Rant Sports NHL 30 in 30: Boston Bruins Preview
The 30 in 30 series will continue despite the lockout.
After hoisting the Stanley Cup for the sixth time in team history and raising the sixth banner to the rafters of TD Garden, the Boston Bruins struggled in the month of October, losing seven out of 10 games and causing many to speculate about a Stanley Cup hangover. It took a home-and-home loss with the hated Montreal Canadiens to get the Bruins out of their funk and they spent the month of November winning, winning, winning. The only November loss came on Black Friday to the Detroit Red Wings and since it was a loss in a shootout, many Bruins faithful held to the claim that their team didn’t lose at all in regulation during November. The pace lightened only slightly in December, when the team lost three out of 12 games, but before Christmas, both Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand had their first career hat tricks.
The second half of the season, though, was a little more muddled for the Black and Gold. After Nathan Horton was lost to another concussion in January, the team struggled to produce as much as it had before the skilled top-liner was declared done for the season. The controversy surrounding the team’s victory trip to the White House also didn’t help matters. A 6-0 shutout against the Buffalo Sabres in February was their most ignominious loss of the season. February itself was ignominious: eight losses out of 13 games, five of those losses shutouts. Eventually the winning pace picked back up near the end of the regular season, though, and through it all the Bruins had banked enough points during the best of times to remain atop the Northeast Division for much of the season.
Some last day of the regular season shuffling, though, led the Bruins to face the Washington Capitals in the playoffs instead of the presumed Ottawa Senators. In a hard-fought seven-game series, every single game was won by just one goal. In the end, an overtime goal sent the Bruins home much earlier than they perhaps wanted and kept alive the streak of champions being unable to repeat.
The Bruins didn’t make too many waves in the offseason. In fact, their biggest get was probably at the 2012 draft, when GM Peter Chiarelli surprised the hockey world by selecting goalie Malcolm Subban (younger brother of PK) in the first round, thus making the Montreal-Boston rivalry a family affair. Chiarelli and his crew made some other good selections in later rounds, including homegrown Matt Grzelcyk. Later in the offseason, Chris Bourque joined the organization where his dad Ray had a legendary career, Christian Hanson kept the Hanson name going and Garnet Exelby joined the fold. Keep in mind that, aside from Subban and Grzelcyk, all of these players were brought in mostly for the AHL Providence Bruins, a team that has not experienced as much recent success as its parent.
In a different sort of offseason addition, Patrice Bergeron won the Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defensive forward. That makes him the second Bruin in the entire history of the Selke (Steve Kasper won in 1982) to win.
Benoit Pouliot went to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Michel Ouellet, Greg Zanon signed with the Colorado Avalanche and Joe Corvo returned to the Carolina Hurricanes for his third tour of duty in Raleigh. Zach Hamill also went to the Capitals in exchange for Bourque. Then, of course, there’s that whole Tim Thomas taking a year off to spend more time with his family–and his Facebook–thing. The fact that his $5 million cap hit remains on the Bruins’ balance sheets kept them from being huge players in the offseason market. Instead, Chiarelli has focused mainly on keeping the core of the team together.
The X Factor
Though Milan Lucic–he of the 20+ goal and 100+ penalty minute output last season–recently received a new contract that will make him the team’s highest-paid forward (only defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara makes more) and will aim to show he deserves that big raise, Seguin is also extremely valuable to the team. He too got a big new deal recently that will help him put together his goal of making Boston his permanent home. Last season, he led the team in goals with 29, added 38 assists and led the team in points too. His +34 rating was second in the NHL behind his linemate Bergeron, who had 22 goals, a team-leading 42 assists and a league-leading +36.
That’s not to count out Seguin’s other linemate Marchand, though, who also got a rewarding new offseason deal and had a great 2011-12. He had 28 goals, 27 assists and a +31 rating good for fifth in the league. Yes, he did run afoul of disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan and the Shanaban in January, and Seguin learned the hard way not to skip team breakfasts, but both of them are young and still learning. Their skill sets are high, though, and when the three of them work well together, they can do big things:
Just listen to the way Jack Edwards gets excited on Marchand’s second goal in that video!
Perhaps the Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin line together is the team’s X factor.
About to Break Out
Dougie Hamilton, the Bruins’ first-round pick in 2011, is a towering offensive defenseman who was widely expected to return to Boston immediately this season. He’s been sent back down to his junior club to wait out the lockout–he has neither the age nor the NHL experience to play in the AHL for now–so he’ll probably keep up his blistering rate of scoring in Niagara. Last season, he put together 72 points, a solid 55 of those assists. Once things are more settled, look for Hamilton to try his hand at earning a defensive spot in Boston, especially considering that Corvo’s departure leaves an opening.
Tempering the outlook slightly based on league-wide uncertainty, if the Bruins can come out strong and remain strong throughout the season, they could easily repeat as division champions. Some of the Northeast teams, especially Buffalo, acquired some tough guys in the offseason, perhaps to better answer Boston’s brand of rough old-time hockey, but the Bruins can answer the bell if needed. Horton’s health will be important because the top line simply doesn’t perform as well without him. Some fans have pointed out that the last two times the Bruins won the Stanley Cup weren’t repeats–1970 and 1972 had 1971 in the middle, of course–and so they keep their hopes up for a 21st century version of that.