With the dust settling on training camp, and a fair amount of knuckles being iced after a fiery tilt with the Washington Capitals last Thursday night - let’s talk about the Boston Bruins heading into 2015-16 season.
The Defense...Could Be A Dumpster Fire
One question mark for the Black and Gold headed into the year has already been answered: Dennis Seidenberg cannot be expected to help this club in a meaningful way. With his latest setback, a lumbar surgery, it’s clear that the German born blue liner’s body is letting him down. Honestly, the eight week timeline for no. 44’s return set by the club is silly. This feels much more like it would take a few months for Seidenberg to be game ready again. And when that point comes, how effective can the 34 year old be expected to be?
Another early concern, Zdeno Chara’s advanced age, reared it’s ugly head just two shifts into “Big Z’s” preseason. Seemingly, the captain and club dodged a bullet with this ailment - however, the leader of the club making it through less than a period doesn’t exactly instill confidence in Chara’s ability to hold up for all or most of an 82 game campaign. When the big man is available, he’ll no doubt rack up 20-25+ minutes per game, given the club’s surplus of fringe defenders behind him. And those heavy minutes won’t help the odds of Chara remaining healthy over the long haul. Quite frankly, at this point it’d be a small miracle to see no. 33 on the ice for the Bruins in 60 or more tilts.
So where does that leave the Boston blue line? Well fans, the dream has become a reality - and Adam McQuaid is no doubt a top-four fixture for the Bruins when Chara is out of the lineup. Anyone who saw Rangers young gun J.T. Miller posterize “Quadder” last week is well aware of no.54’s difficulty against speedier, more skilled opposition.
Now look, I’m not trying to rip McQuaid up and down - he’s well liked in the room, he’s tough as nails and will drop the gloves whenever needed, and aside from his oft unorthodox (see: goofy, clumsy) injuries, you know what you’re going to get from McQuaid.
But a top four d-man he absolutely is not. Asking him to be one is unfair, and paying him like one was a reach - he’s set to make $2.75mil per year for the next four seasons. Having to fill those minutes against top tier NHL talent is asking way too much of McQuaid and is, in all likelihood, going to spell disaster in the plus minus department for McQuaid and whoever he’s paired with.
Fun fact: if Zdeno Chara goes down to injury long term (see: when), look for McQuaid on Boston’s top pairing...yaaay!
Final note on the defense - Colin Miller HAS to make the lineup. Given all the issues on the back end that Boston has, and the decided lack of a Dougie Hamilton, a very skilled defender is an absolute must. Miller has already shown the skills are there: his ability to skate is elite, he has very good ice vision and one hell of a shot. Those are specifically the tools in high demand on the Boston blue line. Here’s hoping that Don Sweeney and Claude Julien see Miller’s upside the same way and feature him regularly night in and night out for the Black and Gold. And really, they should. Contrary to popular belief, Julien does trust young players - so long as they’ve had a tenure in the minors, which Miller has.
Improved Forward Depth
Just to get it out of the way: no, the Bruins still have not addressed their decided lack of elite scoring talent. It’s a fix that will come neither cheaply or easily, for sure. I think it’s safe to say, though, that GM Sweeney has successfully added capable depth to the forward ranks. Jimmy Hayes, although not a total bruiser a la Milan Lucic, effectively uses his size to create offensive opportunities for himself and his line mates. Boston’s faithful should enjoy watching the big no. 11 go to work in the attacking end of the ice.
I still have high expectations for Matt Beleskey and think the 25 goal marker is within reach for the new Bruin. He’ll play alongside David Krejci five on five and should see plenty of time on the powerplay. I still like his quick hands/release and nose for being in the right spot - expect Krejci to make the most of an oft available Beleskey.
The right side of the first line seems to belong to David Pastrnak. The kid’s upside is exciting for Bruins fans. And the young no. 88 is undeniably fun to watch. But...I totally agree with Ty Anderson and think the best spot for Pastrnak and fellow youngster Ryan Spooner would be in tandem on the third line. As Ty very aptly explained during a not so long ago hockeybuzz-cast - this allows the duo to play against lesser defensive pairings and without the pressure of trying to stop top tier opponents defensively.
Keeping them in the bottom six gives them the highest odds of growing their productivity from a year ago, and gives the Bruins an exploitable third line talent advantage over most clubs they’ll face. Unfortunately for yours truly, Claude does not read this blog. Sad.
The Lines, According to Me
Naturally, you’re all wondering how I’d fill in the lineup card, given the opportunity. So, here are your 2015-2016 Boston Bruins according to The Eight Spoked Blog:
Beleskey - Krejci - Hayes
Marchand - Bergeron - Eriksson
Pastrnak - Spooner - Connolly
Rinaldo - Kemppainen - Randell
Chara - K. Miller
Irwin - C. Miller
McQuaid - Krug
I like Hayes’ size on the first line allowing time and space for Krejci and Beleskey.
Given that Max Talbot was waived this morning by the club, I’ve omitted him from this lineup. But, if he were to clear (which I think is doubtful) I’d have him slotted in on the fourth line left side for Zac Rinaldo - who, in my opinion, is a poor man’s Matt Cooke clone with little upside.
I'll set the over/under at games suspended this year for Rinaldo at 7...and take the over.
Kevin Miller wasn’t anywhere near a lock for my top pair, but given the whole right shot right D, left shot left D philosiphy of the club, as well as more time at the NHL level than Colin Miller, there he is.
I’d want to see what the yonger Miller, Colin, can do in a top four role, and like Torey Krug on the third pair for the same reason I like Spooner and Pastrnak on the third line - he can be a matchup advantage and will see a lot of time on the powerplay.
Making a detailed prediction for this club right now seems futile - injuries will dictate a lot (obvious). So too will what Don Sweeney does or does not do in the way of transactions. He certainly hasn’t been gun shy to this point and those Dustin Byfuglien rumors just will not go away.
Vegas has the Bruins at 42.5 wins, and I think it’s a fair number.
So for now, let’s call it a 44 win season and something like the 7th seed, or top wild card, in the east. Boston should be a playoff team, especially with Tuukka Rask between the pipes - I’m counting on him stealing a hand full of victories along the way. But a return to contendership just one year into the Sweeney era rebuild-on-the-fly is too much to ask.
Either way, the puck drops on the Bruins 2015-2016 season Thursday night at home when the Winnipeg Jets come to town - a first good look at Byfuglien for many (since the rumors have heated up anyways), and a welcome night for all - hockey is back! Go Bruins!
Graeham Henderson writes The Eight Spoked Blog - follow along on twitter: @hendersonchef
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