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Off-Season Game Plan: Boston Bruins

Scott Cullen
6/16/2014 5:20:38 PM
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The Boston Bruins finished with a league-high 117 points, their most since 1971-1972, but after losing in their second-round series to Montreal, changes are expected.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at Bruins team that has reached two of the last four Stanley Cup Final series, winning in 2011, yet wants more while their Stanley Cup window remains open.

The core is in place, with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask among the best at what they do, and the Bruins even built a solid supporting cast around them last season, but they didn't make up for the loss of Dennis Seidenberg due to injury, which weakened them enough on the blueline that they were vulnerable.

A top-four possession team in back-to-back seasons, the Bruins are the best bet to come of the Eastern Conference next season, but not without some work this summer by GM Peter Chiarelli. Because the Bruins took advantage of Jarome Iginla's age and signed him to a bonus-laden contract, they are likely to be facing a more restrictive salary cap situation next season as bonus overages come due.

If that means losing Iginla, or trading a defenceman, there will be some shuffling of the deck in Boston. What's good for the Bruins is that they have the organizational depth from which to pull a prospect or two in order to refresh their forward ranks and go into next season nearly as strong as the team that on the Presidents' Trophy.

Additionally, the playoff disappointment might also facilitate more change with the Bruins, as they could add more speed and skill to their lineup. Nothing wrong with making a few changes to this team, but they're plenty good enough that minor tweaks would be enough for the Bruins to go into next season as Cup contenders once again.

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) -- Corsi, adjusted for zone starts, quality of competition and quality of teammates, hits, blocked shots, penalty differential and faceoffs. Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be around 70, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013-2014 regular season ratings at 87.12.

Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.

CF% = Corsi percentage (ie. percentage of 5-on-5 shot attempts), via www.extraskater.com.

GM/COACH
Peter Chiarelli/Claude Julien

Returning Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Cap Hit
Patrice Bergeron 79.71 80 30 32 62 61.2% $6.5M
David Krejci 73.69 80 19 50 69 52.6% $5.25M
Milan Lucic 72.82 80 24 35 59 53.6% $6.0M
Brad Marchand 72.55 82 25 28 53 59.8% $4.5M
Carl Soderberg 69.11 73 16 42 48 52.6% $1.008M
Loui Eriksson 68.25 61 10 27 37 58.4% $4.25M
Chris Kelly 63.24 57 9 9 18 51.5% $3.0M
Daniel Paille 60.04 72 9 9 18 48.0% $1.3M
Gregory Campbell 58.86 82 8 13 21 45.6% $1.6M
Marc Savard             $4.027M

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Class '13-'14 Cap Hit
Jarome Iginla 75.50 78 30 31 61 53.6% UFA $6.0M
Reilly Smith 70.15 82 20 31 51 58.5% RFA $900K
Shawn Thornton 56.72 64 5 3 8 47.7% UFA $1.1M
Jordan Caron 56.49 35 1 2 3 48.7% RFA $640K

There may not be a better puck possession player in the game than Patrice Bergeron, the brilliant two-way centre who has been on the ice for more than 60% of shot attempts at 5-on-5 over the past three seasons and he's done it with a heavy dose of defensive zone starts -- because he's the best in the business in the face-off circle (winning 58.9% over the past five seasons) -- against a high calibre of opposition.

Because Bergeron takes on more difficult minutes, David Krejci gets turned loose in an offensive role and he's a creative playmaker that thrives with shooters on his wings. He may not be an elite offensive player, but Krejci's 351 points over the past six seasons ranks 28th, which is really good.

Over the past four seasons, there are two players to score at least 80 goals while recording at least 400 penalty minutes, Scott Hartell and Milan Lucic, yet Lucic is unique as a physical presence; skilled enough to score, but also intimidating like few others. According to hockeyfights.com voters, Lucic has lost three of 25 fights over the past four seasons. He got criticized for his handshake-line threats to Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin after the playoff loss to Montreal, but it's that intensity that can set Lucic apart and, polite or not, every team wants his combination of talent and toughness.

Brad Marchand puts up elite possession numbers, though there is a reasonable argument to be made that those numbers are driven by Bergeron, and the agitating winger is one of the most efficient shooters in the league. He's been a good complement to Bergeron, but his per-game shot and point production dipped last season and it wouldn't come as a total shock if the Bruins considered moving him.

A late arrival in the NHL, Carl Soderberg had a strong season in his first NHL campaign, with point production similar to Boston's top six forwards, while he anchored an improved third line. He was also a first-rate point producer on the power play.

Expectations were higher for Loui Eriksson after he came over from Dallas in the Tyler Seguin trade, but even though his point production wasn't great, Eriksson had strong possession stats, as should be expected from a two-way player of his ilk. True as that may be, the Bruins would likely prefer to see more of the 25-plus goal-scorer that Eriksson had been for four years prior to the past couple seasons.

