After ending a 39 year Cup drought in a blaze of offensive glory, the team's initial performance last year raised questions about which Bruins we would be seeing for the duration of the season. Would it be the 2010/11 team that kept pace with the best or the 2009/10 squad that had to run out and sign Chara's former buddy Miro Satan for emergency scoring help? The question was soon emphatically answered. When the dust settled, the personnel we're largely entering this abbreviated campaign with finished a dominant first in 5 on 5 scoring and just third overall, all with the majority of the defensemen taking steps backward in offensive output. Roster continuity at forward will be to the Bruins advantage entering the shortened campaign as line chemistry developed over the past season and a half will remain almost entirely intact.
So lets take a stroll through this familiar lineup, shall we? When talking about the order of the Bruins lines, fans and media haven't quite reached consensus about their pecking order. Ostensibly a second line, performing the function of a slightly sheltered scoring unit, the HuLK line of Horton, Lucic and Krejci get about 30-60 seconds less per game than most 1st lines in the league, and though Bergeron's unit is hot on their heels, lets roll with it and call Krejci's the 1st line.
Nathan Horton -
Since his health and the implications thereof were covered in-depth on Friday, we'll just accept Horton's recent concussion history as the elephant in the room and talk about what he brings to the table when able bodied. Even as a playoff hero, Horton's probably one of the more under-appreciated players on the team. His hulking frame brings a power forward's punishing game, overshadowing the fact that he's the purest sniper on the team outside of Seguin. In his absence last year, his scoring touch was sorely missed, and his line's puck possession also took a major turn for the worse. Krejci dropped to an almost even relative Corsi (thats bad), while with Horton his whole line flirted with Bergeron's team leading numbers, pre-concussion Horton landing at 16.6 (that's good). When he's gone, there's nobody around to keep Lucic from eating stuff with potassium benzoate (that's bad). Offensively, Horton's pretty close to a total package, however his defense isn't remotely as well rounded. He routinely ranks at the bottom of his team, whether Boston or Florida, in on-ice save percentage. Last year, contrary to the rest of his career, he also developed a nasty habit for committing more penalties than he drew, which we'll hope is just a temporary affliction, even if it's not the affliction we're most concerned about when it comes to our first line right wing.
Milan Lucic -
With his commitment to game-shape fitness and rigorous workout regimen... ah who am I kidding. Lucic is probably thanking Tyler The Grouch for taking some attention off his gut in the hockey press. After all, he's a lazy slob who routinely takes nights off and is totally undeserving of the mantle of premiere power forward... right? He appears to be the heir apparent as media whipping boy, but let's take a little closer look at the guy Bruins fans have been directing their ire at since April. In even-strength points per 60, Lucic hit the list at #16 in the league last year with only Jamie Benn ahead of him who can reasonably be considered a power forward. Behind him several places sit James Neal and old pal Joe Thornton. The prior year only Rick Nash, he of incessant Bruins trade rumors, precedes him. Now let's take a glance at another comparable Bostonians salivate over and see how he stacks up. Since Lucic has been elevated to top line duty, Bobby Ryan has routinely received a minute more per game at even strength, but produced at 2.04/60 to Lucic's 2.56 last year, with Lucic also leading the year before. Filling a similar role on his team, Ryan is producing less efficiently. One could counter that Lucic has slightly easier zone starts, but a 4-5% difference isn't really that marked a variance. And consider the quality of linemates: Getzlaf and Perry are decided upgrades on Krejci and Horton in virtually all measures, and line shuffling experiments have proven QoT to have an understandably significant impact on Ryan's output. I'm willing to let any possession-based argument slide since Carlyle teams have a tendency to get shelled collectively (think along the lines of the "Hunter Hockey" experiment in Washington last spring), though this count does favor Lucic as well. You may still harangue him for his declining playoff production, but please remember that last year's small sample size saw Brian Rolston lead all players, and in spite of an admittedly meager performance in 2011 Lucic's prior two years hovered at the top of the team. Basically what I'm saying is, your view of Lucic as an underperforming slacker is confirmation bias and you should be thankful for what you have since there's not really anything better out there in his mold. Statistically, he's emerged and remained as a premiere player at his position. You may believe him overpaid - and you'd be correct that Chiarelli absolutely could have and should have negotiated a better deal with RFA leverage on his side - but do you really believe he wouldn't command similar cash on the open market?
