The Boston Bruins 2015-16 season starts tonight and there are a lot of questions about the expectations of the team this year. After having the best record in the NHL just 18 months ago, the Bruins expectations have gone south after missing the playoffs in the 2014-15 season. It was an extremely disappointing season after being true contenders for the Stanley Cup for five consecutive seasons, winning a Stanley Cup, and making it to the Finals twice. The team made some significant changes in the offseason in both the front office and on the ice. Peter Chiarelli was fired after years of failing to make adjustments. Team President, Cam Neely, made the safe choice and hired in house with Don Sweeney. Time will tell how this move pans out. From a roster standpoint, the team lost some key players including Milan Lucic and Doug Hamilton. In return, the team got very little back in terms of immediate help. Instead, they received first round draft picks who will help build the team in the future.
As we head into this season, what are the realistic expectations? What are the big questions surrounding the team? In this post we’ll analyze all of that with five questions surrounding the team.
1. With the change in the front office, will the team’s philosophy change?
It’s been rumored that both Neely and Sweeney would like to see a more offensive approach. After years of seeing offensive talent being left in the dust like Tyler Seguin, this would make sense. However, there are two things that just don’t match up here. First of all, they brought back Claude Julien back as the coach. As all Bruins fans know, Julien has a defensive style. He does not make a lot of adjustments and he sticks to what he believes in. The second point here is that although his approach has been frustrating at times, this approach has worked. One bad year does not mean this is broken. This coach led the team to the Finals two out of three years. Why would he change? He’s going to start coaching differently now? Again, it doesn’t match up. A rift between coach and front office appears to be on the horizon. If it does, the person to blame is not Julien. It’s not Sweeney. It would be Cam Neely for creating an unrealistic expectation.
2. Can the defense hold up?
With Dennis Seidenberg likely out for the first two months of the season, a lot of pressure is going to be put on Zdeno Chara. Chara is 38 years old. While he still plays at an elite level, it’s a lot to ask of him to log extra minutes especially considering his recent injury history. Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid will now be asked to step up and do more. Krug is certainly capable of that on the offensive end, but he’s not a guy who’s going to push people around in front of the net. McQuaid hasn’t been able to stay on the ice. Kevan Miller will bring the toughness which is needed to the defensive end. A lot will be asked out of players like Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman. Here’s the problem: The Bruins have a combination of defenseman who are past their primes and have injury issues or are too young to make an impact. Other than Krug, there’s really no player who is reliable and in his prime. There are a lot of question marks here.
3. Will the team be improved offensively?
The biggest improvement for the Bruins this year should be on the offensive end. The first line of Matt Beleskey, David Krejci, and David Pastrnak should be very good. Krejci has been a very solid first line center for many years and he now has two strong scorers on his line. Brad Marchard-Patrice Bergeron-Loui Eriksson is a solid second line with all three players perfectly capable of scoring 25 goals. How many teams have a second line that’s capable of that? These two lines also give the Bruins solid options on the power play. The third line of Jimmy Hayes-Ryan Spooner-Brett Connolly is also very good. Overall, this offense has improved and they should be able to add some scoring punch to make up for the defensive concerns. Pastrnak and Spooner, in particular, have an opportunity to take big steps forward in their respective careers. Don’t be surprised if Pastrnak scores 40 goals this year.
4. Can Tuukka Rask carry the team?
Rask is, at the very least, a top five goaltender in the NHL. When he’s at his best, he’s the best in the league. He proved this in 2013-14 when he won the Vezina Trophy. At age 28, Rask is now entering his primes years. He’s going to need to win some games on his own when the Bruins get outplayed. Rask played a career high 70 games last year and he may need to do it again if the Bruins plan on contending. This is the one area the Bruins can feel very good about going into this season. They clearly have an elite goalie who is perfectly capable of carrying this team in a playoff run.
5. What are the realistic expectations this year?
The Bruins aren’t as bad as they played last year. However, the reality is that they are no longer as good as they were two years ago. This is going to be a tough division again with Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Detroit all remaining contenders. The biggest question here is can the defense hold up? The front office is likely going to need to bring in a top quality defenseman if they are realistic about contending. They’ll need to retire the Chiarelli approach of bringing in a #6 defenseman who will make no impact.
With three solid lines and an elite goaltender, the Bruins will likely be a playoff team. They will be better last year and things will be trending upward towards the future. How far will they go this year? That’s going to depend on Sweeney and Neely. If they don’t improve the defensive talent on this team, they will not contend. Rask is perfectly capable of standing up and winning games, but it would be asking too much with this roster on D.
Remember, like it or not, this is still a defensive minded coach. This is the coach the Bruins brought in to do the job this year. He will do it his way. If it doesn’t work, blame Cam, not Claude. The roster does not match the coaching philosophy and that is Neely’s responsibility to manage that. The players on the ice do not represent a strong defensive philosophy.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Having said that, there’s enough talent there to make the playoffs and hope that Rask can take his game to another level.