For the month of June, Last Word On Sports will be covering each team in our 30 in 30 series. Once a day, we take a look at an NHL team’s past season, what their off-season looks like, and what they could hope to achieve before the start of their 2015-16 season. Everybody wants to get better and improve upon last season’s success or downfall and NHL’s 30 in 30 gives you that analysis and preview you need to get you by during another long and grueling summer season. 30 days in June, 30 teams to cover. Starting on June 1st we start from the bottom and make our way to the very top.
Today’s team: The Boston Bruins. Check out our previous 30 in 30 articles here.
NHL’s 30 in 30: Boston Bruins
Finishing 17th overall, the Boston Bruins posted a record of 41-27-14 to end up with 96 points. Their home record (24-10-7) accumulated for 55 points, which made them the second-best home team among non-playoff teams and even finishing with more points than quite a few teams that made the dance. Unfortunately for them, their average away record (17-17-7) let them down in a big way. The Bruins relied heavily on goaltender Tuukka Rask to hold down the fort and while he did, the team in front of him had a hard time scoring goals. The race came down to the final few games of the regular season and the Bruins were unfortunately edged out by the Pittsburgh Penguins, by a measly two points.
The 2014-15 Regular Season
The Boston Bruins missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and General Manager Peter Chiarelli was relieved of his duties. Expected to not be back behind the bench, Claude Julien was shown mercy by new General Manager Don Sweeney, and will be back as Head Coach next season. It’s surprising to those who felt his heavy defensive-minded tactics and over-usage of his bottom-six players being the biggest factor to the Bruins scoring woes, while to others it’s the right move due to his lengthy track record as a successful coach. The team suffered various injuries to key players such as David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton and several other players, so a healthy line-up for next season can and should be the difference.
Over the last three seasons, Patrice Bergeron has consistently been the best possession forward in the National Hockey League. That trend continued last season, as Bergeron continued to be the best defensive forward in the game while leading the team in points with 55 (23 goals, 32 assists) in 81 games. The leading goal scorer on the Bruins club, Brad Marchand, scored 24 while playing with Bergeron and his aggravating style and quickness has made him one of the more difficult players to defend against. While he didn’t hit the 70-point plateau and those days seem to be behind him, Loui Eriksson hit the 20-goal mark for the first time since the 2011-12 season and played a healthy season. If he can continue to string together full seasons and stray away from any derailments, perhaps we can see him improve in the statistical department, because the effort is definitely there.
Milan Lucic finished third on the team in scoring with 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 81 games, but his 0.54 points per game is down from previous seasons. He’s still a physical presence and when he’s on, he’s one of the better power-forwards in the game, but he’s also one that depends on more talented linemates to drive the play and create chances for him. 18-year-old David Pastrnak emerged onto the scene and became quite the story, playing the second-most games of the 2014 drafted players, just behind Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad. At 5-on-5 play, Pastrnak was over two points per game, per 60 minutes. On an offensively-starved team, Pastrnak was a breath of fresh air in a tunnel full of defensive gas. Reilly Smith regressed in terms of point production, going from 20 goals and 51 points to 13 goals and 40 points, but he still remained a hard worker. He was granted a two-year contract extension for his body of work.
On the smaller side of the game, Torey Krug continued to be a monster on the blue-line, putting up 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 78 games, bringing him to 79 points in his first two full seasons with the Bruins. For the first time since the 1999-2000 season, Zdeno Chara missed more than twelve games, sitting out 19 due to injury. When he did play, he showed a loss in foot-speed and all-around defensive play but given his age (38), it’s not unusual. Signed for three more seasons, the Bruins are counting on him to be their top-pairing defenseman during that time. Kevan Miller was also sidelined due to injury and missed significant time, but when he’s healthy he can be a force on the Bruins bottom-pairing. Dennis Seidenberg was one of two players on the Bruins team to play all 82 games and while he averaged around 22 minutes, the defensive side of his game slipped.
The goaltending situation will see some changes next season, but Rask isn’t going anywhere. While he wasn’t Vezina Rask of the 2013-14 season, he was still spectacular and one of the bright spots on the team. Nicklas Svedberg bolted to the KHL after not receiving as many starts as he’d hope for, which playing behind Rask it’s to be expected that you won’t play too many games. The Bruins may not need to look too far for a replacement, as prospect Malcolm Subban is a good fit in the number-two role, learning the craft at the NHL level from Rask.
