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Off-Season Game Plan: Boston Bruins

Scott Cullen
6/8/2010 1:48:15 PM
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It was a roller-coaster season for the Boston Bruins, struggling throughout much of the regular season, squeezing into a playoff spot, winning one round and jumping out to a 3-0 lead in Round Two, before suffering an epic collapse to lose the series.

Off-Season Game Plan looks as a Boston roster that doesn't lack for talent, but needs some changes this summer if they are going to be championship, rather than merely playoff, contenders.

The Bruins were, believe it or not, a high-scoring team in 2008-2009, ranking second in the league with 3.29 goals per game, before plummeting to 30th in the league last season with just 2.39 goals per game.

That loss of scoring is the need that has to be addressed this offseason.

While the Bruins have enviable depth down the middle, there are clear shortcomings when it comes to the offensive wingers. There is certainly the possibility that veterans like Marco Sturm and Michael Ryder can be more productive and young players like Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic ought to be better than they were last season, but there's no way the Bruins can justify going into next season without upgrading on the wings.

"We're probably not going to be too heavy on entering the unrestricted free agent market. But there are other ways to facilitate change and you look to either the trade market or to talent from within," GM Peter Chiarelli told reporters at season's end.

The Bruins have built up the organizational depth so that they have the capability of improving from within, with recent first-round picks Joe Colborne and Jordan Caron among those who could add some firepower up front and the Bruins have the second overall pick in this year's draft, which means they will add either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin to the mix.

For a team that is already deep down the middle, Hall might be a more natural fit for the Bruins, but Chiarelli will have to determine if it's worth paying the price that the Edmonton Oilers will command in order to cede control of the first pick.

Chiarelli has some appealing chips to deal, if that's his preferred method of improving the roster, whether it's prospects, young roster players or draft picks (the Bruins have the 15th overall pick, as well as two second-rounders in this year's draft).

While blowing a 3-0 series (and Game Seven) lead against Philadelphia stings, it wasn't as though the Bruins were expected to reach the Conference Finals when the playoffs began and given the team's showing in the postseason, it seems more reasonable to go into next season with elevated expectations, provided Chiarelli makes the right moves to address Boston's needs this summer.

GM/COACH
Peter Chiarelli/Claude Julien 

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Cap Hit
Patrice Bergeron 78.77 $4.75M
David Krejci 77.17 $3.75M
Marc Savard 75.36 $4.007M
Marco Sturm 74.60 $3.5M
Michael Ryder 71.33 $4.0M
Milan Lucic 68.59 $4.083M
Shawn Thornton 58.48 $813K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '09-'10 Cap Hit
Mark Recchi 73.75 UFA $1.0M
Miroslav Satan 71.44 UFA $700K
Blake Wheeler 67.68 RFA $2.825M
Dan Paille 64.36 RFA $1.125M
Steve Begin 62.62 UFA $850K
Vladimir Sobotka 60.40 RFA $750K

With good health, Patrice Bergeron had his best season since 2006-2007, scoring 52 points and registering a plus-6 rating. At the same time, he only had 19 goals and none on the power play, despite playing 197 minutes with the man advantage.

But, the most important thing was getting Bergeron through a season without concussion problems and that's helped him re-establish his credentials as a legitimate two-way centre who is among the league's best in the face-off circle.

Slowed early in the year as he recovered from offseason hip surgery, David Krejci eventually regained his form late in the year. He's not physically gifted, but Krejci has terrific vision and intelligence. With full health going into next season, he should be more productive.

Last season was a lost one for Marc Savard, with a series of injuries limiting him to 41 games. A predatory hit from the Penguins' Matt Cooke left him with a concussion, holding him out of the playoffs until the second round.

Even when he was healthy, though, Savard wasn't as productive as he'd been before, when he scored more than a point per game in each of the five previous seasons. Savard could get back to that level, but as a setup man, needs proven finishers on his wings to maximize his potential.

31-year-old Marco Sturm was the Bruins' leading goal-scorer, with the modest total of 22. It was his seventh 20-goal season, but the Bruins need more than 37 points out of anyone designated as a scoring winger and he's not likely to be ready for the start of next season after undergoing major knee surgery.

After a terrific bounceback season in 2008-2008, Michael Ryder slipped back to 33 points last season. The 30-year-old is a four-time 20-goal-scorer, but has failed to hit that benchmark in two of the last three seasons, so he's facing a crossroads in his career.

