The Boston Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in the last three seasons, ultimately losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Bruins team that is likely to remain a Cup contender, though they will have some hard decisions to make this summer with the salary cap decreasing to $64.3-million.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli recognizes the challenges ahead, telling unrestricted free agents Jaromir Jagr, Andrew Ference and Jay Pandolfo that the Bruins wouldn't be bringing them back. That apparently leaves the door open for Nathan Horton, but it won't be easy to fit Horton in while keeping the rest of the Bruins' core intact.
These are hard roster decisions, but the Bruins only run into this challenge because they've been a successful team and have locked up their core with long-term contracts. With goaltender Tuukka Rask a restricted free agent this summer and centre Patrice Bergeron eligible for a contract extension, the Bruins are looking at more financial commitments that will make it difficult to add much to their roster, unless they can shed some other salaries.
The good news for the Bruins is that they have a strong core, good puck possession metrics and one of the best goaltenders in the league, all factors that, even with some roster losses, indicate they should be contenders again next season.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Peter Chiarelli/Claude Julien
Bruins Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
A cerebral player who has led the playoffs in scoring twice in the last three years, David Krejci's regular season production has been good, not great, with his 73-point season in 2007-2008 still his career benchmark. He's a playmaker, with tremendous vision and has been a good fit with power wingers Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.
Boston's playoff success in recent seasons has helped gain Patrice Bergeron the notoriety he deserves as one of the game's elite two-way performers. Consider the company he keeps in terms of puck possession over the last four years and then realize that, unlike the few ranked ahead of him, Bergeron starts most of his shifts in the defensive zone and is often facing the opposition's top scoring line.
While Bergeron's offensive contributions are fine -- 205 points over the last four seasons is tied for 47th with Vincent Lecavalier -- his defensive play is what sets him apart (he should have won the Selke Trophy again in 2013, but finished a very close second) and makes him as valuable as all but a handful of players in the league. While we're on the subject of value, with one year remaining on his deal, Bergeron is eligible for an extension this summer and it will be a priority for the Bruins.
After a guy plays with broken ribs, torn cartilage a separated shoulder and a small hole in his lung, as Bergeron did in the playoffs, there's no need to question whether he has the kind of character/heart/grit/commitment that a team would like to commit to long-term.
The Bruins' leading scorer during the regular season, Brad Marchand didn't have quite the same success in the playoffs, but he's a nice complement to Bergeron, with his in-your-face, agitating style of play serving to annoy the opposition, and only makes it more aggravating when Bergeron and Marchand dominate puck possession.
For much of the 2013 season, Milan Lucic was an enigma, his scoring rates down from previous seasons. Finishing a career-low 8.9% of his shots, Lucic's goals per game (0.15) was his lowest since his rookie season, 2007-2008 and he wasn't playing 17 minutes per game on the team's top scoring line then.
Then the playoffs started and Lucic started to get snarly again, using his imposing strength to create turnovers on the forecheck and regularly stepping in to support teammates. Oh, he also had 19 points and a plus-12 rating in 22 games. The trick for Lucic, if he's going to be great, is to find a way to keep that intensity, or something close to it, throughout the regular season so that he's producing like a premier power forward.
This isn't to suggest that Lucic isn't already valuable. Over the last three seasons, Corey Perry is the only other player in the league to have 150 points and 300 penalty minutes, but Lucic showed in the playoffs just how dominant he can be when he's in the right frame of mind.
It's a testament to high expectations that Tyler Seguin, a 21-year-old who is tied for 14th with 36 even-strength goals over the last two seasons, is considered something of a disappointment because his third season production, including the playoffs when he scored one goal in 22 games, wasn't at the same level of his superb sophomore campaign.
Before throwing Seguin out with the bath water, the Bruins have to recognize that Seguin delivers excellent possession numbers and generated 3.35 shots per game, a pretty healthy increase from 2011-2012 when he was just under three shots per game. The second overall pick from the 2010 draft can show more willingness to go to the hard areas around the net to score, but his hands and gamebreaking speed make him a very valuable commodity going forward.
