NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
While the Los Angeles Kings did something extremely rare in 2012-13, bringing back every player who dressed for a postseason game during a Stanley Cup-claiming run, the Boston Bruins also had an incredible amount of continuity for two seasons after winning a title in 2011.
Of the 21 players who appeared in a Stanley Cup Playoff game for the Bruins in 2011, 16 were still on the roster last season. Much of the core from the 2011 team remains, but there was more turnover again this offseason. Three key forwards (Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley) and a top-four defenseman (Andrew Ference) have departed who won the Cup in 2011, and a fourth forward (Jaromir Jagr) who joined the cause prior to the 2013 trade deadline is also no longer available.
Still, the list of questions about the Bruins as the 2013-14 campaign beckons is certainly shorter than for most teams in the NHL. There have been competitions during training camp, and those who will get the initial chance to fill holes in the lineup have essentially been determined.
Here are few storylines to watch with the Bruins as they try to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in the past four seasons:
The moves look sound on paper: General manager Peter Chiarelli landed an all-star level forward in Loui Eriksson to replace a potential all-star in Seguin, and then signed Jarome Iginla to a short-term deal to replace Horton, who left for a long-term pact in Columbus. Boston should be better in the short term with Eriksson and Iginla instead of a still-developing Seguin and an injured Horton (who is going to miss a chunk of the season because of offseason shoulder surgery).
Roles for the new guys seem to be tailor-made as well. Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron should find instant chemistry, and Iginla plays a similar style to Horton.
"They're both shooters, they're both right-handed, they play physical, they fight when they need to, so they're pretty much the same players," Bruins center David Krejci said of Iginla and Horton. "Jarome's got obviously a little more experience and he proved himself so many times in the NHL that he can score 30-plus goals. I'm actually excited to have that kind of guy on my line, and we're going to try to do everything that we can to get a good chemistry going in training camp and go from there."
The new guys still have to assimilate on the ice once the games start to count, though. Eriksson had a disappointing offensive season in 2012-13, but how much of that was because the Dallas Stars as a group struggled to score goals remains to be seen. Iginla played well for much of his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but these Bruins shut him down completely in the Eastern Conference Final.
There are also new guys to work in on the third line, and the kids on defense have to prove they're ready for more responsibility, but the biggest key to Boston's chances of being a great team instead of a really good one this season could be Eriksson and Iginla making a seamless transition to new roles on their new club.
2. What about the new wrinkle on the power play?
When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, they did so despite terrible efficiency on the power play through the first three rounds of the playoffs. There was a similar script in 2013, as the Bruins were tied for 25th on the power play in the regular season and then were 7-for-45 in the first three rounds before actually improving in the Cup Final again.
The Bruins are certainly not short on talent, but coach Claude Julien has tinkered with a sizable (pun intended) change to the team's setup with the man advantage during the preseason. Six-foot-nine defenseman Zdeno Chara has been deployed in front of the goaltender at the edge of the crease.
It's a move that could generate all kinds of problems for opposing teams. Chara would be a problem for defensemen who want to move him out of the crease area and for goaltenders as they try to see oncoming pucks.
"We're tinkering with that," Julien told Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe. "We're going to have a look at that. We have some guys that we feel can shoot the puck from the back end. [Chara] is probably one of our best guys at screening with his big body. We've known that for a long time. It was probably what we feel like we didn't have for the back end. It’s something we're experimenting with."
One guy in particular the Bruins have not had in the past is Torey Krug. He had a strong postseason, and could begin his first full season in the NHL as the quarterback for the team's top power-play unit. Another option is Dougie Hamilton. Both young defensemen could infuse some extra creativity into the power play, and allow Chara to spend time wreaking havoc closer to the net.
3. Will the young guys actually make the Bruins better?
Krug and Hamilton are expected to have increased roles and more responsibility during the 2013-14 season. The players likely to replace Peverley and Seguin on the third line (from the typical postseason lineup, at least) are also not long on NHL experience. Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg have a combined total of 48 NHL games on their resume, and they are likely to start the season flanking Chris Kelly on the third line.
If there are injuries, the top options as replacements are all young as well. Matt Bartkowski will likely be the team's seventh defenseman, Niklas Svedberg could be ready for an NHL opportunity in goal and the list of forward options includes Jordan Caron, Jared Knight, Ryan Spooner and Matt Fraser.
Any of those players could produce a breakthrough season, and in the process add to what is already one of the most talented rosters in the League.
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