Boston Bruins season preview

Updated: October 2, 2006, 12:30 PM ET
ESPN.com

Boston Bruins

STARTING LINE

By Scott Burnside, ESPN.com

Stop us if you've heard this before: The Boston Bruins have re-tooled and look like they could be a team ready to compete for their first Stanley Cup since 1972. Actually, we might have said that last season and lots of folks are saying it this year. But not us. Taking a page from "Jerry Maguire": Show us the money. A year ago, the Bruins loaded up on free agents, then the whole thing turned to mush and GM Mike O'Connell ended up trading the league's scoring champion and MVP to San Jose and was fired before Joe Thornton loaded up on his postseason hardware. Likewise, coach Mike Sullivan got the heave-ho; although the Bruins didn't have the good graces to fire him right away, but waited until after the draft. In their place, Dave Lewis comes over after a disappointing first go-round as a coach in Detroit and Peter Chiarelli takes over the GM's job after learning the ropes as an assistant in Ottawa. Zdeno Chara, Mark Savard, Paul Mara and Phil Kessel will all have an impact, but will the Bruins be a team? For a club that was second-to-last in the NHL in one-goal games last year, a good indication that a team has no clue how to win, we don't think so.

Offense: No question the Bruins will have the potential to light up the lamp this season. Patrice Bergeron, a player on the cusp of stardom, Brad Boyes and the underappreciated Marco Sturm formed a potent line after the Thornton trade, and Savard (97 points) should help bump up Glen Murray's goal totals (and vice versa). Kessel's stock fell precipitously prior to the draft, but he's a boy with exceptional potential. A year in the AHL probably wouldn't hurt, but look for him to stick with the big club out of camp. Offense should come from the back end, too, with Chara and Mara joining Brad Stuart, who also came in the Thornton deal. The power play, 25th last season, should improve markedly with the arrival of Mara, who had 47 points last season with the Coyotes.

Defense: The Bruins were 19th in the league in goals-against, a reflection of the team's unsettled goaltending situation and a defense that simply wasn't suited to the new NHL. Too much was asked of aging veteran Brian Leetch and he broke down. Hal Gill and Nick Boynton gave the Bruins size, but Boynton missed 30 games. Jiri Slegr was too old and slow. In short, the Bruins needed to remake their blue line and they did. Chara was the monster stud of the free-agent crop and he has the potential to own games. He'll also eat up ice time. Stuart is looking to get back on the track that made him a top-level defenseman and should benefit from playing with Chara. Mara has size to go with his offensive skills, although the knock on him has been that he doesn't use it enough. Jason York returns from Switzerland to lend a nice veteran presence to the room.

Goaltending: Tim Thomas was a terrific story last season when the 32-year-old journeyman came up from the AHL and nearly played the Bruins back into the playoff mix. His play tailed off toward the end of the season, but look for him to split time with Hannu Toivonen until one reveals himself as a bona fide NHL starter. Toivonen (9-5-4 with a .914 save percentage) will be making a case for himself as the goalie of the future for the B's.

Coaching: The post-mortem on Dave Lewis' two years in Detroit, a stint that followed a long run as an assistant to Scotty Bowman, was that he was simply too nice a guy. He'll have to be more prickly and less princely to get the Bruins back in the playoffs. This is a team that has lacked leadership and direction for some time. Quite simply, the Bruins are a team that has forgotten how to win. Now, it will be up to Lewis to teach them. It's a tall order, even for such a nice guy.

WHERE THEY'LL FINISH
12th It seems too much to ask for so many fresh faces to become a team. And if Carolina and Buffalo taught us anything, it's that the team is the answer. Fifth in the Northeast, 12th in the East.

BUZZ FACTOR
Stock Up
Stock down. Fans stay away in droves in this Original Six city, put off by arrogant owners and an underachieving product on the ice. It'll take more than a big defenseman to get them back, something like winning a playoff series.



FANTASY AND THE FUTURE
TRISTAN COCKCROFT'S FANTASY SPIN
THE HOCKEY NEWS' TOP PROSPECTS
Zdeno Chara, one of the best all-around fantasy defensemen, and Paul Mara, entering his prime at age 27, bring stability to the blue line, and that can only help goalie Hannu Toivonen in his quest to be an elite fantasy sleeper, a la the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist in 2005-06. Plus, Brad Boyes and Patrice Bergeron showed enough growth late last season that both could be breakout point-per-game performers for your team. The Hockey News' Top 5 Prospects for the Bruins:
1. Mark Stuart, 22, D, Providence (AHL)
Statline: 60 GP, 4 G, 3 A, 76 PIM
2. Tuukka Rask, 19, G, Ilves (Finland)
Statline: 12-8-7 record, 2.09 GAA, .926 SV%
3. Petr Kalus, 19, LW, Regina (WHL)
Statline: 60 GP, 36 G, 22 A, 87 PIM
4. Matt Lashoff, 19, D, Kitchener (OHL)
Statline: 56 GP, 7 G, 40 A, 146 PIM
5. Ben Walter, 22, C, Providence (AHL)
Statline: 62 GP, 16 G, 24 A, 33 PIM
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Boston Bruins
When We Last Saw Them ...
Record29-37-16 (74 points)
DivisionFinished last in Northeast
ConferenceFinished 13th in East
PlayoffsDid not qualify

Who To Watch Now ...
Center: Marc Savard
Yes, the diminutive center rang up 97 points in a breakout year, but 50 of those points were on the power play. Five-on-five, Savard was ordinary and took a boatload of lazy, offensive zone penalties.
Winger: Marco Sturm
The speedy German-born Marco Sturm will forever be known as the guy whom the Bruins got in return for Joe Thornton. But Sturm has good skills and jelled instantly with Bergeron scoring 23 times in 51 games as a Bruin.
Defense: Paul Mara
Much of the attention is on Chara (hey, it's hard not to notice a 6-foot-9, 260-pound guy), but Mara enjoyed a breakout year in Phoenix with 47 points. He's big and can move the puck.
Goalie: Tim Thomas
He gives hope to all the minor-league guys who toil for years wondering if they'll ever get a break.

Key Moves
Zdeno Chara is a franchise defenseman, just not sure if he's the defenseman for this franchise. Savard is, likewise, a great talent, but he's got to be more for Boston to succeed. The Bruins will miss Nick Boynton, gone in the Mara deal, and Hal Gill.

SportsNation
Rating the Bruins
The Boston Bruins finished 13th in the Eastern Conference last season, but what is the team's outlook this time around? Who will lead the Bruins in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench?
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