Former General Manager Peter Chiarelli made a series of trades at the deadline in hopes to improve his team’s chances of pushing for a playoff spot. He acquired Brett Connolly from Tampa Bay for a 2015 2nd-round pick and a 2016 2nd-round pick. Jordan Caron was shipped to Colorado along with a 2016 6th-round pick for Maxime Talbot and Paul Carey. Finally, a minor prospect deal was made with the Minnesota Wild, exchanging Jared Knight for Zack Phillips. The 22-year-old prospect put up 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in 49 games with the Iowa Wild, but then stormed out of the gates with the Providence Bruins, putting up 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) in just 16 games.
The Off-Season and Free Agents
Heading into the off-season, the Boston Bruins have a total of eight free agents to decide on. Of the eight free agents, three are restricted to the team; forwards Brett Connolly and Ryan Spooner, and defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Forwards Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Carl Soderberg, and defensemen Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski are the upcoming unrestricted free agents. In terms of non-roster players, Sweeney will have to decide on four restricted free agents and seven unrestricted free agents.
Strapped for cash, the Bruins have just over 63 million tied to eleven forwards, four defensemen and one goaltender. They still need some depth defensively, some refreshments on the wing (especially if they want to score more goals) and a back-up goaltender, which is likely to be Subban – who will come at a cheap rate. The problem is, big names like Carl Soderberg and Dougie Hamilton are looking for new contracts and Sweeney has around $4-5 million to work with. Not the easiest task at hand.
While Soderberg is a UFA and will likely hit the open market on July 1st, Hamilton is an RFA. However, he can be expecting big money and he’ll be vulnerable to offer sheets from teams that are willing to risk it. A high-end offer could force the Sweeney’s hand and he’ll either have to let his star defenseman go for a package of picks (forfeited due to offer sheet terms) or he’ll need to trade a contract or two to make some room. One player who keeps popping up in rumours is Lucic, but he’ll likely be sticking around with the Bruins. His aggressive style and ability to score goals is something Sweeney may want to keep around, albeit he is on the final year of his contract, making trading him a lot easier.
However, trading a player or two will leave some holes to fill. In particular, some bottom-six depth and the fourth-line center hole that Gregory Campbell will leave behind, should he sign elsewhere. Whatever assets are moved out, it will be worth it to retain Hamilton, as he is their future and present on the blue-line. With the potential losses of both McQuaid and Bartkowski, Sweeney may be tempted to give both Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman a look, before he takes a gander at what is available on the market. With cheaper options like Marek Zidlicky and Jan Hejda, Sweeney’s best bet is to retain McQuaid.
The Draft Table
Sweeney and his scouting staff will have some interesting choices at the upcoming draft, as the Boston Bruins hold seven picks, including the 14th overall selection. Despite having no sixth-round pick this year, the Bruins will pick three times in the top-75. In all the Bruins select 14th, 37th, 75th, 105th, 135th, 165th and 195th. While they traded away their 44th overall pick to the Lightning in the Connolly deal, they have the Islanders 37th overall pick (originally belonging to the Flyers) in the deal that sent Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders.
With the 14th pick, there are some intriguing prospects in and around that spot. Sweeney may be the new GM, but he’s been with the system for a long time and the philosophy likely won’t change much. Timo Meier is a big, physical winger that skates well, shoots well and has a great two-way game. He’d be a perfect fit in the organization, if he is still available when the Bruins hit the podium. Kyle Connor is another two-way forward that possesses excellent skating ability, which are two things Julien covets in his line-up, and the same can be said for Paul Bittner.
With the 37th pick, having chosen a forward in the first round, the Bruins have a surplus of talented defensemen that are projected to go between picks 35-45. Two names that pop out immediately are Nicolas Meloche and Jacob Larsson. Meloche has the size and grit to his game that shows the promise of developing into a top-4 defenseman, and he has a great shot that could be utilized on the powerplay. His skating remains a weakness, which could be why he drops a bit. Larsson is a hard case to figure out where he’ll end up going. He could end up being a late-1st or a mid-2nd pick. He’s not a flashy player, but he is defensively sound, gritty, and a smooth skater.
With one more pick in the top-75, the Bruins may be adding a couple of real gems from this year’s draft. With the right scouting, the draft is deep enough to land them an NHL-player or two in the later rounds.