Perhaps it was always too big of an a request to be rescued by the Bruins again, first in 2011 from a revolting Canucks team, no one from whom has gone on to have his name etched in silver, and this past summer from quite possibly the most underwhelming assemblage of players to ever end up having hoisted the Cup in the moldering St. Louis Blues. It was a true exhibition in monkey paw wish fulfillment, or at the very least a real life tale of punishing Irish Catholic irony worthy of Sean O’Casey, that Brad Marchand would finally be exposed as the absolute fraud of a player that he is only to give the Blues their first ever Cup. There are sins going on here both big and small that will never, ever be forgiven.
49-24-9 107 Points, 2nd in Atlantic
3.13 GF/G (11th), 2.59 GA/G (3rd), +44 GD
53.04 CF% (6th), 52.77% xGF (7th)
25.9% PP (3rd), 79.9% PK (17th)
Goalies: Last year was a bit of a resurgence for longtime B’s netminder Tuukka Rask, mostly due to the fact that the rest of the league seemed to drop down to the rate Tuukka had been playing at for the past couple of years, at least in the regular season. His .912 overall is about league average, but the underlying numbers suggest that at evens he was as solid as could be expected with a .925 against. The problems came during special teams, where Bruce Cassidy’s more uptempo, more loosely structured system came with its own risks and rewards. The Bruins had a top flight power play, but with only a single high defenseman, and that defenseman being either Tory Krug or Charlie McAvoy, that left Tuukka on an island, and the B’s allowed a league worst 15 shorties against. Similarly, their PK wasn’t as tightly structured behind the obvious top manned unit of Patrice Bergeron, and their kill was decidedly middle of the road, a serious dropoff from the Julien era. All of this is a longwinded way of saying that Tuukka may not be an absolute brick wall anymore, but he’s still in the upper echelon of goalies, as he proved by turning in a Smythe worthy performance with a .934 overall in the post season. He’ll once again be spelled by Jaro Halak, who always seems to fare better as a 1B or a backup, and was more than acceptable with a .922 overall and .934 at evens last year in 37 starts. He’s more than capable of providing Rask with a break to preserve him for the post-season or even stepping up in the event of injury. Overall, the Bruins have one of the better goaltending situations in both the conference and the league.
Defense: One of the big, and stupid misconceptions about the Cup final matchup was that both of these teams were huge, lumbering, rough and tumble heavyweight teams, based solely on reputation and the fact that Regis “Pierre” McGuire is a moronic pecker who never shuts up. The fact of the matter is that while Zdeno Chara is still lurching around Fangorn Forest at 42 years old (43 in March), this blue line is built to get up and go, and is somewhat undersized, Charlie McAvoy’s absolutely huge face notwithstanding. Chara played center field for McAvoy for the majority of the year, but they weren’t taking the toughest assignments or zone starts. McAvoy is still unsigned and was on pace for 40+ points at age 21-22, so it’s likely the B’s opt for longer term instead of a bridge deal because the offensive upside is clearly there, but he’s still a dervish in his own end. Brandon Carlo also remains unsigned, and was tasked with some of the tougher assignments in the post season, as he certainly has the 6’5″, 220lb frame to take that on. John Moore is here for another three years much to the delight of all the Devils fans who hate him, and Tory Krug still needs to be kept as far away from the offensive zone as possible. There’s not a lot in the Bruins’ system on the blue line that they’re waiting with baited breath for, so assuming that McAvoy and Carlo eventually get signed, as both are restricted and have no leverage, they’re basically running back the same unit as last year.
Forwards: This is well worn territory yet again, but it always bears repeating. The Bruins boast arguably the best line in the game with Patrice Bergeron centering David Pastrnak and the detestable Brad Marchand. Bergeron is an absolute legend, and is doing things at both ends of the still when his contemporaries in Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have basically had to choose offense or defense at this point and just stick to one of them. Bergeron is a possession dynamo, one of the smartest players in the game, and will take an absolute pounding night in and night out, he is an instantaneous hall of famer. David Pastrnak is young, dynamic, and has an elite set of hands even if his skating stride isn’t necessarily the prettiest. He has a top flight release on his shot, but isn’t afraid of the corners. Brad Marchand is a slightly more talented Andrew Shaw who has failed miserably every time Patrice Bergeron has been injured or seriously limited by injuries on the ice, and has built his whole career on Bergeron’s back. He showed his ass in the above highlight by doing his best Roger Dorn OLE at the blue line, and still ended up going for a change as the Blues entered the zone. Mites are taught to never change on a back check, let alone after allowing free zone entry while flatfooted. He is an unrepentant dickhead who intends to injure opponents, and if the NHLPA were an actual union invested in the well being of its labor force instead of a loose conglomeration of millionaire 7th-grade-educated hillrods with CTE and coke hangovers, they’d railroad Marchand’s ass right out for endangering the rest of the union’s ability to earn. The day he inevitable wraps his sports car around a tree in Dorchester at 4AM (as is hockey player tradition) cannot come soon enough.
Elsewhere, David Backes getting double-owned by losing a Game 7 Cup final, and to his former team the Blues would be pretty hilarious, again, if it hadn’t been the Blues winning. Charlie Coyle came home in a curious trade and somehow turned into a playoff dynamo, but it remains to be seen if he can provide consistent second-tier scoring behind the top line for a full 82. David Krejci remains under appreciated, but at 33 his production has begun to slip. Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, and Sean Kuraly will all be expected to take the next step in their respective developments, with DeBrusk’s ceiling being the highest. It’s not a bad group to try throw out there again, but the B’s are far from capped out and have always been top heavy with this group, so it’s curious why they haven’t tried to augment their scoring a little bit on the margins. But it’s doubtful any of the 29 other fanbases are going to be heartbroken if throwing this same group out there again just isn’t quite good enough to win in June.
Outlook: The Atlantic is a far tougher draw than whatever the Metro is right now, and that’s even with the Leafs still thumb-blasting themselves in the Mitch Marner situation and having a bad blue line. What happened to Tampa was a fluke, and they’re certainly not going anywhere and could have a sizeable chip on their shoulder. The Panthers may finally get it together, but that’s a big if, and the rest of the division is willfully shitty. It’s basically a given that the Bruins will have one of the three guaranteed spots, it’s just a matter of seeding, and in which round they inevitably beat the Leafs, and then in which subsequent round they implode.
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