2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 16. Boston Bruins

Part 16 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers, #18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames

2016-17 Recap

Record: 44-31-7 (95 Points) 3rd in the Atlantic Division (13th Overall)
GPG: 
2.83 (13th)
GAPG:
2.55 (9th)
PP%:
21.7% (7th)
PK%:
85.7% (1st)
Corsi For %: 54.3% (2nd)

Six years after their 2011 Stanley Cup the Boston Bruins were thought to be slowing down. Last season they put those doubts to bed. Backed by yet another solid season from Finnish goalie Tuuka Rask, who is now 30(?!), the Bruins were surprisingly good at keeping the puck out of their net given their shaky blueline. You blink and this guy goes from the fresh-faced teen traded for Andrew Raycroft to an absolute veteran.

At forward, Bergeron put together yet another spectacular season at both ends of the ice and really was the backbone of this playoff team. The Bruins scoring punch was spearheaded by 21 year-old winger David Pastrnak’s 34 goals and super-pest Brad Marchand with his 39 goal, 85 point campaign.

After the team had started off to an uninspiring 26-23-6 record under Claude Julien, they were able to rally to a playoff spot with a 18-8-1 record with interim coach Bruce Cassidy. Despite losing to the eventual conference finalist Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs, last season had many positive notes for a Bruins team in transition.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Paul Postma

List of Key Departures: Colin Miller, Dominic Moore, Joe Morrow, Malcolm Subban

Paul Postma hopefully adds a bit of much-needed blueline depth for the Bruins, but realistically it was a bit of a nothing add in a quiet off-season for the Bruins. Any improvements to this year’s Bruins team will be due to internal progression from young players like McAvoy, Debrusk, Carlo and Pastrnak. Bruce Cassidy comes into his first full season as an NHL head coach and is looking to continue the momentum found at the end of last season.

X-Factors

Team MVP: Patrice Bergeron

When you take into account shot suppression, shot generation, transition skill in the neutral zone, faceoff ability, and overall scoring touch, Bergeron is one of the most valuable players in the NHL. Last season he led all centres in shot attempts at 5-on-5 and was third in scoring chances. His strongest skill is that he is almost never out of position which allows his teammates to play with a lot more offensive freedom than they would enjoy otherwise.

In a feature on Sportnet.com, Andrew Berkshire ranked Bergeron as the NHL’s fifth best centre over the past three seasons, giving him high grades of 32.36/50 in offensive play, a transition game of 18.15/25 and defensive responsbility grading out to 23.46/25
for a total score of 73.96/100.

screenshot-www.sportsnet.ca-2017-10-09-00-30-27-148.png

This ranking puts Bergeron behind only Alex Barkov, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. This guy plays winning hockey so it’s no surprise that the Bruins have only missed the playoffs four times during Bergeron’s 13 year career.

Team’s Strength: Tonnes of depth down the middle

With an impressive group of centres skilled enough to play some powerplay and responsible enough to plug in on the penalty kill, the Bruins might be one of the deepest teams in the league down the middle. Bergeron has been pretty constant in the Selke conversation for nearly a decade now. Krejci remains one of the NHL’s most underrated centermen and is a premier setup man for Boston’s collection of snipers. While David Backes is certainly overpaid, opposing teams definitely notice his physical force and deft scoring touch. 25 year-old Ryan Spooner is no slouch and has slotted on the top line in a pinch. In an expanded role he could definitely improve on his 39 point 2016-17 season. Add the fact Riley Nash and Tim Schaller have both taken reps centering a line and it is kind of crazy just how laughably deep this Bruins team is at the position.

Team’s Weakness: Reliance on 40 year-old Zdeno Chara

Last season Chara led all Bruins in time on ice and short-handed time on ice. While Chara is in incredible shape and remains a 6’9″ tall freak, the Bruins should be very concerned that they don’t have an immediate successor for his minutes. He is several years removed from his Norris-calibre playing days and the Bruins blueline has seemingly gotten progressively worse around him with every passing year. The coaching staff has begun to ween Big Z off of his powerplay minutes by giving Krug more time running the point. But when Chara inevitably retires, Krug is too small to shutdown other teams’ top lines, McQuaid is too immobile to expand his role beyond PK specialist and McAvoy and Carlo are too young and inexperienced to immediately become minute eaters on a legitimate playoffs team.

Rookies/Farm:

Injuries to David Backes and Patrice Bergeron have left room for some rookies to break camp with the team. Jake Debrusk, Boston’s 14th overall pick in 2015,  has started the season on David Krecji’s left flank and already has a goal to show for himself. Debrusk had a relatively strong 2016-17 season with the AHL’s Providence where he scored 49 points in 74 games in his introduction to professional hockey. If he can hang with the big club this year, he has enough scoring touch that he could be valuable in a middle six forward slot.

Also breaking camp are longshots Sean Kuraly and Anders Bjork. Kuraly is an old rookie centre at 24 years of age and looks to be no more than a bottom six grinder. Bjork on the other hand has a bit of hype as a “Pastrnak-lite” type of player. He is a smaller winger with soft hands, strong-skating strides and a bit of a gritty two-way edge. The 2014 fifth rounder out of Notre Dame was awesome in his senior season with the Fighting Irish last year, potting 52 points in 39 games. Boston may have a real diamond-in-the-rough on their hands here.

Key Player: Charlie McAvoy

With every passing year, this team resembles the 2011 Stanley Cup champions less and less. The pieces of the next great Bruins roster are in place, but the smoothness of the transition will depend on how effectively they can replace Chara’s minutes. The overall D corps is too shallow to replace him by committee, so their best shot probably lies with rookie Charlie McAvoy, AKA “Chuckie Bright Lights”.

McAvoy is by far the Bruins top prospect. His size, skating, vision, big shot and puckhandling skills give him the profile of player who could eventually step into a potential matchup guy, powerplay point guard and go-to penalty killer. It’ll be interesting to see how smooth McAvoy’s rookie season is and how Boston utilizes him out of the gate.

Our Rankings

T. Waind: 14th

C. Burgess: 15th

B. Ballantyne: 22nd


 

As much as it kills me to say… this Bruins team is still pretty good. They’ve got an elite goalie, crazy depth down the middle, and two of the league’s best goal-scorers. At what point will these guys just crap out? They aren’t going to win a Cup so long as Chara’s still their minute-eating blueliner, yet they continue to hang around the playoff picture like a cockroach. Now that the Leafs finally have a young and competitive roster, I have been trying to temper any sort of real enthusiasm because I know, I just know, that they’re going to meet the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. And that series will take any optimism that I have and give it a Dikembe Mutumbo swat to the moon. Here’s to another year of Burgess reminding me of the 2013 first blown game 7 whenever the Leafs blow a lead. Here’s to another year of Boston teams causing me grief. Here’s to another year…

 

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