By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
After a short summer, the Bruins are back to work and will try to pull off the improbable this year as they attempt to return to the top of the NHL mountain after the heartbreak of losing the Stanley Cup in their own building.
Now, it’s not impossible, but it’s worth noting that no team has successfully accomplished this feat since the 2009 Penguins, who defeated the Red Wings in a seven-game Stanley Cup rematch after losing to Detroit in 2008.
The Penguins did that with 13 players from their ’08 roster returning to the team, and the Bruins are clearly going for something similar this time around, with 21 players from last year’s team still in the fold. And while their mindset is focused on what they can do this season, the Bruins have admitted that the sting of last year is still there, and will serve as a driving force entering the season.
Revenge can often be a team’s undoing if not managed properly, but Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy talked about how this team has too much love for the game and pride in themselves to fall apart, while Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy disclosed perhaps the most matter-of-fact approach within that Boston locker room, saying, “We can’t change the past, but we can control the future.”
And ready or not, it’s time to take a look at what the Bruins are bringing to the table in 2019-20.
David Backes: Entering the fourth year of a five-year, $30 million deal, the Bruins are still looking for the perfect home for David Backes. Now, let’s make this clear: Backes is a stupidly easy player to root for. He’s consistently done his part to justify his pay, and has never complained about his role. He’s tried to keep up with the changes, evolve his game, and done whatever necessary to become more of an asset to the Bruins. This year’s team will probably utilize Backes as an in-again, out-again type of energy player whose energy and forechecking can lift the team up during those sleepy weeknight contests.
Patrice Bergeron: I don’t think Bergeron’s 2018-19 season gets the credit it deserves. While limited by injuries, Boston’s top-line pivot posted a 32-47-79 line in 65 games. Pace that out over an 82-game season and we would have talked about a 40-goal, 99-point year from No. 37. Now, it’s probably impossible that he ever hits that considering that Bergeron’s style of play will almost always lead to some bumps and bruises, but it’s rather remarkable how Bergeron’s offensive game has soared to new heights with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on his wings. It’s not hard to see why Bruce Cassidy has been so reluctant to break up that line.
Charlie Coyle: It’s a contract year for the Weymouth, Mass. native, and the Bruins have already started talking about a possible extension. It’ll be interesting to see where Coyle lands, too, given his value as a 6-foot-3 puck-possession center with a scoring touch that makes him a potential top-six option at both center and on the wing. Coyle, acquired from the Wild for Ryan Donato and a pick, had 11 goals and 22 points in 45 games with the B’s between the regular season and playoffs last year.
Jake DeBrusk: The No. 14 overall pick from 2015, DeBrusk is the team’s next major restricted free agent obstacle. And he can certainly be just that if he strings together some consistent play, as last year was a mixed bag from DeBrusk. Sure, he finished with 27 goals, but he recorded 14 of those in the final 20 games of the year after scoring just 13 in his first 48.
Danton Heinen: People forget that Danton Heinen was a point-per-game player while playing with Marchand and Bergeron last year. People forget this. But they shouldn’t. Especially if and when the B’s look for another player to put on the first line if and when the Bruins grant Krejci’s wish and put No. 88 down on the second line.
David Krejci: The Bruins really need to hope David Krejci’s lower-body injury doesn’t bleed into the regular season. For all the grief he gets, Krejci actually matched a career-high in points last year, with 73, and one of the league’s most effective players when you broke his production down by ice-time and usage.
Karson Kuhlman: The Wheel of Krejci linemates has landed on Karson Kuhlman to begin 2019-20. The 24-year-old Kuhlman scored three goals and five points in 11 regular-season games with the Bruins a year ago, and added a goal three points in eight postseason contests. The Bruins believe they have a keeper in Kuhlman, and it’s hard to argue that he’s going to be a player of value given how hard he works every shift, but is it top-six level? That’s on the 5-foot-11 winger to prove.
Sean Kuraly: Big Goals Only.
Par Lindholm: The Bruins clearly think they have something with free agent pickup Par Lindholm. The 27-year-old scored just one goal and 12 assists in 65 games between the Maple Leafs and Jets last year, but they’re quick to remind you that Lindholm scored 18 goals and 47 points in 49 games in his final season in Sweden. I’m not ready to say that the Bruins have a point-per-game player on their hands (I’m not that insane), but maybe he can be their next Riley Nash, who was a fourth-liner elevated and truly maximized as a third-line scoring threat in his final season with the Bruins.
Brad Marchand: I’m not quite sure anybody saw Brad Marchand becoming a legitimate superstar, but that’s exactly what the 5-foot-9 sniper has done. Since the start of the 2015 season, Marchand ranks fourth in goals (146) and sixth in points (331). Only Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane, and Alex Ovechkin have been more lethal in the goals department, while his 331 points trail only Blake Wheeler, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Kucherov, and Kane. Marchand’s 100-point year in 2018-19 made him the first Boston skater to hit the 100-point mark since Joe Thornton accomplished the feat in 2002-03.
Joakim Nordstrom: Boston’s Swedish Army Knife a year ago, Joakim Nordstrom will begin the year on the shelf due to a foot injury he played through in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Nordstrom was a frequent whipping boy of many last year, but proved to be worth every penny during last year’s postseason run, as he was a relentless forechecker and fearless shot-blocker. The Bruins will certainly take more of that upon his eventual return to the lineup.
David Pastrnak: Am I crazy for thinking this is the year Pastrnak flirts with 50 goals? I really don’t think I am. Cassidy also admitted that this will be the year Pastrnak gets some time with Krejci on the second line. (I still think that’s the Black and Gold’s best play for long-term lineup balance.)
