There was a time in my life when people would have regarded me as smart, with a knack for recalling facts, statistics and events. Celebrating the four month anniversary of the start of the lockout by penning a season preview, however, I find it difficult to recall all the way back to those summer months and all the movement that went on in the NHL.
Luckily for me, the Boston Bruins decided to take the opposite approach than they did in 2004, when the team’s front office prepared for the new labor landscape by having as much roster space as possible when the lockout ended. This time around, the Bruins brass spent the last week before Armageddon extending three of the team’s core player (Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin) on a roster that would be set and ready to go when labor peace was reached.
The roster continuity from last year and the fact the Bruins had the most players playing overseas during the lockout (12) are all things that will greatly benefit the team when they return to the ice on Saturday against the New York Rangers and point to a good season ahead for the Black-and-Gold. That said, with the way the Bruins ended the 2011-2012 season and one slight, but very important roster change, there are still questions to ask when it comes to previewing the 2013 Boston Bruins.
Focusing just on the forward offense this time around for the sake of brevity, the Bruins are poised to continue their good offensive trends of late. Boston had the second best offense last season, averaging 3.17 goals per game, from which they will be returning 11 of their top 12 forwards, losing only third line winger Benoit Pouliot to an offseason trade, and it is reasonable to believe it is an offense that is going to get better.
Tyler Seguin denied the world a sophomore slump by scoring a team-high 29 goals (seven game-winners) and 67 points last season, while finishing second in the NHL with a +34 rating. After recording 25 goals and 40 points in 29 games playing for EHC Biel in Switzerland during the lockout, Seguin seems primed to pick up where he left off on his assent to becoming a force in the NHL.
Given he is all of 20-years old, it is still too early to anoint Seguin to any thrones. It is hard to believe, however, he has already hit his peak and is going to stop blossoming into that goal scorer the Bruins need. While the offense has been near the top of the league the past few seasons, they have gotten to that statistical level by having a deep, balanced set of forward lines.
For all their depths and strength, what they have been lacking for some time is that top-level sniper, who is a threat every time they touch the puck. The go-to player a coach can put on the ice to get the team a goal when it is desperately needed. Yes, they have been able to win a championship without a player like that, but if Seguin is able to become that player, it adds an entirely new dimension to the team.
Coupled with Seguin’s assent is the return of Nathan Horton, who doctors now claim is 100% healthy after battling post-concussion syndrome for much of 2011-2012, where he was on pace for a 30-goal season before injuries derailed his campaign. Slated to return to the Bruins top line in a contract year, one has to believe an eagerness to prove his health and his worth will fuel Horton to continue the good, goal-scoring pace he has been on since coming to and give the Bruins a good, second scoring threat to Seguin.
If there is a downside to the Bruins offense heading into the season, it will be the likely struggles out of the gate by both Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Both players received healthy contract extensions in the waning hours before the lockout and then both proceeded to do nothing but tack on an extra four months to their vacation. While the added time off was a benefit to the recuperating Horton, Lucic and Marchand’s conditioning will be behind fellow top six forwards Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Both should eventually come around and return to form, but in a shortened season, any kind of prolonged slump like the one Boston had to start last season could turn into a season killer.
While he did play overseas and conditioning should not be an issue for Krejci, 2013 could prove to be an interesting season for the player who is currently the Bruins top pivot. Krejci, often the subject of some venom in Boston due to his inconsistent play during the regular season when compared to his postseason dominance, has also been the subject of trade rumors. The Czech centerman has at least inferred on the record that the rumors have proven to be a distraction at times as they have swirled on-and-off for the past 14 months.
With the Bruins already having a good number of players locked up for the foreseeable future, thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement and salary cap figures, it is very likely the team will have to jettison some salary prior to the 2013-2014 season. Krejci is a player with a lot of skill, a lot of potential and has shown flashes of being a top-tier center, making him a player that carries a lot in terms of trade potential and the most expendable Bruin. He does have a partial no-trade clause in his contract and general manager Peter Chiarelli does not seem like the type to cast aside integral parts of a championship caliber team to save a buck, but depending on how the Bruins’ season plays out, it is more likely Krejci goes away before the trade rumors.
It will always be difficult to be fully confident when calling a Bruins offense elite given head coach Claude Julien’s staunch defensive mentality. As long as Julien and Zdeno Chara are around, play in their own zone will always be the strong suit and the focus of the Bruins’ game. It is an offense, however, that has been in the top five in the NHL in goals per game the past seasons and the majority of the core forwards scoring those goals are players still in or approaching their primes. Unlike past years, in which Boston only went as far as their defense and goaltending took them, the offense is now getting to a point where they compliment the defense and should be able to carry the team during extended stretches when the folks on the other side of the blue line have off nights.
What does an improved offense mean to the Bruins overall success? Time will tell. If nothing else, it is the biggest positive for the Black-and-Gold heading into the shortened season.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.