It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
There's no better way to end a season than how the Boston Bruins did. Winning Game 7 in Vancouver to take home their first Stanley Cup title in 39 years -- and further spoil the New England sports fan -- was the culmination of a plan set in place by GM Peter Chiarelli when he was hired in 2006.
Milan Lucic put in a career season. Brad Marchand broke out. A healthy Tim Thomas had his second out-of-this-world year in three seasons. And Zdeno Chara grew into the leader he was destined to become.
Now, as defending champs and with very little turnover over the summer, can the Bruins handle having a target on their backs all season long and become the first team to repeat since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98?
Peter Chiarelli did more saying goodbye than hello this summer, bringing in just Benoit Pouliot and Joe Corvo as players who will factor in the regular lineup next season. Chiarelli's lack of moves was by design as next summer he'll be busy figuring out which of the seven unrestricted free agents and three restricted free agents to bring back and squeeze under the salary cap.
We imagine it'll be an awkward handshake when NESN play-by-play man and Puck Daddy favorite Jack Edwards meets Pouliot for the first time. If you've forgotten, Edwards labeled Pouliot a "chump" and "one of the greatest disappointments in talent in National Hockey League history" and the then-Montreal Canadiens forward left his feet to hit Johnny Boychuk during Game 3 of their opening round series.
Leaving Beantown were Tomas Kaberle (UFA) to Carolina; Michael Ryder (UFA) to Dallas; Boris Valabik (UFA) to Pittsburgh; and Dr. Mark Recchi to retirement after 22 NHL season.
At forward ... The Bruins had the fifth best offense in the NHL last season thanks in part to a forward group that produced balance scoring. Ten players scored double digit goals (12 if you want to include late-season acquisitions Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly) with Milan Lucic leading the way posting a career high of 30. It was quite a turnaround for a team that ranked 30th in 2009-10 and had just one player scored more than 20 goals.
Recchi and Ryder are gone, but Boston will get a full season with Peverley (18 goals) and Kelly (14 goals), along with the budding talent of Tyler Seguin (11 goals, 22 points) who enters his sophomore campaign. Lucic and David Krejci led the Bruins in points with 62 last season and will depended upon once again to be offensive leaders. Krejci's 12 goals in the playoffs was a hopeful sign of things to come.
Brad Marchand made a name for himself for something other than getting under the skin of opponents, with 21 goals in his first full season in Boston. He'll no longer fly under opponents' radars.
With Marc Savard likely missing the 2011-12 season due to post-concussion symptoms, all eyes will be on Nathan Horton (26 goals, 53 points) who will be coming back from a head injury of his own suffered during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. After spending his first six NHL seasons in Florida, Horton proved he could handle the pressure and excel in a hockey mad town like Boston.
A poster boy for coming back from a major concussion is Patrice Bergeron who posted his best year since 2006-07 with 22 goal and 57 points and further cemented his place as one of the NHL's top two-way forwards. Bergeron was also top 10 in faceoff percentage among players with 1000 draws winning 56.7-percent.
Gregory Campbell had his best year in the NHL establishing himself as a reliable penalty killer and chipping in offensively with 13 goals and 29 points. He'll also be able to go through an NHL season now without jokes about who his dad is.
On defense ... Since Julien's first year behind the bench in 2007-08 when they finished 10th in goals against, Boston has ended the year first or second in the category. Some of that had to do with the play of Tim Thomas, but most can be attributed to the team concept of defense enforced by Julien.
The pairings of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference were the backbone to the Bruins' Cup run last season. Chara had won a Norris Trophy and been nominated for the award two other times and deservedly so; he's led the Bruins in time on ice and shorthanded time on ice in each of his five seasons in Boston.
Newcomer Joe Corvo won't be mistaken for a Norris Trophy candidate, but he will provide even more experience and offense from the back after scoring 31 goals over the past three seasons.
In goal ... Tim Thomas will be back to attempt to win his third Vezina Trophy in four seasons, but after a long '10-11 campaign that saw him play 82 games, backup Tuukka Rask will be sure to see plenty of time in goal to keep last year's Conn Smythe Trophy winner fresh.
The role of King Leonidis in "300" was made for Zdeno Chara. And any kind of sword practice he might need he could just ask former teammate Tomas Kaberle.
Is Claude Julien safe now? Is a Stanley Cup enough for the guy's head to come off the chopping block? Seemingly coaching for his job for most of last season and in the early rounds of the playoffs, Julien didn't let that chatter have any effect on what he did behind the bench.
As we've mentioned, Chiarelli wasn't busy this summer as he's keeping an eye on July 1, 2012, but heading into this season the Bruins have over $7 million in cap space (before Marchand re-signs his RFA deal) and that's before putting Savard and his $4.007 million cap hit on long-term injury reserve. If the Bruins need to tinker at any point during the season due to injuries or ineffectiveness, Chiarelli will have plenty of room to make a short-term investment with an eye on his own free agent class next summer.
It'll once again be tough for Jordan Caron (7 points) to stick in a crowded forward group for the Bruins, but after getting in 23 games last season his two-way ability could help his chances this time around. While with Providence of the AHL last season, Caron scored 12 times and contributed 28 points in 47 games. Entering his third NHL camp, Caron has the upper hand to earn his spot in the Bruins lineup
"Do you have any [expletive] idea how cliché it is to have references to both 'The Town' and 'The Departed' in the same preview? About as cliché as Boston winning another [expletive] championship, those [expletive] rats (makes rat noise with teeth)."
There will be many eyes on Year 2 of Tyler Seguin. The 2010 No. 2 overall pick was inconsistent at times both during the regular season and playoffs. There were the flashes of brilliance (Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay) and there were the disappearing acts (all 11 playoff games after Game 2 against the Lightning). Still just 19 years old and already a Stanley Cup champion, Seguin still has much to prove in order to live up to his No. 2 overall status. He'll be given more ice time this season due to roster changes and it'll be up to Seguin to gain Julien's trust.
February 3 was a night to forget for the Dallas Stars and night for the TD Garden faithful to remember. Within the first four seconds of the opening faceoff, the Bruins and Stars had three fights. Within the first 140 seconds of actual hockey, Boston scored twice and and Andrew Raycroft was pulled. The Bruins would score twice more in the first period en route to a 6-3 victory.
Tim Thomas coming back to Planet Earth. In Thomas' two Vezina Trophy winning years he had at least 35 wins, a goals against average barely above 2.00 and a save-percentage of over .930. After a season that went all the way until mid-June, is it possible for Thomas to come even close to those numbers as a 37-year old? You'd imagine Tuukka Rask will play more than the 29 games he did last year to give Thomas a breather and keep him fresh for what they hope is another long run in the postseason.
With little roster turnover and Chiarelli filling in the few gaps on the team from off-season departures, the Bruins will once again be a contender coming out of the East. They should be able to win another Northeast Division crown and then the question will become whether or not their defense can shut down the likes of Philadelphia, Washington and Pittsburgh who all figure to challenge for the conference title.