Editor's Note: Wamsley is a contributor for Habs Eyes on the Prize (but don't hold that against him) and editor of Fantasy Sense Hockey. He has been writing these awesome fantasy hockey previews for several of the SB Nation Hockey blogs this offseason. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflected the views of Stanley Cup of Chowder, SB Nation, or its sponsors.
Last season at this time the Boston Bruins were a team that the Hockey News had projected at 10. Their rivals the Canadienswere the class of the East and had a youthful core that would make them a contender for years. Twelve months later and a 4-0 shellacking in the playoffs, the tables are reversed. The Bruins are now the powerhouse entering 2010. Can they repeat the success of their breakout year? Will they avoid the pitfalls that follow success? Will the injuries to Kessel and Krejci stagnate a potent offense?
With the re-signing of Thomas, the Bruins have recognized their window and Chiarelli has pushed in all his chips. As long as they can retain Kessel, and he and Krejci rebound from injury, the Bruins should contend in the East again in 2010.
For a breakdown on how to read the profles, click here. For a larger version of the previews, click on the individual profile.
How does a goaltender that couldn't make the NHL until the age of 31 transform into a Vezina trophy winner so rapidly?
Play for a coach who has instilled defensive discipline at every NHL stop during his career.
In 2003 the Canadiens were in the process of finishing 23rd in the NHL and giving up 234 goals against. Enter Claude Julien. With a full training camp in place to implement his system, the Canadiens improved by 42 goals and finished as the 10th best defensive team in the NHL temporarily nullifying the rigamortis that had enveloped Jose Theodore's career.
New Jersey finished the 2006 season ranked 8th with 229 goals against. Enter Claude Julien. Once again Julien lead a 28-goal improvement and a 6th place defensive finish. After being fired late in the 2007 season Julien resurfaced with the Bruins. With 293 goals against and a 29th place finish in goals against, there wasn't much room to move but up. Julien lead the Bruins to a 72-goal improvement in 2008 and furthered that with another 27-goal improvement last season. From the 29th best defensive team to the 1st in 164 games!
Doesn't this seem like a reasonable explanation of how Thomas went from a 3.13 GAA and a .905 SV% at 33 to 2.10 GAA and a .933 SV% during the tail end of his peak at 35? It's not as compelling as Elliott Friedman tossing softballs about perseverance to Thomas on the CBC, but it makes more sense than crediting the improvement to Thomas' late learning curve.
As long as Julien coaches the Bruins, they are going to produce fantasy quality goaltenders. Should Thomas falter, Tuukka Raskis likely to step in and replicate Thomas' success.
Marc Savardhas been among the premier center's in fantasy over the last 5 seasons. Because of his uncanny on ice vision, Savard, when healthy has been a lock for 60+ assists and a yearly threat to crack 100 points. With the introduction of Julien's system, Savard's PP decline has been offset by his renewed defensive awareness. Savard managed to be a + player only 1 time during the first 10 years of his career, but has turned a -19 into a +23 over the last 2 seasons. He remains the biggest fantasy lock on the Bruins, but at 32 is entering into his descent as a fantasy performer. Playing for a contract, I don't expect any decline in 2010.
Tim Thomasis fun to watch and his reflexes and stubborn refusal to quit on a puck are extraordinary. If he was born in 1954 instead of 1974 he may have had a legendary career. After struggling to stick in the league for 15 years he finally found the perfect surroundings for success. Paired with Claude Julien, Thomas' penchant for over pursuit and kicking out monster rebounds has been nullified by a disciplined defense that rarely allows second chance opportunities. As long as Thomas is the starter in Boston, he will produce large fantasy numbers. How long he holds off Rask is another story.
