The beginning of the 2016-17 NHL season is just a couple of weeks away now. After a long summer without hockey, every team in the league has some questions before heading into the season. The Boston Bruins have many questions before their season begins. Here are four burning questions that the Bruins may need to address prior to their opening game on October 13.
David Backes Worth Letting Go of Loui Eriksson?
The biggest acquisition the Bruins made this offseason was signing former St. Louis Blues captain, David Backes to a five-year, $30 million deal. Backes spent 10 seasons playing for the Blues, his best season being in 2010-11 when he scored 62 points in 82 games. This postseason, Backes stepped it up and scored 14 points in 20 games.
The Bruins were able to sign the former Blue partly because they let their third- best goal scorer, Loui Eriksson, walk during free agency. Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney, tried to sign Eriksson up until the day before free agency opened, but Eriksson ended up signing a six-year, $36 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
Each year since he came to Boston, Eriksson had consistently gotten better, last season being his best with the Bruins.
Eriksson is one year younger than Backes and when you look at the contracts each player signed this summer, Eriksson signed for only one year longer with the Canucks than Backes did with the Bruins. They both signed for the same average annual value in terms of money. The question is why Sweeney would pay an older, less offensively gifted player for the same AAV? It just doesn’t make sense.
How Long Is Claude Julien’s Leash?
Bruins coach Claude Julien will be back with Boston for his 10th season at the helm. He is the longest-tenured coach in the NHL. Julien holds the record for most wins by a B’s coach with 393 and counting. He broke that record this past season when he earned his 388th win, surpassing the old record holder and the first Bruins coach in team history, Art Ross.
Julien has won a Stanley Cup, been to two Cup Finals, won a President’s Trophy, and has won the Jack Adams award, all with the Bruins. It is safe to say that he is the best coach in the Bruins’ 92-year history. So why has he been in the hot seat almost every year since 2010?
It is an easy answer: When things go wrong there needs to be a scapegoat, and who’s a better scapegoat than your head coach? The Boston sports media is extremely vicious and quick to judge, so whenever times are shaky they go straight to Julien.
The past two seasons, though, the hot seat claim has been getting more serious. The team has missed the playoffs the past two seasons, Julien’s inability to develop young talent is clear, and the Bruins have been trying to transition to a younger and faster team, opposite of Julien’s defensive coaching style. Julien’s closest call was when the former general manager, Peter Chiarelli, was fired last offseason and Don Sweeney took the position. Sweeney made Cam Neely his number two immediately and they began to fumble around with Julien’s status with the team.
In all, they kept him as the coach, but when Julien and the squad missed the postseason for the second year in a row there was increased speculation whether or not Julien would be let go. Surprisingly, Sweeney and Neely announced Julien will be staying with the team for the upcoming season.
How long will Julien’s leash be this season? If it gets bad enough, would Sweeney fire him midseason? Or would it take missing the playoffs for a third consecutive year?
How Will the Bruins Fix Their Defense?
The biggest question coming into the offseason was how Don Sweeney would fix the Bruins’ defense? By the end of the season, the defense was looking old, slow, and incompetent. So Sweeney was bound to shake things up, make some trades, sign some free agents, right? Well, that is not what he did.
Instead, he bought out 35-year old Dennis Seidenberg, re-signed Kevan Miller to a four-year deal, and brought back John-Michael Liles on a two-year contract, among other moves.
The one move that Sweeney did make that made sense on defense was re-signing Torey Krug to a four-year, $21 million contract. This was good news for the Bruins as Krug is currently their best defenseman.
The bad news is that Krug is their best d-man. On a good team, Krug would be a bottom three defenseman. Krug is the B’s best, but he consistently plays on the bottom d-pairing with Adam McQuaid. It is time for that to change.
One player who may be a bright spot during the upcoming season is Colin Miller. The Bruins signed Miller to a two-year, $2 million contract extension in the offseason. The 23-year-old Miller will presumably play his first full season with the Bruins in the upcoming campaign. He finished last season with 16 points in 42 games played.
Captain Zdeno Chara is getting old and teams are starting to notice that he is easier to get around. He is not the threat he used to be, but he is still capable and is still a team leader in the locker room and on the ice. His name has been in trade rumors for the past season or so, but Chara has made it clear that he wants to finish his career in Boston.
When Will the Bruins Extend Marchand’s Contract?
The Bruins’ leading goal-scorer last season, Brad Marchand will make $5 million this year before his contract is up at the end of the season. He will become a free agent if the Bruins do not extend or re-sign him by then. Marchand is a big part of the Bruins, bigger than some might think.
Marchand contributed six game-winning goals last season, tied for the team lead with linemate Patrice Bergeron. He also scored a team-leading, career-high 37 goals. Bergeron came right behind Marchand and scored 32 goals in the season.
Marchand and Bergeron are one of the top duos in the league with great chemistry and they are only getting better. Bergeron is under contract through the 2021-22 season so it would make sense for Marchand, the guy he works best with, to be extended up until then at least.
Cam Neely recently said that the team wants to sign Marchand before the regular season begins, but Marchand is representing his country right now in the World Cup of Hockey, so the signing might not happen right away. One would hope it happens sooner than later because Marchand is part of the core of this team.
He will look for a long-term, big-money contract. A raise of at least $2.5 million is in order and he should sign for an AAV of $7.75-8 million. He is worth it and will be one of the B’s top scorers for years to come. The question is whether or not he will sign before the season or if negotiations will slip into the season.
Hopefully, these four questions are answered soon.