The boys are back in town.
After falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final more than two months ago, the Boston Bruins are eager to get back to work and hope to capture their second Cup in four years.
With the exception of Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr, Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Andrew Ference, the B’s return a strong core that won their second Eastern Conference title in three years. Veterans like Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Dennis Seidenberg and Tuukka Rask – just to name a few – are back for another run, while new additions Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson hope to contribute to the Black and Gold in their first season(s) in Boston.
While they are expected to be a cup contender once again, the B’s will have a few questions to answer before the start of the season, beginning with the start of training camp this week. Here’s a look at the top five questions they need to answer:
1. Who will fill the third line right wing spot?
Thanks to the departure of Peverley, the right wing slot on the third line is up for grabs? The prime candidates to join Carl Soderberg and Chris Kelly (presumably) are Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner and Reilly Smith, just to name a few.
During his first three years, Caron has been back and forth between Boston and Providence. Spooner had a cup of coffee with the B’s last year, while Smith, who came over from Dallas in the mega deal, played 37 games with the Stars during the lockout shortened season.
Three years ago, the line of Kelly, Peverley and Michael Ryder provided an extra spark to the Bruins’ cup run. But last year, Peverley and Kelly were inconsistent, and the right-wing spot was a revolving door between Caron, Spooner, Seguin and even Chris Bourque.
While they aren’t exactly expected to set the world on fire, the third line is going to need to provide that mix of scoring and grit. Whoever fills the spot will hope to provide a little more depth to an already deep Black and Gold hockey club.
“I think ideally, I’d like to see the third line that we saw when we won the cup,” head coach Claude Julien said. “We had Kelly, we had Peverley, we had Ryder. Not only were they kind of a dependable line, but they were able to give us some scoring.
“In the real perfect world, you got your top two lines that you’d like to see them score on a regular basis. Your third line should be able to give you some secondary scoring. And your third line should also be able to give you some secondary grit that the fourth line gives you. So, to me they’re caught in the middle where they give you a little bit of both. And that’s what we’re looking for from that line.”
2. How will the Bruins blue-line look?
When Seidenberg, Ference and Wade Redden were injured during last year’s postseason, Julien needed to fill those spots with Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski. All three exceeded expectations and gave the Bruins’ blue-line some added offense during their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup with the New York Rangers. Eventually, Krug beat out both Bartkowski and Hamilton and remained on the Bruins defensive core for the rest of the postseason.
With Ference departing in the offseason for Edmonton, another spot is up for grabs. Will Krug, after a strong performance during the Stanley Cup playoffs, remain on the opening night roster? Will Hamilton, a former top-10 pick, get another chance to shine? Will Bartkowski, who was also solid in the playoffs, be in the top-six?
Regardless of what the opening night roster looks like, the future is still bright for the three young Bruins’ blue-liners.
“I think it’s always interesting to see how young guys develop,” Seidenberg said about Krug, Hamilton and Bartkowski. “How they get stronger in the summer I don’t know, but the most important part is how they improve on the ice. And especially young guys who played a big part in our success in the playoffs, it’s interesting to see how they’ll do in the pre-season and going forward.
3. Who will be the Bruins’ next assistant captain?
Another void left by Ference is the other ‘A’ for the Bruins. And the team can go in many different directions with this.
Krejci, Lucic, Seidenberg, Chris Kelly, Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille have been around the Bruins’ locker room long enough to deserve the next ‘A’. Meanwhile, Eriksson was an assistant captain in Dallas and Iginla donned the ‘C’ in Calgary for nine seasons before the trade to Pittsburgh last year.
Regardless of who winds up as the next assistant captain, the team has many leaders in the locker room, regardless on whether they wear a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ or not.
“I say it often: you don’t need to wear a letter to be a leader,” Julien said. “There’s a lot more leaders in that dressing room than you see with letters on your jersey’s. And when it comes time to meeting players as a core group, there’s more than just a captain and three assistants, which we had last year.”
Despite being a captain from 2003-2013 with the Flames, Iginla plans on keeping things simple, with or without a letter.
“I plan on being myself,” he said. “I definitely don’t come in thinking that they need leadership, help or anything. They are a very strong crew and have had a lot of success together and have been together for a long time.
“It is a balance [though]. I just don’t want to be a fly on the wall, I want to be a part of it. But I think the biggest thing is to just play hard and compete and that’s what these guys do so well.”
4. Who will backup Tuukka Rask?
In a minor storyline, Tuukka needs a backup with Anton Khudobin leaving for Carolina. The B’s signed Chad Johnson – previously with the Rangers and Coyotes – during the offseason, but after a strong rookie season in Providence, Swedish netminder Niklas Svedberg could steal the spot.
Early indications point to Johnson, who signed a one-way contract, to get the nod behind Rask. But with Malcolm Subban en route to Providence, one might wonder if Svedberg gets the call up in order to quickly progress Subban’s development with the organization.
Either way, with Rask, Svedberg and Subban in the fold, the Bruins’ goaltending situation looks strong for the foreseeable future.
5. What will the team’s image look like after “Behind the B”?
Ok, so maybe this isn’t entirely an on-ice issue. But with cameras following around the Black and Gold this season, this question has to be asked.
The first episode of “Behind the B”, which aired Monday night on NESN, drew quite the response in The Hub of Hockey. And perhaps the best is rest to come.
Still, the Bruins are all about maintaining a positive image. And Julien, for one, won’t go out of character, just to impress the cameras.
“Last thing you want to do is change your style,” the seventh-year Bruins coach said with a chuckle. “As the players notice, I’m going to be myself. There will be very few curse words and I’ll be speaking the same way I normally do.”