Last season: The Bruins continued the trend of recent Stanley Cup champions that had an early playoff exit in the quest to defend their title, losing in seven games to the No. 7 seed Washington Capitals. From the middle of November until the end of December the Bruins looked like they head and shoulders above every other team in the NHL, systematically destroying every team that got in their way. As it turns out, they peaked a little too soon, regression to the mean set in, and they were a pretty ordinary team the rest of the way.
Key offseason losses: Tim Thomas (?), Greg Zanon, Joe Corvo
They lost a little depth on their blue line in free agency when Greg Zanon and Joe Corvo moved on, but the more interesting (bizarre might be the better word) loss was Tim Thomas essentially taking his ball and going home. Thomas, one of the best goalies in the NHL, has gone off the deep end more than once since winning the Stanley Cup and even though he remains under contract it doesn't seem likely that we'll see him in the crease for Boston once the season begins. Fortunately his replacement was already on the roster in Tuukka Rask.
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Key offseason additions: Aaron Johnson
Other than the excitement that came from the Thomas situation it was a pretty quiet offseason for the Bruins with the only real addition being the depth signing of Aaron Johnson on the blue line. In 56 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season he scored three goals to go with 13 assists.
Breakout player: Dougie Hamilton
It's expected that Dougie Hamilton will have an opportunity to make the team the former top-10 pick is definitely a player to watch on Boston's blue line. Hamilton was drafted with one of the first round picks Boston received from Toronto for Phil Kessel a couple of years (Tyler Seguin was the other), a move that could help set up the Bruins foundation for the next decade. He's been a pont-per-game player for the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey league in each of the past two seasons.
Player on the hot seat:
Why they will succeed: Their collection of forwards are a nightmare to play against as they combine some of the best skill, two-way play, and toughness in the NHL. Zdeno Chara is one of the best defenseman (and players) in the NHL, and even without Tim Thomas they still have Tuukka Rask in net, a player that would have been a No. 1 goalie on a large number of NHL teams this past season.
Why they won't succeed: Once you get past the top defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg it's not a great group on the blue line. The unknown status of Tim Thomas puts all of the pressure on Tuukka Rask, and while he's shown in the past he can be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL depth behind him could be a problem.
Realistic expectations: They're the best team in the Northeast Division and should be able to walk away with it and earn a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Don't let last year's first-round playoff exit change your opinion of this team. They were arguably the better team in that series and simply lost to a hot goalie in Braden Holtby. They're one year removed from winning the Stanley Cup and they're still a major contender to win it again.