A speedy checking winger, Daniel Paille has found a niche with the Bruins and produced his fourth double-digit goal season despite the shortened schedule. He was a valuable contributor in the playoffs too, with three of his four goals counting as game-winners.
The face of perseverance after he stayed on the ice to complete his with a broken fibula following a block of an Evgeni Malkin slap shot, Gregory Campbell is a very good fourth-line centre. He's tough and versatile enough to move up the depth chart when needed.
Early in his career, Rich Peverley was a feel-good story: an undrafted player who proved he belonged in the league after he was picked up on waivers, but he struggled in 2013, going through some ridiculously bad luck offensively. Consider: Peverley scored at just barely more than half the rate of 2011-2012 (0.74 ppg down to 0.38) and did so while generating more shots on goal per game with better possession stats. What stands out about Peverley's production is that his 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage was just 4.63%, low even for standard third-line production.
Following up the best offensive season of his career in 2011-2012, when he scored 20 goals and 39 points while scoring on a career-high 16.4% of his shots, Chris Kelly was bitten hard by the regression monster in 2013, finishing with three goals and nine points, scoring on a career-low 7.5% of his shots. A reasonable expectation might fall somewhere in between those two extremes, though he'll be 33 in November, so some decline is likely creeping into his production.
Shawn Thornton didn't play more than half of an NHL season until he was 29-years-old, so he's made the most of his 30s, a time when many players see their games slide. He is the rare enforcer that plays well enough to dress, albeit playing a limited role, in the postseason and take close to a regular turn on the fourth line throughout the season. Over the last five seasons, he's played all but 18 regular-season games for the Bruins.
Scooped off waivers from Ottawa, Kaspars Daugavins can work in a regular fourth-line, penalty-killing role. He has 15 points in 91 career games so, despite his stylish shootout attempt, he's going to have to make it as a checker.
Without much room to move under the salary cap, if the Bruins are going to add forwards, it will likely be internal candidates, with Carl Soderberg and Ryan Spooner likely candidates.
Bruins Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
While his regular season wasn't as strong as might have been expected, with his points per game (0.40 ppg) his lowest since 2001-2001, Zdeno Chara showed in the playoffs that he can control the game like few others. Over the last four seasons, Chara has been the elite defenceman in the league when it comes to puck possession, especially considering that he accomplishes such territorial control while facing the opponent's best offensive players night after night.
The only question with Chara is how long can he keep logging huge minutes and remain this dominant. He's 36 and mere mortals tend to lose a step or two at least by their late 30s. In Chara's case, he'll always be 6-foot-9 with a massive reach and he's in unbelievable physical condition, so it shouldn't be a major concern for at least a few more years.
One of seven defencemen to have at least 100 hits and 100 blocked shots in 2013 (Dan Girardi, Ladislav Smid, Brooks Orpik, Brent Seabrook, Mark Fraser and Luke Schenn are the others), Dennis Seidenberg consistently lays his body on the line and has been a workhorse for the Bruins, ranking 14th among defencemen in ice time over the last three seasons. Incidentally, Chara is fifth.
A hard-hitting defenceman who has become a consistent 20-minute-per-game contributor, Johnny Boychuk took the offensive wraps off in the playoffs, scoring six goals in 22 games (he does have 12 goals and 25 points in 67 career playoff games), but he plays tough minutes in a defensive role most of the time.
Highly-touted rookie Dougie Hamilton showed that he is going to be a very good defenceman, even if he ended up playing only seven games in the playoffs as the Bruins turned to AHL call-up Torey Krug. Hamilton is 6-foot-5, mobile, makes good passes and has a big shot from the point, all qualities that should make him a productive player for a long time. Making better decisions will come as he matures and gets more experience.
While Adam McQuaid doesn't have near the ceiling that Hamilton does, it was McQuaid who played in every playoff games because he's a tough guy who fits well in a defensive role playing 14 minutes per game on the third pair.
