THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: First in Atlantic.
2013: 28-14-6. Fourth in East.
KEY DEPARTURES: Kaspars Daugavins, Jaromir Jagr, Andrew Ference, Nathan Horton, Anton Khudobin, Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin.
KEY ADDITIONS: Jarome Iginla, Loui Eriksson, Chad Johnson, Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith.
PROS: There’s a lot to like about the defending Eastern Conference champion Bruins, beginning with their impressive top two forward lines that got better with the off-season acquisitions of right wingers Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla. The former is a consistent 25-35 goal-scorer who will play first-line minutes and is hungry to re-assert himself after a mediocre 2012-13 campaign in Dallas; and the latter, although nearing the end of an incredible career, can still be dangerous in stretches and could be rejuvenated by easier Eastern Conference travel and by being given a less-central role than he played with the Flames. That said, smart defensive play will remain the hallmark of any team coached by Claude Julien and with the likes of Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron in tow, stymying the opposition’s offense will be something at which Boston excels. Their penalty kill was ranked fourth in the league last year and their goals-against-per-game average (2.21) was the NHL’s third-best.
CONS: Like all successful teams dealing with a salary cap ceiling, the Bruins lost a slew of veterans (including forwards Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr and Rich Peverley and defenseman Andrew Ference), but the acquisition of Eriksson from Dallas cost them the burgeoning talents of center Tyler Seguin. Yes, Seguin was immature compared to his more focused teammates, but his deletion from the roster underscores the shrinking window this team has in which to win. There are no blue-chip prospects on the horizon anymore and with the miles that have been logged by the now-36-year-old Chara, young blueliners Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug will need to contribute right away. Also, Julien will need to figure out a solution for Boston’s putrid power play, which has finished 20th or worse in three of the past four seasons.
X-FACTOR: In theory, the Tyler Seguin trade cost the Bruins a player with high-ceiling potential, but netted them a more experienced and consistent scorer. In practice, if Loui Eriksson has the same type of season he had in 2013, the Bruins could quickly regret the move. Though you can bank on him bringing a two-way presence, if Eriksson does reemerge as a 70-point player, Boston will enjoy an immediate upgrade as the gun for another Stanley Cup.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: Pittsburgh makes it further in the playoffs…only because Jarome Iginla ended up with the Bruins.
ATLANTIC NO. 1: BOSTON BRUINS