Over the course of the next two weeks we here at Bruins Daily will be getting you ready with everything you need to know for the 2013 National Hockey League season. We continue today with a look at the top 10 questions surrounding the Boston Bruins for their upcoming campaign.
For the last seven years since the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, the NHL has thrived on having the most parity out of the four major sports. During this span, 29 of the 30 teams made at least one playoff appearance. The only team to miss out were the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That parity should be clear once again in the 48-game season as teams battle for a playoff spot and a chance to win Lord’s Stanley Cup. Each team, however, has its share of questions heading into the season, including the Black and Gold. Here are the top 10 questions for the 2013 Bruins before they open the season on Jan. 19 against the New York Rangers.
1) Is Tuukka Rask prepared to be the top goaltender?
With Tim Thomas officially hiding out in his Colorado bunker (presumably), the spotlight at least for this season belongs to Tuukka. Assuming he can stay healthy, this will be the best chance for the young Finnish netminder to solidify the Bruins’ goaltending for the forseeable future. After an average 2010-11 campaign where he went 11-14-2 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.67 goals against average, Rask bounced back with a .929 SV% and 2.05 GAA – going 11-8-3 in that span – before suffering an abdominal injury towards the end of the 2011-12 regular season.
While his appearances have gone down in each of the last three seasons, from 45 in his rookie season in 2009-10, to 29 and 23 in the last two years, respectively, Tuukka should be fresh and ready to go. If he can live up to expectations and post similar numbers from his first season (1.97 GAA, .931 SV%), then it will be beneficial not just to himself, but to the Black and Gold’s chances.
2) Will Nathan Horton be ready?
Despite his recent history of concussions, Horton is “all set” for a return to the Bruins lineup according to his agent Paul Krepelka. The ex-Florida Panther played a vital role in getting Boston to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011 with his game winners against the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning before suffering his first concussion from a hit by Vancouver Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome. His second concussion came from the hands of Philadelphia Flyers forward Tim Sestito last January, which knocked him out for the rest of the season, and his presence was certainly missed in the first round loss to the Washington Capitals.
Even though he hasn’t laced up the skates in the last 12 months, the rest and recovery should prove beneficial to Horton, who should most likely be reuniting with linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci to start the season.
3) Can Milan Lucic and David Krejci stay consistent?
Speaking of Lucic and Krejci, the duo has certainly seen their fair share of criticism from Bruins fans for being inconsistent, especially against the Caps when the duo was nonexistent. The duo signed long-term deals, which means they’ll be staying in Boston for the forseeable future. But for now, a healthy Horton could help Lucic’s and Krejci’s woes from the 2011-12 season.
4) Will Tyler Seguin take another step forward?
The former second overall pick led the team in scoring in goals (29), points (67) and finished second with a plus/minus rating of +34 in 2011-12; his second year in the league. Although he’s been subject of discussion in the Swiss Tabloids recently (via Deadspin), Seguin certainly showed no signs of slowing down on the ice while playing for Biel of the Swiss league tallying 40 points (25 goals, 15 assists) in 29 games. Assuming his development continues, it’s reasonable to expect a 40-50 point campaign for the third year winger.
5) Who will be the 12th forward?
With Jordan Caron out to start training camp, and the departures of Benoit Pouliot (Tampa) and Brian Rolston (UFA), the hottest competition at the start of training camp will be the 12th forward spot. The likely favorite is Chris Bourque, who currently leads the Providence Bruins in scoring. Bourque’s fellow teammates Ryan Spooner, Jamie Tardif and Lane MacDermid, will also join the big club for training camp and battle for the right to play alongside Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly.
6) How will Dougie Hamilton perform in his rookie season?
Hamilton’s struggles at the World Junior Championships have been well discussed over the course of the last few days. That, combined with how coach Claude Julien’s reluctance to put rookies in a prominent role during his tenure in Boston, would usually spell disaster. But not all is lost for Hamilton if he pairs with either Zdeno Chara or Dennis Seidenberg in his rookie season. And the fact that the 2011 first round pick got a stamp of approval from team President Cam Neely also helps.
7) How will the rest of the defense core look?
Chara, Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk are all back for the 2013 season and Hamilton should be ready for his rookie season. That will leave one spot open with Adam McQuaid presumably out due to a blood clot. Expect former Columbus Blue Jacket Aaron Johnson, Garnet Exelby, Matt Bartkowski, and Boston University alum David Warsofsky to battle for the sixth spot on the Bruins’ blue-line.
8) How long will it take to shake off the rust?
This is a question that every team in the league will face. With several players going overseas during the lockout, including Chara, Seguin, Ference, Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins will have plenty of players in hockey shape. But it will take them awhile to get back into game shape in the NHL level. Expect a lot of heavy legs during the early portion of the shortened season.
9) Can a lack of turnover on the 20-man roster help the Bruins?
If they can stay healthy, the Bruins certainly have a shot to be one of the top teams in the East and return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years. While they’ve certainly a few key departures from Thomas to Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi over the course of the last two seasons, a good majority have stayed put in The Hub, including Brad Marchand, who will look to return to being the Bruins’ pest after serving a suspension last year for his hit on Sami Salo.
10) Will Peter Chiarelli try to add more pieces to the puzzle?
With just a little more than $1.3 million in salary cap space according to CapGeek, time will tell if Chiarelli tries to make a move or two before April’s trade deadline. But rather than a significant upgrade, Chia would most likely add some role players much like he has during his tenure in Boston.