Since we’re in the midst of the Augustine dog days of the offseason, I’ve decided to take a deeper dive into the bigger picture as it pertains to the Black & Gold.
This will be a three part series focusing first on the should be positives for Boston, “the good”. Then, probable trouble spots for the club, “the bad”. And finally, the question marks heading into 2015-16, “the unknown”.
For today, part one: The Good
The Bruins roster is being retooled on the fly. Team executives will say this is a team in position to compete for a playoff spot. But an honest look at current lineup reveals a lot of question marks and “if-then” scenarios (ie: IF Dennis Seidenberg looks like he did before the knee surgery THEN the defensive core will start to take shape).
Enter Tuukka Rask. Any playoff push the club hopes to make is largely dependant on the play of no. 40.
Last season saw Rask start a career high 67 games, up from a previous high of 58 the season before. In front of a defensive core marred by turmoil (the trading away of Johnny Boychuck to start the season) and injury (see: Zdeno Chara, Seidenberg), Tuukka saw his save percentage and goals against average drop from .930 to .922 and 2.04 to 2.30 respectively from 2013-14 to 2014-15.
Questions certainly still remain on the Boston blue-line, but here is a nice piece of perspective for Bruins fans: we’re talking about a “down” year for the goalie who still posted a .922 save percentage. Using only the eye test, Rask’s biggest struggle last year seemed to come early when Boychuck was dealt to the Islanders - the entire team, including “Tuuk” looked stunned and confused by the move, resulting in a noticeable performance dip on the ice.
Barring another stunner of a trade that guts the Bruins core to open the season, Tuukka should be primed to bounce back. If no. 40 can raise his save percentage back close to the .930 mark where it had been the past two years, that will cure a lot of ailments for a club trying to figure out exactly what they’ve got on the wings and at defense.
Simply put, the Bruins will go as far as Tuukka will take them. And if Rask isn’t up to the challenge of being a top 5 goalie this year, it is going to be a very long season. But history tells us he absolutely is, so cheers to that Boston.
A Healthy David Krejci
Any team looking to contend for conference supremacy, or even a viable playoff run, absolutely needs their best playmaker. Getting David Krejci back at full health could end up being the most important development for Boston this summer.
Last year Krejci appeared in only 47 games, tallying 31 points. Compare that to the 80 games and 69 points (including 50 assists) of 2013-14. So the Bruins offensive woes of ‘14-15 make plenty of sense.
The Black & Gold have a trio of new wingers: Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, and Brett Connolly, as well as emerging young talent in David Pasternak and Ryan Spooner - all vying for top six minutes. Chemistry and production alongside Krejci will undoubtedly go a long way in determining who slots in with Boston’s most capable creator of offense. And no matter who lands the top line gig, as long as Krejci stays on the ice producing, the B’s will reap the benefits of a revitalized attack.
Catching Up To The Speed Conference
Look around the top clubs in the Eastern Conference and they all have one thing in common: speed. In fact, this conference is fast from top to bottom (Buffalo is going to FLY this season). Rendering the Bruins “big bad” formula more obsolete by the day.
Don Sweeney has opened the door for young, quick, talented players across the roster. It’s clear that Sweeney knows the Bruins must find a way to keep pace with the faster clubs who comprise the conference elite - or they’ll once again be raced out of playoff contention.
For several years, the Black & Gold have been looking to improve their transition game starting with puck moving defensemen. Having missed the playoffs, urgency across the organization is up and this area remains a top priority. The trade of Dougie Hamilton aside, (at the end of the day, I believe Dougie wanted out of town) GM Sweeney has compiled a group of young d-men with a puck moving acumen to compete for roster spots. Even veteran addition Matt Irwin has a reputation for being able to start the rush, allbeit without overwhelmingly offensive numbers.
The transition is certainly far from complete. And there are few who would look at the current situation and claim the Bruins share the same identity as the top clubs in the East. But the process is underway.
And after an era where fans were left to question whether or not the B’s would accept the realities of the competition around them, and what it would take to compete - the club is now pointed in a new direction. One that, in time, should hopefully find the Bruins back in serious contention. It’s not going to happen overnight. Bruins fans, however, can at least breathe a sigh of relief knowing the hockey philosophy of the Black & Gold aligns once again with what it takes to win.