Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the Boston Bruins.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-2018 Boston Bruins
It’s safe to say last season did not go as planned for the Boston Bruins. After an inconsistent and disappointing first half of the season, the Bruins made a big change behind the bench and fired Head Coach Claude Julien. The rest of the season was played under Interim Head Coach Bruce Cassidy.
The coaching change appeared to have a positive impact as the team finished the season 18-8-1 under Cassidy and snuck into the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. They finished third in the division with 95 points. However, injuries on the blue line proved too much of a deficit to handle and Boston fell to the Ottawa Senators in the first round in six games.
Coming off of the year they did, and with expensive and active past few off-seasons, there was no telling what Boston’s front office might do this off-season. The first move for Boston was removing the interim tag and naming Bruce Cassidy as the Head Coach. Other than that, however, the Bruins have stayed relatively quiet this off-season. Some notable losses include defenseman Colin Miller to Vegas in the expansion draft and not re-signing Dominic Moore, Joe Morrow or Drew Stafford. They also bought out the contract of forward Jimmy Hayes.
On the other side, Boston signed AHL MVP Kenny Agostino and former Jets defenseman Paul Postma, both to one-year deals. The most anticipated re-signing that has not happened yet surrounds forward David Pastrnak. There have been multiple rumors surrounding contract disputes and trades. But, the only substantial thing coming out of Boston’s front office is their goal to resign the young forward.
2017-2018 Projected Line Combinations
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Frank Vatrano – David Krejci – David Backes
Anders Bjork – Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson – Ryan Spooner
Noel Acciari – Riley Nash – Tim Schaller
At this point, RFA David Pastrnak has yet to be re-signed. This should obviously be the top priority for Boston, as the 21-year-old star forward finished last season second on the team in goals and points with 34 and 70 respectively. With Marchand, the only other 30+ goal scorer, and Bergeron, who won the Selke Trophy yet again last season, the Bruins will have to look beyond the first line for more help offensively.
This help will hopefully come from a couple of young guns more than likely to have an impact in the line-up to at the season’s start. This young, talented combination of Anders Bjork and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson could find themselves playing together in a third line role. As for their 3rd line mate, a veteran physical appearance may be more needed, but as far as Ryan Spooner goes, there may not be another good fit for him, certainly not on the first or second line.
The Bruins definitely lack depth offensively. That is no secret. But, if young stars are able to find their footing and more experienced players like Krejci, Bergeron, or Backes are able to effectively produce and lead, the Bruins may find themselves being a threat in the Atlantic Division down the stretch.
Despite the lack of depth due to injuries during the Bruins’ short post-season run, this lineup of defensemen has some solid potential heading into the 2017-2018 season. During this past post-season, McAvoy did find himself paired with Chara and there is no denying the immediate chemistry between the two. It may seem likely to pair the veteran and rookie together again, which isn’t out of the question, but giving McAvoy more time to develop in his first 82-game season without the added pressure of being on the first pair may be the safer bet.
Boston does seem to have plenty of options in various pairing possibilities though. Whether together or separated, there is a physical veteran presence in McQuaid and Miller. With Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug both returning from injury, they will find themselves with a heavy workload as well.
Lastly, the Bruins did partly address that depth issue with the signing of veteran Paul Postma this off-season. There is also the chance of some young stars earning a spot in the top 6, including 2015 first-rounder Jakub Zboril.
This may be the biggest non-question for the Bruins lineup. Tuukka Rask is the obvious starter going into this season. Hopefully the Bruins can do a better job of managing his minutes, as it has been a struggle the past couple seasons. Khudobin was the back up this past season and likely will hold this spot again. However, adding a veteran back up is an option that the front office should still be considering. Khudobin is only signed through the 2017-2018 season and has not always been consistent between the pipes.
Players to Watch
Brad Marchand made a name for himself in Boston and around the league as a “pest.” But, as of late, he has transformed his game and is now one of Boston’s most important offensive pieces. He is coming off of back-to-back seasons with 30+ goals and finished last season fourth across the league. Expect another 30-goal season out of him, aided by one of the best centers in the league, Patrice Bergeron.
Assuming management can come to a deal with the 21-year-old RFA, he is another offensive threat that is a must watch this season. As mentioned, he finished second behind linemate Marchand in points and goals. Expect another 30+ goal season this year and for a handful of years to come out of Pastrnak. After his breakout season last year, it seems Boston finally has a young, talented goal-scorer that they can hopefully hold onto for a long time. But, as proven with Tyler Seguin, The Bruins holding onto young talent is easier said than done.
Players on the Rise
Charlie McAvoy was called upon to make his NHL debut in the middle of a tough post-season battle against Ottawa this past season. No one would have guessed he was playing at the pro level for the first time, however, as he immediately showed the poise and skill of a veteran defenseman. With immediate chemistry with Captain Zdeno Chara, McAvoy has set the bar high for himself entering this upcoming season. It would not be surprising to see his name surrounding talks about the Calder Trophy come spring.
Players on the Decline
David Backes signed with the Bruins as a free agent coming into the 2016-2017 season. Immediately, the price for this signing seemed steep, but there was a chance his veteran presence was something the Bruins could use. But, last year’s production was underwhelming to say the least and expectations coming into this season don’t seem any higher. The 33-year-old finished the season with a mere 17 goals and his point production continues to decline.
With a disappointing post-season, a mostly quiet off-season, and an increasingly young, competitive division, some might say expectations are low for the Boston Bruins. However, there is so much potential for young players to make an impact and a name for themselves all the way through the line up.
A healthy Boston line up will most likely find itself in the same spot it did last year and for the last 3 years…fighting for a playoff spot within the last week of the season. With Toronto and Tampa Bay seemingly ready to grab hold of the division with off-season moves and expectations so far, winning the division is realistically out of reach. But finding themselves second or third like last season or sneaking into a wild card slot is not out of the question. And, as Nashville proved this past year, anything is possible in the post season, regardless of seeding.
via Last Word on Hockey, by Dan Luise