The Boston Bruins failed to achieve their main objective last season, coming two wins short of defending the Stanley Cup crown they claimed a year prior. It was only a little over two months ago that Chicago's Dave Bolland broke hearts in Boston, and in that time GM Peter Chiarelli has made significant changes to the team's mix at forward, hoping to keep the Bruins atop the Eastern Conference.
Last Season: 2nd in Northeast Division - 4th in Eastern Conference - 5th in NHL
Playoffs: Lost in Stanley Cup Finals
2013 record vs. Panthers: 3-0-0. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 4-1 in Sunrise on February 24th, 4-1 in Boston on March 14th and won the final meeting in Boston by a 3-0 count on April 21st.
Forwards: The Bruins will be sporting a considerably different look up front this season especially at the right wing position. Power forward Nathan Horton jumped ship to sign a lucrative fee agent deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jaromir Jagr was not re-signed and ended up with the New Jersey Devils, and Boston hooked up with the Dallas Stars in the summer's biggest trade by swapping Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button for Loui Eriksson and prospects Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow.
Despite seeing a considerable amount of firepower walk out the door, the Bruins seem to have more than made up for it with their offseason acquisitions. Loui Eriksson is a fine two-way player and moving from Dallas to Boston could garner him more exposure and help push his game to the next level. Eriksson put up three-straight 70-plus point seasons before seeing his production level dip a bit during last year's lockout-shortened campaign. The 28-year-old Swede will have little trouble bumping his totals back up as he is expected to slot in alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron in what could be one of the NHL's best line combinations.
Replacing Jagr in the old-timer who still has game department will be Jarome Iginla, who recently chose the Penguins over the Bruins at the trade deadline. Iginla may be getting a little long in the tooth but proved in his 11-point, 13-game stint with Pittsburgh that he can still produce at a pretty high level when surrounded by better talent than he had around him in Calgary. The 36-year-old Iginla could find himself centered by playmaker David Krejci and it is not at all out of the realm of possibility that Iginla could replace or even exceed the numbers provided by the talented, but sometimes maddeningly inconsistent Horton.
Bruins veterans Chris Kelly, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille, and Gregory Campbell return to fill out most of the bottom two lines. 27-year-old Swedish veteran Carl Soderberg will be looking for a third-line role while youngsters like Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight will be fighting for spots on the big-league roster.
With the changes made over the offseason, it might take a little bit of time for the Bruins offense to hit full stride. The team will have a different look at right wing on its top three lines. Once the players get used to each other, Boston should expect to score at around the same clip or perhaps even better than they did over the last two seasons when the club made back to back trips to the finals.
Defense: Boston's blue line did not get the offseason makeover that the forward group got, nor did it need it. The only departure of note was veteran Andrew Ference. Ference took off for the great white north, signing with the Edmonton Oilers during the summer but Boston is deep enough on defense to absorb his departure.
Perennial Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara will continue to lead the Boston blue line with dependable veterans Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk providing high quality support. Dougie Hamilton will be looking to build on a promising rookie campaign and assume top-four minutes. Fellow youngster Torey Krug was a revelation in the playoffs, firing in 4 goals in his first 5 games of the postseason. Krug will get a chance to strut his stuff during the regular season as a third pairing regular and could, along with Hamilton, help solve the team's woes on the power play. Adam McQuaid, Matt Bartkowski and Joe Morrow will be the favorites to fill out the rest of the defense corps.
Boston's continuity on defense will help provide for another successful campaign. The Bruins have a very capable and experienced top three and Dougie Hamilton is one of the best defensive prospects in the league. If Krug is able to duplicate his postseason success, the Bruins may have the ability to pour in additional goals from the blue line which could help take some pressure off the forwards early in the season as the new line combinations jell.
Goaltending: Another one of Boston's major offseason moves was locking up goalie Tuukka Rask with a long-term deal. The 26-year-old Finn was more than up to the task of replacing Tim Thomas and produced a stellar season (2.00 GAA - .929 SV% - 5 shutouts) that placed him amongst the league's elite. With Rask signed for the next eight seasons, the Bruins will not have to worry about the starting goaltender position anytime soon.
Last season's backup, Anton Khudobin, signed with the Carolina Hurricanes so the Bruins inked 27-year-old Calgary native Chad Johnson during the summer. Johnson only has 10 games of NHL experience under his belt but has compiled very impressive numbers in the AHL. He will do battle with former Swedish Elite League netminder Niklas Svedberg, who came across the pond and dazzled last season with the Providence Bruins, for the right to replace Khudobin on the roster. Rask will be getting the bulk of the work in net so Johnson and Svedberg's lack of NHL experience should not be an issue unless Rask goes down with an injury for an extended period of time.
Playoff Prediction: Even with some substantial retooling over the summer, the former Northeast powerhouse looks to be the team to beat in the new Atlantic Division. The Bruins will be challenged by the tough Detroit Red Wings and by the ascending Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens, but should have enough to hold them off and claim the division title.