Free agent winger Nathan Horton threw a wrench into the teamís plans when he announced he would not return to the Bruins and signed with Columbus. However, when a team wins or comes within 60-plus minutes of winning, it tends to attract good players who wants to play for it. This was illustrated when unrestricted free agent Jarome Iginla decided he wanted to be a Bruin and had his agent contact Chiarelli. Within hours the GM had signed the future Hall of Famer to replace Horton.
All of a sudden, Boston had itís new look.
Iginla was slotted into Hortonís place on the teamís top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic while Eriksson will patrol the right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Chemistry is forming among the units faster than expected and these top six forwards will be very difficult for opponents to stop.
The biggest question mark up front is, who will be play on the teamís third line? Center Chris Kelly is a lock but his linemates during last seasonís playoffs were Peverley and Seguin.
With each day, it is becoming more apparent that Carl Soderberg will skate on Kellyís left side and Reilly Smith will be to Kellyís right. The trio was formed during camp and and the unit clicked almost instantaneously.
Bostonís fourth line, known as the ďMerlot LineĒ due to the maroon colored jerseys they wear in practice, will once again see Gregory Campbell between wingers Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton for the fourth consecutive season.
All four lines have an abundance of talent and will be led by 10 year veteran Bergeron, who set a new standard as to what it means to be a Bruin by playing in game six of the Final with torn rib cartilage and a fractured rib. During the second period of that tilt, the center sustained a separated shoulder. The injuries were compounded between the second and third periods when he sustained a punctured lung due to a needle used to inject a pain killer. Bergeron finished the game but spent the following two days in the hospital.
Another veteran, from whom big things are expected is Krejci. He led the playoffs in scoring for the second time in three seasons and will need to continue his timely scoring to help ensure future Boston successes.
Jarome Iginla comes to Boston with a Hall of Fame resume but after turning the Bruins down at last Springís NHL Trade Deadline, by nixing a deal that would have made him a Bruin and accepting one to go to the Bruinsí rival Pittsburgh Penguins, the winger has much to prove. To his credit, he is another player who wants to be in Boston. Iginla has averaged 30-plus goals per season over the course of his 16 year career and looks primed to continue that trend.
Bergeron, Krejci and Iginla will be looked upon to make their teammates better while producing up to, and perhaps, beyond their expectations. All three are capable of doing so.
On the blueline, the club lost one of the steadiest defenders in the NHL. Andrew Ference was not re-signed because of salary cap constraints and will be missed on and off the ice. However, management has decided to get younger and Ferenceís departure opened the the door opened for rookie blueliner Torey Krug to step in and be the all important puck moving defenseman every NHL team craves. Krug will partner with veteran Adam McQuaid while Johnny Boychuk will start the season paired with the ever reliable Dennis Seidenberg. The top pair looks to be captain Zdeno Chara and sophomore Dougie Hamilton. A fourth pair of will consist of Matt Bartkowski and rookie Kevan Miller.
The time had come to go with youth on the back end. Chara is 36 years of age and will not be able to handle 25-30 minutes of playing time every night as he has in past seasons. Seidenberg, at 32, has plenty left in the tank but it is time to bring in players who can relieve the veterans of the heavy workload and are ready for NHL duty themselves.
It will be up Chara and Seidenberg to help the youngsters become acclimated to the NHL while maintaining their customary levels of play. Not an easy task but one these two will handle with aplomb.
The puck stopping duties have been assigned to veteran Tuukka Rask and Chad Johnson.
Johnson, acquired as a free agent from the Phoenix Coyotes had to win a tough training camp battle with last seasonís AHL Goaltender of the Year, Nicklas Svedberg, to become the new back up in Boston. Johnson is very sound when it comes to positioning and has exceptionally quick feet which makes his post to post movement, outstanding.
For the second consecutive season, Tuukka Rask will be the main man between the pipes. Last season, Rask finished fifth in Vezina Trophy voting while posting a 19-10-5 record. The Finnish native led the league with five shutouts. Rask, then, elevated his game during the postseason by going 14-8-3 and led all playoff goaltenders in six categories including save percentage (.940) and goals against average (1.88).
Rask can be expected to have another outstanding season and will be a strong contender for the Vezina Trophy once again.
Of course, when people discuss the Bruins, special teams always enters the conversation.
Bostonís power play was dismal last season. It finished 26th in the NHL by converting on just 14.8 percent of itís opportunities.
The postseason saw an improvement as the club converted on 17.5 percent of its chances which placed Boston eighth in the circuit.
Adding Iginlaís 165 and Erikssonís 36 career power play goals, respectively, to the top two power play units will bring vast improvements over last year.
The league will see an added wrinkle when Chara sets up in the slot to screen opposing goaltenders when Seidenberg or Boychuk unleash their shots from the points. Chara will not be there on every man advantage but it is something that was unveiled in preseason games and will continue when Coach Claude Julien feels the time is right for it.
The team excelled at killing penalties in 2012-2013. Up front, the top two units of Gregory Campbell with Daniel Paille followed by Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were primarily responsible for shutting down opponents 87.1 percent of the time. They also contributed five shorthanded goals. Chara, Seidenberg, Boychuk and Ference saw the bulk of the penalty killing duty on the blue line.
The Bruins' PK kicked it into high gear during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The units were called upon 79 times and gave up just eight goals against. They also scored two more shorthanded tallies.
That type of production is expected to continue throughout 2013-2014 as the changes in personnel will have little effect on the penalty killing units. Krug will most likely replace Ference, however.
The Bruins have qualified for the playoffs every season since Claude Julien arrived in Boston to be the clubís head coach in 2007. He has guided the team to two Stanley Cup Finals in the last three seasons including the 2011 Stanley Cup victory. Julien expects his players to give nothing less than a 100 percent effort every night and holds his players accountable. The players accept this and appreciate his coaching style and the open communication that exists between them and Julien. The players always know where they stand with their coach and because of this, he is highly respected in the dressing room.
Another reason for the Bruins success, is that of the chemistry that exists on and off the ice among the players. This is a very close knit group who will go through any type of adversity with, and for, each other.
The Bruins have that solid blend of veterans and young players that every team needs. While the club focuses on its style of game, the Bruins can match the style of every team in the NHL. Boston has the depth of four lines that are unmatched by most, if not, all of the teams in the league. The defense is younger but the new players gained valuable experience by playing in last seasonís playoffs and in goal, the Bruins have one of the elite netminders on the planet.
This edition of the Boston Bruins is an improved one over last season. This team can, and will, return to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and captain Zdeno Chara will hoist the Cup for the second time in four years.
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.