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Off-Season Game Plan: Boston Bruins

Scott Cullen
6/22/2011 4:24:51 PM
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After winning their first Stanley Cup since 1972, the Boston Bruins don't need a whole lot more good news, but they have some nevertheless.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at the Bruins' roster and what GM Peter Chiarelli might do to give the Bruins a shot at back-to-back titles.

The good news for the Bruins, unlike the 2010-champion Chicago Blackhawks, is that the Bruins are in a favourable financial position with respect to the salary cap.

Through Chiarelli's savvy, the Bruins should not only have the room to bring back any or all of the players from their championship team, they should still have the wherewithal to address some needs.

Of course, coming off a Stanley Cup win, it's not like the Bruins have massive holes to fill.

They could use more skilled offensive players, whether on the wing or on defence, in the hopes that might help fix a power play that was an albatross down the stretch and throughout the playoffs. It's almost unbelievable that the Bruins could win the Stanley Cup tournament while struggling for so long with the man advantage, yet that actually happened.

A factor that is already in the Bruins' favour is that they have room for internal improvement, with young players like Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin the most likely to play more significant roles going forward.

"We're in a good position," Chiarelli said at a year-end press conference. "We've got a lot of the team under contract. We're in a good cap situation for once. We've got some young guys, we've got guys that are coming in. My charge is to win, so we have to continue to keep that standard."

Certainly Tim Thomas' play in goal was the backbone of the Bruins' Cup-winning campaign, but a year after suffering an ignominious playoff defeat, the Bruins are now the champs, and in position to be at least as strong next year so that, even if Thomas can't duplicate his historically great season, the Bruins should have a chance to defend their title.

Needing three Game Seven wins to capture the crown this year, the Bruins know that there is good fortune needed to win a championship, so all that management can be expected to do is give the team a chance and it sure looks like, barring a Cup hangover, the Bruins will have that chance in 2011-2012.

GM/COACH
Peter Chiarelli/Claude Julien

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Cap Hit
Patrice Bergeron 77.49 $5.0M
David Krejci 76.58 $3.75M
Milan Lucic 75.06 $4.083M
Nathan Horton 73.75 $4.0M
Rich Peverley 68.74 $1.325M
Chris Kelly 66.78 $2.125M
Gregory Campbell 65.15 $1.1M
Tyler Seguin 64.32 $3.55M
Shawn Thornton 63.49 $813K
Daniel Paille 63.27 $1.075M
Marc Savard 61.30 $4.007M

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '10-'11 Cap Hit
Brad Marchand 73.08 RFA $822K
Michael Ryder 70.40 UFA $4.0M
Mark Recchi 68.92 UFA $1.95M

It's taken a few years, but Patrice Bergeron is back to being the kind of impact player that he was before suffering his concussions. He's not scoring 70-plus points, as he did 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, but Bergeron's plus-20 rating was the best of his career and, with his strength in the faceoff circle and solid two-way play, he's capable of playing in any situation against any competition.

David Krejci followed up a strong regular season, when he tallied 62 points and was plus-23, with a playoff-leading 12 goals and 23 points. While Krejci isn't very strong and is not even the fleetest afoot, his vision and anticipation frequently allow the playmaking 25-year-old to be a step ahead of the competition.

The Bruins did a terrific job of finding a pair of brutes to play with Krejci. Milan Lucic, who struggled in 2009-2010 due largely to a high ankle sprain, turned in a career year with 30 goals and 62 points; he was the only player in the league with at least 30 goals, 100 penalty minutes and a plus-20 rating.

Bookending Krejci, on the other side, is Nathan Horton, who had 53 points and was plus-29 despite some ups and down in his first season with the Bruins. Horton also came up big in the postseason, scoring eight goals and 17 points in 21 games before suffering a concussion in the Cup Final. A six-time 20-goal scorer, Horton cotninued his streak despite playing just 16:17 per game, his least since his rookie season.

While Rich Peverley didn't produce a lot after coming over from Atlanta, scoring seven points in 23 games, he was very valuable in the playoffs, scoring 12 points in 25 games. His real value lies in his versatility as Peverley is capable of playing centre or wing and can do it either on a scoring line or a checking unit.

Not unlike Peverley, Chris Kelly provided more in the playoffs (13 points in 25 games) than he did after coming over in a trade from Ottawa (five points in 24 games). Kelly is a checker, if only because he doesn't have the mitts to consistently capitalize on the scoring chances that he creates with his speed, but his reliability gives the Bruins options down the middle.

Gregory Campbell is a fine depth forward, who tied a career-high with 13 goals and set a career-best with a plus-11 rating last season. Campbell is a reliable checker and plays with an edge -- he has 30 fights over the last four seasons -- which makes him a good fit among the bottom six forwards on the depth chart.

He played sporadically as a rookie, but 19-year-old Tyler Seguin showed flashes of brilliance, most notably when he tallied four points in the second period of Game Two against Tampa Bay, and he should be able to take on more responsibility next season.

Seguin is clearly skilled, but his speed is what makes him a change of pace for the Bruins; he's a dynamic offensive threat with star potential.

