Replacing Iginla tops Bruins' five questions

Saturday, 08.23.2014 / 3:00 AM
Matt Kalman  - Correspondent

They don't give players a summer day with the Presidents' Trophy.

There are no parades associated with the award given to the team with the best regular-season record in the NHL.

No, those privileges only come with the Stanley Cup, a fact the Boston Bruins know all too well after they followed a 117-point regular season with a seven-game loss in the Eastern Conference Second Round to the Montreal Canadiens.

Boston is going to have to find a way to improve in 2014-15. However, even after losing top goal-scorer Jarome Iginla to the Colorado Avalanche as an unrestricted free agent, the Bruins didn't have enough salary-cap space to make changes to their roster.

They instead re-signed most of their restricted free agents and plan on retaining entry-level free agents Reilly Smith and Torey Krug, who each had a breakout season in their inaugural NHL campaign in 2013-14.

There are plenty of questions to be answered between now and training camp, and during the season, as the Bruins try to remain among the NHL's elite. Here are five:

1. Who will replace Jarome Iginla? -- Iginla was the new Nathan Horton. Now the Bruins need a new Iginla to skate with center David Krejci and left wing Milan Lucic. Among the Bruins' returning players, only Loui Eriksson and Smith seem to have the type of offensive skills it takes to play on the first line. Either player will give that line a different dynamic; Krejci is used to being surrounded by skill players with size and brute strength.

Eriksson figures to get the first chance to take that spot, barring a trade.

2. Can Eriksson rebound? -- Bruins brass has faith the injury-plagued wing, who scored 37 points in 61 games last season and sustained two concussions, wasn't the player they're going to have this season and beyond.

"I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year," coach Claude Julien said. "I think we started seeing that at the end of the year, and he could be a replacement for Jarome as a possibility."

Eriksson had a strong last couple months of last season, especially when Carl Soderberg was switched to center and Chris Kelly moved to left wing. If Eriksson doesn't win the job with Lucic and Krejci, maybe the Swede plays with center Patrice Bergeron and left wing Brad Marchand, or maybe goes back to the bottom six.

He needs to be the type of producer he was for the Dallas Stars, where he had 71 points in 2011-12.

3. Which forward prospect is ready for a promotion? -- Iginla and right wing Shawn Thornton left two forward openings, but Kelly's expected return from back surgery leaves one spot that, for now, the Bruins will look to fill from within the organization. Justin Florek and Matt Fraser made early impressions by playing well in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Ryan Spooner has had high hopes for a while. Alexander Khokhlachev has been gradually making his way into the Bruins' plans.

Boston drafted David Pastrnak late in the first round this June, and all of a sudden there was another competitor. The Bruins were impressed with the 18-year-old at their development camp and quickly signed him so he can make a push for an NHL job.

4. Can Tuukka Rask get some rest? -- The past two seasons, the Bruins had extremely capable backups for their No. 1 goaltender. Anton Khudobin had a .920 save percentage and 2.32 goals-against average in 2012-13, and last season Chad Johnson had a .925 save percentage and a 2.10 GAA to make sure the Bruins dealt with only a slight drop on nights when the Vezina Trophy winner was off.

It appears Niklas Svedberg will move up into the No. 2 slot. He was the American Hockey League goaltender of the year in 2012-13 but had some troubles last season, when he had a 2.63 GAA and .910 save percentage. Svedberg has one game of NHL experience, so he's a bit of a wild card.

5. Which six defensemen will Peter Chiarelli pick? -- The Bruins typically keep seven defensemen in the NHL but rarely play more than six. Right now, there are no fewer than nine players who could claim a spot in the top six.

Veterans Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg are lineup fixtures. Dougie Hamilton and Krug earned the right to be in the top four with strong seasons. Then you have veterans Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski, and second-year player Kevan Miller.

General manager Peter Chiarelli has cited prospect David Warsofsky as legitimate NHL player. If everyone's healthy, at some point there will have to be a trade. Boychuk, who's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, would bring the most in return and free the most salary-cap space. But Chiarelli could move a couple of the younger players.

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