(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
In a span of 17 seconds, the Boston Bruins went from believing they were about to force a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final to watching the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate a second championship in four years. It was a bitter pill to swallow after another memorable campaign.
The Bruins finished the lockout shortened 2013 season fourth in the Eastern Conference (28-14-6, 62 pts.) and needed a miraculous third period and overtime comeback in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs to avoid a disastrous first round exit. That victory flipped a switched and they would go on and win 8 of their next 9 games, rolling through the New York Rangers in the second round, before completing a stunning sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
The transition from Tim Thomas to Tuukka Rask full-time in net went without worry and the usual suspects contributed offensively, while the defense helped carry them through for another deep playoff run.
The summer brought about a blockbuster trade and the long-term signing of two key cogs. Are the Bruins even better than they were last season?
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Watch as Patrice Bergeron somehow goes ignored during this entire sequence.
The biggest move of the summer for general manager Peter Chiarelli was dealing away Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Loui Eriksson and defensive prospect Joe Morrow as part of a seven player blockbuster. Of course, it wasn't until after Seguin left town that the gossipy stories hit the Boston media.
Joining Eriksson up front will be Jarome Iginla, after the 36-year old forward signed a one-year deal worth $6 million. Iginla posted 11 points in 13 regular games after being dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 28.
Jaromir Jagr struggled offensively after being acquired from the Stars at the trade deadline. He was not brought back and signed with the New Jersey Devils. Nathan Horton felt he needed a change of scenery, some place a little quieter in Boston, so he joined up with the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 7-year contract, $37.1 million contract. Given the Bruins' cap situation, there was no way they'd be able to meet Horton's salary demands.
When Andrew Ference left to sign a four-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers, Boston's defense and room took a bit of a hit. Even Chiarelli will miss Ference's presence, saying, “Andy’s a competitive little S.O.B. He plays harder than his size.”
Finally, Tuukka Rask will have a new backup with Anton Khudobin heading off to the Carolina Hurricanes. Chad Johnson and Niklas Svedberg will battle it out for the No. 2 job.
Forwards: The Bruins spread out their offense with six players scoring double digit goals last season. Brad Marchand (18 goals) and his ridiculous 19.8 shooting percentage led the way. Being able to sustain that would be nice, but is unrealistic.
Subtracting Seguin and Horton up front and replacing them on the wings with Eriksson and Iginla could end up washing each other out. Both, however, will help a 26th ranked power play. The pair will become part of the Marchand, David Krejci (33 points), Milan Lucic (27 points), Patrice Bergeron (10 goals) mix.
Losing Peverley will open up an opportunity for Carl Soderberg to grab a full-time role. The 27-year old Swede came over late in the season and played just six regular season games. Jordan Caron is also expected to battle for a spot on that line.
Despite breaking his leg blocking a shot in the Conference Final, Gregory Campbell is expected to be ready for training camp, which is good news for the Bruins, who would love nothing more than for their fourth line -- a.k.a. The Merlot Line -- to click like they did in the postseason.
Defense: The Bruins' defense corps shocked everyone by limiting the arsenal of the Penguins to just two goals during their Conference Final sweep. Zdeno Chara may have slowed a bit during the Cup Final, but he's still the league's pre-eminent shutdown defenseman. His partner, Dennis Seidenberg, is entering the final year of his contract and at age 32 could set himself up nicely for a payday come next summer.
With Ference and Wade Redden not returning, it's time for the kids. Dougie Hamilton, their 2011 first round pick, was part of Calder Trophy talk early in the season, but eventually the spotlight moved to undrafted Torey Krug, who made his presence known with four goals in his first five playoff games. More will be expected out of both as they look to anchor the third pairing.
Goalies: Head coach Claude Julien benefited by the fact that Anton Khudobin was a trustworthy backup, posting a .920 save percentage in 14 starts spelling Tuukka Rask. With Khudobin now in Carolina, the inexperienced pairing of Chad Johnson (10 career NHL starts) or Niklas Svedberg (0 career NHL games played) will battle it out for No. 2. Will Chiarelli upgrade or does this mean Rask is in line for 65-plus starts after not starting more than 39 games in any of his four full seasons?
After a Stanley Cup defeat, GM Peter Chiarelli went out and made his side even better for the 2013-14 season. Locking up Rask and Bergeron helps their future, but adding Iginla on a one-year deal, along with acquiring Loui Eriksson in a trade aids them now. The Bruins gave Chiarelli a four-year extension in August for what he's accomplished during his tenure to date. Going forward, he'll face a tricky task of maintaining a contender while maneuvering within the salary cap.
How many times has Claude Julien been "almost" fired by now? Each time his feet get close to the fire, the Bruins find a way to bail him out. Who knows what would have happened if the Leafs prevailed in Game 7. They didn't, and then the Bruins came within two wins of another Cup under Julien. When his time finds itself in a hole, he seems to find a way to get them out of it.
What's a Bruins song without bagpipes and the Dropkick Murphy's?
The defense: they're damn good. Boston was third in the NHL last season in goals allowed with 2.21 per game. Zdeno Chara is back. Tuukka Rask is back. Patrice Bergeron will be 100-percent after sacrificing almost every body part in their Cup quest. Scoring goals once again won't be easy against the Bruins.
Bergeron. THE GUY PLAYED IN THE STANLEY CUP FINAL WITH A HOLE IN HIS LUNG.
The penalty kill, which has improved in each of the past three seasons, topping out at 87.1 percent last year. It helps when Julien can throw Bergeron, Chara and company out on the ice often.
Something to has to start clicking for a power play that finished 25th overall (14.8 percent) last season. Three out of the last four seasons the Bruins have finished lower than 20th overall in that category.
The Adams Northeast Atlantic Division takes on a new identity with the Bruins and their recent division mates welcoming the Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning to the neighborhood. Making the playoffs in each division gets tougher going forward now, but the Bruins have all the weapons they need to finish in the Adams Northeast Atlantic Division's top four spots. But questions need to be answered if they're to make another run to the Stanley Cup Final:
Will Tuukka Rask's backup be reliable enough to keep him fresh? Will Rask's play fall off after signing a rich, long-term deal? Can the power play find its legs? Does Jarome Iginla still have anything left in tank? Will their young defenseman take that next step forward?
The bitter end to the 2013 season should be enough to cure any thoughts of a Cup hangover and add motivation to get back and complete the job.