David Krejci -
Another player getting burnt by the spotlight, circumstances have essentially set Krejci up to fail by tasking him with impossible challenge of replacing Marc Savard. In some aspects the Czech center has performed admirably, keeping abreast of his predecessor's totals at even strength in the last two seasons, even if no mere mortal could replicate Savvy's success on the powerplay. In the 2010/11 season Krejci was bested by only Henrik Sedin as an ES setup man and no one can take from him his subsequent performance as scoring leader of the 2011 Cup run. Unfortunately, he struggled with consistency this past year, with an injury-induced rotating line configuration contributing to a dip in overall output. Yet even in his "down" season, his was a significant part of the team strength at 5 on 5 scoring. Given the cap contraction looming on the horizon, Krejci is in a make-or-break season with the Bruins. If he doesn't come out strong, he may find himself the sacrificial lamb. Owning a less restrictive no-trade than most of his teammates, who all seem to have one strangely enough, Chiarelli's contract structuring tips his hand to planned roster movements, signaling Krejci as the odd man out with two other number one centers on the roster.
Patrice Bergeron -
Though he resides on the second line, for all intents and purposes Bergeron should be considered number one on the forward depth chart. This man do no wrong. After a long stint as the Rodney Dangerfield of defensive forwards, Bergeron finally got the respect he deserved this offseason taking home his first Selke - mark my words, this won't be his last. He's a consistent offensive contributor while being one of the best shutdown forwards around. He's the only player in the top 20 league-wide in Corsi On that starts in the defensive zone more than the offensive side - and he happens to come in at number 2, by the way. Only Jonathan Toews can compete at the dot, who finished tied in win percentage with Saint Patrice in spite of facing 500 fewer draws. All this while showing up as the number 25 ES point producer in the league. Oh, and he does stuff like this. And this. Were it not for an existing exemplary captain, Bergeron would have the C sewn on in a heartbeat.
Tyler Seguin -
After getting Barry Melrose'd by Claude Julien in his first year, riding the pine with the same frequency as Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill and barely eking out 10 minutes a game, Seguin broke out in his sophomore campaign to become the leading cog in the Bruins offense. Even at the top of the team in production, his impressive second year totals were likely depressed by reduced minutes in comparison to 1st line forwards and a focus on defensive assignments by virtue of riding shotgun with Bergeron. He's producing at a high level under tough conditions, and though the Sedin treatment of getting pillow soft, massively sheltered minutes could inflate his totals, if he's to develop into a superstar he needs to face the worst he can get. He's still not receiving the most critical defensive zone assignments thanks to an embarrassment of riches in this department elsewhere on the roster, but he's being broken in with a well rounded deployment that will serve him well throughout his career and will be a boon to the team for the foreseeable future under his new six year deal. Already replacing Krejci as the key powerplay pivot, look for Seguin to see top man advantage time and to begin stealing his minutes at even strength as he fully usurps Krejci as 1C in year three.
Brad Marchand -
The 2011 playoffs rocketed the latest Little Ball of Hate to league wide notoriety, but with it has come a reputation he won't be able to shake for some time to come. Marchand is a crafty, shifty player with some Downy soft hands who has taken his prominent offensive role in the top six by sheer force of will. On the flipside, he's got an extensive repertoire of diving, clipping and slew-footing, an overflowing bag of dirty tricks that has made him the go-to poster boy for the "pest." If he's going to continue to flirt with thirty goals a year and remain a net positive in Black and Gold, he'll need to stay on the ice and quit testing the officials patience. One has to wonder if the departure of Mark Recchi, possessed of similar pesky talents, has contributed to Marchand's backslide into bad behavior. Perhaps it's time to enroll the resident rat in a crash course on walking that fine line, revisiting some tape of his ex-linemate Dr. Rex, PhD.
