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Bruins view offseason upheaval as necessary move

by Arpon Basu

TORONTO -- The Boston Bruins had a summer of massive change, and it widely was believed to be a direct reaction to the organization missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007.

But the Bruins captain doesn't think so.

Defenseman Zdeno Chara's first season with the Bruins was 2006-07, which was the last time they missed the playoffs. Since then the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and reached the Final again in 2013, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.

According to Chara, the struggles last season showed it was time for the Bruins to put that run of success behind them and prepare for the next run, even though they finished two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final Eastern Conference wild card.

"I think despite how close we were, even if we made it into the playoffs, those changes were coming no matter what," Chara said during the NHL Player Media Tour last week. "I think we could sense that. We tried to keep the team together for as long as possible after we won the Stanley Cup. But I think, myself, we all knew that it was time to kind of refresh the team.

"You obviously try to keep the team together to have another run at it. At the time when you win you think, 'OK, we have all the pieces.' We won, right? Then you realize that other teams are making adjustments, the game is making some changes, so you have to make adjustments too. You can't always stay with the same thing. So that's the way it goes."

The Bruins ran into numerous problems last season, but health was probably the biggest. They played a handful of games with a fully healthy lineup; Chara, center David Krejci and defenseman Dougie Hamilton missed significant time during the season.

Still, the Bruins had a chance to reach the playoffs if they could have closed their schedule on a winning note. But they lost their final three games to finish with 96 points, two fewer than the Penguins.

After the season general manager Peter Chiarelli was fired and replaced by his assistant, Don Sweeney, who traded Hamilton and forwards Milan Lucic and Reilly Smith amid a series of moves which significantly altered the look of the Bruins.

It appeared a bit drastic for a team that was so close to reaching the playoffs, but goaltender Tuukka Rask is not sure the Bruins deserved to make it last season.

"You look at the points we had, in any other year that would have been enough," Rask said. "We were only two points short. But then again, we were so inconsistent. I think at the end of the day, did we really deserve to be in there? Maybe not, maybe we did. If we would have been there, who knows what would have happened?"

Though it is not a perfect measure of the inconsistency Rask is referring to, a look at the Bruins' monthly record does provide an indication. Boston won eight games and had a winning record in November, January and March. In the other months the Bruins had a record that was .500 or worse.

"Our team was definitely good enough to be in the playoffs on paper, but when you don't perform that on the ice you get what you deserve," Rask said. "Our inconsistency was definitely something that bothered us and that we battled throughout the year."

The biggest offseason decision for the Bruins was trading Hamilton, an impending restricted free agent, to the Flames on June 26 for a first-round pick and two second-round draft picks at the 2015 NHL Draft, removing an important piece from the lineup and acquiring no immediate help in return. Four days after the trade, Hamilton signed a six-year, $34.5 million contract with the Flames.

Hamilton emerged as one of the Bruins' most important players last season, particularly when Chara missed 19 games early last season because of an injury, establishing himself as a potential No. 1 defenseman. Chara was Hamilton's defense partner for most of the season, and he feels a bright future awaits the 22-year-old defenseman in Calgary.

"All I can say is Dougie is obviously a tremendously talented player," Chara said. "He's probably the best defenseman at that age that I've played with. He's super talented, he skates extremely well for a big, tall guy, he's got great vision and he makes really good plays. He's obviously going to be a star in this League.

"As far as the negotiations and the way they were going, that I have no idea, because that's something we don't know about. So when that happened, I guess that was a part of it and I guess management felt that was the direction they needed to go, so that's the way they went."

Rask, however, does not feel the Bruins defense will suffer from Hamilton's departure.

"I don't think it will be an issue at all," he said. "He's a great player and he's still young. He took a huge step from his first year to last year, he was so much better in our own end and he was getting better in front of the net, moving bodies around and stuff like that. But we have [Chara] back there and a bunch of other guys who can really defend and add the offense too. So I don't think it's going to change the dynamic."

If the dynamic on defense hasn't changed, it most certainly has for the Bruins as a whole. All the offseason moves make this the most important training camp in years, with the chemistry that was almost taken for granted in past seasons needing to be re-established.

Every team wants to have a good start to the season, but for the Bruins it is absolutely crucial.

"We expected things to change, obviously," Rask said. "We've had the luxury of having the same group of guys for many years. So it was new, but it was expected. Seeing good friends gone is obviously tough to swallow, but it's the business of hockey and it happens. I figure you can either do it slowly or you can do it like we did it, all at once, kind of. That's just how it played out.

"Everybody's excited about the new players we added. Can't wait to get it going."

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