Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli’s offseason movement – or absence thereof – places the B’s in a precarious position heading into the 2012-13 season.
So far, the ‘gem’ of the Bruins’ summer is Garnet Exelby.
That’s perhaps a tad misleading. Boston’s GM managed to re-sign Chris Kelly, Greg Campbell, Dan Paille and Tuukka Rask. All were key contributors, but with little left to spend on upgrades – will the Bruins pay the price?
The Bruins’ man-advantage garnered considerable blame for their 2012 postseason exit. Their powerplay hasn’t exactly won acclaim in recent seasons, yet this area has received no attention from Chiarelli this offseason – much to the chagrin of Bruins fans.
Over the past three years, the Bruins powerplay has been average at best (fifteenth in the League last season with a 17.2% success rate) and frequently awful – particularly during the past two playoff runs.
Even with the expected addition of offensively-gifted CHL Defenseman of the Year, Dougie Hamilton, the Bruins will have to rely on improved execution or significant systems change to take a step forward on the man-advantage.
If that wasn’t enough, five Bruins’ set or tied their career highs in points or goals (with a sixth, Milan Lucic, coming up just shy). Three more; Chris Kelly, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand finished the season with their career-best in goals and points.
The two second-year forwards’ jumps weren’t entirely unexpected – but add in the other six for eight career-years in a single season (and arguably no real ‘down’ seasons) and you get the recipe for an outstanding season.
No team’s forwards were as successful shooting the puck, tallying a 13.1% – the best in the League. Of the B’s thirteen regular forwards (minimum 40 games with Boston), all but three shot at rates higher than the League average of 10.53%. Among their top-nine, only Rich Peverley failed to hit the mark. Five of the NHL’s top-25 forwards by shooting percentage were Bruins.
Ultimately, whether players can maintain shooting percentages like these is a topic for statisticians and clairvoyants. Regardless, with eleven of the aforementioned thirteen regular forwards exceeding their career averages in S%, a letdown may be in the cards.
Couple powerplay impotence and a fortunate series of career-years with the uncertainty surrounding power-winger Nathan Horton and the situation becomes even more grim. His absence through the season’s second-half undoubtedly played a significant role in the B’s struggles, illustrated by Boston’s goal-per-game drop without his presence in the lineup.
The Bruins will rely on Jordan Caron and other youngsters to play a top-nine role barring an addition. Without experienced NHL-caliber talent to fill-in for Horton should the worst come to pass, Chiarelli and the Bruins are walking a fine line.
No matter the reason, the loss of Tim Thomas for the 2012-13 season puts the B’s at a major disadvantage. Even if one considers the move from Thomas to new starter Tuukka Rask lateral, Anton Khudobin (seven career NHL games) is hardly a proven backup. Simply put, the Bruins could lose goals (and games) with their new setup in-net.
Yet, for all the negativity, the Bruins outlook is far from dire. The youngsters who represent the next in-line for scoring-line duties are a veritable who’s-who of the Bruins top forward prospects including Caron, Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight.
Rask could live up to the promise that’s made him the League’s current career save-percentage leader (minimum 100 games) and Khudobin might find the same success over twenty games as he’s found in brief opportunities at the NHL level.
This is still much the same team that was virtually invincible through more than two months of action last season – and much the same squad which marched to the 2011 Stanley Cup. They remain top contenders in the East.
The summer is far from over. With several ‘big fish’ still on the open market, Chiarelli may be able to lure a top talent to Boston prior to training camp.
Still, it seems Chiarelli hitched his wagon to the idea of preserving the team that won the Cup at the expense of addressing perceived holes in the Bruins lineup, with a half-dozen re-signings bringing back guys who earned rings.
Still, if the Bruins struggle and fall short of expectations again, Boston’s fanbase will be far less forgiving this time around.
Bob is a Boston Bruins Correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He lives in the Boston Metro Area with his wife, Amanda and their five-year-old son, Cormac.