2007-08 Team Preview: Boston Bruins
AP Photo/Charles Krupa
The Starting Line
By Scott BurnsideHere are some things you should know about the Bruins. After crawling to within sniffing distance of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the team closed out the season with one win in its last 12 games. The Bruins allowed a league-worst 18 short-handed goals. They were the 20th-ranked team on the road and the 27th-ranked team at home. All this despite having one of the game's best (not to mention biggest) defensemen in Zdeno Chara and a 96-point producer in Marc Savard. This tells you the Bruins have some parts but don't really have a clue. Whether that changes this season will be up to Chara and Savard and new coach Claude Julien and new starting goaltender Manny Fernandez. The answers also will have a lot to say about the future employment of GM Peter Chiarelli, who, less than a year into the job, already rolled the dice and canned his first coach, Dave Lewis. Now, he has little room for error. OFFENSE
Whatever the criticisms about Savard, no one can say he didn't deliver in his first season as a Bruin. The shifty center was minus-19, but he looks like Bob Gainey compared with young star Patrice Bergeron, who was a whopping minus-28 (only slightly more abysmal than Marco Sturm, who was minus-24). All of which means the Bruins' forward corps was spending a lot of time looking back as opposing teams filled Boston's net. After Savard, there was a 26-point drop-off to Bergeron, then a further 25-point drop to third-ranked scorer, Glen Murray, who played only 59 games because of injury. Bottom line -- the Bruins have to get more from more players. That means sophomore Phil Kessel will have to step up, as will Brandon Bochenski. Watch for Carl Soderberg, the 49th pick in the 2004 draft, to get a chance after coming over from St. Louis in the Hannu Toivonen deal. DEFENSE
The Bruins ranked 29th in goals allowed. Some of that is inconsistent goaltending, but a lot of it is defensive breakdown. Chara, coming over from defensively sound Ottawa, found himself trying to do too much and finished the season minus-21 while averaging 27:57 in ice time a night. He needs help, but the rest of the Bruins' blue-line corps is suspect. If Dennis Wideman, who came over in the Brad Boyes deal at the trade deadline, can mature and take some of the load off Chara at both ends of the ice, it will be a bonus. Mark Stuart (21st overall pick in 2003) and/or Matt Lashoff (22nd overall pick in 2005) will get every opportunity to make the big squad out of camp. Aaron Ward looks to settle in and will thrive if his role is defined more narrowly. GOALTENDING
If goaltending was one of the big questions at the end of last season, the belief is the answer is Fernandez. The former Minnesota Wild netminder was acquired by the Bruins this offseason, and the expectations are high. Maybe too high. Fernandez shared the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed last season with teammate Niklas Backstrom. But it was Backstrom's play in relief of injured Fernandez that made the latter expendable. Although Fernandez's numbers are stellar (2.55 GAA, .911 save percentage), there are questions about his mental toughness. There are also questions about his ability to handle the kind of workload the Bruins are expecting. The 33-year-old never has played more than 55 games a season, dating back to junior days. If Fernandez plays only 55 games, that means he's either hurt or has flamed out. Both are possible scenarios. Behind Fernandez is Tim Thomas, the trustworthy journeyman who went 30-29-4 last season and probably was overexposed. If the Bruins are out of the playoff hunt, one wonders whether Chiarelli will take a look at prospect Tuukka Rask. COACHING
After telling Lewis his job was secure before the end of the season, Chiarelli had a change of heart and dumped the former Detroit bench boss after one year. Fair enough. But Chiarelli had better hope Lewis' replacement, Julien, is the right choice. There's more than a little pressure on both men. Julien was unceremoniously dumped by New Jersey president and GM Lou Lamoriello with three games left last season even though the Devils were on the verge of locking up the Atlantic Division crown. Although no one seemed to know why, stories leaked out in the offseason that Julien had lost the dressing room to veteran players. He will need to impose his will quickly on and off the ice in Boston, where chemistry and discipline have been in short supply. Julien employed a tough, defense-first style in both Montreal and New Jersey, and that will be his top priority in trying to keep the Bruins competitive. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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• Record: 35-41-6
• Division: Fifth in the Northeast
• Conference: 13th in the East
• Playoffs: Did not qualify
PLAYERS TO WATCH
If Fernandez can handle the load mentally and physically, he will solve one of the Bruins' most pressing problems and keep them in the hunt for a playoff berth. Defenseman: Aaron Ward
Hard-hitting Ward won Cups in Detroit and Carolina, so he understands the nature of winning. He should thrive under Julien's system and help a youthful defensive corps develop an identity. Forward: Phil Kessel
The highly touted collegiate star had a difficult rookie season. He returned after being treated for testicular cancer, but managed just 11 goals in 70 games. He'll get more opportunity this season.
MORE FROM BURNSIDEBuzz Cut
It used to be that Chicago was the laughingstock of the NHL's old guard, floundering around aimlessly with once-loyal fans leaking away on an annual basis. Well, slowly but surely, the Blackhawks are inching toward respectability, leaving the Bruins as a symbol of chaos and misplaced arrogance. Where Bruins Will Finish
The Bruins will finish fifth in Northeast Division and 15th in Eastern Conference.
SPORTSNATIONWhere do you think the Boston Bruins will finish this time around? Who will lead the Bruins in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench? Vote now!