With the possibility that Andrew Ference and/or Wade Redden could depart via free agency, the Bruins could have openings on the blueline, most likely for prospects like Krug or Matt Bartkowski, who will be more economical than veteran free agents.
Free Agent Goaltenders
||'12-'13 Cap Hit
One of the game's premier young goaltenders, Tuukka Rask has a .927 save percentage over the last four seasons, best among goaltenders with at least 120 games. Given the opportunity to start in the playoffs for the Bruins for the first time since 2010, Rask backstopped the Bruins to the Final, leading all goalies with a .940 save percentage. As a restricted free agent, he's set to get a huge extension this summer and as long as these results keep coming, it will be easy to justify.
The Bruins may need to look for a backup goaltender if Anton Khudobin gets a more lucrative offer on the open market, though they could dip into their farm system for Niklas Svedberg, who was outstanding for Providence last season.
||29-11-4, 2.14, .934 SV%
||17-40-57, +14, 59 GP
||22-26-48, -8, 29 GP
||13-32-45, even, 63 GP
||36-24-60, +17, 50 GP
||31-29-60, +18, 54 GP
||1-2-3, +3, 10 GP
||37-8-2, 2.17 GAA, .925 SV%
||3-21-24, +2, 56 GP
||11-7-18, -5, 47 GP
A first-round pick last summer, Malcolm Subban was dominant in the Ontario Hockey League last season. He'll take some time, as he's just 19, but indications are that he could be a starting goaltender once he reaches his potential.
After scoring nearly a point-per-game in the AHL as a first-year pro, Ryan Spooner got into four games with Boston and has to be considered a candidate for a spot next season. He isn't big, so getting stronger will be a priority, as it should allow him to play a two-way game at the next level.
Drafted in the second round in 2011, Alexander Khokhlachev played in three leagues last season, with time in the KHL (seven points, even, 26 GP) and Providence of the AHL (three points, even, 11 GP). When he did go to the OHL, Khokhlachev showed that he was a dominant offensive player at that level.
Though Torey Krug is small, he's a dynamic defenceman, capable of joining the rush, moving the puck quickly in transition and getting pucks on net and he made the most of his opportunity in the postseason, scoring four goals in his first five games to cement his spot in the lineup and give him a good shot to make next year's team right from the start.
A hustling winger who had a productive junior season, Anthony Camara has decent size and isn't afraid to use it. With further development the 2011 third-rounder should be able to fit in a checking role.
For years Carl Soderberg may as well have been a mythical creature, remaining in Sweden while the Bruins wondered if they would ever get to see his skills in action. He finally arrived late in 2013 and he certainly is an intriguing combination of size and skill.
A second-round pick in 2010, Jared Knight was injured for most of his first pro season, playing a total of 12 games bteween the AHL and ECHL. Start fresh next season and see what he can do.
23-year-old Niklas Svedberg made a smooth transition to the North American game and could be knocking on the door for an NHL job soon.
At 25-years-old, Matt Bartkowski is a little old for the prospect game, but he's played 20 NHL games over the last three seasons and filled in admirably during the playoffs when needed. Others have a higher ceiling, but Bartkowski might have a fair chance to be on the big club's roster next season.
A first-round pick in 2009, Jordan Caron fell flat in 2013, struggling in the AHL and only getting into 17 games with Boston. He has good size, can play a top nine role in the NHL and is still just 22.
The Bruins have some depth in their system too, from forwards Seth Griffith, Craig Cunningham, Carter Camper, Matt Lindblad and Brian Ferlin and collegiate defenceman Matt Grzelcyk.
No first-round pick.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Bruins have approximately $58.3M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 17 players.
Check out my possible Bruins lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: One top six forward, two defencemen, backup goaltender.
What I said the Bruins needed last year: One top nine forward, depth forwards, one top four defenceman, backup goaltender.
They added: Dougie Hamilton, Anton Khudobin.
Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.