Boston Bruins season preview

Updated: October 3, 2005, 12:17 PM ET
ESPN.com

THE BOTTOM LINE

Give Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs and GM Mike O'Connell credit (and we understand that's a hard thing for long-suffering Bruins fans to swallow), but they promised a new economic landscape would coincide with a push to bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston for the first time since 1972, and they've been true to their word. O'Connell originally thought he'd landed Mike Modano before setting his sights on Alexei Zhamnov but may be much happier in the end for the outcome.

Offense: Most important, O'Connell signed captain Joe Thornton to a three-year deal and made him a part of the rebuilding process. Last seen taking more than his fair share of lumps following a first-round flameout against Montreal in the spring of '04, Thornton appears ready to take that difficult step from teenage prodigy to elite leader. Certainly Thornton has the strongest supporting cast he's ever had in Boston, both in terms of skill (Zhamnov, Glen Murray, Sergei Samsonov, Patrice Bergeron) and grit (Brad Isbister, Dave Scatchard who is out week to week with a groin in jury, Travis Green).

This team will be able to play it any way you want -- rough and tumble and fast and furious. The key for Thornton is to continue to produce at a high level offensively, as well as develop the strong two-way game that has defined proven leaders like Steve Yzerman, Mats Sundin and Joe Sakic.

Defense: If there are questions about the Bruins' place among the elite in the East, they surround the blue line. Does Brian Leetch still have the mobility to enjoy the new open game? How long will it take to bring defensive anchor Nick Boynton under contract? O'Connell shot down rumors that he'd deal Hal Gill to make room under the cap for Boynton but something will have to give.

Goaltending: O'Connell managed to get defending rookie of the year Andrew Raycroft under contract before too much of training camp had passed. It set up an interesting battle for the backup position between Tim Thomas, who excelled in Europe last year, and Finnish prospect (aren't all goaltending prospects Finnish?) Hannu Toivonen, who played well for Providence in the AHL last year.


WHERE THEY'LL FINISH
3rd YES … If Raycroft doesn't take a step back and Samsonov isn't hobbled, the Bruins will challenge the Flyers for supremacy in the East. Patrice Bergeron is wiser and adds to an already impressive offensive arsenal.
BUT … If Raycroft sputters, there's little NHL experience behind him in Toivonen and Thomas. If the defense starts to spring leaks, the pressure mounts on Thornton & Co. to outgun opponents (and on O'Connell to sign Boynton).

PLAYER TO WATCH
Sergei Samsonov. Plagued by headaches during his lockout season in Russia, the talented Samsonov reported to camp only to be laid low by a back problem. A possible unrestricted free agent next summer, his health will be an ongoing issue.

HEY, COACH!
The challenge for coach Mike Sullivan isn't necessarily producing points, but instilling a winning attitude. The Bruins have topped the 100-point mark twice in the last three years, but have been dismissed in the first round each of the past three seasons.



FACEOFFS
BEST OFFSEASON MOVE --> THE LONG HAUL
Ending up with Alexei Zhamnov instead of Mike Modano. Modano has the pedigree, but Zhamnov is going to bring more to the table. He gives the Bruins great depth down the middle and will be able to supplement the scoring if Thornton hits a dry spell.

WORST OFFSEASON MOVE --> LATE START
Not being able to lock up Raycroft and Boynton early in camp. What the long-term ramifications of this will be aren't yet known, but certainly the Bruins will need Raycroft to be sharp from the outset and missing camp time is never a good way to start. And Boynton's absence will have an unsettling ripple effect the longer it goes.

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Comings & Goings
Key Acquisitions:
RW Tom Fitzgerald; LW Brad Isbister; RW Shawn McEachern; C Dave Scatchard; D Brian Leetch; C Alexei Zhamnov; RW Eric Nickulas.

Key Departures:
D Sergei Gonchar; RW Mike Knuble; D Dan McGillis; C Brian Rolston; RW Martin Lapointe; C Michael Nylander; LW Ted Donato; D Sean O'Donnell; D Andy Delmore; LW Michal Grosek; G Felix Potvin; LW Rob Zamuner.

When we last saw them …
Joe Thornton, C
Thornton led the team with 23 goals and 50 assists in 77 games.
Andrew Raycroft, G
Raycroft, the rookie of the year in 2003-04, posted a 29-18-9 record and 2.05 goals-against average in that season.
Quotables
We think we're being very fair with respect to what we've offered and that's it.
O'Connell on Boynton's holdout