Mere minutes away from the start of their title defense, the Boston Bruins look like a team you can bet will be a contender come April. You can expect a lot from these Bruins – they’ll finish in the top six in the Eastern Conference, they’ll combine decent scoring with stifling defense and they’ll receive consistently excellent goaltending. Is there anything we might not expect from the Cup Champs? In this forum I’ll break down some of the less probable but still possible outcomes of the Bruins’ 2011-12 season – just to spoil the surprise.
Don’t Be Surprised If…
… Sophomore Tyler Seguin scores 60 points. While many in the Bruins’ analyst community are predicting around 50 points and 25 goals for the still 19 year-old C/W, his performance this September highlighted his much improved strength and tenacity. These were two of his biggest problems in his rookie year. Right now, he’s stuck on a line with offensive juggernauts like Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot but if an injury occurs in the top-six, he will be sure to move up. When that happens, don’t expect him to ever see third-line duties again.
… Tuukka Rask takes over starting duties. In a recent interview, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli spoke of his desire for the Bruins’ goaltending situation to be more like a two-headed monster than heavily dependent on one guy. With the immense workload he shouldered in ’10-’11, Thomas could tire (he has to show signs of aging soon – right…?) If he does, Rask has looked excellent this preseason and could once again steal starts from Timmy T. and become the B’s de facto #1.
… Milan Lucic has a down year. Looch seems to oscillate between excellent shooting seasons (’08-’09, ’10-’11) and mediocre shooting seasons (’07-’08, ’09-’10). If that holds true, the Bruins’ big #17 is in for a bit of a downer following his breakout campaign last year. He can’t expect to lead the league in empty-netters for two straight seasons and his rough-and-tumble playstyle will eventually and inevitably lead to injury. There’s an outside shot he’ll fail to hit 20 goals.
… David Krejci trade rumors surface. Just a few weeks ago, prior to training camp the Bruins appeared to be ready to get number one center, Krejci, under contract with an extension past this season. It’s difficult to know if these talks have been put on hiatus but there’s a chance that DK wants a really big deal after signing a very team-friendly three year deal after his 70-point breakout 2008-09 season. Fans should expect any deal he signs to be in excess of $5 million (and perhaps as much as $6 million) annually.
If the discussions are indeed at an impasse and Seguin is tearing it up as he might – Krejci’s name could be bandied about as a possible target. For the record, I don’t expect him to be dealt – but if he isn’t signed, his name will be frequent fodder of certain rumor-mongers come February.
… The powerplay blossoms. With the addition of Joe Corvo (a dynamic shoot-first offensive defenseman) and the more frequent usage of young talents like Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand, the Bruins powerplay could easily take a giant leap forward. Seguin looked excellent coming off the half-wall on the overload setup in the preseason and possesses both a plus shot and excellent passing instincts which will immediately make the second unit harder to deal with. If the first unit can get zone entries and setups consistently, it’s hard to imagine that a line that’s so successful in 5-on-5 (Lucic-Krejci-Horton) will continue to have trouble on the man advantage.
… Patrice Bergeron wins the Selke. Bergeron, the Bruins’ second-line center, is widely considered one of the premier two-way forwards in the game. Bergeron wins faceoffs with regularity (and is arguably among the top five or ten centers league-wide in this regard), plays excellent positional hockey, is a fixture on the Bruins frequently successful shorthand unit, and is among the smartest players in the game.
However, as Manny Malhotra and other defense-first forwards will tell you – winning the Selke in today’s game is as much about offense as defense. The last six winners (since the lockout) have all exceeded 70 points in their winning seasons. Kris Draper, the last individual to win the Selke in a sub-70 point season, did so in the season he totaled his greatest offensive output – 24 goals and 40 points in 2003-04.
But Patrice finally has the linemates to give him a chance to push towards the offensive stratosphere. Brad Marchand grabbed a 21-20-41 line in his rookie campaign in ’10-’11 and new addition to the line, Rich Peverley seems to fit seamlessly with Bergy and Marchand’s intelligent cycling game. Bergeron will need it – he hasn’t hit 70 since before his concussion – in 2006-07. He’ll need to come close to be a contender.
… The Bruins get back to the Cup Finals. I know, I know… homer vote. But there aren’t many teams that can combine Boston’s leadership, drive, timely goaltending, stifling defense and deep offense. I’m not suggesting they’ll win (in fact, I’d bet against it) but their amazing unity and strength of vision can’t be over after a run like they just had, can it?