2017-18 team-by-team NHL season outlook: Previewing the Boston Bruins
Cap strapped and top heavy on offense, they need their blue line to stay healthy for a playoff run
As October creeps closer, another NHL season creeps with it.
In the 19th of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
It took quite a shakeup for the Bruins to finally get on track in 2016-17, when they returned to the playoffs after back-to-back seasons of sitting at home. Another big year from Brad Marchand helped along the way, but it wasn't until Claude Julien was ousted from behind the bench and replaced by Bruce Cassidy that Boston really picked up steam, going on a 12-3 run starting in February. A banged-up top-10 defense wasn't enough for the team once the postseason got underway, however, as the Bruins (44-31-7) surrendered 11 goals in three overtime losses to the blue-line-centered Ottawa Senators, dropping from the playoff picture after the opening round.
With Cassidy shedding the interim label and sticking around as the head coach, the Bruins retain their magic whisperer from the tail end of the 2016-17 campaign, but the activity from salary cap-strapped general manager Don Sweeney this summer hasn't exactly been a ringing endorsement of the franchise's playoff aspirations moving forward.
Key additions: F Kenny Agostino (Blues), D Paul Postma (Jets)
Key losses: D Colin Miller (Golden Knights), F Dominic Moore (Maple Leafs), F Drew Stafford (Devils), F Jimmy Hayes, F Zac Rinaldo (Coyotes)
The Bruins very nearly became the first team in this 2017-18 preview series to tout zero key additions. Sweeney can't get all the blame considering he lacked financial leeway as a result of past years, but the front office is also still tip-toeing through negotiations with 30-goal scorer David Pastrnak, whose name, if only because talks for his new contract have been at an apparent standstill. If something somehow doesn't get done with the 21-year-old winger, the Bruins will have gone through an entire offseason without adding any immediate talent of value and re-signing one of their most important young free agents.
Individually, the losses of Miller, Moore and Stafford, the latter of whom took an $800,000 prove-it deal in New Jersey, aren't crushing. And the Hayes experiment was bound to come to an end, especially with Boston able to buy out his deal. As a whole, however, it's easy to see that the Bruins are entering 2017-18 without quite a handful of familiar faces -- an even bigger handful if, for whatever reason, those Pastrnak negotiations can't get going.
The Bruins have two top-tier offensive forces in Marchand and Patrice Bergeron (three with Pastrnak back in the fold), and maybe Agostino, the American Hockey League's latest MVP, might finally be primed for more NHL action behind the likes of Anders Bjork, Frank Vatrano and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. But without any firm depth additions, let alone big-ticket splashes, Boston is pretty top heavy when it comes to offense. The fact that the team is hoping for -- banking on? -- an even bigger outing from for serious contributions off the bench should give a pretty clear indication of the Bruins' offensive concerns.
Defensively, the Bruins are working with a more formidable unit as a whole, what with Charlie McAvoy coming off a strong close to the 2016-17 campaign and Postma in the mix after coming over from Winnipeg. Between McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid and sure-thing goalie Tuukka Rask, Boston has the blue-liners to be gritty and competitive once again. The question, however, is whether the team has enough to keep lighting the lamp for itself over the course of the season, especially when the inevitable injury bug starts to bite.
The smart money has to be on the Bruins doing enough to be in the Atlantic Division playoff picture, but that's probably the extent of reasonable expectations. Nothing more than another shot at sneaking in as a wild card.
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