The Boston Bruins had their title defence cut short when they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season. However, it was Boston's fifth straight season making the playoffs and the third time in the last four seasons that the Bruins topped 100 points.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a talented and tough Bruins team that will be facing a different set of challenges this summer.
A year ago, the Bruins were celebrating and trying to figure out how to construct a team capable of defending the Stanley Cup they had just won. This year, they are facing the prospect of not having goaltender Tim Thomas, who has stated that he intends to take the year off.
Without Thomas, the Bruins still have a capable starter, Tuukka Rask, so they're in better shape than some other team would be if their starting goaltender suddenly decided that he wasn't going to play.
Goaltending shouldn't be a prime concern, in part, because the Bruins have a quality core of defencemen returning. With Zdeno Chara leading five veteran returnees, and top prospect Dougie Hamilton on the way, Boston may only need to tweak the lineup with a veteran for depth.
Up front, Boston may need to replace checkers Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell, but there will be plenty of talent, especially if Nathan Horton is healthy.
With a healthy Horton, the Bruins have a lot of favourable options among their top six forwards and Boston could very easily go into next season with a roster similar to the one that they had for the 2011-2012 season, but the Bruins also have the depth of talent to be able to engage in trade talks for an elite forward if there is an appetite to upgrade their talent level.
Midway through last season, the Bruins were rolling along as a dominant team poised to defend their title, when the club suffered some injuries and lost their edge for a while. Going into next season, there is every reason to believe that a healthy Bruins team can once again be one of the league's best.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus and the biggest stars will be over 80. Evgeni Malkin finished at the top of the regular season ratings with a 93.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Peter Chiarelli/Claude Julien
Tyler Seguin took a massive jump forward in his second NHL season, more than tripling his rookie-season point total and ranking second in the league with a plus-34 rating. Seguin was the only player in the league to score more than 65 points while playing under 17 minutes per game, so there is room for even more production simply by taking on a bigger role, let alone what could happen as the 20-year-old gets stronger as he matures.
The only player in the league with a better plus-minus than Seguin was Patrice Bergeron, a centre who tackled tough defensive assignments and thrived, with the best all-around season of his career. It's taken some time, after concussions nearly derailed his career, but Bergeron is once again a top-end two-way forward.
Brad Marchand's role on the club continues to grow and he spent much of the season alongside Bergeron and Seguin. Marchand is an agitator, but he's productive too -- there are only two other players in the league (David Backes, Alex Burrows) that have scored at least 45 goals and been plus-45 or better over the last two seasons.
A versatile two-way player who can play wing or centre and contribute on the power play, Rich Peverley was a career-best plus-20 despite playing in only 57 games. If the Bruins lose Chris Kelly to free agency, Peverley may be a fit as the No. 3 centre.
David Krejci tied his previous season's point total, yet finished with a career-low minus-5 rating, thanks in large part to a rough stretch in February in which he tallied one goal and was minus-6 in an 11-game span. At his best, Krejci is a brilliant playmaker, a smart player with vision who can make his linemates better.
Power forward Milan Lucic is one of only two players to top 60 points and 100 penalty minutes in each of the last two seasons (Anaheim's Corey Perry is the other) and Lucic does it while putting up modest power play numbers (50 of his 61 points last season were even-strength).
A concussion ended Nathan Horton's season on January 22 and, after he was concussed in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, there was understandably a lot of concern about his long-term prognosis. It appears that Horton is expected to be ready for training camp next year, which would help the Bruins, who missed his toughness and goal-scoring ability after he was injured last season.
21-year-old winger Jordan Caron eased his way into the lineup, playing 48 games in his second pro season. While he didn't play much, Caron did respond to an increased role late in the regular season, contributing eight points in a six-game span in early-to-mid March. If the Bruins are healthy, there may not be a big role for Caron, but he should be better-equipped to produce when the opportunity presents itself next season.
Daniel Paille is an honest worker who earned a new contract with the Bruins even though his 15 points in 69 games represented the lowest per-game scoring rate of his career.
34-year-old enforcer Shawn Thornton accrued a career-high 154 penalty minutes last season, but gets a few more minutes per game than standard heavyweight pugilists, though he wasn't as effective last season as he was the year before. In a town that appreciates a blue-collar bruiser, Thornton remains a popular part of the team.
Consistency can still be an issue for lanky winger Benoit Pouliot, but he scored a career-high 32 points and was career-best plus-18 last season. He's skilled enough to produce more, but teh 25-year-old has yet to earn the trust of his coaches to play a more significant role.
The Bruins have enough talent on hand to be competitive, but if they want to take a bolder step forward, they could get involved in trade talks for a big-name forward like Rick Nash or enter the bidding for free agent Zach Parise.
Free Agent Defence
||'11-'12 Cap Hit
Zdeno Chara is 35-years-old, but just scored a career-high 52 points and, for the second straight season, led all defencemen with a plus-33 rating. He takes on the toughest assignments and succeeds. While Chara will slow down at some point, he remains at an elite level right now.
Boston has been a good fit for stay-at-home defenceman Dennis Seidenberg, who played a career-high 24:02 per game last season, finishing with a career-high plus-15 rating. He was one of nine defencemen in the league to record both 150 hits and 150 blocked shots last season, so he lays his body on the line on a consistent basis.