Zdeno Charaanswered all the questions surrounding his 2008 shoulder injury by scoring 19 goals and winning his first Norris trophy in 2009. Although it took Big Z a while to make a fantasy impact, he has become one of the most consistent producers on the back end. Chara has enjoyed eight straight seasons of 95+ PIMs, four straight seasons of 20+ power play points and six straight seasons of 40+ points. Chara's production tailed off in the playoffs as he was hampered by numerous nagging injuries. He is surprisingly mobile and skates well for his size. He is an efficient puck mover and possesses a booming slap shot. With his consistency, the only concern in drafting Chara is his large frame avoiding wear and tear injuries.
David Krejciexploded on the fantasy scene after a torrid second quarter where he averaged 1.40 PPG (115 pt pace). From Nov. 19 – Jan. 13 Krejci had 39 pts in 25 games as he registered a +23. The most impressive aspect of the 23 year olds performance? Only 9 of those points were produced on the power play. Krejci's production tailed in the second half as the hip he injured in the pre-season got progressively worse to the point where he required off season surgery. Krejci still has months of rehab ahead of him and the highly skilled center may struggle out of the gate. 2009 was no fluke. With his vision, hands and ability to change pace, Krejci has a very bright fantasy future.
Phil Kessel is the prime reason why I thought the Thomas contract would act as an albatross around Chiarelli's neck. There remains a possibility that the dynamic winger could be on his way out of town, a victim of the Bruin's salary cap issues. Kessel owns lightning hands and feet and has the ability to maneuver at top speed, causing nightmares for NHL defenders. If they back in too deep, he unleashes a laser like wrist shot, if they get aggressive, he blows by them. Kessel enjoyed his breakout season in 2008 fueled by an 18 game point streak in which he produced 28 points (14G, 14A). He did suffer a lull in production in Jan - Feb, but a lot of that could be blamed on his bout with mononucleosis. He also rebounded from a shoulder injury, (which resulted in off season surgery) to produce 22 points over his final 19 games (including playoffs). Once he matures, the only thing holding him back from fantasy stardom is his health. If he remains in Boston, a PPG pace is realistic in 2010.
Dennis Wideman has improved immensely over the last 4 seasons. He went from being the guy who was traded for Brad Boyesto finishing in the top 15 in NHL scoring for D-men. Add in a +32 and 25 power play points and the question becomes has Wideman at 26 achieved his peak? Wideman is entering his prime and with his PP minutes and array of offensive skills he should remain productive. The Bruins had a magical 2009 and with the loss of Kessel and Krejci for the first couple of months, it isn't unreasonable to place his ceiling at 50 points in 2010.
Milan Lucic throws every hit with bad intentions and at only 21 years old has begun to terrorize the league like nobody since Todd Bertuzziin the early 2000s. Lucic is still raw and shows flashes of dominance. When he figures out the scoring zones and the most efficient routes to them, as well as improving his skating stride and balance, he will become the premier power forward in the league. After a slow 4th quarter, Lucic raised his level in the playoffs with 9 points in 10 games, as well as registering a team high +12. All of this with zero power play production (13th in PP minutes on the Bruins). Lucic almost doubled his 2008 production in 2009 with essentially the same ice time. When his maturity and offensive responsibility coincide, lookout. His upside is scary and leaves me wondering where his ceiling ultimately lies. Can you say Sea Bass!!
Patrice Bergeron was a rising offensive star until his inner Lindros emerged. After missing the majority of 2008, Bergeron returned to the lineup in 2009 and struggled to regain his offensive flow. After watching him adjust so seamlessly to a checking role in the playoffs, I began to have concerns about his future fantasy production. He has the opportunity to win me over during the first quarter of 2010. Injuries to Kessel and Krejci will provide him the opportunity for increased ice time and offensive responsibility, and with it, a chance to reclaim his once promising fantasy career.