Chris Kelly -
Ol' Cageface had himself a career season last year, riding a personal high shooting percentage, contributing significantly to his league-leading PDO, a measure of save percentage when a player's on the ice plus his on-ice shooting percentage. Both can be fairly circumstantial stats individual players may not have full influence over, and when combined make for a good proxy for luck. Nevertheless, Peter Chiarelli seems to think Kelly's performance is replicable and signed a 32-year-old to a four year/ twelve million dollar deal. Kelly may never produce 35+ points again, in fact the numbers indicate you'd be wise to put money down against it, but our GM will evade the harshest criticism since forwards as defensively competent as Kelly don't come a tremendous amount cheaper. Though highly skeptical of his scoring abilities, I am willing to give Kelly some credit for the save percentage side of his PDO, as he along with Peverley and their partner-du-jour provided a formidable checking line throughout the year. Kelly's defensive prowess has a domino effect of freeing Bergeron up for more offensive assignments, with him taking over some of Bergy's PK time and important defensive zone draws since his arrival. Whether this is worth an extra million bucks though is up for debate.
Rich Peverley -
Yet another in the Bruins surfeit of centermen, Rich Peverley isn't quite an ideal fit for his natural position given the competition. He's a poor man's second line C, just good enough offensively for the Atlantapegs of the world but not hacking it on deeper teams. As a third line center, he's outshone by Kelly's defensive responsibility. His good hands, great vision and speed to burn make him a versatile asset nonetheless. His toolkit permits him to move up and down the lineup as needed, be it as a sub for Horton in event of traumatic head injury, for Marchand during the inevitable suspension, or as a budget Seguin when alarm clocks fail. Though it may be damning by faint praise, Raptor Jesus was the best weapon on the B's anemic powerplay and proved a productive option on the point in lieu of Chiarelli's white whale of a puck moving d-man. He's more than capable at the dot, prevailing in over 60% of his draws this past year and hardly less under a heavier workload in Atlanta the prior year. You'll see him out with Bergeron in critical situations, a safety net in case linesmen feel like playing a starring role that night. Like his liney above, his paycheck's a little hefty for his role but his swiss-army utility in multiple roles make him worth the expense.
Jordan Caron -
An AHL/NHL tweener with flashes of finish and a legit NHL body, it's unclear if Jordan Caron will ever reach his projected ceiling. A late-season scoring streak seemed to point to a youngster hitting the upswing of his development curve, but struggling with consistency and lagging in production in Providence this season, it's entirely possible that "occasional 3rd liner" and "13th forward" may in fact be his ceiling. Currently out with an upper body injury that should sideline him for the first couple weeks of the season, he'll need to return strong and hope his replacement doesn't make him irrelevant if he's to renew in the offseason and stick with the team.
4th Line -
Gregory Campbell -
The last of our seemingly endless raft of Centers, Campbell, like Peverley, is a guy playing a little below his talent level. He could be playing up a line on other teams, but seems to have embraced his rigidly defined role on the depth chart and performs admirably. Claude's crafty with his ice-time distribution, particularly in the playoffs, and Campbell's a useful tool to have at the end of the bench. His responsible defensive game and willingness to sacrifice sees him lead all forwards in PK time in the post season, spelling the skilled guys above him for 5 on 5 action. He's not going to chip in a ton of points, but his energy line's cycle-heavy game has benefits beyond the scoresheet and can wear out the opposition until the big guns can step in. All that said, playing only ten minutes a night, the contracts of Campbell and his Merlot linemates beg the question of whether our team is spending too much on its bottom six going into cap contraction.
Daniel Paille -
Were he our first rounder, we'd be calling him a bust and driving him to the airport or packaging him in a deal for Tomas Kaberle. But Buffalo's loss is our gain... at least defensively. His arrival came on the heels of a team in percipitous decline on the PK and he quickly became a trusted forward in defense-first situations, lending a breather to the more gifted scorers. But abandon all hope, ye who are looking for scoring upside from Danny himself. Even in the Merlot Line's breakout year two seasons ago he didn't share in the offensive output, sputtering to his typical mid-teens tallies while his pugilistic partner outpaced him. With ample speed, Mr. Stonehands is going to create a lot of breakaways, just don't get too excited about it.
