by Jason Howard Kelly,
Fall has arrived which means it’s time for colder weather, pumpkin flavors marauding coffee shops, and Boston Bruins hockey. There is truly nothing better in this world than Fall in New England. We have the best weather and scenery in the entire country, in my not-so-humble opinion. Normally, I would be brimming with excitement with the start of the NHL season drawing closer and closer… But, I’m not.
Last season the Bruins missed the playoffs after soiling their collective diapers, so to speak, in the final week of the season. It was baffling to see a team with a good mix of talent get their faces kicked in by the lowly Ottawa Senators in a 6-1 waxing on the final day of the regular season. That loss, coupled with the failure to reach the playoffs, left many Bruins fans wondering what sort of organizational changes needed to be made in the offseason. Would Claude Julien be fired? Would a major trade be made? Some Boston media members even speculated if Cam Neely would step down as President of the team.
As it turns out, nothing quite so extreme happened, and I’m not sure if that’s for the best. Claude Julien is an excellent coach, but after 10 seasons I wonder if he is still able to get his message through to the players on the team. I’m also not sure that a defense-first coach is the right fit for a team with young, dynamic talent like Pastrnak, Vatrano, and Spooner. Claude will have to prove that he deserves the trust of the organization this season which will only come with, at the very least, a playoff berth.
I was surprised that the Bruins did not make any major moves other than signing David Backes. Don’t get me wrong, signing Backes was a strong move for this team. He will provide a steady, veteran leadership on this team. Backes will also add a little bit of snarl and nastiness which the Bruins have sorely missed since the departures of Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic. However, a veteran forward is not what the Bruins needed the most this offseason. They desperately needed help on defense, and they failed to add a single defensemen to their team.
Right now the Bruins top defensive pair is Zdeno Chara and Tory Krug. I like Krug because of his ability to stretch the ice and jump in on offense, but he will get overpowered by bigger power forwards quite often. Meanwhile, the ghost of Zdeno Chara is looking slower and slower by the day, and I worry about what he’ll look like by March of 2017 when the Bruins might find themselves in a playoff race. The second defense pair for the Bruins is Adam McQuaid and John-Michael Liles. That’s right, John-Michael-Freaking Liles is your #4 defenseman. Liles isn’t horrible by any means, but he’s not a difference maker either. He’s essentially just another body to throw out in front of the net. Liles’ best attribute is his passing. His ability to execute a clean breakout pass is what will keep him on the ice this season, but his overall defensive ability is mediocre at best. The Bruins final defensive pair is the two Millers, Kevan and Colin. Oddly enough, this may be my favorite defensive pair on this team. Kevan Miller is nothing extraordinary, but he’s a solid, physical defenseman who will make opposing forwards think twice before chasing a puck into the corner against him. Colin Miller is a work-in-progress, but he looks like he could turn into a smooth, smart, puck-moving defenseman. He’s young, and he’ll go through some growing pains, but Colin Miller should eventually turn into a legit NHL defender.
There is only one word that comes to mind when I think of the Bruins defense: shaky. That is one shaky group of players, and it’s not much better on the offensive side. I LOVE the top line. I love the Bruins top line more than 99% of other top lines around the league with the only exception being the top line of the Chicago Blackhawks (Panarin-Toews-Kane). The Bruins top line of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak is sure to produce a ton of offense and will make life incredibly hard on opposing teams. After that, however, it becomes rather dull. The Bruins second line of Belesky-Krejci-Hayes will be average, at best, and it all depends on the health of David Krejci. Jimmy Hayes does nothing to inspire me, particularly on offense. I still don’t know why Jimmy Hayes is on this team, especially if you believe that he dissuaded this past offseason’s hottest free agent, Jimmy Vesey, from signing with Boston (and I do). The third line of Vatrano-Backes-Nash is going to be a very interesting line to watch. That line might actually produce more offense than the Krejci line if all goes well. It really depends on how consistent Vatrano can be as a pure goal scorer. Vatrano has the skill to score 25 goals this year, but if he’s not consistent enough he could very quickly find himself back in Providence by Christmas Day. The Bruins fourth line has a decent mix of skill and snarl, with Spooner centering Seth Griffith and Tyler Randell. I like Randell for no other reason than he’s not afraid to drop the gloves with anyone at any time, and the Bruins need a guy like that. Want to take a cheap shot at Bergeron or Marchand? Fine, here comes Tyler Randell to hand you your own ass.
Finally, we get to Tuukka Rask, who had a below average season last year and is in desperate need of a return to form. However, with a lacking defense in front of him I have my doubts for Rask having a good season in the net. He seems to be the kind of goaltender that excels when he has a good defense helping him out, but he falters when he’s forced to stand on his head and do most of the work on his own. Hopefully the signing of Anton Khudobin helps to ease the workload of Rask this season and keep him fresh. Rask needs to prove that he still deserves to be paid like a franchise goaltender, otherwise he may find himself on the trading block sooner than he’d like.
While this Bruins team holds some signs of promise there is still too much that is missing for me to believe that this team will make the playoffs this season. A top-heavy offense, a shaky defense, and an inconsistent goaltender do not make a playoff team. I hope I’m wrong, and I’ve been wrong many times before, but I’m not rushing out the door to buy Bruins tickets any time soon. It’s going to be a long winter in the hub of hockey.