Flortheast Division Previews: The Boston Bruins

Cam Charron
October 03 2013 03:15PM

Over the last few days, we've taken a brief look at the teams in Toronto's newest division. The division is called the "Atlantic" but only three of the teams in the division are even close to the Atlantic Ocean. Given there are six teams in the Northeast and two in the state of Florida, the hockey community as a whole has decided to rebrand this division "The Flortheast". Thanks to all the bloggers that participated in this.

Our last preview comes from Tom Servo over at Stanley Cup of Chowder. Guess which playoff comeback he talks about to start his intro?

INTRO:

So... hey guys... this is awkward... yeah, about that whole epic comeback in an elimination game... well, karma's a bitch and turns out it really sucks to be on the receiving end. So sorry about that, gang! But hey, buck up! You've got Dave Bolland now to take care of all your clutch needs! (ed note: this was written before Bolland scored twice to help the Leafs beat Philadelphia)

Between then and now, the Bruins have done some tinkering. Overreacting to an obscenely low and rather unlucky shooting percentage and perceived inability to play "our style of game*" (*hittin dudes), Tyler Seguin was dangled to make room for Nathan Horton to re-sign. Unfortunately, Horton's affinity for zoology scuttled their best laid plans, but on they pressed, sending Seguin packing to Dallas for soon-to-no-longer-be-"underrated" Loui Eriksson and some mid-tier prospects. With the cap savings, they picked up spring chicken Jarome Iginla, and this time they're pretty sure it worked. 

While the long term impacts of ditching youth for vets raises some serious questions, the near-term this season should prove a lateral move, with Eriksson and Iginla largely replacing Seguin and Horton's production - though the team must be banking on them to revive a moribund power play, as neither outpaced their predecessor 5v5. 

Essentially, beyond these two roles being recast, it'll be the same bruising-yet-skilled group as before. Look for a bit more mobile blue line with the departure of Andrew Ference and the promotions of Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski, along with a follow-up year of Dougie Hamilton, sole remaining bounty of the Phil Kessel trade (as if Jared Knight's ever going to work out). With further development from these three, the team is hoping to reduce wear and tear on Big Z, whose huge minutes are beginning to grind on his heretofore ageless legs. Should the new faces integrate with the core as seamlessly as they've appeared to in the preseason, and Rask not be adversely affected by the fat wallet weighing him down, the Bruins should remain at the forefront of the Flortheast pack, jockeying with Montreal and Ottawa for much of the season.

THREE QUESTIONS:

The first year Zdeno Chara played for the Bruins, he averaged 27:58 a night. Last season, he averaged a measly 24:58. Is there any concern to his actual ability, or do the Bruins only have to replace the minutes?

And nearly a half hour per game in the playoffs, trailing only Ryan Suter's 5 games in ATOI. I personally have no concern over his ability dropping off until the tail of his contract. There's been no significant sign of decline in the regular season, the only indication has come in the Final series against Chicago, the defensive failure in which had far more to do with matching Krejci against Toews... (saves rant for another day). Claude simply runs him ragged in the post season and the hope is that keeping the rotation a bit more evenly distributed can result in a less battered Z come the playoffs and a more seasoned bottom 4. But counterintuitively, Chara's now being placed in front of the net on the PP to get hacked at and hit with point shots, so we'll see how all that pans out.

Let's pretend that neither Krug, Bartkowski nor Hamilton can play in the top four effectively. Is there pressure on Pete Chiarelli to add a veteran to the group given the loss of Andrew Ference in the summer?

Well, we would have to pretend because Dougie already has. But suspending disbelief for a moment, from the parade of veteran acquisitions over the past few years (Zanon, Johnson, Mottau, Corvo...) dear god I hope not. I was certain he'd be in on Douglas Murray last year, which shows my level of faith in the front office's valuation of defensemen. I fully anticipate a replacement level move for veteran depth regardless, though Chiarelli's probably a bit trigger shy about big game hunting on the blueline given the reaction to the Kaberle trade (who was unfairly lambasted during the cup run, leading the D on offense and possession as he was). No matter who steps in, on the ice Ference will not be missed.

