The Boston Bruins began last season looking to get back to the postseason after missing the cut in 2014-15 and then seeing a major turnover in personnel that included new addresses for Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton and GM Peter Chiarelli.
Coach Claude Julien was spared, however, with the vow that the Bruins would be more aggressive offensively. And they were, going from a 2.55 goals-per-game average to 2.88 last season. Unfortunately, their goals-against average went from 2.45 to 2.78.
Despite some bright spots – Brad Marchand’s 37-goal season, the emergence of David Pastrnak – the Bruins fell short of the playoffs for a second-straight season with a 42-31-9 (93 points) campaign, missing the last wild card by just three points and losing a tie-breaker to Detroit for the last playoff spot in the Atlantic.
2015-16 Season, In One Picture
Did They Get Better, Worse, Or Are They About The Same?
Twist our arms and we’ll say “worse,” although the best answer might be “different.”
Loui Eriksson may not have seemed like a good fit in Boston (thanks, unrealistic expectations from a franchise-shaking trade), but that’s still 30 goals walking out the door to the Vancouver Canucks. The blue line saw Dennis Seidenberg get a buyout but didn’t see any significant upgrades, despite a swirl of talk about Kevin Shattenkirk or Jacob Trouba being acquired. (Talk that’s continued as the season nears.)
David Backes is an interesting signing, if only because he could see time in several different roles and because his approach to the game is basically the epitome of “Bruins Hockey.”
If nothing else, Anton Khudobin is a sturdier backup for Tuukka Rask.
Five Most Fascinating Players
1 – Brad Marchand
The original “Little Ball of Hate” was Pat Verbeek, who shared some of Marchand’s pest-like penchants. But he was also a three-time 40-goal scorer. So Marchand might have truly earned the moniker last season, an incredible offensive breakout for an underrated goal-scorer. Can he match 37 goals? Can he go higher?
2 – Zdeno Chara
Big Z turns 40 in March, and logged over 24 minutes per game last season. Alas, it was also a season that saw him finish just barely on the positive side as far as possession (50.14 percent, 5v5 adjusted). His mobility is an issue. He has two years left on his contract and a no-move clause.
3 – Frank Vatrano
The mighty mite showed he can excel with elite talent by piling up points with Auston Matthews at Worlds. Whether he earns a chance to play with Bergeron and Marchand or not, it’s going to be fun to see if he builds on the promise of last year’s 19 points in 39 games.
4 – David Backes
OHHHHHH WHO’S A GOOD BOY!?
His style of play fits the Bruins’ aesthetic, but it’s going to be interesting to see how coach Claude Julien deploys him. He can be a shut down center down the lineup. He can play with skills guys. Where does it fit?
5 – David Krejci
When he’s healthy, Krejci can get you around 70 points. He had 63 in 72 games last season, clicking well with newcomer Matt Beleskey and rookie David Pastrnak. He missed the World Cup after off-season surgery, to be better ready for the NHL season.
Mascot Hijinks Video Break
Can We Trust Them At Even Strength?
The Bruins were a slightly negative possession team overall last season (49.86) thanks to the shift to a more offensive style under Julien (and the personnel changes that predated it).
You can trust Bergeron and Marchand at 5-on-5, and Torey Krug has shown he can drive possession from the back end. Matt Beleskey scored 12 of his 15 goals at even strength. But the Bruins need their young collection of forwards – Pastrnak, Vatrano among them – to round out their games.
The blue line feels like it’s in transition, with Chara aging out, John-Michael Liles as a stop-gap, Adam Quaid, Krug, Kevan Miller and a promising Colin Miller.
Rask, meanwhile, posted a .924 even strength save percentage, which put him outside the top 20 for goalies that had at least 40 games.
Can We Trust Them On Special Teams?
The Bruins were seventh in the NHL on the power play last season, clicking at a 20.5 percent success rate. Patrice Bergeron led the team with 12 power-play goals, but they’ll miss Eriksson here, who had one third of his goals on the season with a man advantage. They’ll need players like Jimmy Hayes to provide a bit more.
On the kill, the Bruins were 11th in the NHL at 82.2 percent. Chara and Kevan Miller led in ice time; Chris Kelly, now with the Ottawa Senators, was their leader in short-handed ice time at forward. They have an all-world defensive forward with Bergeron, but ideally need to develop other options on the PK – hence the signing of Dominic Moore.
Can We Trust Their Goaltending?
Is Tuukka Rask no longer among the 10 best goalies in the NHL?
Tough to say. He can still take over games and be the backbone of his team for stretches, but there’s no question he had his struggles last season, right from the start.
GM Don Sweeney has challenged him to be better, declining to list Rask among the team’s untouchables. But the real challenge will be the Bruins playing better in front of him.
Player Mostly Likely To Be In Vegas Next Season
Kevan Miller. The defenseman is signed to a four-year dal at $2.5 million per season. He has term and just enough overpayment to help nudge the Knights closer to their cap requirements.
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)
Nine. Julien has survived despite the Bruins having missed the playoffs for consecutive seasons because he’s a hell of a coach. But if Boston fails to make the cut for a third time, it’s hard to imagine he’ll survive again. Unless, of course, Julien plays the role of a cockroach or a Twinkie in this apocalypse, with Sweeney and president Cam Neely taking the fall instead.
The Bruins return to the playoffs, rolling one great line and two pretty good ones. They add a puck-moving defenseman at some point, and Rask and Khudobin make up for other deficiencies. And, of course, Claude Julien lives to coach another day.
2016-17 Season Preview