Shawn Thornton -
Sugar Shawn Thornton on the other hand is a natural sniper with sweet hands wasted on the pummeling of faces. Well, maybe not, but he's got a touch more skill than the average fighter, permitting him to police the ice without creating a defacto man advantage for the opponent. Entering the twilight of his career, his recent two year renewal - or 1 and a half as the case may be, sorry Shawn - will undoubtedly be his last before he rides of into the sunset for his inevitable broadcast job.
Prospect Quick Hits:
Following the disastrous playoff exit in 2010, Peter Chiarelli has made it his mission to provide sufficient depth so we never have to call up someone like Trent Whitfield in the playoffs again. After horrific draft outings early in his tenure, his pond restocking efforts are beginning to pan out. For the purposes of this rundown, we'll skip over those in junior who we'll be seeing in the coming years and focus only on the possible call-ups.
Chris Bourque -
Speaking of dreadful drafting, this offseason saw Zach Hamill magically turned into an older player who can score at the AHL level. The talent may have skipped a generation in the Bourque family, as he's now on track to be a minor league lifer never able to replicate his AHL success in the big league, but he'll get one last shot at redemption thanks to nepotism. At camp he's been the first to fill the Caron slot on the third line, though waiver eligibility may render him second in line. Bourque will probably get a call up later in the year in advance of the Black Aces once he's clear of being sent back down.
Carter Camper -
He's not big, he's not fast, but he's a crafty playmaking winger who's proven a major offensive contributor for Providence over the past two years. He got a look last year and will be deserving of another call-up to prove his skills on the big stage, though he's virtually no chance of landing the one vacancy in a camp battle against the more NHL-sized bodies.
Jared Knight -
While we sadly didn't keep Michael Ryder around long enough to see a Knight/Ryder line, Jared Knight, the third piece of Brian Burke's Phil Kessel Follies, factors to make the team sooner or later. Due to recent hamstring injuries it looks like it will be later. He's a North-South player with a hard net-driving game that will go over well in town, but he'll have to prove it in Providence before he gets a chance to leapfrog his healthier competition.
Lane MacDermid -
Should a top six forward go down, MacDermid's not the most likely to be called up, though the big, physical winger is an ideal fill-in if a hole needs patching on the lower lines. A willing combatant, he auditioned in the NHL with a scrap against Mike Rupp and it probably won't be his last for the big club.
Ryan Spooner -
Certain Boston sports writers would have you believe that Bourque is a shoe in for the spot temporarily vacated by Caron, but lest #77 have some serious front office pull with his old teammate, that spot is Spooner's to lose. Having been cut last from the past two camps, he's clearly caught Julien's eye. He's an excellent possession player and has good speed, certainly worth trying out in the Caron/Pouliot/Ryder role now that the chance has presented itself.
Jamie Tardif -
A good leader for the P-B's, but lacks the skill to hang with the big boys. At least it's not Trent Whitfield.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, as with the D there's only one spot up for grabs up front, so we'll be witnessing essentially the same team that charged to the top of the standings after a weak initial showing last year. In a shortened season, that start will be all-important, and minimal roster turnover and stability within the coaching ranks will lend a strategic advantage to the 2013 Bruins. However, injury concerns loom over a deceptively critical forward in Horton, consistency questions linger around Krejci, and conditioning woes impact Lucic, all lending uncertainty to a formerly potent first line. If Spooner or Bourque are unable to contribute at the NHL level, or if Caron is unable to show the better flashes of his offensive potential upon return, the team will be hurting for the loss of Pouliot and Ryder before him and may need to go looking for a deadline upgrade. Still, the status quo, retaining almost the entirety of one of the league's top offensive corps, is much preferable to the position of many around the East.