The Boston Bruins were a team that not a lot of people expected anything out of heading into the season. But on the heels of a balanced attack that saw them come 13th in the league in goals for and 9th in the league in goals against, not to mention a dominant 54.7% Corsi, they made the playoffs and put up a good fight against the eventual Eastern Conference finalist Ottawa Senators. Let’s take a closer look at their roster, salary cap situation, and the road that lies ahead to see if and how they can go from good team to great.
Here’s a rough depth chart of the Bruins through the lens of the catch-all statistic Game Score:
Up front, the Bruins have the front-end talent necessary to contend. Future Hall of Famer Patrice Bergeron is still a dominant two-way player, Brad Marchand has developed into a more-than-legitimate All-Star, David Pastrnak is looking like late first round larceny, and David Krejci continues to be productive. Ryan Spooner and David Backes provide good added depth. After that the team could stand to add just one or two more quality depth pieces.
Defense is their biggest area of necessary improvement. Torey Krug is a fantastic player, but continues to get second-pairing minutes, averaging 21:36 per game this season. Zdeno Chara is still good, but he’s now 40 and on his last legs. Colin Miller may well be a top four defenseman, but gets played like a bottom-pairing player, averaging 15:48 per game. Brandon Carlo is young, but at least as of yet, not ready to take on serious responsibility for the team. Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid belong on the bottom-pairing. Charlie McAvoy, who started the season in college and ended it playing major minutes for the Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs, is at least a sign of hope.
In net, Tuukka Rask continues to be good, though with two straight seasons posting a .915 save percentage and now 30 years old, it looks like he isn’t a Vezina threat anymore. That’s a big loss for a Bruins team that dominated the league for years, and won the Cup, partly on the heels of elite goaltending. They also have a problem in Anton Khudobin, who had a .904 save percentage this year after posting a .909 the previous year. That’s an area they should try and improve on.
Here’s another rough depth chart of the Bruins. Note that they also owe Dennis Seidenberg $2.167M each of the next three years after buying him out. They should have roughly $14-18M in cap space heading into next season.
Salary cap space and the contracts that the Bruins have are a small but legitimate problem for the team. Up front, David Backes is useful but overpaid. Likewise, Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey didn’t come close to living up to their contracts this season.
On defense, the team is paying a relative premium to McQuaid and Kevan Miller, both of whom are overpaid compared to the value they provide.
And in net, not only is Khudobin’s contract a minor problem, but you can even argue Tuukka Rask is overpaid at this point in his career. That’s less of a concern as he’s still one of the more reliable goalies in the league, but if the Bruins really wanted cap space, that’s another area they could shed some weight.
Of couse, all of these contracts become a problem when you owe good money to Pastrnak and Spooner. And if they want to re-sign Drew Stafford as well, signing all three could eat up virtually all of their cap space.
For the expansion draft, the Bruins can comfortably protect the following players: Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, Krejci, Spooner, Backes, and an additional forward of their choice. They can also protect Krug, Chara, and preferably Colin Miller, though they may not need to. They can also protect Tuukka Rask. I’d argue the player in their organization most likely to be taken by Vegas is Malcolm Subban then, which would be a bitter pill to swallow. But at least they have Rask, and Subban hasn’t established himself in the NHL yet, so the loss would be manageable.
In the draft, the Bruins have the 18th pick. They could use that in a trade for a defenseman, or use it to add to a just-okay prospect pool. They have five more draft picks after that, including the Oilers’ 2nd round pick, so they should be able to further add to either the big club or the prospect pool there.
In free agency there isn’t much of consequence, but Kevin Shattenkirk would be a strong fit for Boston, in spite of the fact that they have so many right-shot defensemen already. Adding Shattenkirk would accomplish several things for Boston: they’d be adding an arguable #1 defenseman, who can put up 50+ points in a season, and push young players Carlo and McAvoy down the lineup. So they’d be improving their offense, defense, and the development of their young players.
Cap space would be an issue though, so they’ll need to look at not re-signing Drew Stafford and also unloading a couple of contracts. That may be tough as players like Matt Beleskey and Adam McQuaid probably don’t have much value around the league, but there’s hope given the character and physicality of those players — something GMs always covet.
Based on our analysis then, the Bruins could really stand to do two main things this summer: supplement the roster at any position possible (preferably defense), and clear up some cap space. It’s hard to gauge how difficult either of those tasks will be. But it’s in the realm of possibility that both could happen, and if they do, the Bruins could go from playoff team this year to Stanley Cup contenders next year.
Previously in this series…