A broken leg and back injury cut into Chris Kelly's playing time last season, and the 33-year-old was not as effective as he's been in the past, but wth two years left on his contract, which includes a no-trade clause, he figures to have some role with the Bruins next season.

Spending much of his time on the Bruins' fourth line, Daniel Paille gets obliterated in puck possession, but has some upward mobility in the lineup because of his speed and has scored nine or more goals in seven of the past eight seasons.

No one questions the toughness of Gregory Campbell, who has missed six regular season games, and scrapped 31 times, in four seasons with the Bruins, battling his way in a fourth-line role, but he frequently ends up at the wrong end of the possession game and that could make him expendable.

Practically an afterthought in the Tyler Seguin trade, Reilly Smith delivered a surprising 20 goals and 51 points in his second NHL season. While playing with Bergeron and Marchand certainly aided his production, Smith had been a strong possession player as a rookie in Dallas, so perhaps that scoring outburst shouldn't have been such a shock. A 23-year-old winger, Smith faded somewhat down the stretch, with 19 points in his last 40 games, but overall it was a very productive year.

The last couple seasons have dimmed the star of Jordan Caron, a prospect who had shown prosmise, but now has two goals and six points in 52 games over the past two years. Given his poor possession stats, it would be easy to see Caron supplanted in the lineup by younger prospects on the way up.

Jarome Iginla was productive for the Bruins, with yet another 30-goal season, but it could be more difficult for the Bruins to retain Iginla since the bonuses he earned for his production will on next year's cap. If the Bruins need to seek out other-- and perhaps less expensive -- scoring options via free agency, they could look to Ales Hemsky, Radim Vrbata or perhaps try Nikolai Kulemin as one of three balanced right wingers.

Returning Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Cap Hit
Zdeno Chara 74.66 77 17 23 40 55.2% $6.917M
Dougie Hamilton 70.40 64 7 18 25 56.3% $894K
Johnny Boychuk 69.76 75 5 18 23 55.0% $3.367M
Dennis Seidenberg 65.13 34 1 9 10 49.7% $4.0M
Adam McQuaid 61.57 30 1 5 6 50.4% $1.567M
Kevan Miller 61.09 47 1 5 6 51.1% $800K

Free Agent Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Class '13-'14 Cap Hit
Torey Krug 72.87 79 14 26 40 55.4% RFA $1.704M
Andrej Meszaros 68.50 52 7 15 22 48.2% UFA $4.0M
Matt Bartkowski 64.04 64 0 18 18 53.2% RFA $650K
Corey Potter 60.91 19 0 5 5 42.3% UFA $775K

Even at 37-years-old, Zdeno Chara is a dominant force on the Bruins' blueline, but there are some allowances being made for age at this stage of his career. He spent a lot of power play time with his 6-foot-9 frame parked in front of the opposition's net and his 24:39 average time on ice was his lowest since 2003-2004. In the past seven seasons, he's in an elite class when it comes to goals-for percentage.

There were ups and downs in Dougie Hamilton's second NHL season, but he finished strong, with 18 points in 34 (regular season plus playoff) games to end the year, showing the kind of offensive game that helped make him the ninth pick in the 2011 Draft. He also delivered strong possession stats while facing tougher matchups in his second season, so the 20-year-old's career is on a nice upward trajectory.

Hard-rock defenceman Johnny Boychuk played a career-high 21:12 per game for the Bruins last season, finishing with a career-high 23 points. He doesn't do anything fancy, but has a hard shot and plays a steady physical defensive game that has led to consistently effective puck possession stats.

A knee injury ended Dennis Seidenberg's season after 34 games, creating a void on the Bruins' blueline that was never quite adequately filled. Seidenberg wasn't as effective last season as he had been previously, but the 32-year-old has made his bones as a physical defensive defenceman and has played at least 21:50 per game for six seasons running.

Adam McQuaid has his season shortened by quad and ankle injuries, though he did play a career-high 16:03 per game before he was sidelined. McQuaid has limited puck skills, but is 6-foot-5 and plays a physical game that can fit on a third pairing.

A 26-year-old who was a rookie NHLer in his third pro season as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Vermont, Kevan Miller had his usage sheltered and his on-ice save percentage of 96.6% was highest among those to play at least 21 games last season, an indication that his plus-20 rating was fueled by good fortune.

The top-scoring rookie defenceman last season, Torey Krug is on the small side, but the Bruins utilize him in a way to emphasize his offensive strengths, with more offensive zone starts against weaker opposition, but the question is whether or not Krug is destined to be a third pair defenceman who quarterbacks the power play, or will his skating and puck skills be enough to climb higher on the chart?

