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Bruins hope changes get them back into playoffs

by Matt Kalman continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

BOSTON -- It's been an offseason of change for the Boston Bruins, who missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight years.

The first significant change came April 15, when general manager Peter Chiarelli was fired and replaced by assistant GM Don Sweeney. After a couple weeks on the job, Sweeney decided to retain coach Claude Julien and his staff once Sweeney felt comfortable they were on the same page about making the Bruins more aggressive.

"They had teed up some clips in meetings and stuff before I even had a chance to sit with them, where we can get up ice and create a little more anxiety in really all three zones, where we defend the blue line and we create some turnovers and get back on offense," Sweeney said. "I think our breakouts have to have a little more flow to it and our forwards are going to have more ownership to have some guys in motion to be able to get back on offense. And that's going to be a work in progress. That's not something you just change overnight."

The Bruins had a busy weekend at the 2015 NHL Draft. Sweeney traded restricted free agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames after it became apparent Boston wasn't going to be able to re-sign him. With forward Milan Lucic heading toward unrestricted free agency next summer, Sweeney traded him to the Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins acquired mainly draft picks and prospects for each player.

When free agency opened July 1, Sweeney signed left wing Matt Beleskey from the Anaheim Ducks to boost an offense that was tied for 22nd in the NHL (2.55 goals per game). Beleskey scored an NHL career-high 22 goals last season.

Sweeney also traded forward Reilly Smith to the Florida Panthers for forward Jimmy Hayes, who scored 19 goals last season.

Defenseman Zdeno Chara, centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, forward Brad Marchand and goaltender Tuukka Rask remain the pillars of the Bruins after Sweeney's remodel. The first-year general manager is counting on that veteran group becoming reinvigorated.

"I remember when Billy Guerin a long time ago had told me, you walk into that new locker room for the first time, you're re-energized with people around you," Sweeney said. "And I think it can be similar when you have had some change going on, some player personnel change, and hopefully our guys will recognize that as a core leadership group and really, really bring this group together and get back to grow together. They know how it's done. The accountability and structure piece, that's not going anywhere. Our guys know how to win and need to charge that direction."

Bergeron won his third Selke Trophy last season and led Boston with 55 points. He and the Bruins will benefit from having a healthy Krejci, who was limited to 47 games. Krejci, who has averaged 0.74 points per game in his NHL career, should be fully recovered from a knee injury and a mysterious lower- or mid-body injury that slowed the 29-year-old early in the season.

Despite the decision to trade pending unrestricted free agent Carl Soderberg to the Colorado Avalanche, the Bruins look like they're still three-deep at center because of the emergence late last season of Ryan Spooner. The 2010 second-round pick had eight goals and 18 points in 29 games after proving to Julien he could adjust his game to fit the Bruins system.

"Having gotten himself comfortable, him and Claude both, from the player's perspective understanding what it was going to take to be a good player, and Claude recognizing what he did with Spooner's speed and power-play acumen, and I think the production started to come for us," Sweeney said. "That's a good evolution of that type of player. We have other younger players that fall into that same category, and when they are ready and have earned the opportunity then they take advantage of it."

Although it remains to be seen how the line combinations will shake out, Beleskey and Hayes will join Marchand, Brett Connolly and David Pastrnak to form a deeper group on the wings.

The Hamilton trade left a void on the Bruins defense, but six regulars, led by Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Torey Krug, are likely to return. With several free agent defensemen available and trade talks ongoing, Sweeney might not be done making moves that will improve the Bruins' chances of returning to the playoffs in 2016.

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