five goals and nine points in 12 games before being held off the scoresheet in three post-season outings.
Despite that offensive showing, though, Donato isn’t being heralded as a top contender for the Calder Trophy. Instead, much of the hype is being thrust onto by Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt, Carolina’s Anderi Svechnikov and Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson. If anyone can surprise, however, it might be Donato. The Bruins were a powerhouse on the attack last season with one of the league’s best power plays. Donato could benefit from that and tack several points to his total simply by being part of a top-scoring, high-tempo offense. If he flirts with the rookie scoring lead, he’s sure to enter the Calder conversation.
THE HOCKEY NEWS’ PREDICTION: 3rd in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins have firepower and depth, but one of the top three teams in the top-heavy Atlantic has to finish third. Not to worry, though, as Boston’s depth should pay dividends when it matters most.
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