I was planning on writing my big season preview closer to the start of the regular season, but James Mirtle and the SBN Hockey crew decided to have 2 blogs write season previews for each the 15 days leading up to the start of the regular season (one from the East and one from the West each day). The order was determined by alphabetical order, so here is your early edition Bruins season preview.
2008-09 Season Recap
The B's surpassed all expectations last season, finishing first in the Eastern Conference with a regular season record of 53-19-10 (116 points) and regaining mainstream relevance in the Boston sports landscape. Goaltender Tim Thomasand defenseman Zdeno Chara both had career years in '08-'09, winning the Vezina and Norris respectively. 08-09 also saw the emergence of several young players including David Krejci (22-51-73), Phil Kessel (36-24-60), Blake Wheeler (21-24-45), Matt Hunwick (6-21-27, +15), Milan Lucic (17-25-42, 1 broken pane of glass) and Mark Stuart (5-12-17, +20). Offseason signing Michael Ryder proved the doubters wrong by potting 27 goals, while playmaker Marc Savard led the team in points (88) and assists (63).
The Bruins roared into the first round of the playoffs by dismantling the hated Montreal Canadiens in 4 games. However, the Bruins would hit a roadblock in the second road when the ran up against the Carolina Hurricanes. The B's took the Canes to 7 games, but ultimately Carolina would advance...on a goal from Scott Walker of all people.
The Bruins didn't dive head-first into the free agent market this offseason but they were able to make a few additions that should help the hockey club.
Derek Morris (D, free agent signing)
The Bruins seemed to be lacking that highly-coveted puck-moving defenseman last season and struggled at times trying to start the attack from their own end of the rink. Hopefully, Derek Morris can be that guy for the B's this season.
Steve Begin (F, free agent signing)
Steve Begin was the guy that B's fans loved to hate when he was wearing Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge, but they will probably love him now that he is in Black & Gold. He a Grade A pest that will create traffic in front of the net and provide plenty of grit. Begin will likely fill the role vacated by Stephane Yelle...only with a little more nasty.
Tuukka Rask (G, call up)
The much-heralded goaltending prospect will likely get a crack at being a full-time NHL player this season. The 22 year old Finnish puckstopper will likely be the backup to Tim Thomas this season.
Dany Sabourin (G, free agent signing)
The Bruins signed Sabourin to give the Bruins some depth at the goalie position. It's never a bad thing to have another goalie with NHL experience.
Marco Sturm (LW, return from injury) and Patrice Bergeron (C, return from injury)
OK, so Sturm and Bergeron aren't technically additions to the team but it will be nice to have these guys healthy and back in the line-up.
Other Depth Additions: Matt Dalton (G), Trent Whitfield (C), Andy Wozniewski (D), Drew Larman (C), Drew Fata (D)
Aaron Ward (D, traded to Carolina)
The veteran defenseman was shipped back to his former team in a salary dump move. I have to say I am going to miss Ward Wednesdays on Toucher & Rich.
Steve Montador (D, signed with Buffalo)
The Steve Montador experiment didn't go exactly as planned.
Shane Hnidy (D, signed with Minnesota)
I can't say I am really sad to see The Sheriff leave town.
Phil Kessel (F, RFA/expected to be traded or sign elsewhere)
All summer long there has been a lot of speculation regarding Phil Kessel's future in Boston. At this point, it looks like #81's days in The Hub could be numbered.
Manny Fernandez (G, UFA/still looking for a team)
The oft-injured veteran goaltender was contemplating retirement after the Bruins let him walk at the end of the season, but decided to test the free agent waters. So far, there has not been any nibbles for Manny.
P.J. Axelsson(LW, UFA/signed with Swedish team)
The Bruins decided not to re-sign the long-tenured Bruin and P.J. returned to his home country. Axelsson's game started to decline a bit in the last few years, but his presence on the PK will be missed.
Stephane Yelle (C, UFA/signed with Carolina)
Yelle was solid defensively and at the dot last season, but I think others can fill this role just fine.
Like most Claude Julien teams, the Bruins are strong in their own end of the rink and play a puck possession game, however that doesn't mean that they can't put the puck in the net. The Bruins are returning a solid nucleus of young talent with an extra year of experience under their belts. On paper, their goaltending is the strongest it has been in years, but this is the first time that Tim Thomas has been called upon to be the definitive starter. Hopefully, he can prove that last season wasn't a fluke.
Last season, the Bruins did not fair well when they ran up against a team that forechecked aggressively. The Bruins need to do a better job off creating offense from the defensive zone and moving the puck. Derek Morris could help them out in this area. Depth on blue line could be an issue for the Bruins at some point during the season. Other than the top 6 defensemen, the B's don't have a lot of D-men with NHL experience. Also, if Kessel is sent packing, the Bruins will need to find a way to make up for his 36 goals. The penalty kill also took a big hit when PK specialist P.J. Axelsson left for Sweden.
This is what the lineup could look like this year:
Milan Lucic - Marc Savard - Michael Ryder
Blake Wheeler - David Krejci - Mark Recchi
Marco Sturm - Patrice Bergeron - Chuck Kobasew
Shawn Thornton - Steve Begin - Byron Bitz/Vladimir Sobotka
Zdeno Chara - Derek Morris
Andrew Ference - Dennis Wideman
Matt Hunwick - Mark Stuart
Depth/Minor League Forwards: Mikko Lehtonen, Jamie Arniel, Zach Hamill, Drew Larmen, Jeff LoVecchio, Jordan Knackstedt, Brad Marchand, Matt Marquardt, Trent Whitfield, Levi Nelson, Yannick Riendeau
Depth/Minor League Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Drew Fata, Andy Wozniewski, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Adam McQuaid, Jeff Penner, Zach McKelvie
Depth/Minor League Goaltenders: Dany Sabourin, Kevin Regan, Adam Courchaine, Matt Dalton
This is the part I hate most about writing a season preview, because everyone can look back a few months from now and tell him how much of an idiot I am. I'm going to say that the Bruins will finish 3rd in the East (1st in the Northeast).
I'm looking forward to another great season of Bruins hockey and I hope you will all join me here at Stanley Cup of Chowder all season long.