How will the Bruins replace Jarome Iginla and Johnny Boychuk?
Sarah Hagman: The good news is both solutions are on the roster. While Boychuk will be missed, the B’s have enough defensemen to make up for his departure. And they’ll be able to make up for Iginla’s 61 points by looking to David Krejci. Judging from his preseason interviews, it seems he’s looking forward to aiming for the top shelf more. The team will also need to lean on Loui Eriksson. Both are great playmakers, which should make for an interesting dynamic if they join forces on the first line. It’s one we got a glimpse of in April when Eriksson joined the top line with Krejci and Lucic for a game against Philadelphia, and the line notched 9 points.
Matt Martinelli: Although the loss of Boychuk stung fans and players, he was traded because there was a glut of able-bodied defensemen ready to take his spot. So while Boychuk’s replacement will come from the current roster, a worthy replacement for Iginla, who signed with Colorado in July, will have to come from a midseason trade. Iginla tied with Patrice Bergeron for the most goals (30) on the team last season, and he did it while taking 34 fewer shots. He also led the team with eight game-winners, which means he scored when the team needed it most. And you can’t ignore Iginla’s effect on the Bruins’ power-play unit. Before he arrived last season, it was the team’s biggest weakness, ranking 26th out of 30 teams. With Iginla on the top unit, the B’s were the third best power-play team in the league. Put simply, he excelled at a lot of things that the rest of the guys on the current roster haven’t had success with in the past.
Will missing training camp affect Reilly Smith and Torey Krug?
Sarah Hagman: No. Sure, it would have been ideal if Krug and Smith had shown up with the rest of the team, but in the end, the 11 days they missed because of contract impasses won’t make or break the 82-game season. Each player has a full NHL season under his belt, with Smith suiting up for every game last season and Krug notching 79, and their new deals should serve as extra motivation. Both players will want to prove that they’re worth re-signing at the end of their one-year contracts—or ensure that they can get their payday when they hit the open market next year. Their training camp absence also allowed other young players to get experience and show off their skills, proving that the team has depth even beyond its 23-man roster. It happened; let’s move on.
Matt Martinelli: Of course. You can’t get better without practice, and these guys missed a couple of weeks of it. At 23 years old, they’re not grizzled vets who might be better served by resting their bodies. These are young players who needed to further develop their games. Were they both very good last season? You bet, but they could be better. Krug is a defenseman who needs to improve his defense. And Smith’s performance dipped in the second half of the season. Listen, it’s not really their fault. The NHL’s system is broken. How else to explain why the Bruins were forced to decide whether to give multimillion-dollar deals to entry-level free agents who have less than three seasons of experience combined? But the endgame was always going to be Krug and Smith settling for one-year deals. And missing valuable preseason time will only hurt them and the team this season.
Are they still the Big Bad Bruins?
BOSTON, MA – MAY 03: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his tying goal in the third period with teammates Brad Marchand #63 and Dougie Hamilton #27 against the Montreal Canadiens in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 3, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerman / Getty Images)
Sarah Hagman: The Bruins’ mix of skill and brute force has made them tough
opponents during the past few seasons, although they’re no longer as feisty as they were at the start of this decade. And now, with resident enforcer Shawn Thornton moving on, they may not look the same physically. But that doesn’t mean you won’t see the gloves drop. There are a number of guys willing to get in the opposing team’s face, including Brad Marchand—and the 5-foot-9 sparkplug is the one of the shortest players on the team. Plus, they offer four solid offensive lines that can outskate and wear down the other team, giving them a different type of physical edge.
Matt Martinelli: Nope, and that’s good—at least for most Bruins’ fans consciences. Unfortunately, physicality in hockey is more synonymous with fighting than good defense. And at a time when most sports are trying to reduce concussions and brain injuries, should we really tolerate the sideshow of two guys squaring off and pummeling each other? The NHL is facing lawsuits from former players over brain injuries; Google “Derek Boogaard” if you want to find out the toll that physical play can take on players. Shawn Thornton, who signed with Florida during the offseason, was the only throwback enforcer the Bruins had last year, and his presence—and blood-curdling assault on Brooks Orpik—had diminishing returns for the team. Coach Claude Julien will continue to favor players who can contribute on offense and defense, but playing good defense doesn’t mean you have to get into fights.
Is Zdeno Chara in decline?