A high ankle sprain suffered early in the year effectively stalled Milan Lucic's development in his third NHL season. The 22-year-old power-forward-in-training came up big in the playoffs, with nine points scored in the last eight games.

At his best, Lucic is a beast, very difficult to contain physically, but he's still working on bringing a consistent effort every night and that was hampered by his early-season injury because Lucic's mobility isn't a strong suit even when he's healthy, let alone when he's at less than 100%.

Enforcer Shawn Thornton signed a two-year extension, which is showing a little faith in a 32-year-old who had one goal and was minus-9 last season. However, Thornton can often play a regular shift and has dropped the gloves 38 times over the last two seasons; he knows his job and seems to thrive on it.

After an outstanding rookie season, Blake Wheeler struggled in his second NHL campaign. With his size and speed, 24-year-old Wheeler has the potential to be a big scorer, but that won't happen unless he plays with more consistent intensity.

Dan Paille is a good skater and decent checker, but his offensive numbers have declined in each of the past two seasons. Even if he's never going to be an offensive performer, Paille is reliable enough to hold a checking and penalty-killing role.

22-year-old Vladimir Sobotka has potential to be an effective checking centre, but with six goals, 22 points and a minus-16 rating in 134 career games, he's still in a developmental phase. It's about time for him to take the next step.

Boston's offence, particularly in the postseason, got major contributions from veterans Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan. While the Bruins could bring one or both of them back, it may be worth investing in a younger scoring winger that may be around for multiple seasons.

While the Bruins don't have the cap room to handle a top free agent scorer like Ilya Kovalchuk but, if there isn't a suitable trade to be made, the Bruins might find a veteran like Ray Whitney or 28-goal scorer Lee Stempniak to be more reasonably-priced options.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Cap Hit
Zdeno Chara 80.45 $7.5M
Dennis Seidenberg 77.57 $3.25M
Dennis Wideman 72.57 $3.938M
Matt Hunwick 60.93 $1.45M
Andrew Ference 58.67 $2.25M

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '09-'10 Cap Hit
Johnny Boychuk 69.49 UFA $500K
Mark Stuart 60.28 RFA $1.3M

33-year-old Zdeno Chara is entering the final season of his contract and his seven goals last season did mark his lowest total since 2000-2001. Chara plays big minutes -- more than 25 minutes per game in each of the last five seasons -- but it can take a toll on him, so it wouldn't hurt the Bruins to have more defensive support that would allow Chara's minutes to be controlled.

Dennis Seidenberg played well for the Bruins after he was acquired from Florida, putting up nine points and a plus-9 rating in 17 games before a lacerated tendon in his forearm put him out for the season.

Recently signed to a four-year extension, Seidenberg is physical and has worked up to the point of playing more than 22 minutes per game in each of the last two seasons, so he'll be expected to play a top-four role in Boston.

On the heels of a spectacular breakout campaign in 2008-2009, Dennis Wideman was somehow bumped down the depth chart by last summer's free agent signing, Derek Morris, and Wideman didn't really hit his stride until late in the season (he did lead the Bruins with 12 points in 13 playoff games).

Undersized defenceman Matt Hunwick was a revelation in 2008-2009, but took a step back last season, finishing with a team-worst minus-16. Hunwick's mobility and puck skills are his strengths, but he's vulnerable defensively and needs to tighten up that part of his game if he's going to become a more established pro.

The decision to sign 31-year-old Andrew Ference to a three-year contract extension was a curious one. After signing Derek Morris left the Bruins in a tight financial position last summer, inking Ference to a deal worth $2.25-million per season seemed unnecessary.

In 64 games, between regular season and playoffs last season, Ference had zero goals, nine points and was minus-16; he simply has to be much better going forward.

Mark Stuart is a no-nonsense defensive defenceman who, like several other Bruins blueliners, missed time due to injury last season. The 26-year-old is a hard-hitting complementary piece on the blueline.

One of the situations in which the Ference signing could come back to bite the Bruins is the status of unrestricted free agent Johnny Boychuk. The 26-year-old finally got to make his mark in the NHL last season and was a workhorse in the postseason, logging 26:10 of ice time per game, so it's entirely understandable if he's looking to cash in as a free agent.

If he cashes in somewhere other than Boston, that would leave the Bruins a little thin on the blueline.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating Cap Hit
Tuukka Rask 92.29 $1.25M
Tim Thomas 76.57 $5.0M

Tuukka Rask gradually evolved into the Bruins' starting goaltender late in the season and, considering he led the league in goals against average and save percentage, his ascension was completely deserved.

