The Bruins enter the 2016-17 NHL season armed with cap flexibility, some key additions to the core of the team, an exciting draft class, and one of the NHL’s most elite group of prospects. The off-season has certainly been busy for the Bruins front office, and with the addition of a state of the art practice facility in Brighton, the entire organization is ready for the new NHL season to kick-off.
"The challenge of restructuring our cap and building the depth of our prospects has presented some very difficult decisions over the last 15 months while I have been on the job. There has been a lot of transition — not unexpected,” said Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney, now in his second year at the helm. “Change is not always easy to accept, even if you know it’s coming."
For the 2016-17 season, a strong, long-time Bruins core will be surrounded by a group of free agent acquisitions and a bevy of young players in the system striving to earn NHL jobs.
“I trust our core, on and off the ice, and I think they’ve worked hard the last couple years to work through some of the change," said Sweeney. “The quicker they and our coaches can get these younger players — not necessarily to their level of play — but to understand the expectations and knowledge of how they need to play, the more impact will be made on our team and its success on the ice."
Captain Zdeno Chara joins returning homegrown Bruins Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, Adam McQuaid, Brad Marchand, Kevan Miller and Torey Krug. Miller and Krug re-signed in the offseason.
Hard-nosed winger Matt Beleskey will enter the second year of a five-year deal he signed as a free agent last July. Trade deadline acquisition and pace-pushing defenseman John-Michael Liles will return to Boston on a one-year deal to help the transitional game on the back end.
Through free agency on July 1, the Bruins brought in more leadership and grit by signing 10-year NHL veteran and five-year captain of the St. Louis Blues, David Backes. With 727 games played in the NHL and another 49 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Backes brings six 20-goal seasons to the Bruins’ offense. He also bring the versatility to play on the wing or at center, joining 1-2 punch Bergeron and Krejci.
Jimmy Hayes is aiming for a more consistent second season for his hometown team, while free agent signing Riley Nash has his sights on adding versatility to his new team.
Young forwards Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, Noel Acciari and Frank Vatrano will look to improve their play and challenge the vets up front. First year pros Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly, Jake DeBrusk are highly regarded and will be players to keep your eye on during camp.
On the back end, Chara, McQuaid, Liles, Krug and Miller will be pressured by young blueliners Colin Miller, Joe Morrow and burgeoning prospects like 2015 second-rounder Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk and Rob O'Gara. Veteran Dennis Seidenberg will not return, as the Bruins bought out the remaining two years of his contract in June.
“There’s a real opportunity for our young players to continue to emerge as the next wave,” he said, mentioning Krug as a candidate to become a leader on the blueline.
“Matt Beleskey now has a better feel and appreciation for the city and the team so he should feel more comfortable,” said Sweeney. “Jimmy [Hayes] and David Pastrnak - who at 20 years old is a young player - should feel a little more comfortable in their own skin, which is going to help on the ice.”
Following weeks of training camp and the conclusion of the World Cup of Hockey, the Bruins will kick off the 2016-17 season with a three-game road trip through Columbus (Oct. 13), Toronto (Oct. 15) and Winnipeg (Oct. 17).
“I’m excited in terms of anticipating how camp is going to come together; especially given the opportunity with our young guys assuming larger roles while the World Cup is ongoing," said Sweeney. “There’s that element of he unknown that still exists in how guys are going to react. I acknowledge the fact that people look at our defense and say, ‘Who’s going to emerge?' We have work to do and being honest in your assessments is part of the equation while building a championship team."