We’re looking at the keys for the Boston Bruins this season in advance of their 2015-16 season opener on Thursday (7 p.m. against Winnipeg).
Part 1 – Offense
Part 2 – Defense + Goaltending
Part 3 – The competition
The Good: The cornerstones for this team remain in the center of the ice, and if you were building an offense from scratch, that’s exactly how you’d want it built. Boston’s centers are outstanding, sometimes to their detriment – they’ve had past issues with what to do with good centers who end up taking third- or fourth-line roles, or switching positions entirely, because of the logjam of David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.
For their part, when Krejci and Bergeron are healthy, they’re dominant centers who are good at just about everything. Krejci’s toughness can be questioned, but he’s a playmaker who makes the wingers around him better. Consider the facts – when he’s not in the lineup or he’s hurt, as he was last year, the entire offense struggles.
A healthy Krejci will be paramount. Bergeron, the team’s rock and very likely their future captain, is almost unquestionably the league’s best defensive forward (with apologies to Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar).
The addition of Matt Beleskey, who was a major part of Anaheim’s offense in the postseason, is an improvement for sure over a wildly inconsistent Reilly Smith. Jimmy Hayes is a big body with a bruising game in a Milan Lucic mold, but don’t expect quite the same game. He’ll use that 6-foot-6 frame, but he doesn’t quite have the high-end skill of a Lucic. Still, getting 20-goal seasons from both of them would be a major boon for the offense.
Brad Marchand is due for a big season, Loui Eriksson is consistent, if perhaps underwhelming after the numbers he posted in Dallas, and David Pastrnak is showing signs that he could be a sure-fire star. Still, a sophomore slump for Pasta isn’t out of the question, and he’s yet to add the size and strength that he’ll need to fend off opposing teams that learn to key on him.
Last season Ryan Spooner showed flashes of the consistency that he’ll need to produce at the NHL level, but a fast start would do wonders for his confidence.
The Bad: We’ve listed eight players. That means there’s still one real question mark for a third-line winger who can produce regularly, it’s a lot of reliance on new faces and young players, and there are still a ton of question marks on the fourth line, which will need to establish early footing, or Claude Julien will be forced to overplay his top lines. Remember, Julien is on the hot seat, and it’ll be on him to get this team off to a fast start to save his job.
Brett Connolly has all the talent to be a top-nine forward, but his injury issues and inconsistency have been troublesome. None of the Bruins’ three first-round picks are ready to step in and produce yet, and Boston clearly hasn’t liked enough of what it’s seen from Alex Khokhlachev. Hopes are high that a player like Joonas Kemppainen can lock down the fourth-line center role.
Max Talbot was placed on waivers Monday, but he brings a gritty veteran presence that the fourth line could really use. And what’s Chris Kelly’s role on this team? Tyler Randell has been an early surprise in training camp, but he’s largely unproven.
There’s a lot of "ifs" on this roster. "If" these things go right, Boston could be very good. But it’s more question marks than a team tends to want to have at the start of a season.
The Ugly: It’s Zac Rinaldo. Bruins fans weren’t happy about the acquisition, or the price, or his game. Rinaldo has been suspended for more games than he’s scored goals in the NHL. There’s playing with an edge, and then there’s playing recklessly. Bruins fans will enjoy his grit if he’s on the right side of that line, but it won’t take long for a fan base already irritated by his acquisition to turn if he gets off on the wrong foot.
The time was probably right for the Bruins, facing cap issues and a frustrating lack of consistency from Milan Lucic, to move on from the tough first-line winger. But time will tell if the Bruins can maintain some of the identity that Lucic brought to the team. Lucic was a big part of the B’s locker room, and replacing his voice won’t be easy.
It’s easy to look at last year as a disappointing year for Looch, but it’s also easy to forget how many big moments he led them to. Just look at how many times he shows up in any highlight reel over the past 8 seasons.
Coming Wednesday: THE DEFENSE