NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Boston Bruins.
Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are two pillars of the Boston Bruins on the ice, but it turns out the forwards also are master recruiters.
Marchand and Bergeron weren't the only ones who tried to convince free agent center David Backes to sign with the Bruins, but they certainly helped land their biggest acquisition of the offseason.
Backes signed a five-year, $30 million contract July 1, leaving the St. Louis Blues.
"Being an outsider, we need to have a little confession, that Marchand's kind of a guy that gets under everybody's skin, and I was no different," Backes said. "And then talking to him a little bit in the interview process before July 1, hang up the phone and had to kind of take a deep breath and go, 'That little disturber, pain the in butt, he's actually a pretty good guy.'
"Those guys end up being the best teammates. And a guy like Bergeron, you play against him and he's just always in the right spot and never making mistakes. And those types of guys again are guys you want on your team, guys you love to go to war with, and you keep going down the list."
Backes was second on the Blues with 21 goals last season (Vladimir Tarasenko had 40). Backes turned 32 on May 1 and looked to sign somewhere he was wanted, his family would enjoy living, and he could win. The Bruins, who have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons, might have seemed an unlikely destination, but Backes is looking at his arrival differently.
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Boston's other major roster change was the loss of forward Loui Eriksson, who was third on the Bruins last season with 30 goals (behind Marchand's 37 and Bergeron's 32) and tied with David Krejci for second with 63 points (Bergeron had 68). Though Eriksson signed with the Vancouver Canucks as an unrestricted free agent, Backes was convinced by his new teammates that the pieces are in place to contend for the Stanley Cup.
"Just the way that they spoke and talked about their team mentality and teaming up together and sharing the load of the hard minutes that need to be played, but also sharing the load of the offensive necessities that the team has, those things just rang true to my beliefs as a team that we're all equals, whether you're the top-paid guy or the top-minute guy or the low-minute guy or a guy that's playing every other game because you're a healthy scratch other games," Backes said. "And that's the type of thing, when you've got that from a full 20 guys on the ice, it's so tough to beat. And those are the teams that win championships."
General manager Don Sweeney has been as focused on making the Bruins a perennial contender as he has been on trying to get them back into the playoffs this season. The Bruins have made nine picks in the first two rounds of the NHL Draft the past two years, and Sweeney has been stockpiling prospects in hopes that some will develop into good players or prove valuable in a trade.
One of the areas that could be improved is their 2.78 goals-allowed per game, tied for 19th in the NHL last season. Sweeney said he'd like to add a transitional defenseman.
The Bruins are planning to enter the season with seven defensemen who played last season. In addition to Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid, the Bruins re-signed unrestricted free agents Kevan Miller and John-Michael Liles, and signed restricted free agents Torey Krug, Colin Miller and Joe Morrow. Dennis Seidenberg had the final two seasons of his contract bought out June 30.
There could be some challenges from prospects during training camp, but the seven returning defensemen all have a one-way contract.
The Bruins also will benefit from a bounce-back season from goaltender Tuukka Rask, who had a 2.56 goals-against average and .915 save percentage last season. Anton Khudobin was signed July 1 to provide an experienced backup to lighten Rask's load. Rask's 134 games played the past two seasons are third in the League behind Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings (140) and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals (139).
The Bruins also hope Backes, who can play in all situations at center or right wing, and the signing of unrestricted free agent forward Riley Nash to shore up the fourth line, will help cut down the goals against.
"I think we're an improved hockey club," Sweeney said. "We identified some areas we wanted to make sure we were deeper at, certainly in the middle of the ice, penalty killing. We wanted a little more balance on our back end to be able to have some transitional play involved and getting back on pucks, moving pucks. We have players that need to continue to gain experience. But where are they getting that except the National Hockey League level? Are they ready to assume large roles? That's to be determined."