Enforcer Shawn Thornton simply had the best year of his career, playing more (10:05 per game) than ever and setting career-highs in goals (10), points (20) and plus-minus (plus-8). Among players with at least 100 penalty minutes and fewer than 1000 minutes of ice time on the season, Thornton tied for the goal-scoring lead with Steve Downie and Brad Winchester.

Thornton's 33, so last season may turn out to be the best he can be, but the Bruins are getting substantially more out of their tough guy than most other teams.

After battling to get into the lineup all season, playing only 43 games, Daniel Paille played every game in the playoffs, showing his value as a fourth-line checker with speed and smarts.

His latest concussion prevented Marc Savard from playing after January 22 and it could spell the end of his career even though he has six years remaining on his contract.

Savard was struggling even before getting hurt, managing 10 points and a minus-7 rating in 25 games, so even if he gets clearance to return, it's not fair to ever expect him to be the point-per-game playmaker that he was from 2003 through 2009.

Naturally, when a team wins the Stanley Cup, some players will be held in much higher esteem than they were before and that will certainly hold true for Brad Marchand, who finished up his strong rookie season by scoring 11 goals in the playoffs, including five in the Final.

Marchand was stuck in a depth role for the first three months of the season, scoring 13 points in 33 games while playing fewer than 13 minutes per game, but he added 28 points in the next 44 games, while playing closer to 15 minutes per game. In the playoffs, it was 19 points in 25 games while playing 16:46.

One of the new breed of agitators who can further infuriate opponents by scoring, Marchand is, quite naturally, a favourite of the Bruins' faithful.

Mark Recchi will sail off, gracefully, into retirement as a three-time Stanley Cup winner (with three different teams), leaving Michael Ryder as the one mainstay that could hit the market as an unrestricted free agent. Ryder has a longstanding connection with Claude Julien but, after back-to-back 18-goal seasons, it may be time to let another team pay his freight.

With the talent on hand, the Bruins don't need to make huge additions, perhaps a few veteran checkers (Chad LaRose, Pascal Dupuis, Mike Grier, Sean Bergenheim) to round out the lineup, as more minutes for Seguin and at least the possibility of promotion for one of the players on the farm would make sense.

If Savard happened to retire, then the Bruins could afford to be even more aggressive on the free-agent market, perhaps aiming for a forward like Brooks Laich or Ville Leino that could add more offensively.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Cap Hit
Zdeno Chara 74.91 $6.917M
Dennis Seidenberg 71.37 $3.25M
Johnny Boychuk 68.01 $1.875M
Andrew Ference 67.10 $2.25M
Steven Kampfer 66.95 $853K
Adam McQuaid 66.34 $575K

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '10-'11 Cap Hit
Tomas Kaberle 71.00 UFA $4.25M
Shane Hnidy 53.51 UFA $500K

Zdeno Chara finally got to experience playoff success, captaining the Stanley Cup winners while leading the playoffs with a plus-16 rating while playing 27:39 per game, the most for any player that went more than two rounds.

Chara also led the league in plus-minus during the regular season, at plus-33, giving him a plus-89 rating over the last four seasons, ranking second among NHL defencemen over that span(just behind Nicklas Lidstrom's plus-91).

The biggest player in the league, Chara is physically intimidating, but his games involves so much more than that and he's always taking the toughest defensive assignments, to the point that he occasionally gets overused -- leaving him more vulnerable -- but the temptation to keep throwing Chara out there is obvious because he's very difficult to play against.

Partnered with Chara, Dennis Seidenberg has been an underrated and well-traveled defender, playing for four teams in four seasons before arriving in Boston before the 2010 trade deadline.

Seidenberg tied a career-high with 32 points, while playing a career-high 23:33 per game during the regular season, but he took his game up a notch in the playoffs, playing the shutdown role alongside Chara and locking down some of the most potent scorers in the game.

Consistency comes and goes for Johnny Boychuk, but he's climbed his way into a top-four role, capable of playing a bruising physical game or handling the puck well enough to have nine points in 25 playoff games. He didn't stick in the NHL until he was 25, after five AHL seasons, so Boychuk recognizes the effort required to stay where he is now.

Andrew Ference's role increased in the postseason, when it was apparent that Tomas Kaberle wasn't the puck-moving answer on the back end, and Ference had a tremendous playoff. His regular season wasn't spectacular, even though he did register a career-best plus-22.

A mobile defenceman who quickly worked his way into the Bruins' lineup, Steven Kampfer was sidelined by injuries late in the year and couldn't get into the playoff lineup, but he showed plenty of promise with ten points and a plus-9 rating in 38 games.

Adam McQuaid really evolved in his first full NHL season, playing 17:26 per game after the All-Star break, compared to 12:39 before. While his plus-30 rating in limited ice time was a function of favourable matchups, it's better to win the favourable matchups than lose them and McQuaid provides a physical presence on Boston's third pairing.

Since Tomas Kaberle struggled after arriving in Boston, the Bruins might turn their attention elsewhere when looking for an answer to their needs at the point on the power play.