What's the deal with that third line? Remember when Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly were excellent that one year and now one was shipped out and the other is overpriced? Who gets to play with Kelly now and what sort of production do you envision?

Indications from camp are that Swedish unicorn Carl Soderberg will move to the left wing, with several players duking it out over the RW slot: Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser (both of the Seguin trade) Ryan Spooner, Nick Johnson, and 1st round dud Jordan Caron. Smith has spent the most time as part of that trio in the preseason, though Spooner displays the greatest offensive gifts of the bunch. There's a lot of moving parts to project here, between Kelly bouncing back to mere averageness rather than outright garbage, the remaining question mark on the right wing and a limited glimpse at Soderberg's North American game. I'd cop out and say at least it'll be better than last year's low-PDO Kelly/Peverley duo riding with Chris "The Milkman's Son" Bourque. If Spooner plays, as I hope, I'd peg Soderberg and Spooner for low-to-mid 30s based on their play in other leagues - cut by decrease in ice time - and cross my fingers that Kelly's done paying the regression piper for his contract year and can flirt with his customary 25+.

KEY STATS:

2013 Stats Boston (Lg. Rank)
Points/82 Games 195.9 (5th)
Goal Differential +22 (4th)
Corsi Tied 54.0% (6th)
5v5 Shot % 7.31% (23rd)
5v5 Save % .932 (5th)
PDO 100.5 (14th)

Boston likely deserved a better fate. They were a top-five team in goal differential and still didn't manage to win their division, coming in just behind Montreal. Still, their excellent possession numbers carried through to the playoffs and they became a popular upset pick by Statties to beat the Penguins.

Numbers via NHL.com and Hockey Analysis.

JEFFLER'S TAKE:

The Bruins interest me, in the sense that they looked at their offseason both from the perspective of a contender that went to the finals, and as a team that was a minute away from a first round exit. A mixture of pats on the back and "fire everybody" was needed, and it's safe to say they're a scarier team this year than they perhaps even the 2011 Cup Winning Roster.

Jarome Iginla, while not the player he used to be, definitely has plenty of gas in the tank, and something to prove. While Tyler Seguin may develop into the star player that he was hyped up to be; the Bruins are in a situation where acquisition Loui Eriksson fits their blueprint much more. 

As crazy as it sounds, my biggest concern for them would be goaltending. Tuukka Rask is dominant and can problably take on a full workload, but has never played more than 45 games in a season. If he gets hurt or tired, I'm not sold on Chad Johnson being able to fill in more than once in a blue moon.

This probably won't be an issue though, and odds are the Bruins make another push deep into the playoffs. 

CHARRON'S TAKE:

Still one of the NHL's elite teams. I don't think you can find a team with a better No. 1 centre, better No. 1 defenceman and better No. 1 goaltender in the league than the three-headed monster of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask. Even after dealing Tyler Seguin, the top-flight forward talent is outstanding, and they'll still be able to pack the third and fourth lines with speedy, offensive players. They're surprisingly smaller than you'd think.

The problem lies on defensive depth and they are going to need a lot of rookies to maintain their level of play from the postseason. While Andrew Ference had poor possession numbers with the Bruins, they were a worse defensive team when he was out of the lineup. Because of the way Claude Julien rotated his defence he often found himself on his non-natural side of the ice, where he had difficulty maintaining the high possession standards of the Bruins. Hamilton was often a scratch last year and it wasn't until late that Bartkowski came up and then Krug in the playoffs. If the Bruins have a weakness, it's going to be exploited by a team with multiple scoring lines. Chara can only handle so many minutes these days.

CONSENSUS RANKINGS:

The Bruins got fewer first place votes than Detroit, but because Servo was so clever, he ranked the Wings fourth on his ballot:

  BOS BUF DET FLA MTL OTT TB TOR AVG
Boston 1 1 2 2 4 2 1 2 1.9

Popular second place pick everywhere except Montreal, oddly-enough.

OTHER FLORTHEAST PREVIEWS:

2 - Detroit Red Wings
3 - Ottawa Senators
4 - Montreal Canadiens
5 - Toronto Maple Leafs
6 - Tampa Bay Lightning
7 - Florida Panthers
8 - Buffalo Sabres

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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