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An Off-Season in Review

Posted By Matt Preston On Sep 3 2011 @ 10:39 am In Boston Bruins | No Comments

In just 13 days training camp opens. Fourteen days they’ll be back on the ice for the first time since that faithful night in Vancouver and a short, celebration-filled Summer will be over. The quest to defend their Stanley Cup Championship will begin for the Boston Bruins all too soon, so it’s time to start taking a few practice swings, get back in the writing flow and start getting ready for the 2011-2012 NHL season.

It’s been an off-season unlike any other in a generation for the Bruins. A lifetime of off-seasons beginning all too early, spent with talk of bitter defeat and who to bring in to finally make this “the Year,” were replaced with one that seemed all too short, spent with grand tales of victory, following the Cup around the world and virtually no player movement. By and large, the Black-and-Gold will take to their Stanley Cup defense with the same roster they had in winning the Cup when camp opens on September 16.

An easy offseason to analyze.

It is true that, despite losing two of their arguably bigger pieces from their Cup-winning roster and having an excessive amount of cap space, much could not have been expected out of the Bruins in terms of player movement this offseason. Not only was there not an overabundance of overly attractive talent on the free agent market this offseason, but Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli had taken care of all the pieces central to the core of the team well before the offseason even started, so there was little for the GM to do this Summer other than kick back and reap the spoils of his work.

Complacency, however, is a death sentence in sports, so whether it was needed or not, a little work was expected out of Chiarelli and in that regard the Bruins GM certainly didn’t wow anyone this offseason. Chiarelli did not make any moves worthy of criticizing (at least not yet) this summer, but he also has done little to improve his squad, a team built on character, not on talent. Bonus points go to the GM for leaving himself enough cap space to make any necessary deals throughout the year and into next offseason when the Bruins have a slew of key players entering free agency, but – sadly – the best grade Chiarelli can get to this point on his offseason retooling of the reigning champs is an incomplete.

There was an outside shot the Bruins would bring back their two marquee, unrestricted free agents in Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle, but there can not be many out there who are all too surprised by their departure from Boston. Nor should the news that broke this week that center Marc Savard will be missing the entire 2011-2012 season have caught anyone in the hockey world by surprise. Chiarelli did fill one of these holes by making what should pan out to be a brilliant move by sending a fourth round draft pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for veteran defenseman Joe Corvo to replace Kaberle.

Certainly not as skilled as the puck-moving Czech, but Corvo’s grit and style should be a much better fit in a defensive corps that did not need much of an upgrade after finishing as the second best defense in the NHL last year. And even though his name doesn’t carry as much worth as Kaberle’s when it comes to offensive prowess, Corvo’s 40 points last season (11G, 29A) would have ranked third amongst Bruins d-men behind Kaberle (47 points between Boston and Toronto) and Zdeno Chara (14G, 30A). A more than suitable replacement on the second power play unit.

The Bruins have long since gotten accustomed to life without Savard, while the loss of Ryder stings only because of the veteran winger’s stellar performance in key spots during the playoffs. Folks were lining up to pack Ryder’s bags en mass long before any thought a Stanley Cup seemed a reality. No one should be sad to see him go to Dallas, particularly at $3.5 million a year. What Bruins fans should be sad about is how little the Bruins have done to improve the offensive side of their roster, where there are still many question marks in the waning days before training camp.

The moves the Bruins have made, or rather lack thereof, to shape their offense for the 2011-2012 season are more indicative of a team rebuilding, rather than a team arming itself for a championship defense. There will be little to talk about in terms of changes upfront for Boston come the opening of training camp. The emergence of Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley throughout the playoffs as viable offensive threats should easily replace what was lost by the departure of Ryder and retirement of Mark Recchi, while the Bruins only free agent forward acquisition, Benoit Pouliot, may end up being inconsequential. Despite having what was once considered a tremendous upside, should Pouliot’s play continue to be as it has of late in Montreal, he can easily be labeled this year’s Daniel Paille, who spent much of the 2010-2011 regular season in street cloths, getting spot duty on the fourth line.

The biggest reason for Chiarelli’s incomplete grade this offseason, however, is his failure to this point to take care of the number one item on his offseason To Do list and re-sign restricted free agent Brad Marchand. With just two weeks until camp, though all are confident a deal to keep Marchand in Boston will eventually get done, the two sides seem to have spent more time this summer touring with the Cup and looking for the pesky winger’s shirt, rather than at the negotiating table. Given his history of being very quick, sometimes too quick, to lock-up players already on the roster, the fact Chiarelli has been this slow to sign Marchand to a new deal begs for questions to be asked about Marchand’s value in management’s eyes.

There is no denying that Marchand played a key role on the Bruins’ Cup run and cemented himself as a core member of this team, but with little more than a season of NHL experience, questions can still be asked about his long-term value in the NHL as he enters his sophomore season. Depending on the outcome of the negotiations, a time will come to either praise or ridicule the deal, but until then the only thing there is no question about is that Brad Marchand should be a Bruin next season. The final domino to fall this offseason for the Black-and-Gold.

The question of whether or not the Bruins can be the first team to repeat in 14 years is one that has been asked since June and will be asked many more times between now and when the banner is raised on October 6, making it another topic for another day. An official preview to the 2011-2012 season will come as the offseason ends and training camp plays out. For now, though things look promising for the Boston Bruins, the lack of change makes it hard to grade their offseason. The Bruins will look as good as they did last season, being no better nor worse on paper, seemingly good for a team coming off a Stanley Cup championship. This management team has always been about doing things their way, be damned with what others had to say, but with changes to the other contenders of the Eastern Conference, could bringing back the same team come back to haunt them?

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