If the Bruins don't retain Kaberle's services, Joni Pitkanen, Christian Ehrhoff and James Wisniewski are the big-ticket free agents that could quarterback the power play, while a veteran like Sami Salo, who owns a big shot from the point, might be a more economical alternative.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating Cap Hit
Tim Thomas 89.75 $5.0M
Tuukka Rask 72.30 $1.25M

There have been few seasons in NHL history as amazing as the year that Tim Thomas just experienced, though it figures, considering Thomas' path to the NHL is also one of the most unsual ever.

Now 37 years-old, Thomas opened the regular season behind Tuukka Rask on the depth chart, but after Rask struggled in a few outings and Thomas continually starred -- allowing three goals against in his first six starts -- the job eventually was returned to Thomas and he responded by setting the league record with a .938 save percentage, following it up with a .940 save percentage in the playoffs on the way to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP.

To put that save percentage into context, the average goaltenders stops about 91% of shots faced. Thomas' .938 save percentage, while facing 1811 shots, means a difference of more than 50 goals against over the course of a season. 50 goals better than average is outrageously good so, sure, his style is unorthodox and it's not always pretty, but those results are impossible to argue. It was a truly great season.

As Thomas turned in a season for the ages, Rask was relegated to the backup role. Even though he had a .918 save percentage, Rask struggled to get offensive support, going 11-14-2 on the year. He's clearly good enough to be a starter in the league, but the 24-year-old may need to wait for Thomas to falter (or get hurt) before that opportunity presents itself in Boston.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
Jordan Caron RW Providence (AHL) 12-16-28,-7, 47 GP
Ryan Spooner C Kingston (OHL) 35-46-81,-4, 64 GP
Matt Bartkowski D Providence (AHL) 5-18-23,-17, 69 GP
Jared Knight RW London (OHL) 25-45-70,even, 68 GP
Maxime Sauve C Providence (AHL) 21-17-38,+6, 61 GP
Jamie Arniel RW Providence (AHL) 23-27-50,-10, 78 GP
Zach Hamill C Providence (AHL) 9-34-43,+6, 68 GP
Colby Cohen D Providence (AHL) 2-12-14,+5, 60 GP
Craig Cunningham LW Portland (WHL) 27-60-87,+19, 71 GP
Carter Camper RW Miami-Ohio (CCHA) 19-38-57,+12, 39 GP

Jordan Caron didn't show poorly in 23 games with Boston last season, his first year as a pro, but it made more sense for him to get used to playing an offensive role in the AHL because the big winger has a scoring touch and should be able to play a top-six forward role when he arrives in the NHL.

Traded from Peterborough to Kingston in the OHL, Ryan Spooner had a productive year and should be ready for some time in the AHL before he's worried about challenging for a spot in Boston. Good thing, because the Bruins are pretty deep down the middle at the moment.

Acquired in the Bruins' deal with Florida for Dennis Seidenberg, Matt Bartkowski is an offensive defenceman who needs further refinement in his game without the puck before he's ready to take on the NHL, but the 23-year-old did have a promising first pro season.

Taken in the second round last summer, with one of the picks from Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade, Jared Knight has been a productive player for London in the OHL, but will need at least a few years before he's in consideration for a spot in Boston.

Maxime Sauve made a smooth transition to the pro game, scoring 21 goals in 61 games for Providence. He can still use some additional seasoning, but if Sauve keeps improving, he may have some goals to offer.

The leading scorer in Providence in his second pro season, Jamie Arniel projects as a checker at the next level, which could mean opportunities to step in as soon as next year.

After three years in the AHL, Zach Hamill hasn't shown a lot to justify being the eighth overall pick in the 2007 draft. Scoring just nine goals in his third AHL season isn't enough, not even for a playmaker, to put pressure on the big club for a promotion.

Acquired from Colorado for Matt Hunwick, Colby Cohen is a Boston University product who missed some time with a wrist injury, but he has good size and has a heavy shot from the point, giving the Bruins' organizational depth with some possible offensive upside.

Craig Cunningham is a small forward who has been productive in the WHL over the past two seasons, scoring 229 points in 180 regular season and playoff games over the last two years. Now to see what he can do in the AHL.

Another small winger, Carter Camper just completed a productive four-year career at Miami-Ohio, scoring 183 points in 156 career games. He got into three games with Providence at the end of the year, scoring a couple of points, and should have a chance to play a prominent role in the AHL next season as he tries to prove his mettle as a pro.

Check out a possible roster, on www.capgeek.com, for next season with, understandably, few changes to the Cup-winning lineup here: http://bit.ly/lozncs 

DRAFT
9th - Ryan Murphy, Jonas Brodin, Mika Zibenejad.

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Bruins have approximately $53.0M committed to the 2011-12 salary cap for 19 players.

Needs: One top nine forward, one top four defenceman.

What I said the Bruins needed last year: Two scoring wingers, one top four defenceman .

They added: Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand, Gregory Campbell, Tyler Seguin.

TRADE MARKET Rich Peverley, Tuukka Rask.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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