There is no doubt that Michael Ryder is a strong offensive player and has the tendency to be very streaky. In fantasy, catching one of his torrid streaks could put you over the top. Last season he rebounded from a nightmare campaign to match his previous production. Upon return from a scary facial injury where he suffered a broken nose and multiple facial fractures, Ryder posted 30 points (13G, 17A) over his final 33 games as he caught fire in the playoffs. Ryder's history suggests a flawed offensive player who has strong instincts and the innate skill of having the puck follow him in the zone, but he also has a history of selfish play and concentration lapses. His hot streaks are always followed by lulls, so I wouldn't over value his hot stretch drive and expect more than his career trajectory shows.
The 23-year old Blake Wheeleronly one year removed from a 44 game schedule seemed to hit the wall over the second half of 2009. Coming off a productive second quarter in which he produced at a 60 pt pace, Wheeler struggled through the playoffs with 15 points over his last 39 games. Wheeler's lack of production cost him a lineup spot during the Bruin's final three games. Wheeler is a talented playmaker with great athleticism and finesse for his size. He has strong offensive upside that he displays through his 1 on 1 skills, and his offensive vision allows him to create time and space for his teammates. The biggest concerns in his development are his lack of strength, physical involvement and unwillingness to pay the price when the physical toll rises in the playoffs. An intriguing fantasy prospect with warts. His weaknesses are red flags for a 6'5" budding power forward.
Looking at the Bruins top prospects, it is easy to see why Chiarelli has gambled on the cap. They possess some intriguing offensive prospects that could step in and provide a cheap alternative over the next couple of seasons. His gamble will all depend on how quick the kids can adapt to the NHL. If any of them can make the leap on entry-level deals, Chiarelli will ultimately look good.
Leaf fans brace yourself. While Andrew Raycroft bounces around the league Tuukka Rask is ready for prime time. With Julien at the helm, Rask is going to be well insulated at the NHL level. With his flaws negated by the Bruins system, he should begin his ascension to number one in Boston. His skill set is impressive, but when his size, athleticism and economy of motion are combined with his passion and drive you have a future All-Star. With Thomas making $5M, Rask's owners will have to remain patient for glimpses. Should Thomas get injured, the Bruins could have a goalie controversy on their hands.
Colborne is the best offensive prospect in the Bruins system. At 6'5", Colborne is a tall, intelligent playmaker. His vision and hands are not consistent with his huge frame and his long effortless movements create the perception that he is not working hard. With low expectations entering his freshman season, Colborne surprised when injuries forced him back to his natural center position. As his body matures and gains the strength to compete more consistently, Colborne should fulfill top line potential.
Soderberg has been a productive player for Malmo in the second tier Swedish Elite League finishing 5th in league scoring in 2009. Soderberg is another large pivot in the Bruins pipeline; he is deceptively quick and possesses strong playmaking skills. When he decides to come over to North America his toughness and mettle will be tested, if he passes the test he can become a solid offensive player with limited upside.
Coming off a prolific junior career in which he posted 93 points and lead the WHL in scoring during his draft eligible season, Hamill's stock has dropped. Consecutive seasons marked by a decline in his production have raised questions about the former 8th overall pick. Initially viewed as undersized, Hamill has grown into his frame and with his effortless stride and powerful acceleration has significant offensive upside. Although his lack of production in the AHL can be explained as an adjustment to the pro game and lack of ice-time, his final WHL campaign raises red flags. How much was Peter Mueller responsible for his 2007 breakout campaign? With Mueller's departure, Hamill's point total plummeted 18 points and he failed to rebound in 2009. He still remains a solid pro prospect, but with the Bruins knee deep in offensive centers, 2010 is a huge year in determining his future offensive impact.
With a name like Sobotka, I expect a future place as the head of the NHLPA where he will ultimately be betrayed by "The Greek" Chris Chelios. Sobotka's future ultimately lies in the opportunity he is provided. Looking at his point per game production in the AHL, if he is provided an offensive role, his dogged work ethic, soft hands and puck carrying ability could translate into fantasy success. His biggest problem in meeting his offensive potential is his adaptability to a checking/energy role and the logjam of centers in the Bruins organization. He will make the NHL, his role will determine his fantasy future.