Now, it's up to the 23-year-old to build on his strong rookie foundation, to prove that he's a legitimate franchise goaltender.

36-year-old Tim Thomas has three years remaining on a hefty extension that has him looking like a highly-paid backup unless the Bruins can find a goaltender-needy team that would take him (and Thomas would accept, since he has a no-movement clause). Coming off hip surgery, Thomas may be staying put for the time being.

Considering Rask's inexperience, it's good to have a capable veteran backup, but only if the situation doesn't cause problems beteen two competitive guys who naturally want to play.

Top Prospects

Player Position Team/League Stats
Joe Colborne C Denver (WCHA) 22-19-41,+9, 39 GP
Jordan Caron RW Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL) 26-27-53,+25, 43 GP
Brad Marchand RW Providence (WHL) 13-19-32,+14, 34 GP
Yuri Alexandrov D Cherepovets Severstal (KHL) 6-15-21,+4, 56 GP
Zach Hamill C Providence (AHL) 14-30-44,even, 75 GP
Carl Soderberg C Malmo (SWE) 20-31-51,+12, 51 GP
Jamie Arniel C Providence (AHL) 12-16-28,-6, 67 GP
Ryan Button D Prince Albert (WHL) 6-27-33,+9, 67 GP
Maxime Sauve C Val d'or (QMJHL) 13-22-35,-4, 25 GP
Adam McQuaid D Providence (AHL) 3-7-10,+11, 32 GP

Two years at the University of Denver was enough for Joe Colborne, the lanky forward that the Bruins drafted 16th overall in 2008. If he's strong enough, Colborne has the size and skill to be a finisher and he may challenge for a spot in Boston next season.

A first-round pick last summer, Jordan Caron has size and a finisher's touch around the net, but his skating could be better and he's had trouble staying healthy throughout his junior career. He's only 19, so there's no need to rush the proces, but with Boston's dearth of scoring wingers, there could be an opportunity awaiting Caron at training camp.

Hustling winger Brad Marchand had a strong second pro season, scoring nearly a point-per-game in the AHL and getting into 20 games with Boston. The 22-year-old could fit on an energy line if he's not necessarily going to be a big offensive contributor.

Soon-to-be 22-year-old Yuri Alexandrov has already played five years of pro hockey in Russia, with a particularly strong showing last season, prompting him to give North America a try. Alexandrov may need some seasoning in the AHL, but may not be too far off.

The eighth overall pick in 2007, Zach Hamill started to come around in the second half of his second pro season, finishing the year with 20 points in his last 27 games. He may not be ready to start next season in Boston but, like others, may be ready at some point during the year.

Swedish forward Carl Soderberg is practically a mythical creature, a big, talented centre who has remained in Sweden and will be 25 years of age early next season. If Soderberg is finally ready to come to North America, he'll add to Boston's organizational depth down the middle.

Jamie Arniel had a solid first pro season in Providence. While he's not going to be an impact scorer, Arniel's hustle and well-rounded effort could be the key to determining when he's ready to make the jump.

A poised puck-moving defenceman who can skate, Ryan Button has developed steadily in his three junior seasons. He'll need more time, but will be an intriguing prospect if he can assert himself more.

Lanky forward Maxime Sauve is ready to move to the pro game after scoring 111 points in 89 games over the last two junior seasons, but injuries limited him to just 25 games in the Q last season, so he just needs to play a full season and adjust to the pro grind.

Adam McQuaid was called up to Boston for 19 games to help out when injuries hit the Bruins' blueline, and while he was overmatched, the 23-year-old plays a tough, physical game that is serviceable in the seventh defenceman slot.

The Bruins also have some collegiate defencemen in the pipeline, including Steven Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski, who have been signed out of Michigan and Ohio State, respectively, as well as Tommy Cross, the 2007 second-round pick who plays for National Champion Boston College.

DRAFT
2nd - Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin.
15th - Jon Merrill, Dylan McIlrath, Quinton Howden.

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Bruins have approximately $50.3 M committed to the 2010-2011 salary cap for 14 players.

Needs: Two scoring wingers, one top four defenceman.

What I said the Bruins needed last year: Depth forwards, depth defencemen.

Who did they add? Steve Begin, Johnny Boychuk, Derek Morris.

TRADE MARKET Michael Ryder, Patrice Bergeron, Blake Wheeler, Dennis Wideman, Tim Thomas.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen

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