NHL previews are often superfluous collections of popular opinions that, in the end, usually have no relation to how life actually works out. Which makes using stereotypical high-school yearbook superlatives and awards the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2008-09 NHL season previews, presented throughout September.
Last Semester (See Also, Bruins Eulogy): Eighth in the Eastern Conference (41-29-12, 94 points); lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs (4-3). Supposedly in a rebuilding year, the Bruins surprised many in the East with their play, especially a few of their young forwards. Tim Thomas and company almost sent shockwaves through the Eastern Conference by taking the No. 1 seed Canadiens to a seventh game after being down 3-1 in the series.
Homecoming King (Top Player): Marc Savard, forward. A consistent playmaker who will help Michael Ryder rebound this season. When healthy, Savard is a threat to reach the 100-point plateau. He topped out at 97 and 96 points respectively in 05-06 with the Atlanta Thrashers and 06-07 in Boston.
Most Likely To Succeed (Potential Breakout): Milan Lucic, forward. Bruin fans fell in love with the 6-4, 220 lbs rookie in his first game last year when he fought Brad Winchester of the Stars. There's hope in Beantown that the adored fan-favorite is the next coming of Cam Neely. He can fight, score and shows plenty of heart night in and night out and was even voted as the teams "7th Man" by Bruins fans. The guy is even blog-friendly!
Exchange Students (Key New Additions): Blake Wheeler, Michael Ryder. Wheeler was drafted high by Wayne Gretzky and the Coyotes in 2004, but after rejecting a maximum entry-level deal earlier this summer, he became a free agent. Ryder has found success wherever Claude Julien has been, whether it's junior hockey, the AHL, or the Montreal Canadiens. Bruin fans will be hoping that reuniting with his old coach and playing alongside assist-master Marc Savard will help Ryder have a bounce back year.
Best Expulsion (Addition by Subtraction): The signings of Dennis Wideman and Michael Ryder put the Bruins over the salary cap and general manager Peter Chiarelli was wise to buy out Glen Murray's $4.5 million contract. There was no need to have a player in decline making that much money on a team building with plenty of youth.
Teacher of the Year: Inconsistency throughout the season due to injuries hampered Claude Julien's squad for most of last season, but when their season was on the line, the Bruins almost caused more riots in Montreal. His coaching style helped Zdeno Chara garner another Norris Trophy nomination, Dennis Wideman a 13-goal scorer, and gave Marco Sturm a career year (slowly soothing the burns of the Joe Thornton trade). Enter redemption project Michael Ryder; if he finds success with Julien, Boston may have found a coach that might stay longer than three to four years.
The Custodians (Goalies): It should be interesting to see how both Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez perform this season. Both are in contract years and Fernandez, coming off knee surgery that sidelined him in December, will have the most pressure to try and supplant Thomas and defend his $4.75 million salary. Both are 34-years old and the Bruins have prospect Tuukka Rask waiting in the wings. Thomas was an All-Star last year and put 28 wins and 2.44 goals-against average. Can he put up those same numbers again this year?
The Hall Monitors (Defensemen): If Thomas is going to put up similar numbers to what he did in 07-08, then he'll need another good season by the likes of Chara and Wideman in front of him. The Bruins for a +19 as a team on defense with Chara leading the way at +14 (he was a -7 at home). Boston as a whole allowed the fourth-fewest goals in the Eastern Conference (11th overall), then again, would you want to be streaking down the wing or setting up in the crease with Zdeno Chara lurking?
Most Likely To Earn Detention: Just because he's so damn big, Zdeno Chara's elbows tend to get him in trouble at times. This elbow and subsequent fight earned him a mandatory suspension due to the fact he received an instigator and misconduct penalty. He's by no means a Chris Pronger, in that he plays a dirty brand of hockey, but Chara is a guy who'll stand up for his teammates and not back down from a fight.
Most Likely To Earn a Wedgie in the Hallway (Potential Flop): Blake Wheeler. There will a lot of pressure on Wheeler to develop into a productive power-forward after his much ballyhooed "talk to the hand" rejection of a contract offer by the Wayne Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes. He'll likely start with Providence in the AHL to adjust to the pro game and it'll be interesting to see his progress and how soon the Bruins call him up.
AV Club (Media): Former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jack Edwards is the play-by-play man who is remembered fondly by American soccer fans for shouting "Mine eyes have seen the glory!" after the US upset Portugal during the 2002 World Cup. Edwards did only road games from 2005-07, splitting time with Dale Arnold, but last year was given full duties. Former NHL'er Andy Brickley handles the color not only for the Bruins, but also the NHL on Versus. "Brick" is known for being the first final overall pick in an NHL Draft to play in the league at the time as well as a former member of the Baltimore Skipjacks. (Hey, a Skipjacks reference!) More notably, he scored a goal off of his face in 1988 thanks in part to a Ray Bourque slap shot.
Toughest Class (Biggest Issue Facing the Team): Offense was a big factor in Boston struggling to snatch the final spot in the Eastern Conference. They were 24th in the league in goals scored with 206, with only the Rangers, Ducks and Devils behind among playoff teams last season. The Bruins are really relying heavily on the Ryder-Julien connection, as well as a breakout season from Phil Kessel, whose name was bandied about in trade rumors over the last several months. With teams like Carolina, Buffalo, and possibly even Tampa Bay likely competing for playoff spots this coming season, the Bruins will need to light the lamp much more often if they want to survive in the Eastern Conference.
2008-09 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: C+
Prom Theme: "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by The Supremes. The Bruins are a decent enough team that they'll be in the playoff chase all season long. The Boston faithful will ride a roller coaster of emotions with this team as their hopes hinge on the goaltending and development of their young forwards.
Expected Graduation: It'll be even tougher for the Bruins to get into the playoffs this season. Having edged out the Hurricanes despite two less wins (thanks charity point!), Boston might have to take a step back before going forward. If they're able to slip into the playoffs again, it'll probably be as the eighth-seed yet again and an early exit will be likely.