When the 2010-11 season started, not many people were picking the Boston Bruins to hoist the Stanley Cup. However, on June 15, it was Zdeno Chara and his teammates finishing off a seventh-game win over the Vancouver Canucks to capture Boston’s first NHL championship since 1972.
This season, all eyes are on the Bruins, who bring back a majority of their championship squad, including Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas, playoff leading scorer David Krejci, and Norris finalist Zdeno Chara. With depth at every position, a veteran presence, and skilled young players pushing for playing time, the Bruins are poised to make a run at becoming the NHL’s first back-to-back champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
The Bruins boast one of the league’s best goaltending duos in Thomas and Tuukka Rask. Boston started last season with Rask as its starter, but Thomas played great early and never let go of the job. He will begin camp as the starter after winning his second Vezina Trophy in three years. He will be another year older though, and the Bruins will look to get Rask more time than they did a year ago. Of course, if Rask does not perform better, he may get even less time. Overall, goaltending should be a major strength for the Bruins.
Boston’s defense, particularly the pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, was tremendous during the playoff run. It is unlikely Claude Julien will pair those two during the regular season, but time will tell. The Bruins have great depth at the blue line, as Andrew Ference enjoyed one of his best seasons in the NHL, and Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid had breakout seasons, establishing themselves both as competent defenders and physical presences. Joe Corvo should be a nice addition, as he has plenty of offensive skill and potentially could run the power play. The Bruins have several quality young defensemen, including Steven Kampfer, Matt Bartkowski, Mark Canti and David Warsofsky. Each seem capable of stepping in and playing quality minutes when needed, and give the B’s some depth for the future.
Boston returns all but two forwards from the Stanley Cup-winning team (Mark Recchi retired and Michael Ryder left for Dallas via free agency), and with the balance the four units showed last year, the Bruins should have a fairly potent offense again this season. The top unit of David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton are all back. Krejci is coming off an impressive playoff performance in which he led the Bruins with 23 points, while Lucic made great strides in season three. Horton thrived in a hockey city, and was a clutch performer in the postseason (two Game 7-winning goals) before his season ended in game 3 of the finals due to a concussion. He said last week, however, he is fully recovered and ready to go.
Two-thirds of the second line also return. Patrice Bergeron established himself as one of the better all-around centers in the league, while Brad Marchand had a good rookie regular season and an incredible playoff, scoring 11 goals and assisting on 8 others. The question for the second line: who will play on the wing opposite Marchand? My money is on either Tyler Seguin, who should take a big jump from his rookie season, or veteran Rich Peverley, who filled a valuable role on all four lines after being acquired from Atlanta.
The only sure things about the third- and fourth-lines are likely to be the centers: the dependable Chris Kelly will center the third line while Gregory Campbell, who played great and provided some toughness last year, should center the fourth line. Either Peverley or Seguin will likely skate on the third line, while a solid collection of wingers will battle for the remaining spots, including Shawn Thornton (who had a career-high in goals last season), PK specialist Daniel Paille, newcomer Benoit Poulliot and rookies Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner, Carter Camper, Stefan Chaput, and Jared Knight.
Again, the Bruins have a great mix of youth and experience which should provide them with plenty of depth for years to come.
Julien has been questioned by most Bruins fans (myself included) about his ability to bring a championship to Boston. He cannot be questioned any longer, as his philosophy and style likely played a big part in Boston’s championship run. General Manager Peter Chiarelli and President Cam Neely proved they were willing to do what it takes to win, making deadline deals for Kelly, Peverely, and Tomas Kaberle. Kelly and Peverly turned out great, and though Kaberle was not nearly as good as advertised, he did play well in the Eastern Conference finals as well as the Stanley Cup finals. I expect that with some cap space remaining, Chariarelli and Company will make some moves to give the team a shot at the repeat.
FanSided’s NHL network’s 30 previews in 30 days continues tomorrow with Northeast Division rival Buffalo. The Sabres have new ownership and have revamped their lineup. Expect Buffalo to compete for the division title. Read all about the Sabres on Saturday, Sept. 3 at Sabre Noise.