The 2014-15 campaign was one for the history books in Boston. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in a good way.
— Tom Leyden (@TomLeyden) April 12, 2015
The Bruins became the first team in NHL history to accrue 96 points in a season and miss the playoffs. They fell victim to a Ottawa Senators team that caught lightning in a bottle, riding goaltender Andrew Hammond and super rookies Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone to steal the first wild card position in the Eastern Conference. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the fortune of playing the lowly Buffalo Sabres on the final night of the regular season to confirm their playoff status.
For Boston? Well, one point from a possible six in their final three games sealed their fate. Injuries on the blue line coupled with a lack of offense sent the club to an early summer. New general manager Don Sweeney led a roster overhaul that saw Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton and Reilly Smith dealt away while bringing in Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey, among others.
With just over three weeks left before the Bruins hit the ice on October 8, many are wondering if the 2015-16 chapter in franchise history will see them taking a place at the postseason table come April. Are they good enough to get there?
The front line for the Black and Gold is going to look a bit different this season.
Beleskey comes in off a new five-year, $19.8 million contract the Bruins gave him on the opening day of free agency. The 27-year-old enjoyed a breakout campaign with 22 goals for the Anaheim Ducks in the regular season and eight more in the playoffs.
It is expected that he will fit in alongside playmaker David Krejci in the top-six, giving Beleskey plenty of opportunities to replicate those totals. However, fans will have to temper expectations on him being the “scorer” Boston has coveted for years…at least to start.
Patrice Bergeron is the heartbeat of the forwards with Brad Marchand serving as the main blood vessel alongside. It’s hard to imagine that the 30-year-old Bergeron will be entering his 12th season in the NHL, yet the grizzly veteran has morphed into one of the best two-way forwards in the game.
Marchand’s 24 goals last season led the club and it could have been more were it not for a month-long goal drought down the stretch. Consistency is the key word for the 27-year-old entering a campaign where he will be the focal point of Boston’s offense.
Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak were thunder and lightning in the stretch run last season and should be paired up again to start the year. The duo have a deadly combination of speed and offensive upside to potentially give Boston depth scoring from the third line. Fans should get excited for the potential of two young players to grow and give opponents some problems this year.
This is where the biggest question mark lies on Causeway Street.
The departure of Hamilton is a major setback for the defense. The 22-year-old was a star in the making last season but stalled contract negotiations forced Sweeney’s hand in making a trade. Now, the Bruins have two aging defensemen in their top-four with Zdeno Chara (38) and Dennis Seidenberg (34). Captain Chara has a permanently torn PCL in his knee while Seidenberg showed some ill effects of a torn ACL suffered back in December 2013. Both men are not the quickest skaters in the game and may struggle against faster teams to keep pace.
Boston’s defensive depth will be tested as well. Torey Krug is looking at a top-four place after signing a one-year contract extension during last season. The Michigan native has a lot to prove after featuring primarily on the third pairing and the power play his first two seasons with the Bruins. He will see increased ice time and possibly some penalty kill work as well as the responsibilities grow for the 24-year-old Krug.
Adam McQuaid is another concern. The native of Prince Edward Island is an injury waiting to happen on the back end, having missed 87 games over the last three seasons with various malaise. A four-year contract worth $11 million signed in the offseason only adds to the mounting pressure on McQuaid to stay on the ice more often than not this season.
The strength of the Bruins lies in goal with franchise netminder Tuukka Rask. The Finnish Olympian carried Boston on his back (literally) last season tying a franchise record with 70 appearances. The lack of trust in backup Niklas Svedberg down the stretch forced Claude Julien’s hand in playing Rask a bit more than he would have liked.
History may be repeating itself this season. Backup goalie candidates Zane McIntyre, Malcolm Subban and Jeremy Smith have a combined 31 minutes of NHL experience while recent PTO invite Jonas Gustavsson has been a subpar backup in his career. No matter who earns the roster spot, this is another season where Rask is likely looking at another year of heavy lifting in the Bruins crease.
That is unless one of the backups earns the trust of Julien and the coaching staff.
Is It Enough?
The race for the Atlantic Division Title is between Tampa Bay and Montreal this season. That leaves third place and the wild card positions as potential routes for the Bruins to enter the playoffs.
Outside of Toronto, the division has gotten stronger. Buffalo is no longer a pushover with Jack Eichel and upgrades on the blueline, Detroit still has their veteran presence, Florida is an up-and-coming team who gave the Bruins problems last year and we know about Ottawa’s capabilities.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Bruins. However, their core of Bergeron, Krejci and Rask is still intact and are capable of carrying Boston back to the prospect of springtime hockey. Rask nearly did it on his own last season and may be the prominent figure in getting the Black and Gold back in.
A wild card berth is not out of the question but if the team can’t close the deal like last season, the so-called “window” may effectively close on Boston’s foreseeable Stanley Cup challenge.