For the better part of the last decade, the Boston Bruins have consistently been on the short list of Stanley Cup contenders. They built their core, supplemented that core with quality role players and found themselves near the top of the heap in the Eastern Conference.
Now, heading into 2015-16, the Bruins don’t look the same. Milan Lucic is gone. Dougie Hamilton is gone. Reilly Smith is gone. Drastic changes across the board as the team battles the salary cap, aging and a disappointing 2014-15 season.
But has the window for Stanley Cup contention closed on the black and gold?
Let’s start with the offense. The Bruins finished last season tied for 22nd in the NHL in scoring, averaging 2.55 goals per game. Lucic and his 25-30 goal potential is gone, but the core is still together. Patrice Bergeron, a leader both on the ice and on the score sheet, returns as the top center. Brad Marchand returns as the top-line left winger and will look to bounce back from a down year. Perhaps most importantly, the team did without David Krejci for 35 games last year. In the 47 games he did play in, he had 31 points; having him for a full season will make a huge different not only on the offensive end of the ice, but his impact will be tremendous defensively as well.
Beyond that, the Bruins are significantly younger up front. Seth Griffith and David Pastrnak, who had smaller contributions in 2014-15, will be thrust into bigger roles in 2015-16. Pastrnak could find himself slotted next to Bergeron and Marchand, so a bump in production should be expected. Reilly Smith has been replaced by Jimmy Hayes, who scored 19 goals last season in Florida. The Bruins will need contributions from Brett Connolly, Ryan Spooner, Joonas Kemppainen and Alex Khokhlachev as well, helping to fill the departure of Lucic and to provide depth that the Bruins are used to having.
The biggest question is on the defensive end of the ice. Zdeno Chara is still there and is a pillar (literally and figuratively) in the top four. He’s 38-years-old, though, so there’s only so much they can lean on his sizable frame. Hamilton’s departure will be felt the most, given he had emerged as a legitimate top-pairing defenseman.
The Bruins return regulars Torey Krug, Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid, so there will be some level of familiarity. Krug may have the offensive ability to help replace Hamilton, but his defensive game still needs work. Seidenberg had a strong finish to 2014-15, but he’s on the wrong side of 30.
Youngsters like Colin Miller, acquired in the Lucic trade, and Zach Trotman will be leaned on heavily. Trotman looked good in 2014-15, subbing in for Hamilton for 10 games last season. Doing it for 82 games is another story, however, so he will need to find consistency to his game.
One name to watch on the blueline could be Joe Morrow. The 22-year-old spent the last three years in the AHL and now might be the time for him to make the jump to the NHL. With the question marks on the blueline in Boston, this could be his opportunity to grab a spot.
In net is the one spot the Bruins have no question marks. Tuukka Rask, one of the five best goaltenders in the league, will return as starter. He likely won’t play 70 games as he did in 2014-15, meaning he’ll be fresher and able to turn in more consistently top-notch performances. The backup role will likely fall on
the newly-acquired Martin Jones Malcolm Subban, the top goalie prospect in the system.
The Bruins are a long way from contending for the top overall pick in the NHL draft, but the window for Stanley Cup contention is closing fast if it hasn’t slammed shut already. The youth movement is already underway in Boston and the Bruins will be hoping they can fill in the gaps to keep the black and gold in contention.
It remains to be seen if the Bruins will still be big and bad.