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Season Preview: Boston Bruins

Addition of David Backes adds grit; defense still question mark

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer
At a glance

2015-16 record: 42-31-9, 93 points, 4th in Atlantic Division, 9th in Eastern Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify

Additions: F: David Backes, Austin Czarnik, Danton Heinen, Dominic Moore, Riley Nash, Tim Schaller; D: Christian Ehrhoff; G: Anton Khudobin

Subtractions: F: Brett Connolly, Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly; D: Dennis Seidenberg; G: Jonas Gustavsson

 

Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Brad Marchand -- Patrice Bergeron -- David Pastrnak

Ryan Spooner -- David Krejci -- David Backes

Matt Beleskey -- Austin Czarnik -- Jimmy Hayes

Riley Nash -- Dominic Moore -- Danton Heinen

Tyler Randell

Defensemen

Zdeno Chara -- Colin Miller

Torey Krug -- Adam McQuaid

John-Michael Liles -- Kevan Miller

Joe Morrow

Goalies

Tuukka Rask

Anton Khudobin

Malcolm Subban

 

Video: Breaking down Brad Marchand's new contract

A late-season slump kept the Boston Bruins out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season. Boston lost six of seven games at the end of March, lost at home on the final day of the season, and lost a tiebreaker to the Detroit Red Wings for third place in the Atlantic Division.

The Bruins don't want to make it three straight seasons out of the playoffs. But they have some obstacles to overcome to get back into the postseason.

The problems start with a defense that did not add any major pieces despite showing weaknesses in 2015-16. The maturation of young defensemen, including Colin Miller and Joe Morrow, along with the eventual readiness of Brandon Carlo and Rob O'Gara, will be key in the present and future.

The offense will come from the top of the lineup, where Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand will try to build off an impressive run with Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. Marchand had 37 goals last season and could top 40 this season.

The biggest addition is forward David Backes, the former captain of the St. Louis Blues, who signed a five-year, $30 million contract on July 1.

The talk around the Bruins for the past two seasons has been about pushing the pace, though they're not entirely blessed with speed. Integrating young players David Pastrnak and Danton Heinen could help, but increasing the tempo will be a team-wide effort.

After using goalies Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson as backups for Tuukka Rask during the past two seasons, the Bruins brought back Anton Khudobin (who was on the team from 2011-13) as a free agent on a two-year contract.

This could be a crucial season for the Bruins, who soon will decide how to structure their future. They have young talent after having nine first- and second-round draft choices in the past two years. The question is whether the current core and future core will line up to propel the Bruins on a Stanley Cup run any time in the near future.

 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Marchand and Bergeron continue their top-line dominance and Rask returns to the form that earned him the Vezina Trophy in 2014.

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The defense. The Bruins made no major additions to a group that struggled last season; if the young defensemen, Morrow and Miller, fail to take the next step to support an aging group, including Zdeno Chara and John-Michael Liles, Boston could miss the playoffs again.

 

Breakout candidate

David Pastrnak. The forward had 27 points in 46 games two seasons ago as an 18-year-old rookie but struggled with injuries last season and ended up with 26 points in 51 games. Pastrnak played with Team Czech Republic at the World Cup and is going to be relied on to provide more scoring.

 

On the hot seat

Jimmy Hayes. The Bruins acquired the forward in a trade that sent forward Reilly Smith to the Florida Panthers on July 1, 2015. But the Boston native finished last season with a disappointing 13 goals in 75 games after getting 19 in 72 games for Florida in 2014-15. Hayes ended his first season in Boston by going without a goal in his final 16 games and scoring once in his final 23. His inconsistency prompted general manager Don Sweeney to say during the summer that Hayes "tailed off when the team needed him most." He will need to be better to keep his spot on the reworked right side.

 

Trophy candidates

Bergeron (Selke); Rask (Vezina)

 
Quotable

"I definitely think there's lessons learned. You can look at our season last year and see us in first place at one point, and see us then not making the playoffs by one game. So I think you just have to take advantage of it, every game does count. You've got to kind of roll with it. I think getting hot at the right time is huge, but I think you've got to be focused throughout the whole year." -- forward Matt Beleskey

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