We've got three burning questions about the Bruins this season. Here they are:
1. Who backs up Tuukka Rask?
Going into camp, the Bruins had four non-Rask goaltenders:
- Zane McIntyre, fresh out of North Dakota
- Malcolm Subban, first round draft pick and AHL goaltender last year
- Jeremy Smith, 2014 free agent acquisition and AHL goaltender last year
- Jonas Gustavsson, Pro try-out goalie of Toronto Maple Leaf and Detroit Red Wing fame
Most of the discussion was on whether Subban or McIntyre would take the spot at the end of the bench in Boston, but a few days ago the Bruins set that discussion to rest by sending both down to Providence. On the NHL books, that leaves Jeremy Smith, who was already signed to a one year deal at $600,000. Jonas Gustavsson is also available, playing for the Bruins on a Pro Tryout in the hopes that he can prove himself better than Jeremy. Will the career .901 save percentage goalie beat out the career AHLer? We'll find out soon, but Jeremy Smith is already signed, so he is the more likely candidate.
2. Can the young defensemen flourish in the spots open to them?
The Bruins have a hole on defense big enough to need another Zakim Bridge to cross it. Last year's defensive minutes leader Dennis Seidenberg is on the shelf after surgery. He'll be back after a month and a half. The next-highest minute-eater was traded away on draft weekend. Torey Krug is hitting his prime, however, and he should be a reliable top-4 defenseman. Zdeno Chara took a knock in a preseason game and was "day-to-day" last I checked. Adam McQuaid is being paid like a top-4 defenseman, but his play in the past has been too spotty to rely on that. That won't stop Claude Julien from playing him, though!
That leaves the aforementioned young defensemen. The Bruins are going to be relying on some combination of Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman, Colin Miller, Matt Irwin, and Kevan Miller to fill in. Of the three that were here last year - Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman, and Kevan Miller - Zach Trotman is probably the best of the bunch. Joe Morrow showed promise over a short stint in Boston, as well. Kevan Miller is in the same vein as Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid: big, slow, bad, but willing to take penalties.
Luckily, they have some other options in recent acquisitions Colin Miller and Matt Irwin. Colin Miller came over in the Milan Lucic trade, and with last year's Monarchs he was the second-highest scoring defenseman in the entire AHL. He also won 2 competitions at the AHL all-star skills competition - Fastest Skater and Hardest Shot. Matt Irwin spent the last few years transitioning from AHL to tweener to spending all of last season with the San Jose Sharks. The Bruins signed him as a free agent over the summer. He's 27, so probably right in the middle of his prime. For the Sharks, he was an okay defenseman and we're all hoping he can be good enough to play in the bottom four.
Don Sweeney had the opportunity to sign some more established free agent defenseman, but declined to do so and expressed faith in this group. We'll see how it all works out.
3. Who plays with Bergeron and Marchand?
Bergeron and Marchand have played together for many years, and it's no surprise why: they're a menace together. Both are quite talented on their own, but together they make beautiful music. That's why they had all of the goals in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final game 7 win over the Vancouver Canucks. But that line has had quite a few people pass through it over the years. Mark Recchi was there during 2010-11, and for a few beautiful years the Seguin-Bergeron-Marchand line terrorized the NHL. Reilly Smith was there the bulk of last year, but he['s been traded. Loui Eriksson spent some time there, and is a candidate for the spot again.
Who is it going to be, though? Our likeliest candidates are pretty much any top-9 winger. Jimmy Hayes, David Pastrnak, Loui Eriksson, Matt Beleskey are all possibilities. In preseason, we've seen a jumble of lines. Personally, I'd like to see Loui Eriksson or David Pastrnak skating alongside 37 and 63, but it all depends on how the last few preseason games play out. The Bruins aren't known for mixing up lines once they're set, however, so once it settles down we can be pretty certain that it will stay like that until personnel changes require it.
Regardless, you'll be able to read all about it here on Stanley Cup of Chowder!