And so it was, that the summer of enjoyment passed. The Bruins had reclaimed the Stanley Cup for Boston and had celebrated their victory as such, but the time has come to turn the page. With the season beginning with a banner raising ceremony signifying one last reminder of the historic season, the Bruins season will begin anew and their title defense will begin. The Bruins enter the 2011/12 season with reasonable expectations as they did in fact win the Stanley Cup, but really don’t have anything to prove. Many Bruins fans are hoping for a repeat which is possible, but shouldn’t be expected given the incredible difficulty in the past decade to accomplish the feat.
The Bruins forward core is essentially the same as last season. When Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli acquired Rich Peverley and Chris Kelley in two separate transactions he was not only acquiring depth players for a Cup run, but players still under contract for this season. Benoit Pouliot is the only new addition to the Bruins forwards who will likely play a part in the upcoming season.
First Line: The Bruins will likely keep their first line of Lucic-Krejci-Horton in tact for the upcoming season as it was a huge success last season. You can can expect Krejci to reach the low seventies this season in points as he very quietly led the NHL in playoff points. The Playoffs are the biggest grind in the NHL season, so if Krejci can produce in the upcoming season like he did in the Playoffs there is no reason to believe he isn’t in line for a career year. Krejci has always had minor problems with consistency during the regular season but I don’t expect that to be a huge problem as he has matured into the Bruins true number one center.
Lucic and Horton are both players on a different spectrum. Lucic had a career year scoring 30 goals, while Horton had some what of a down year. Horton didn’t quite meet expectations given his career numbers and the expectations of improved play with a better team. You can expect both Horton and Lucic to have better upcoming seasons. Lucic will try and improve over the 30 goal plateau again, though it will likely prove to be more difficult. Horton will have no problems scoring 30 goals with the Bruins this season, though it should be mentioned that a slow start is to be expected given his lack of preseason participation and his recovery from a concussion suffered in game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. I expect both Horton and Lucic to reach the high 60′s in points this season.
Second Line: It is no secret that the Bruins second line suffered a huge loss with the retirement of future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi. Recchi’s departure leaves a spot open for a current Bruins forward to get a shot at more significant ice time and a bigger role in the Bruins offense. The two players that seem to be in the running for the spot are Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin. While both these players would be welcome additions to an already speedy line, I believe Rich Peverley to be a better fit given his 2-way play which at this point in his career, is better then Seguin’s. I know Bruins fans want Seguin to have a bigger role with the team next season and he will, but Seguin is better suited for being the third line center. Bergeron and Marchand are easy players to predict as they will likely eclipse their numbers last season and continue their exceptional defensive play.
Third Line: This is a line that is also easy to predict. I expect Seguin to center both Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot, but I will focus more on Tyler later on in the article. Chris Kelly is an excellent and underrated 2-war forward who has the offensive talent to reach the 30 point mark in this upcoming season. Kelly’s timely goals in the playoffs last season leads me to believe he can have a career year offensively in a full season with the Bruins. The only real question mark on this line is Benoit Pouliot, who has never really lived up to his potential. the good news for the Bruins is that Pouliot was signed to a one year deal worth $1.1 million, so he is essentially a low risk high reward player. Pouliot is 24 years old entering the new season and is poised to have a solid season perhaps reaching the 40 point mark. Sometimes it takes players a little longer to “get it”, and I believe if there is anyone that can help Pouliot it is Claude Julien and the Bruins organization.
Fourth Line: The Bruins fourth line of Thornton-Campbell-Paille, is one of the best in the business and will continue to be in the upcoming season. The only change I can see happening if any, is Bruins training camp invitee Chris Clarke possibly replacing Paille. Aside from one minor possibilty this line will not change and it will continue to be a force.
The Bruins defense is arguably the best in the NHL, there may be other teams with defenses that look excellent on paper, but as a unit the Bruins are the best. Having said that it is a little difficult to pinpoint what the defensive pairings will look like on opening day. Coach Claude Julien is notorious for mixing and matching his defensive pairings. The only sure thing on the Bruins defense is Zdeno Chara as he will undoubtedly be on the top pairing with whomever Julien feels to create the best match up against whichever opponent.
Chara is a perennial Norris Trophy candidate and this season should prove to be no different. I am hoping that he can get back to his 50 point level again and with a player like Joe Corvo who himself is good for 40 points in a season, Chara should have no problem reaching that mark again. Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg provide stability as veteran defensive with excellent 2-way play and should both hover around numbers similar to the last season. I am also expecting Johnny Boychuk to have a bounce back season and provide more offensive output as well as crushing open ice hits, if not then he will likely be on the trading block come March. Adam McQuaid is also likely to be a more significant part of the defense, though I will focus on him more later.