Scratched a bunch early in the year, then thrust into a bigger role once Seidenberg was injured, Matt Bartkowski played 20:33 per game from January on, and he's posted solid possession stats over the past couple seasons. A strong skater who is improving his defensive reads, Bartkowski gives the Bruins really nice blueline depth.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Cap Hit
Tuukka Rask 79.90 58 36 15 6 2.04 .930 $7.0M

Free Agent Goaltender

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Class '13-'14 Cap Hit
Chad Johnson 72.87 27 17 4 3 2.10 .925 UFA $600K

Over the course of his five NHL seasons, Tuukka Rask has the best save percentage among goaltenders with at least 175 games played. The 27-year-old has finished with a save percentage under .929 once during those five seasons and after playing a career-high 58 games last season, every indication suggests that Rask will be among the games' top netminders for the forseeable future.

Chad Johnson went from career minor-leager to an effective backup for the Bruins last year, but if he manages to cash in as a free agent, it would be easy enough for the Bruins to find a backup with a similar pedigree for an inexpensive one-year deal. Their own prospect, Niklas Svedberg, could be the first choice.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
Malcolm Subban G Providence (AHL) 2.31 GAA, .920 SV%, 33 GP
Ryan Spooner C Providence (AHL) 11-35-46, +13, 49 GP
Alexander Khokhlachev C Providence (AHL) 21-36-57, +11, 65 GP
Niklas Svedberg G Providence (AHL) 2.63 GAA, .910 SV%, 45 GP
Joe Morrow D Providence (AHL) 6-23-29, -1, 56 GP
David Warsofsky D Providence (AHL) 6-26-32, +8, 56 GP
Brian Ferlin RW Cornell (ECAC) 13-14-27, +3, 32 GP
Matt Fraser LW Providence (AHL) 20-10-30, even, 44 GP
Seth Griffith C Providence (AHL) 20-30-50, even, 69 GP
Anthony Camara LW Providence (AHL) 9-13-22, +2, 58 GP
Ryan Fitzgerald C Boston College (HE) 13-16-29, +8, 40 GP

At some point in the future, Malcolm Subban may force a goaltending decision on the Bruins, but they have to be pleased with the 20-year-old's first pro season. As he proves he can handle more work in the minors, the 2012 first-rounder will start closing the gap from Providence to Boston.

A skilled forward who has yet to score in 27 career NHL games, Ryan Spooner has tallied 103 points in 108 AHL games over two pro seasons and had respectable possession stats to go along with 11 points in 22 games for the Bruins last season. If the Bruins need to inject offence into their forward group, Spooner, a second-round pick in 2010, is the natural one to get a shot.

Alexander Khokhlachev, a second-round pick in 2011, played a full year in North America after some back-and-forth with Russia the year before, and Khokhlachev had a terrific year, scoring 30 goals and 71 points in 77 (regular season plus playoff) games. That puts him in prime position to challenge for a job in Boston.

24-year-old Niklas Svedberg, an undrafted free agent from Sweden, wasn't as strong in his second AHL season as he had been in 2012-2013, but is a viable candidate to hold down a backup role in Boston as soon as next season, particularly if that opens up more playing time for Subban in Providence.

Part of the Tyler Seguin trade, Joe Morrow was Pittsburgh's first-round pick (23rd overall) in 2011, and while he still needs to refine his defensive game, that's a work-in-progress for a 21-year-old that has puck skills and can run a power play.

Acquired from the Blues for Vladimir Sobotka in 2010, David Warsofsky is a small defenceman that has made steady progress through three AHL seasons. He saw action in six games with Boston last season, putting up a couple of points, and may be on the cusp of being NHL calibre, but the Bruins are currently rather deep on the blueline.

A power forward who scored 72 points in 92 games in three seasons at Cornell, Brian Ferlin was a fourth-round pick of the Bruins in 2011 and is set to embark on his pro career. The 22-year-old Florida native could use some time to get used to grind that is pro hockey.

Yet another piece of the Seguin deal, Matt Fraser is a physical winger who got into 18 (regular season plus playoff) games for Boston last season. He's been a decent possession player in his 27 NHL games, too, so he could challenge for a depth role.

Drafted in the fifth round in 2012, Seth Griffith made a smooth transititon to pro hockey, injecting himself into the discussion of forwards that are due consideration when a call-up is required.

A third-round pick in 2011, Anthony Camara doesn't have the highest ceiling as a scoring winger, but he plays a physical game and, with time to develop, could earn a bottom six spot.

Picked in the fourth round last summer, Ryan Fitzgerald is the son of former NHLer Tom Fitzgerald, and coming off a strong freshman year at Boston College. Fitzgerald is undersized, but has time to fill out and get stronger before he is considered for pro hockey.

Bruins advanced stats and player usage chart from Extra Skater

DRAFT
25th - Roland McKeown, Julius Honka, Connor Bleackley.

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Bruins have approximately $58.0M committed to the 2014-2015 salary cap for 16 players.

Check out my possible Bruins lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.

Needs: One top line forward, backup goaltender.

What I said the Bruins needed last year: One top six forward, two defencemen, backup goaltender.

They added: Jarome Iginla, Reilly Smith, Loui Eriksson, Carl Soderberg, Torey Krug.

TRADE MARKET
Brad Marchand, Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid.

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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