The Boston Bruins finished the 2012 postseason with an early exit after the first round. With expectations high after the 2011 Stanley Cup victory, some would expect Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins management to be making some changes. The biggest question marks coming into the offseason are the Bruins' offense, which was stagnant at times in the second half and in the playoffs, as well as the power play. So why is Chiarelli not bringing in some new offensive talent? I'll offer you two names: Horton and Hamilton.
We'll start with Nathan Horton. Because it was half a year ago, many people choose to forget that time when the B's were the class of the NHL. After November and December, the Bruins led the NHL in points percentage and goals per game, as well as being top three in goals allowed. They were nearly unstoppable until they dropped off in January and struggled to reach the same level of production for the rest of the year. This decline in performance also happened to coincide with the loss of Horton for the entire season. The result of his absence was clear; Claude Julien was continually forced to juggle his lines as he searched for offensive consistency, but he was unable to find a suitable match for David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and ended up breaking up other successful lines (Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin, Pouliot-Kelly-Peverley).
With Horton on schedule to be back in the lineup for the start of the season, the Bruins can look to return to the form that saw them tear the NHL apart early last winter. Horton and Lucic together provide formidable size around David Krejci that facilitates him to be the premiere passer and setup man that he has been in the past. Furthermore, Horton's return to the first line will allow the at times unstoppable Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin line to remain together, and will also allow Rich Peverley to bring his speed back to the third line where he wreaked havoc with Chris Kelly in the 2011-2012 season.
Finally, Horton has been an invaluable net presence on the power play for the Bruins, and his return should help bolster the less than extraordinary power play numbers from the end of the season. Horton showed an uncanny skill for finding and burying rebounds in the 2011-2012 season; this proficiency fit perfectly with Claude Julien's style of bombarding the net from all angles during the power play. For lack of a better comparison, Horton was the ideal "trash man" as he cleaned up many broken plays in front of the net. All in all, Horton's return is a likely candidate to patch up any of the offensive inconsistencies that are a concern for the team.
Now for the second, albeit less proven aspect: Dougie Hamilton. The highly touted defensive prospect is likely to join the ranks of the Bruins lineup this year, and he brings a great deal of promise and potential. Bruins fans hope that they finally have the right player to successfully fill the role of the puck-moving defensemen. Hamilton recorded 72 points in just 50 games last year with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL, which lead the league in blue-liner scoring. He is an extremely versatile skater, and has speed to boot.
After the miserable failures of the Kaberle and Corvo experiments, Hamilton brings the potential to fill the puck-moving role with flying colors. Don't let that convince you he can't get stops at the other end though. Hamilton is also known for being a tough defender who is very active with his stick, so he should be dependable to break up those odd man rushes as he develops. Overall, Dougie Hamilton has an excellent skill set and is seen as a 3-zone player. The only reservation about the 19 year old is that he still has to fill out his 6'5" frame, as he currently weighs in right under 200 pounds. That extra muscle should come very soon as he continues to grow, so I see it as an absolute necessity that someone with his talent should be in the Bruins lineup. Hamilton, as with Horton, should be able to provide a noticeable boost to the power play once he learns the system; his skills with the puck will help open up many more shooting lanes and get the B's more looks at the net. He is also not shy when blasting the net from the top of the umbrella setup, which will fit great with Claude's current power play.
There are some lines of thought out there that say that no puck-moving defensemen fits well in Claude Julien's system. It is true that the first look in his clear/breakout is to find a forward at the blue line, but that doesn't mean that Hamilton can't bring his own style to the breakout. Claude isn't standing there saying "PASS THE DAMN PUCK". As often as not, when the B's went through bad stretches of a game and turned it over a lot it was from errant or forced passes into the neutral zone when the forwards were locked down. Corvo and Kaberle struggled with many (if not all) aspects of their game when they played with the Bruins, not just the breakout. Their shortcomings in creating offense were not a result of the system, rather a result of their inability to use the skill that they (apparently) possessed. All of this points to the fact that our system would welcome a successful puck-mover to mix things up in the defensive zone and keep the opponent on their toes. Hamilton may not be that man from day one, but in due time I believe he can fill that role like Corvo and Kaberle only dreamed they could have.
A Few more things to consider for the upcoming season:
Adam McQuaid (concussion) has been fully cleared for contact, so expect to see him on the ice for the start of training camp. Darth Quaider was sorely missed in the playoffs when Corvo had to fill in for him.
With Tim Thomas sitting the season out, Bruins fans have no reason to worry with Tuukka Rask as the starter. Don't forget Tuukka's league leading 1.97 GAA and .931 SV% in the 09-10 season when Tim was nagged by a hip injury. Tuukka's stats last year were impressive as well (2.05, .929), but he did not often receive very good support from the offense, leading to a record of 11-8-3. At age 25 Tuuks is in the prime of his career and we should all expect a stellar season out of him.
The B's have a wealth of prospects in the system that could make a difference if they develop more, and a few should see some ice time this year.
(Jared Knight, Carter Camper, Lane MacDermid, Ryan Spooner, Maxime Sauve, Zach Hamill, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski)
Potential 2012-2013 Lines
At the beginning of the season, you may see Aaron Johnson or Garnet Exelby in there in stead of Hamilton, but I hope in time that Dougie makes first pairing with Chara at some point, ice time with Chara would be invaluable for his development.
If Hamilton is not immediately in the starting lineup, it may look more like this:
Thoughts? Comments? Different Lineups? What do you think?