Another point I would like to make is Chara and Seidenberg are an excellent shut down tandem when they are together as they proved in the Stanley Cup Finals and should play together when the Bruins play the cream of the crop (Washington, Pittsburgh, ETC.). The Bruins would also be smart to split up the two on defense throughout the season to create more balance against lesser skill teams. Fortunately Chara is the kind of guy that can make an defenceman look good so when he and Seidenberg split up, it will not be much of a handicap.
The Bruins goaltending tandem is the best in the League
Tim Thomas: What else is there to say? Tim Thomas is the best goaltender I have ever watched play the game. At age 37 he defies all logic, the older most players get the level at which they can play becomes diminished…Tim Thomas on the other hand, gets better. If Thomas plays until he is 45 the way he is going, he may go undefeated. All kidding aside, I fully expect Thomas to be a Vezina candidate once again. Thomas is going to get less starts in the upcoming season due to Tuukka Rask needing a bit more seasoning as he is the number one when Timmy retires. Thomas will likely get around 50 starts next season and will still be in the top 5 for both goals against and save percentage. The numbers Thomas had last season were historic so expecting the same thing again may be unrealistic, but as I said Thomas defies all logic. My projected line for Timmy: 33 wins,12 losses, and 5 overtime losses.
Tuukka Rask: So Rask was the number one coming out of camp, what happened? Oh right… Tim Thomas happened. Rask is a great goaltender and is still the Bruins goaltender of the future. Rask will have to wait to be the number one again but he will get more starts this year and will likely have a better performance due to off-season surgery and more confidence going forward. Rask will likely get around 30 starts. I would say he will have a better goals against and save percentage but in reality despite his record, his numbers weren’t terrible last season. Expect Rask to have a line similar 16 wins, 9 losses, and 5 overtime losses.
Break Out Seasons:
These are two Bruins players whom I expect to build on their previous rookies seasons and emerge as real contributors on this team.
Adam McQuaid: They call him Darth Quaider for a reason, the guy NBC analyst Pierre McGuire called “One Tough Hombre” is my pick to have a break out season. It was his play last season that made Mark Stuart expendable. McQuaid quietly became one of the Bruins most reliable shut-down defenceman, as well as becoming quite the enforcer. He also showed me glimpses that he has a better offensive game than most people give him credit for. It is all these things and more that led the Bruins to give McQuaid a 4 year contract extension as they expect him to continue to develop. McQuaid will be a Bruin for awhile and I expect him to eventually become one of the Bruins top 3 defenders over the years. I think Quaider is capable of putting up 25 points this season and an equally excellent plus minus.
Tyler Seguin: The Bruins prized rookie won a Stanley Cup in his first season, not too shabby. Seguin’s offensive outbreak in the Eastern Conference finals was no fluke. When the Bruins took at him number at 2 in the 2010 NHL entry draft, they were drafting a potential star and franchise player. Seguin had some growing pains in his rookie season but he developed his craft and continued to work through it. Seguin is coming into this season with a ton of confidence and in much better shape than the previous year. I expect Seguin to either center the third line or play wing on Bergeron’s line, either way his speed and hands will allow him to excel and exceed his numbers from last season. It also doesn’t hurt to get more minutes than last season, Coach Julien seems to have a lot more confidence in the youngster and will put him in much more power play situations. In other words more confidence from the coach means big minutes. I expect Seguin to score 20 goals and 30 assists in this upcoming season. We saw glimpses of the Seguin show last season, this season it will be on all day every day.
4 Home Games to Watch:
Flyers at Bruins, October 6th: The Bruins welcome the Flyers to their banner raising ceremony, this will be the first of many great games against the new look Flyers and our first at Jaromir Jagr in his return to the NHL.
Canadiens at Bruins, October 27th: The first of many games in which Max Pacioretty plays the Bruins in his return from an injury suffered from an awkward hit from Zdeno Chara. There will be tons of emotion in this game and it will most definitely be one to watch
Jets at Bruins, November 26th: The Bruins welcome the new age Jets to town for the first time.
Canucks at Bruins, January 7th: The title says it all, who knows maybe Luongo will make a save this time.
The Bruins are going to have to defend their title. I have no doubts in my mind that they will do so will every ounce of energy they have. There is only one thing in the world better than getting your name engraved on the Stanley Cup… Getting it engraved twice.