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"The Eight Spoked Blog"
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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 and 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”.

I was out of town and have finally gotten back to writing, so without further delay...

For today, part two: The Bad (I did my best to keep this under a billion words…)

The Atlantic Division

One of the toughest realities facing the Bruins this coming season is the play of their rivals in the Atlantic Division. This group is getting faster (see: gives Boston the fits) and deeper.

Montreal boasts league MVP Carey Price, an uncanny ability to get inside the collective head of the Bruins lineup, and won the division with 110 points.

Second place finisher Tampa Bay made a run to the cup finals with a young roster captained by an all-world superstar entering his prime in Steven Stamkos and are viewed by most as perennial cup contenders.

The Ottawa Senators stormed onto the scene in 2014-15 after a slow start and a coaching change, ultimately scratching and clawing their way past and eliminating from playoff contention a limping Bruins club.

The Toronto Maple Leafs seem to have figured out what a proper rebuild will take, and bringing on coach Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello will at the least produce a consistent professional compete level night in and night out - and they’ll get better from there.

Even the Buffalo Sabres have impressed and built a solid roster for the future in the last 12 months, and will be an incredibly fast club in the upcoming year (see: what gives the Bruins fits, part deux), if nothing else.

Don Sweeney has begun to restructure the Black and Gold’s DNA to play against the torrent pace of the Eastern Conference. But it’s a process in the beginning stages - and the bottom line is that right now, even with new faces, the most Boston has done in terms of personnel, really, is tread water. And anyone who wants to be critical of the roster can make an easy case to do so. Let’s examine that.

The Current Roster

The B’s enter 2015-16 with holes at the NHL level - at least compared to the true contenders in the east. First and foremost: there’s still no elite finisher on the club. And as a fan, that’s so damn frustrating. There HAVE been elite scorers on this team, but the former Bruins brass never truly seemed to want the young snipers they had to stick around. So here we are.

To simplify the forward group: a first line comprised of at least two of the following - Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly, just isn’t good enough. Yes, the center play of David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron is a premier one-two punch. And yes, I do think that alongside Krejci, Beleskey can produce in the 20-25 goal range, as he did last season.

(NOTE: I’ve written an entire post on the upside of Beleskey’s game called “What Beleskey Can Bring To Boston”, please do give it a read.)

At the end of the day when your top two right wings are a fringe top six producer (Hayes has 66 points in 168 NHL games played) - as well as a first round bust in Connolly (34 points in 139 contests - and a bust he is, so long as a spade is still a spade) it does little to bolster confidence amongst the B’s faithful.

Hopefully, the “kids” Ryan Spooner and David Pasternak can build off their productivity of last season, but that’s a hope not a guarantee. And only on a roster where they’re a dangerous third line duo would this feel like a contending club, offensively. If Spooner or Pasternak are long term top six fixtures this season, it signals poor depth from a mediocre forward group.

The Defensive Conundrum

This is an area that will be explored from another angle in my third post about question marks entering the season.

For now though, I’d like to focus on the veterans in the Boston d-core. Specifically how terrifying this group could look if things don’t break the Bruins way this season.

It’s not an original thought to say, “Zdeno Chara isn’t getting any younger.”

What does that actually mean for the Black and Gold, however?

It means that if Chara continues to look his age and falls further from the imposing figure he was during the club’s 2011 Stanley Cup Champion run, this team is left without a true number one defenseman (see: the sky is falling; dumpster fire). Realistically, all signs point to “Big-Z” being on the slow decline, a harsh reality of pro athletes in their late 30’s - I’m not saying the captain is falling off a cliff, but expecting a prime-worthy revival from the 38 year old is just unrealistic at this point.

Having moved on from Dougie Hamilton at the draft, the Bruins simply have no heir apparent to the throne of a number one blueliner. Hamilton certainly was far from a lock in terms of being a shut down defender, but the potential to eat minutes and be an elite impact player on the back end existed with his presence - now, there’s nobody in the organization to assume that mantle.

Looking beyond Chara in the veteran group, at least from an established Bruin’s perspective, there are Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid (the fact that Johnny Boychuck isn’t in this group anymore makes me want to use curse words, a lot. I can’t seem to let it go, for better or worse {See: worse}).

Seidenberg’s struggles of a year ago are well chronicled, the bottom line is that he, like coach Claude Julien, are going to be watched very closely in the early parts of the upcoming season - if no. 44 is able to return to the player he was pre-knee - which is to say a legit, stay at home top four defender, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Boston d-core. If, however, “Seids” looks like he did last year - two steps behind the play, then the Bruins are essentially left with one top four, no longer a number one defender in Chara.

I say one because the other veteran mentioned above, Adam McQuaid, is categorically NOT a top four defenseman. Here’s a stat to prove my point: on the “Hero Chart” (Horizontal Evaluative Ranking Optics) - McQuaid ranks below a bottom pair defenseman in terms of linemates corsi for per 60. Translation: when “Quaider” is on the ice, his linemates can be expected to produce at below NHL caliber levels. This obviously doesn’t account for McQuaid’s willingness to drop the gloves and defend teammates, nor his legendary modern-day-mullet potential - neither of which still qualify him for anything other than fringe NHLer status, nevermind a top four blueliner.

The rest of the defensive group consists of a series of question marks, outside of veterans Torey Krug and newcomer Matt Irwin, who, in a perfect world (at least in mine) would be a swell third pairing and power play specialists, but again, true shutdown defenders they are not - so prolonged time eating top four minutes for either, much less both, is a serious concern.

P.S. - The Goaltending

One more thing: Bruins fans have to hope prospect and presumed backup goalie Zane McIntyre works out. Admittedly, he’s looked really solid in his amateur career (highlights include 7 shutouts in his second of two USHL seasons with the Fargo Force, as well as a GAA of 1.99 last year at the University of North Dakota). But the leap from NCAA level competition to the NHL is exactly that, a leap. And if McIntyre struggles to relieve starter Tuukka Rask, the Bruins may wind up in the same jam they were last year between the pipes - Rask was forced to start a career high 67 games and even make several relief appearances during scheduled nights off - leading to his worst statistical season since taking the reigns as Boston’s number one goalie.

Rask has the potential to save the Bruins season and ensure the Black and Gold are back in the playoffs. But if there’s no sturdy backup to give “Tuuk” needed nights off throughout the season, that could be yet another bad-break capable of derailing the B’s campaign.

The Boston Bruins as an organization, from top to bottom: executives, forwards, defenders, goaltenders and coaching staff, have a lot to prove entering the 2015-2016 NHL season.

Graeham Henderson is the writer of The Eight Spoked Blog - follow on twitter @hendersonchef
Filed Under:   Preview   NHL   Atlantic   East   Bruins   Boston  
September 1, 2015 7:53 PM ET | Delete
Good write up on " the bad."I agree with most of your points.
September 6, 2015 12:57 AM ET | Delete
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