The Boston Bruins were the surprise team of the 2008-2009 season. Boston finished first in the Eastern Conference, and was one victory away from winning the President’s Trophy. Even though they suffered an early playoff exit, the Bruins were able to grab some hardware, as goaltender Tim Thomas won the Vezina Trophy, Zdeno Chara took home the Norris Trophy, and Claude Julien won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s top coach. This year the Bruins will not take anyone by surprise, as they are expected to compete for the top spot in the East.
The Boston Bruins were the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference, averaging 3.34 goals/game. Despite their high-octane offense, Boston’s only established offensive star is Marc Savard. Boston’s offensive strength comes from their hard-working and balanced attack. Fortunately for Bruins fans, other than Phil Kessel who will probably not be re-signed for salary cap reasons, and P.J. Axelsson, Boston’s offensive corps will essentially remain intact.
Looking ahead to 2009-2010, Boston’s offense is comprised primarily of young players coming off excellent seasons. David Krejci, Boston’s 2nd round pick in 2004, averaged nearly a point per game as a sophomore and should continue to improve. He should return from hip surgery by the end of October at the latest.
Fan favorite Milan Lucic enters his third season with the Bruins with high expectations. Lucic is already drawing comparisons to Boston legend Cam Neely and could reach 50-60 points this year with 150 penalty minutes. It is hard to believe Lucic is only 21 years old.
Another young player from the 2004 draft class, Blake Wheeler, had an excellent rookie season. The 23 year-old Wheeler recorded 45 points in 81 games and was an impressive +36. Wheeler has been bulking up this off-season and will only get better if he is able to use his size to his advantage.
Patrice Bergeron was nearly a point per game player on the cusp of stardom before a concussion abruptly ended his 2007-2008 season after only 10 games. After missing the rest of the 2008-2009 season, Bergeron looked tentative at times amassing only 8 goals and 31 assists in 64 games. Will he be able to return to his pre-concussion form?
In addition to the many young Bruins forwards, vets Marc Savard and Michael Ryder will provide solid offensive contributions and Marco Sturm will be ready for the 2009-2010 season after missing most of 2008-2009 with a knee injury. Add in the leadership of Mark Recchi and the Boston forward group is talented, deep, and balanced.
Not to be forgotten is Boston’s fourth line, comprised of character players Shawn Thornton, Byron Bitz and Steve Begin. These big, aggressive players can provide energy and wear down the opposition. Boston will, however, miss the services of Stephane Yelle, lost via free agency to Carolina.
Led by four-time all-star Zdeno Chara and emerging star Dennis Wideman, the Bruins can score from the back end and they can also play responsible defense. Chara and Wideman combined for 100 points and a +55 rating. Chara, last year’s Norris Trophy winner, is firmly entrenched as one of the league’s premier defensemen. Wideman, coming off a breakout season, will need to limit his turnovers and play a more physical style this year.
Boston’s defense should be even better this year, as the only major changes were the trading of Aaron Ward to Carolina and the signing of Derek Morris. The 31 year-old Morris has never lived up to his potential and has bounced around the league, as Boston is his 5th team. Morris is an improvement over Ward, but his $3.3 million price tag may be one of the primary obstacles preventing the Bruins from signing Phil Kessel.
Sophomore Matt Hunwick was a pleasant surprise last year with 27 points in 53 games and a +15 rating. The 2004 7th round pick will continue to improve and adds to Boston’s already impressive collection of defensemen. Finally, Andrew Ference and Mark Stuart are reliable final pieces to complete Boston’s blue line. Stuart is only 25 and still has room to grow. While Ference has proven to be a reliable third line defensemen.
Tim Thomas finally got some respect last season, winning the Vezina Trophy. It would be hard to ignore the 35 year-old’s contributions, as he led the NHL in goals against average and save percentage. Thomas earned a hefty raise this year and should remain one of the premier goalies in the NHL.
Tuukka Rask is likely the future goaltender of the Bruins and will enter his first year as Boston’s full-time back up. Rask is only 22 with a ton of potential. The former first round pick shut out the Rangers in his only appearance last year and should play about 20 games this year.
Ceiling – Boston has the potential to win the division, conference and Stanley Cup. They have basically the same team as last year, including many young players that should only improve.
Floor – It’s tough to imagine a scenario where the Bruins do not make the playoffs. With so much talent offensively, defensively, and in net it is unlikely they would drop past 6th or 7th place in the conference.
Note: According to oddsmakers, Boston has the second best chance to win the Eastern Conference and the fifth best chance to win the Stanley Cup.