1. The Bruins will benefit from the shortened season....
Conventional wisdom holds that teams that didn't have much turnover in the offseason should be better positioned for success this year, due to the lack of any real preseason or training camp. This makes sense; teams that know each other better will have less of a learning curve adjusting to new linemates, defense partners and the like. The Bruins, who will probably have one new defenseman and one new forward among their skaters, certainly fit the description of such a team. So to that extent, they should benefit.
2. ...but not as much as you think.
However, that benefit is likely to be counteracted in large part by an insidious nemesis: randomness. An 82 game regular season is a pretty good indicator of what teams are good, and what teams are not. We know this because it's pretty rare for a team to sneak into the playoffs and then win 16 games and take home the Cup. Rare, albeit not unheard of. A shorter season is not as accurate a sample size. Hot streaks and cold streaks will take on added meaning in a 48 game season, when they would probably be cancelled out in part by a longer season. Mediocre teams go on hot streaks all the time, only to regress to the mean later in the season. For some of these teams, that regression will never come, by virtue of the shortened season.
The Bruins are a good team. They're a pretty much universal pick to win their division and be a serious Cup contender. For the Bruins, a good outcome would be things going as expected. Therefore, randomness is their enemy. There will definitely be at least one completely unexpected division champion this year, and maybe more.
3. I will plant 100 trees this year.
Not personally, I mean, but like many of the Cup of Chowder crew, I have joined the #treesforgoals challenge. On the theory that there should be some synergy between squirrels and trees, I've pledged 5 trees for every Brad Marchand goal. Though Marchand's 16.8% shooting percentage is not sustainable, he's been increasingly more aggressive as a shooter, which is always a good thing (pay attention, Nathan Horton), and his speed does create high quality chances that he, unlike a certain fourth liner who shall remain nameless, can actually convert. So while 16.8% is not sustainable, he could remain in the 13-14% range. At a 14% clip, if he gets close to 3 shots per game, he can break the 20 goal barrier even in the shortened season.
And hey, if you haven't signed up yet, do so. Habs Eyes on the Prize has a similar challenge. Yes, Bruins/Habs trash talk is going to revolve around who planted more trees this year. I don't see a loser here.
4. The Bruins will trade for a veteran backup.
With an eye toward making sure he's fresh for the playoffs, I would expect that the Bruins plan to play Tuukka Rask somewhere between 30 and 35 games this year. That leaves as many as 18 games for a backup goaltender and I don't think Anton Khudobin is going to be up for the job. Dobie's NHL stats are sterling, indeed: .961 save percentage. However, the sample size is so small that I'm comfortable with hand-waving it away: 7 games over three years. Instead, look at his minor league stats. Yes, he posted an impressive .919 in Providence last year, but he was also a 25 year old in the AHL. This is one of my biggest fears about this team, and I would expect the Bruins to have a fairly short leash with Dobie. Perhaps it would be Niklas Svedberg getting the call, but I think a move to acquire a veteran is more likely.
5. Andrew Ference will miss time, causing problems for the third pair.
Alt-Captain Planet has been a fine stabilizing force for the Bruins' third pair over the last two years. However, his history tells us that he's way overdue for a significant injury. In his 12 years, he's played 80 or more games exactly twice. He's played 70 or more games five times, two of which were the last two years. There are plenty of possibilities to explain this: maybe he's become healthier, perhaps changing his style of play a bit, putting on more muscle, or whatever. Or, it's possible that it's a statistical anomaly, and he'll go back to his habit of spending about 1/3 of the season as an injury scratch. I think the latter is more likely than the former, especially at age 33, and playing the physical style of play that's the birthright of any defenseman not wearing a spoked B.
The defensive depth is perilously thin, as it becomes more and more obvious that Matthew Bartkowski and Colby Cohen are unlikely to be useful at the NHL level. Aaron Johnson is a disaster waiting to happen. I'd hand the 7th defenseman job to Torey Krug, but they seem to want him to play a full year in Providence. This is another place where an in-season move might be likely. You know what? I'm going to double down on this...
6. The Bruins will trade David Krejci for Keith Yandle.
There, I said it. Am I going to bet my life on this one? Not hardly. But as with Tomas Kaberle a few years ago, when rumors about a player and a team reach critical mass, they do so for a reason. Yandle to Boston has been kicking around the rumor mill for almost as long as Kaberle to Boston did before that was consummated. But this piece does a great job of laying out the logic: Krejci's NTC doesn't kick in yet, the Bruins have a surplus of centers, the Coyotes have a surplus of defensemen, the salaries match nicely and so do the team needs.
With that said, in the words of Johnny Storm, "Flame on!"
7. Zdeno Chara will deserve the Norris Trophy but get screwed again.
Seriously, this shit's getting old. Chara should have three of the damn things by now.
8. The power play will be improved, but probably not because of great coaching.
Saying that Doug Houda has done a lousy job of coaching the power play is not unlike proclaiming that water is wet. However, the Bruins simply have too much talent for the power play to continue being the middling weapon that it is. Tyler Seguin is ready to make the jump into superstardom, and his brilliance should be enough to carry the power play. With the added space in the offensive zone, I look for Seguin to do a better job of using that space, creating chances and shots. A healthy Nathan Horton won't hurt, either, but Seguin needs to be more assertive on the power play. Boston's heavy reliance on Chara's slapshot has made the power play way too predictable. Seguin should be able to make it less so, starting this year.
9. The offense will be more prolific than 2011-12.
No mean feat, considering the Bruins scored 269 goals, good for second overall. However, I think the power play is likely to improve over the feast-or-famine unit that's been the norm since Marc Savard got hurt, and while there are some definite candidates for regression (I am tempted to write Chris Kelly's name in flashing red 48 point font), there's plenty of reason to think that will be counteracted: Seguin is going to improve, Horton is healthy and so is Rich Peverley (what's more, Peverley will have a defined role, instead of being the team's Swiss army knife), Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand still have some improving to do.
10. The Bruins will make the conference finals, but lose in 7 to Pittsburgh.
I already predicted the Bruins would win the Northeast, and I feel quite confident in that prediction. This year, I think their biggest challenger in the Eastern Conference is Pittsburgh. I think, as Hockey Prospectus does, that the Bruins and Penguins are likely to be the two best teams in the NHL. The Penguins led the league in goals last year, and did it getting about a quarter of the season from the best player in the universe. Even if you assume that the suddenly injury-prone Sidney Crosby only plays 2/3 of the season, that's a big improvement. His health is the X factor on which the season is likely to turn. I think he's going to be okay, but we're in uncharted territory with his career right now. The flip of a coin says Crosby stays healthy enough to lead the Penguins over the B's in seven.