Johnny Boychuk offers similar traits to Seidenberg, a willingness to hit, block shots and, generally, do the dirty work that is required from a defensive-minded defenceman. He's also a plus-52 over the last three seasons.
Veteran Andrew Ference scored 24 points last season, the second-best total of his career and played a bigger role down the stretch and into the playoffs. Maybe he's a number five defenceman in an ideal situation, but Ference has been able to handle top four minutes when required.
Physical defenceman Adam McQuaid doesn't play much, under 15 minutes per game, but he's solid enough as a depth defenceman. His plus-46 rating over the last two seasons ranks third among defencemen (behind Chara and Vancouver's Dan Hamhuis), which isn't to suggest that McQuaid is anywhere near their class, but at least an indication that he's effective in the role to which he's been assigned.
While that group of five is a steady group, the Bruins obviously need more to round out the group. Top prospect Dougie Hamilton might be a contender for a spot, but free agent options like Matt Carle, Carlo Colaiacovo or Justin Schultz could be puck-moving parts of the solution too.
Free Agent Goaltender
||'11-'12 Cap Hit
Calling Tim Thomas a returning goaltender is an inaccurate title, but he's under contract, so just leave him there, as opposed to the category of Veteran Player Taking a Year Off For Personal Reasons. It has been an unusual year for Thomas, to be sure, but it's hard to be optimistic about the state of his game after he takes a season off.
With Thomas planning to sit out, Tuukka Rask has an easy transition to the starter's job. Rask's season ended prematurely when he suffered a groin injury, but his save percentage of .927 over the last three seasons ranks highest among all goaltenders that played at least 90 games, ahead of Thomas (.926), Henrik Lundqvist (.924), Pekka Rinne (.922) and Tomas Vokoun (.922).
Now that Rask is due for a starter's workload, and Thomas is out, that opens the door for Anton Khudobin, the 26-year-old who had a strong season for Providence in the AHL last season and is on a one-way contract for 2012-2013.
||17-55-72, +37, 50 GP
||25-44-69, -19, 56 GP
||26-26-52, +23, 52 GP
||29-37-66, -4, 57 GP
||11-15-26, -7, 39 GP
||Boston College (HE)
||5-19-24, +15, 44 GP
||Michigan State (CCHA)
||12-22-34, +17, 38 GP
||Northern Michigan (AHL)
||19-17-36, +4, 37 GP
||24-19-3, 2.61 GAA, .919 SV%, 44 GP
||20-16-36, -12, 76 GP
The ninth overall pick last summer, Dougie Hamilton stands 6-foot-4 and has premium offensive ability. Defencemen tend to need time, but Hamilton may be able to compete for a spot as soon as next season as a 19-year-old.
Last year's second-round pick, Alexander Khokhlachev is a skilled playmaker, but is only 18. He'll need time, but could prove to be an intriguing player in the long run.
Taken in the second round in 2010, Jared Knight is a solid prospect, but hasn't put up tremendous point totals at the junior level, so it's reasonable to question just how big his impact will be once he reaches the pros.
Ryan Spooner, also taken in the second round in 2010, has more offensive upside and has tallied seven points in eight AHL games over the last couple seasons.
A lanky winger who made his NHL debut last season, 22-year-old Maxime Sauve has 66 points in 106 AHL games to this point in his career and that pro experience could at least have him in position to rate as a call-up next season.
There are more recent second-round picks ahead of him, but 22-year-old Tommy Cross was taken in 2007 and has steadily improved through four collegiate seasons. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Cross has size that puts him ahead of some of Boston's smaller, more mobile blueline prospects.
Signed out of Michigan State, 5-foot-9 defenceman Torey Krug played a couple of games for the Bruins late in the year. If he can handle the pro grind, Krug does have the skating and puck skills to be productive in the NHL.
6-foot-4 winger Justin Florek scored enough at Northern Michigan to be encouraged about his chances as a pro and his size gives him a chance to at least fit a role as a checker.
At 26, Anton Khudobin is old as prospects go, but with a one-way contract for next season and a solid minor-league track record (along with a 1.32 GAA and .961 SV% in seven career NHL games), Khudobin is ready for his shot in the backup role.
Smallish winger Craig Cunningham scored 20 goals as an AHL rookie, for a Providence team that didn't have a lot of big scorers, so it's worth tracking his development, to see if the 21-year-old can build on his pro debut.
The Bruins have an interesting mix of other prospects to consider. Chris Bourque scored 93 points in the AHL last sesaon, Brian Ferlin had s solid freshman season at Cornell, while Matt Bartkowski and David Warsofsky are defencemen that have a chance to compete for call-up spots.
24th - Tom Wilson, Slater Koekkoek, Derrick Pouliot, Dalton Thrower
According to www.capgeek.com, the Bruins have approximately $58.6M committed to the 2012-2013 salary cap for 18 players. Check out my potential 2012-2013 Bruins roster on Cap Geek here.
Needs: One top nine forward, depth forwards, one top four defenceman, backup goaltender.
What I said the Bruins needed last year: One top nine forward, one top four defenceman.
They added: Benoit Pouliot, Joe Corvo.
TRADE MARKET David Krejci, Milan Lucic.
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.