Sarah Hagman: We’ve been waiting for time to take its toll on Chara for a few seasons now, but the 17-year NHL veteran shows no signs of slowing down. The captain may be celebrating his 38th birthday this March, but as history shows, Chara ages like a fine Scotch. He beat his own—and the league’s—fastest shot record five times in a row at the All-Star Skills Competition, returning in 2015, and that’s just one instance of Chara setting his own bar higher and higher. Last year, he and Kevan Miller topped the pull-up contest during the team’s fitness testing, each completing 31. Miller added two more to his tally this year—and Chara came in first with 35. As for the off-ice leadership Chara provides, that doesn’t have an expiration date. For an athlete who prioritizes his physical training, another candle on the birthday cake doesn’t spell doom—at least not this season. Hopefully he’ll have another reason to celebrate come spring.
Matt Martinelli: Yes. He’s 37. Is anyone that age as physically fit as they were in their 20s? Go ask Tom Brady. Time catches up with everyone, and while Chara’s a surefire Hall of Famer, he’s not superhuman. He’s coming back from a season in which his point total and total time on ice per game were the lowest for a full season in a decade. But don’t mistake decline for disaster. Big Z is still a force, and the Bruins can still win the Stanley Cup with him as their best defenseman. He’s simply going to need to have his regular-season minutes cut back to ensure he’s in prime shape for the playoffs. Considering that most NHL defensemen peak in their late 20s, the Bruins are pretty fortunate that Chara’s gone this long without slipping too much.
Who is more likely to repeat: Tuukka Rask as Vezina winner or Patrice Bergeron as Selke winner?
Sarah Hagman: When it comes to defensive-minded forwards, few in the league are better than Patrice Bergeron. He took home the Selke in 2012, finished second in 2013 and claimed it again last season, with 112 of the 137 Professional Hockey Writers’ Association members selecting him as their top choice. The runner-up, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar, received 20 first-place votes, putting him at a distant second. Last year Bergeron had the numbers to back up the win, and there’s no reason one of the league’s most dependable two-way players won’t be a top contender again this season. He’s consistently a league-leading faceoff winner, and in 2013 he finished with the most faceoff wins of any NHL player in the past seven years. He’s also the guy you want out on a penalty-kill unit, and his career-high 38-plus rating last season speaks for itself. Get ready for another award-worthy performance.
Matt Martinelli: It’s not simply that Tuukka Rask was superb last season, posting stats that stood among the league’s best in almost every important category. It’s that if you look back at his career, those gaudy numbers are not outliers. Aside from his nightmarish 2011 season, Tuukka Time has been oh-so-good for the Bruins during the past five years—and there’s no evidence that will change anytime soon. There’s a reason that, despite having a collection of promising young goaltending prospects, the Bruins gave Rask an eight-year $56 million deal before last season. The 27-year-old is the most consistent goalie in the NHL. His rivals—Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick—all might occasionally have years that equal Rask’s 2014 performance, but none of those guys has performed as consistently. That makes him the odds-on favorite to bring home the Vezina again. Here’s hoping they spell his name correctly the second time.
Do the Bruins have enough offensive firepower to make it past the second round?
MONTREAL, QC – MAY 6: Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins celebrates a goal at the bench against the Montreal Canadiens in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on May 6, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Sarah Hagman: The B’s are first and foremost a defensive team, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t find the back of the net. With last postseason’s early exit still fresh—and with a statistically
improbable number of pucks hitting the post—it’s easy to forget that Boston finished third in the league in goals scored. Another reminder: While Krejci’s postseason performance was disappointing, he led the team in the 2013 playoffs with nine goals and 17 assists. Those are the types of numbers that fans can once again expect. Then there’s Eriksson, who—hampered by two concussions—tallied only half the numbers he had during 2012 in Dallas. Barring injuries, that should change this season. The other piece of the puzzle is maintaining the improved power play. If that happens, the Bruins could once again be an offensive force, with no limit to their postseason success. The key here: Keeping Chara a forward on the power-play unit.
Matt Martinelli: The Bruins have the odd-year streak in their favor, having made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011 and 2013. So, the upcoming 2014-15 season has to yield another run to the Finals, right? That’s as good a way as any to predict the wacky NHL playoffs. But the Bruins won’t be getting there because of offensive firepower. Their three best players are a goalie, a defenseman and a defensive-minded forward. This team is built on defense. The B’s biggest offensive threat was Iginla, and he’s no longer on the team. How did the Bruins do in 2013, their last season without Iginla? They were 13th in the league in goals scored. They will likely be among the best teams in the league again this season, but it won’t be because they’re an offensive juggernaut.