Tuukka Rask has emerged as an elite goaltender. En route to Boston's second Stanley Cup Final appearance in three years, Rask posted a 1.88 goals against average and an eye-popping .940 save percentage. Some argue that Rask is the benefactor of playing behind the combination of a defense-first team and Norris trophy candidate Zdeno Chara, but the 26-year-old Finnish goalie isn't always walking down easy street. As a team Boston ranked 15th in cumulative shots against (1,085) and fared slightly better in shots per 60 minutes (28 per 60) at 13th. They're certainly not a mess on the blue-line, but at the same time they're not the New Jersey Devils of the late 90s. Rask deserves every bit of his new eight-year, $56 million contract extension, and it wouldn't be a long shot to see a Boston goaltender bring home the Vezina trophy for the second time in four years.
Jarome Iginla has a tank. Whats left in it and how much is in there remains a question, but rest assured GM Peter Chiarelli landed a worthy replacement for Nathan Horton. Despite his growth into a big game player, Horton joined former teammate and close friend Milan Lucic in forming a duo of painfully inconsistent forwards. If the NHL handed out an award for "Guy Who Should Be Playing a Bigger Role Tonight, But Is Just Sort of Floating Around" then Horton would surely be a finalist. And yet, on the nights when Horton ditches the laziness and turns to physicality he becomes one of the more dominating presences on the ice. Hence the frustration from fans. Just to be clear though, I'm not trying to say this guy meant nothing to the B's. Without Horton the 2011 cup run doesn't happen, and last years postseason would have most likely ended against Toronto. But at the same time, and to conclude, the 36-year-old Iginla - who's tallied 61 points in 68 career playoff games - will be an excellent plug to fill the void.
While the Dallas Stars enjoy the growth of Tyler Seguin from "the kid who was thrown out of pubs" to "one of the greatest forwards in Dallas Stars history", Bruins fans will equally enjoy the play of Swedish forward Loui Eriksson. Likely to be paired on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Eriksson looks to return to the 70-point scorer he was from 2009 to 2012. The 28-year-old saw a decline in numbers during the lockout shortened season, scoring just 12 goals and 29 points in 48 games, but during a full 82-game schedule hasn't scored fewer than 26 goals since 2008. Eriksson is capable of replacing the offense Seguin provided during his time with the B's, and more importantly, he brings a stronger two-way game to Beantown
The most devastating loss for the Bruins this off-season came in the form of Andrew Ference's departure. It was a tough move for the B's to make, being crippled by the cap and a slew of young defensemen deserving of a full-time shot in the show. Ference certainly wasn't the Bruins most talented player on the blue line, but his leadership and clubhouse presence is something that will be missed. Going to a young Edmonton Oilers squad is the perfect move for Ference and a move that the team is already reaping the effects of, having named Ference as their captain yesterday.
Projected Line Combinations (With Cap Hits):
Milan Lucic ($6,000,000) - David Krejci ($5,250,000) - Jarome Iginla ($6,000,000)
Zdeno Chara ($6,916,667) - Dennis Seidenberg ($3,250,000)
Torey Krug ($1,704,167) - Johnny Boychuk ($3,366,667)
Matt Bartkowski ($650,000) - Adam McQuaid ($1,566,667)
Healthy Scratch: Dougie Hamilton ($1,494,167)
Tuukka Rask ($7,000,000)
Chad Johnson ($600,000)
My Totally Biased Atlantic Division Season Prediction/Preview:
With the NHL's new wild card playoff system it's highly likely that five teams - Boston, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Detroit - could represent the Atlantic division in the postseason.
Montreal, victors in the leagues former Northeast division, added veteran Danny Briere, a forward who exemplifies the Canadiens pesky, speedy style of play. Yet, with goaltender Carey Price teetering the line of consistency, the teams ceiling is tough to determine. Defenseman P.K. Subban is turning into one of the leagues best and forward Brendan Gallagher looks to build on an eye-opening rookie campaign - 20 points in 36 games.
Ottawa looks primed to be a serious contender with the addition of forward Bobby Ryan, who looks to form a potent 1-2 tandem with center Jason Spezza. In net the Senators will rely on the enigma that is Craig Anderson, and talented young Swede Robin Lehner. Ottawa's depth upfront - Kyle Turris, Colin Greening, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Cory Conacher and Clarke MacArthur - will pose as the Senators biggest threat to Boston. Honestly, I'd love to see these two match up in the postseason. It'd come down Ottawa's quick, young offense against Boston's even mix of veteran and youthful d-men, and that my friends, would make for one hell of a series.
Toronto added Chicago Blackhawks center David Bolland, the guy who scored a goal that Bruins fans aren't too fond of , goaltender Jonathan Bernier, and former New Jersey Devils winger David Clarkson. Clarkson will serve a 10-game suspension to open the season, and along with his hefty contract, will likely never be able to silence the Toronto media enough to focus on actually playing hockey. Bernier will look to form a legitimate goalie tandem with holdover James Reimer, a goal that looks great on paper but like so many other things in Maple Leafs history, has just as much potential to flame out.
Detroit still has Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. They're both very good. Jimmy Howard, an invitee to team USA Olympic camp, will anchor the Wings transition to the eastern conference, and hopefully for Howard's sake, begin to receive the attention he deserves as an elite net minder. The Red Wings young d-men, including highly touted rookie Danny DeKeyser, will look to form some kind of consistency with stalwarts Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson. Shifting teams within the division was veteran Daniel Alfredsson, who traded in his Senators sweater for the red ones that Detroit wears. They also wear white ones, and when the time comes for them to do so Alfredsson will put one on as well.
Florida has the potential to surprise, but honestly, what team doesn't? Bruins fans have seen what Tim Thomas can do, so its not a stretch of the imagination to see Florida sneak into the playoffs. But when you consider that Thomas hasn't played in a year, the Panthers lack of a true number one center, and that Jacob Markstrom is still known as the kid who flopped like an Italian soccer player at the World Junior Championships then things aren't looking so hot for Miami's closest hockey team.
As for Tampa Bay and Buffalo, there's always next year. Tampa Bay has one of the world's best players in Steven Stamkos, but that won't be any help to their situation in net. I'm sure Anders Lindback and Ben Bishop are fine human beings, but they won't be able to take the Lightning back to the postseason. Much farther north of Tampa Bay, in snow-barren city of Buffalo, things aren't looking so good either. Ryan Miller and/or Thomas Vanek will likely be heading out of town by March, and, sadly, the team will continue to employ John Scott. But hey, Ville Leino could always start earning that contract of his. And I only say that because somebody has to score goals, right?
Anywho, here's how I see things panning out:
7). Tampa Bay
The Bruins will contend for the cup, but reaching the finals two consecutive years is a daunting task. Ottawa seems to present Boston's biggest challenge, so for the sake of not seeming like a total blowhard, I gave them the edge in the division. Montreal, Detroit and Toronto will finish 3rd through 5th respectively. But, as mentioned before, with the NHL's new wild card playoff format it's entirely possible that this division sends five to the postseason, stealing a playoff spot from the Metropolitan division.
So yeah, the B's will probably finish around 46-27-9, earning them 101 points and home ice in the first round. It'll be a good year.