With NHL preseason underway, PHR continues to look at each team in-depth and the focus now turns to a team making news recently, the Boston Bruins.
Last season: 42-31-9 (93 points), 4th in the Atlantic Division, 9th in the Eastern Conference
Cap Space Remaining: $5.832MM according to Cap Friendly
Key Newcomers: C/RW David Backes (free agency, St. Louis Blues), G Anton Khudobin (free agency, Anaheim Ducks), C Dominic Moore (free agency, New York Rangers), RW Peter Mueller (PTO), C/RW Riley Nash (free agency, Carolina Hurricanes)
Key Departures: RW Brett Connolly (free agency, Washington Capitals), RW Loui Eriksson (free agency, Vancouver Canucks), RW Landon Ferraro (free agency, St. Louis Blues), G Jonas Gustavsson (free agency, Edmonton Oilers), C Chris Kelly (free agency, Ottawa Senators), C Joonas Kemppainen (free agency, KHL), C Alexander Khokhlachev (free agency, KHL), D Dennis Seidenberg (free agency, unsigned), RW Lee Stempniak (free agency, Carolina Hurricanes), C Max Talbot (free agency, KHL), D Zach Trotman (free agency, Los Angeles Kings)
Player to Watch: Jimmy Hayes – The first season in Boston for the local boy Hayes did not go as well as he, or anyone for that matter, expected. After coming over from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Reilly Smith, the “pride of Dorchester” was expected to, at the very least, be a 20-goal scorer for the Bruins. Instead, he scored six less goals than the year before and watched his point total drop to just 29 points in 75 games. He also drew much criticism from Boston fans and media for his lack of a physical game an net-front presence despite his 6’5″ frame. Hayes has reportedly been working on his crash-the-net skills and skating ability this off-season, and hopes to rebound in 2016-17. Hayes has little choice but to improve his game, or his time back in his hometown could be cut short. With Loui Eriksson, Lee Stempniak, and Brett Connolly now gone and Frank Vatrano missing the first couple months of the season with an injury, the opportunities will be there for Hayes to prove himself as a top-nine contributor. While it remains to be seen where in the lineup coach Claude Julien sees newcomers David Backes and Riley Nash playing, Hayes should nevertheless have a shot at playing on the right side of a talented center to start the new season, whether that be Backes, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, or Ryan Spooner. A strong camp for Hayes will be key, as he looks to establish himself as a top scoring option at right wing, holding off youngsters like David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, and Zach Senyshyn. If he’s able to find a good fit in the top nine, expect Hayes to put up good numbers this season. If not, expect Hayes to be spending a lot of time in the press box.
Key Storylines: General Manager Don Sweeney surprised many critics with his big free agency acquisition of David Backes, savvy signings of Riley Nash and Anton Khudobin, and most recently, his astonishingly affordable extension of Brad Marchand. However, Sweeney has done nothing this off-season to address Boston’s biggest need: defense. The Bruins are more than likely very interested in the likes of Jacob Trouba, Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler and others, but as of now have yet to make a move to bring one of them in. Their current group of blue liners is the same as it was at the end of 2015-16, minus Dennis Seidenberg. How is it that the defense, which has been the main reason why the Bruins have missed the playoffs the past two years, has not been improved? Does Sweeney know something that we don’t? Other than the recently-extended Torey Krug, the defense lacks much optimism this season. Zdeno Chara is still an effective shutdown defenseman, but has slowed with age. As has John-Michael Liles, who begins his first full season with the Bruins, but with few expectations. On the right side, Kevan Miller has proved himself to be a serviceable defenseman, but far from a top option and Adam McQuaid has never been more than a good stay-at-home player for the bottom pair. A lot is riding on the success of young puck-mover Colin Miller, who will be given every opportunity to stick as an NHL regular this season, and perhaps establish himself as a future star. Those six leave little for the imagination though. It is possible that Sweeney expects big things from his prospect defenseman this season. Big 19-year-old bruiser Brandon Carlo, a 2015 2nd-round pick, has especially turned some heads, and may be on track to win a spot in camp after a strong junior season, excellent World Junior Championship performance, and brief stint with AHL Providence last year. Two other 2015 top picks, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon, may also be NHL-ready with their strong possession ability, but would have to be returned to junior if they don’t make the team out of the gate. Something has to give with improving this defense, and sooner rather than later, or the Bruins fate could be the same as the past two seasons.
The Bruins are built to win now, and the team has continually shown their belief in that with big deals for Matt Beleskey and David Backes in back-to-back years and an unwillingness to trade away veteran pieces. However, should the Bruins struggle early in 2016-17, don’t be surprised to see a flurry of moves this season. Coach Claude Julien has been on the hot seat for longer than nearly any coach in the league, and the fuse could be very short for ownership and management this season. Armed with one of the deeper prospect systems in the NHL and with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand signed long-term to usher in the next generation, the Bruins may be comfortable dealing away pieces in their prime and injecting youth into the lineup. On the other side, if the Bruins reverse their fortunes and are leading a strong campaign in the new season, expect trade talk surrounding top pair defenseman to ramp up, as Boston has the top prospect pieces to interest a seller. Just as unlikely as it is that the Bruins stick with their current starters on defense too deep into the season, it is equally unlikely that they end this upcoming season without major additions or subtractions to the roster.