Bruins have the pieces for a Cup run
Goaltending will be a strength again
The owner says he wants it, which is a far cry from when many thought all Jeremy Jacobs cared about was selling enough concessions. We know that the front office, coaching staff and players will be disappointed if their season ends any amount of wins short of it.
The Boston Bruins are 100 percent focused on the Stanley Cup as the 2009-10 season opens. And for the first time in more than half a decade, the Bruins are in a group of about seven or eight teams with a legitimate shot at hoisting the most famous trophy in sports.
Although I didn't pick the Bruins to win the Cup this season, I did predict they would repeat as Northeast Division champs and reach the conference finals. But even though I didn't pick them to win it all, they definitely could. Without further ado, here are eight (for Cam Neely, of course) reasons the 2009-10 Bruins could win the Cup:
1. Their Big Three is hungry
Down the hall, Boston's more famous Big Three (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen) won their first championship in their first season together. It's taking a little longer for Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara, Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas and Hart Trophy candidate Marc Savard to reach their ultimate goal, but they have a number of things in their favor this year -- starting with their single-mindedness when it comes to winning. Like their basketball counterparts, the Bruins' Big Three can't do it all alone, and this season's supporting cast could be the best one we've seen on Causeway Street in some time.
2. Follow the goaltending
You don't need an expert to tell you how to gauge an NHL team's chances for success. All you have to do is look at the men between the pipes. Last year, Thomas and Manny Fernandez combined to win the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. If you can believe it, the Bruins might be in even better shape this year with rookie Tuukka Rask around to give Thomas even more rest. Rask has matured into the goaltender the Bruins expected, so he's going to demand extra playing time by making the most of his opportunities. And that might even push Thomas' level of play to new heights.
3. They can kill you
The cliché says that a team's best penalty-killer is always its goaltender. Well, Boston is all set there. Then there's the defense corps, led by Chara. Up front, Boston lost penalty-killers extraordinaire Stephane Yelle and P.J. Axelsson, but with Marco Sturm back and Steve Begin signed, the Bruins have a number of forwards who can take care of business when the club is a man down. The Bruins should be able to improve on their No. 12 ranking of last season.
4. They have the power
Boston is loaded with offensive talent that can exploit teams foolish enough to take a penalty. With Savard, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron making magic up front and Chara and Derek Morris leading at least five defensemen capable of rocketing shots from the points, the Bruins are going to make opponents pay for committing infractions. The Bruins should challenge for the league lead in man-advantage proficiency this year.
Two concussions in two years seemed to make Bergeron a little mild-mannered until March, when, aided by the addition of perfect complementary bookends Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew on his wings, Bergeron suddenly transformed back into an angry Hulk. After a normal offseason (rather than one spent rehabbing), Bergeron seems back on the same road to stardom he was on as a teenage rookie six years ago. That gives the Bruins three centers (Bergeron, Savard and David Krejci) who could legitimately lay claim to No. 1 status.
6. They like to move it, move it. They like to
If the playoff loss to Carolina proved anything, it's that a team can never have too many puck-moving defensemen. Without Matt Hunwick and Andrew Ference because of injuries, first passes against the Hurricanes became as difficult as walking across the Esplanade on July Fourth. Getting Ference and Hunwick back to full health wasn't going to be enough, so the Bruins signed Morris and re-signed AHL standout Johnny Boychuk. Even the top available defensemen with their AHL team in Providence can be classified as legit puck-movers. And that leads me to the next point
7. Reinforcements are only an hour's drive away
Some of the Bruins' best draft picks from their leaner years are now honing their craft at Providence and are ready and able to make a contribution if needed. Up front, the Bruins could summon Zach Hamill, Brad Marchand or Jamie Arniel, while on the back end Adam McQuaid, Jeff Penner and Andrew Bodnarchuk could step in. Barring a rash of call-ups, the P-Bruins should be Calder Cup contenders again this season.
8. They could be deadline winners
Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli was one of the most efficient movers and shakers on deadline day '08 with his additions of Recchi and Steve Montador. But they weren't enough to push the Bruins over the top. This year, Chiarelli is armed with the above-mentioned prospects plus five picks in the first two round of next year's draft and two first-rounders in 2011 (mostly thanks to the Phil Kessel trade) to dangle at non-contenders in exchange for talent for the stretch run.
Not to ruin anyone's season-opening celebration, but there's also a chance (actually a greater one) that Boston won't win the Cup. Here are four reasons they might come up short:
1. Hurts so bad
While they might have enough depth on defense and at forward to overcome a few injuries, behind Rask and Thomas the Bruins don't really have a promising goaltender. A serious injury to either of their netminders would put an undue burden on one that could take its toll come playoff time. Veteran Dany Sabourin has been adequate in spot duty throughout his career, but he'd have to go through re-entry waivers to make it to Boston and could be plucked away.
2. Under pressure
There's even more to play for than a shot at a championship this season. Savard is in the last year of his deal and could be making a case for his last big-money contract. Potential restricted free agents Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart will also be playing for raises. Rask will want to prove he's earned his NHL roster spot. If any of these guys start to press and cave to the pressure, it could cause a problematic chain reaction in the Bruins' lineup.
3. There's more extinguisher than fire
It's possible that the Bruins' plans to replace Kessel's scoring could backfire. Maybe Sturm never regains his pre-surgery speed and coach Claude Julien cannot find a complement on Savard's right side. Wheeler and Hunwick could be victimized by the sophomore slump and Krejci might struggle to raise his playing level after offseason hip surgery and rehab. The Bruins should have enough depth to march on even if a couple of these things happen, but it'd be impossible to make do if they all happened at once.
4. Morris is more cat than tiger
A lot of the Bruins' plans for improvement include Morris' returning to the form he showed earlier in his career. By all signs, he's reinvigorated by his arrival in Boston and should be a perfect No. 2 for Chara. But if he looks like the guy who struggled in Phoenix and New York and can't provide the Bruins with the expected offensive punch, he could knock the Bruins off track.