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Bruins hoping new faces, system mean playoff return

by Matt Kalman / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams.

BOSTON -- For seven seasons the Boston Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs under the leadership of general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien.

Despite 96 points last season, the Bruins missed the playoffs, finishing two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second Eastern Conference wild card.

Chiarelli was fired April 15 and replaced by assistant GM Don Sweeney, who spent the offseason remaking the roster so the Bruins could have a better chance of returning to the postseason in 2015-16. Sweeney kept the bulk of the core who won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and reached the Final in 2013.

The hope is a few new faces and some tweaks to their systems will be enough to get the Bruins playing hockey deep into the spring.

The Bruins ranked in the bottom third of the NHL in scoring most of last season and finished tied for 22nd at 2.55 goals per game. Several forwards scored below their expected production levels; Selke Trophy-winning center Patrice Bergeron led Boston with 55 points.

One of Sweeney's two biggest moves of the offseason was his trade of left wing Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings. Lucic, who had 18 goals and 44 points last season, grew into a top-six mainstay during his eight seasons in Boston. Sweeney attempted to replace Lucic's production and physical presence by signing free agent left wing Matt Beleskey to a five-year, $19 million contract. Beleskey scored a career-high 22 goals for the Anaheim Ducks last season. Now that he's moved east, he'll have to match his production under a hotter spotlight.

"I'd like to take a lot of responsibility for helping this team," Beleskey said. "Coming in and making a difference, that's what I want to do. They went out and gave me a great contract and I was very grateful for that, and I'm going to work hard and do my best to repay them for that."

Sweeney's other alteration to his top nine was a trade of forwards with the Florida Panthers that brought right wing Jimmy Hayes, who was born in Boston, to the Bruins for right wing Reilly Smith. Hayes and Beleskey could play on a line with center David Krejci, who is healthy after playing 47 games last season. Krejci missed time with an undisclosed mid-body injury for much of the first half of last season and then was out with a knee injury. He had seven goals and 31 points.

"I think that we all know that he's such a great playmaker," Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara said of Krejci. "He makes plays on the ice that he's always willing to and able to find teammates. He just makes the game look so easy and he knows when to slow down the pace, when to speed it up. He's just a great playmaker."

Bergeron, longtime linemate Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson, who was second on the Bruins with 47 points, again will be important veterans. Second-year forward David Pastrnak will try to build from last season, when he had 27 points in 46 games. Brett Connolly, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 2, will try to make his mark in the League.

The success of the Bruins' bottom six largely will be determined by center Ryan Spooner, who had eight goals and 18 points in 29 games.

The Bruins have prided themselves on their four-line attack, so Julien will probably look for more offense from his fourth line than the Bruins have received the past several seasons. Chris Kelly, Zac Rinaldo, Joonas Kemppainen, Max Talbot and several others will compete for fourth-line roles.

Sweeney's other franchise-changing trade sent defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for three picks in the 2015 NHL Draft. Hamilton, who had 42 points in 72 games last season, leaves a talent void on the blue line. But the Bruins overcame injuries and some off years by key players to rank eighth at 2.45 goals-allowed per game, and they believe they have plenty of bodies who can make up for Hamilton's departure.

"Obviously, Dougie was a big part of our defense," Chara said. "But I think that we have enough skill and good enough players that we can share that responsibility or fill that hole Dougie was filling and we go from there."

The defense starts with Chara, 38. He had 20 points last season, the fewest he's had in an 82-game season since 2000-01. He also missed 19 games because of a knee injury. Chara was a strong possession player and he got better as the season wore on.

Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid, veterans of the championship season, are back, though Seidenberg is expected to miss eight weeks after having surgery Thursday to repair a herniated disk in his back.

Torey Krug had 39 points in 78 games and continued to blossom into a solid two-way defenseman.

Prior to last season, the Bruins signed Zach Trotman to a two-year contract that turned into a one-way contract this season. He's hoping he can build off his solid 27-game stint last season and fill Hamilton's spot in the top four.

"I got some good games in last year, some good experience," Trotman said. "I think I'm ready to move forward here and try to be a key player for the team, try and help out."

Returnees Kevan Miller and Joe Morrow, free agent signing Matt Irwin and trade acquisition Colin Miller will be competing for ice time.

COMING AND GOING



2014-15 record: 41-27-14 (96 points)

2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify

Key additions: LW Matt Beleskey, RW Jimmy Hayes, F Zac Rinaldo, D Matt Irwin

Key subtractions: LW Milan Lucic, D Dougie Hamilton, G Niklas Svedberg, LW Daniel Paille, C Gregory Campbell, C Carl Soderberg

After winning the Vezina Trophy in 2013-14, Tuukka Rask wasn't able to match his remarkable statistics last season. He had a .922 save percentage and 2.30 goals-against average and kept the Bruins in the race for a spot in the playoffs until the final weekend. Rask also tied a Bruins record by appearing in 70 games, but that's something they do not expect him to have to match this season.

"Obviously we're in a position where we feel very comfortable, you know, with Tuukka going out and we have to find the ideal number of games for him, and it'll be less than what he played last year," Sweeney said. "And I think the guys that are in line for that backup position are extremely excited about the opportunity in front of them and I fully expect one, if not more than one, to step forward."

Four goaltenders are competing for the backup position. Veteran Jonas Gustavsson joined training camp on a professional tryout contract. Malcolm Subban and Jeremy Smith was the tandem with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League last season, and Zane McIntyre left the University of North Dakota and signed with the Bruins after he was a Hobey Baker Award finalist last season.

The Bruins were a middle-of-road team in each special-team department, 18th in power play at 17.8 percent and 12th in penalty kill at 82.0 percent.

A healthy Krejci should give the power play a boost. Krug has emerged as a prime power-play quarterback, and Chara always is a threat from the point with his record-breaking slap shot. The Bruins will need Hayes to provide a net-front presence on one of their units.

The penalty kill will be in flux with the departures of forwards Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille. Bergeron, Kelly, Marchand, Eriksson and Max Talbot are mainstays. Krejci might have to expand his role on the penalty kill, and Rinaldo and Spooner could get into the mix.

After Sweeney took a few weeks to ponder the coaching situation, he decided to bring back Julien for a ninth season. Julien retained his entire staff.

The biggest point of contention between the new GM and the coach was a tweak to the system that would allow the Bruins to play at a quicker pace and cause more anxiety in opponents. The Bruins have altered their breakout to make sure there are more options for the defensemen and more support around the puck.

"You have to evolve with this game," Julien said. "This game changes, and what happened in the past is that we had some great breakouts with the way teams forechecked. The game's evolved, the teams have started forechecking a little bit more aggressively with [defensemen] pinching and stuff like that. ... But we feel that getting our players moving a little bit more, with the way the forecheck is, will benefit us."

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