By Steve Kendall
The Boston Bruins should be one of the more interesting teams in the NHL this season. From the rookie season of Tyler Seguin to the Marc Savard saga to Blake Wheeler’s new skates, here are the top stories to watch as the Bruins’ season progresses …
Marc Savard’s recovery from post-concussion syndrome
Many were wondering just why the Bruins were so aggressive in shopping Savard around the draft. Perhaps the answer to that came when it was announced he was unfit to play due to symptoms from post-concussion syndrome.
Savard may be out long-term, perhaps the entire season. His injury has a huge effect on the Bruins not only due to his playmaking ability and his play on the power play, but it also adds more pressure onto Boston’s younger players. It also leads to our second key story …
David Krejci needs to step up
Krejci was a no-show for most of last season, perhaps due to a slow recovery from an injury. Whatever the reason, he had an outstanding Olynpics and was tremendous playoff run before being knocked out of the Philadelphia series with another injury. With Savard out for an extended period, Krejci needs to be the player he was post-Olympics. If he isn’t, the Bruins will continue to struggle on offense.
Patrice Bergeron’s contract year
Savard’s injury also ups the ante for Bergeron, who has been a standout defensively and on face offs. He has struggled offensively the past couple of years, and the Bruins need to get more from him in the offensive zone while Savard is out. Him playing for a new contract was a good enough reason, but now the B’s need him.
Seguin-manaia is gripping the Hub for sure, and for good reason: he is exciting, young, and gives the Bruins hope not only for the future, but for this year as well. Unlike Joe Thornton, who came in when the Bruins were terrible and needed him to be incredible right away, this year’s Boston team is built for a solid playoff run and just needs Seguin to be a small piece in the machine. Of course, the B’s management and fans would love it if he put up great numbers out of the gate.
The “other” young guys
Seguin is certainly garnering the most attention, but he certainly is not the only young Bruin making some noise in preseason. Forwards Jordan Caron, 19, and Zach Hamill, 22, have certainly played well enough to make the opening night roster, and Joe Colborne, 20, looks like he isn’t far behind.
Defensively, rookies Matt Bartkowski and Steven Kampfer, both 22-year-old Americans, have impressed in camp. Only one will likely be on the opening night roster, but both could be contributors before the season is over. Bartkowski looks a bit more NHL ready – at least so far.
Horton, acquired in the trade that sent Dennis Wideman to Florida, was the third overall pick in the 2003 draft and has been in the league since. In his six seasons with the Panthers, the 25-year-old Horton has 142 goals and 153 assists. He has scored 20 in five of his six seasons, including a career-high 31 in 2006-2007. With a change of scenery and with a more hockey-rabid fan base behind him, the hope is Horton will become the top-flight, hard-nosed player everyone has always expected him to become. The thought here is he will score 30-35 goals with 40-45 assists and complement Milan Lucic in the physical play department.
Speaking of Lucic, he needs to return to the style that made him a fan favorite in 2008-2009. I’m willing to give him a pass on last year due to his injuries, but if he comes out and plays tentative and poorly again this year, his time in Boston may (and should) be limited.
Blake Wheeler’s new skates
In case you missed this story, Wheeler has made the switch from Bauer skates to CCM. He used Bauer skates for the first time ever last year, and endured a dreadful season. He says the CCM skates help him feel quicker and “more like myself.”
I doubt it was the skates that caused the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Wheeler to get knocked around and struggle to create space, but time will tell I suppose. He’s another guy whose time in Boston will come to an end soon if his play doesn’t improve.
Z needs to step it up
Another player who needs to elevate his game is Zdeno Chara. He is certainly a workhorse and has been good, but he hasn’t played like the captain and top-paid player on this team. He should have been the one who stepped up on Matt Cooke, but he didn’t. The Bruins need leadership from Chara, and they haven’t received it. It might be time to put the “C” on someone else’s chest and just let Chara worry about playing.
This is the one area Boston has on almost everyone else, as the duo of Tuuka Rask and Tim Thomas is superb. I believe Thomas still has another good year in him, and if he has recovered from his hip injury, will be valuable to this team. I don’t think Rask is ready to play 60-plus games plus the playoffs just yet. I think Rask playing 45-50 games and Thomas playing 30-35 games will provide excellent results.
Claude Julien has proven to be a good regular season coach. Now he needs to prove he can win in the playoffs. He has never made it past the second round of the playoffs, and if the Bruins get off to a slow start this year, the ax may (and should) fall on Julien.
The intangible: Toughness
The Bruins were neither physically or mentally tough last year, as so clearly illuminated during the Savard-Cooke fiasco and the playoff collapse against Philadephia. The offseason moves, on the surface, do not appear to address those issues, as all the main players from last year return. My hope is Horton and some of the young guys provide toughness, spirit, and enthusiasm, and that Lucic and Chara become the tough-nosed players they have been in the past. If those things happen, the Bruins will be Stanley Cup contenders. If not, it might be another disappointing spring for B’s fans.
(Steve Kendall is a freelance writer for several newspapers and websites, including The Boston Herald and The Worcester Telegram & Gazette. He covers high school, college, and professional sports.)
The Bruins need this from Chara