Brett Ritchie: New 6-foot-4 winger Brett Ritchie admitted to me that he’s not big on analytics and fancy stats. But here’s one that you’ll like: Ritchie’s 14.85 hits per 60 minutes of all-situation play last year ranked as the ninth-best rate among NHL forwards with at least 500 minutes of time on ice. The dude hits everything that moves. Perfect replacement for Noel Acciari.
Chris Wagner: If last year was just the start, Wagner is absolutely positioned to become the next Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller as the hometown talent who straight-up prices his way out of sticking with Boston due to his numbers. Wagner’s chemistry with Sean Kuraly will make for one extremely potent penalty-killing pairing, too.
Reinforcements: Anders Bjork, who was arguably Boston’s best winger in training camp, will be the first in line for a call-up should he prove to be a capable scorer with the P-Bruins. Bjork has five goals and 15 points in 50 NHL games… Peter Cehlarik cleared waivers and will begin his year in Providence. A capable AHL scorer, the big-bodied Cehlarik has struggled to stay healthy and/or consistent in his NHL cracks to date… Trent Frederic probably left college a little too early, but he’ll continue to work on his offensive game in the AHL. He appeared in 15 games with the big club last year… The 31-year-old Paul Carey is your classic AAAA player, and posted a 27-33-60 stat line in 59 games between Belleville and Providence a year ago. He appeared in two games for the B’s last year… Jack Studnicka is the club’s top prospect at center. I doubt you see him crack the NHL roster this year, unless he simply plays his way out of the AHL by being downright unstoppable.
Brandon Carlo: The 6-foot-5 Brandon Carlo has been a top-four defenseman since breaking in as a 19-year-old in 2016. He’s also logged the 13th-most shorthanded time on ice among all defensemen over that stretch, and the B’s have posted a league-best 83.2 penalty-killing percentage since then. I’m not sure if we’ll ever see Carlo be much of an offensive threat (they tried coaching that into him last season but had extremely limited results), but you absolutely know what you’re getting in the defensive end. There’s certainly something to be said about that confidence and comfort, especially with this group.
Zdeno Chara: Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is one of two currently-signed NHLers to have played a game in the 1990s (old friend and the last Bruins captain before Chara, Joe Thornton, is the other). But here’s another piece of trivia for you: Should Chara stay healthy enough to play at least 1,322:30 of action this season, he will become the first player to play 25,000 minutes with Boston since the league began tracking time on ice over 20 years ago. Only two other defensemen have logged at least 25,000 minutes with one team over that stretch, and they’re Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom and the Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith.
Connor Clifton: There’s always going to be a little cowboy in Connor Clifton’s game, and it can sometimes lead to some reckless sequences, but the Bruins don’t want to coach that out of him. After all, it’s part of what’s made Clifton such a fast-riser within the organization. But here’s where it gets interesting for the 19-game veteran: He’s going to have to prove that he’s no fluke, and by all means steal a job from pending free agent and B’s mainstay Kevan Miller.
Matt Grzelcyk: If there’s a Revenge Tour theme of 2019-20, Matt Grzelcyk needs to be at the front of it. Grzelcyk scored the lone goal in Boston’s Game 7 no-show, and was crying in his locker after the game, having to answer questions and practically apologizing for suffering a concussion that put him on the shelf and by all means changed the tone of the Stanley Cup.
Steven Kampfer: The Bruins kept depth defenseman Steve Kampfer around on a new two-year, $800,000 per year contract signed over the summer. The 31-year-old appeared in 35 games for the Bruins a year ago, and scored his most goals (three) and points (six) since his 2010-11 rookie year with the Bruins.
Torey Krug: One of the premier power-play quarterbacks in the entire NHL, Krug is entering the final year of a four-year contract that comes with career-highs and top-of-the-league production from the 5-foot-9 blue liner. Krug is willing to take a discount to stay with the Bruins, and the sides have started talking about a long-term extension. The Bruins may not want to wait too long to sign this one, all things considered, as Krug’s price will likely only go up thanks to other deals on the market and Krug’s relentless determination and prior success when betting on himself.
Charlie McAvoy: Here’s what the Bruins want to see out of McAvoy this year– They want him to become more of a leader on and off the ice, they want him to shoot the puck more, and they want to see if he can quarterback a successful power play. If that happens, the Bruins know they have a “Doughty-like” defenseman on their hands in No. 73.
Kevan Miller: The veteran Miller is basically starting over after dealing with a twice-broken kneecap that kept him out of action for all of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The rugged d-man is also entering the final year of his current contract.
John Moore: Like Miller, John Moore will begin the year on the shelf as he recovers from a shoulder injury he played through on the team’s march to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. It’s easy to question why the Bruins signed Moore to a five-year deal in 2018, especially when he’s more-than-likely the team’s fourth-best left-shot defender when they’re 100 percent healthy, but Moore’s skating game and versatility makes him a highly reliable player over the course of an 82-game grind.
Reinforcements: 2015 first-round pick Jakub Zboril was the last defenseman cut from Boston training camp, meaning he just might be the first player called up should the Bruins find themselves reaching into Providence for additional help. The Czech defender, who made his NHL debut last year, has appeared in 124 games with the P-Bruins over the last two seasons… Alex Petrovic turned his professional tryout into a one-year, two-way deal with the Bruins. The 27-year-old will be the first one called up if and when the B’s need to bring a right-shot defenseman into the picture… We really didn’t get to see a ton of Jeremy Lauzon in training camp, but the 22-year-old certainly looked capable in his 16-game showing with the Big B’s last season, with one goal on 11 shots, 15 hits, and 15 blocked shots… Urho Vaakanainen, the team’s 2017 first-round pick, has a ton of promise, but needs to develop into more of a threat with the puck on the stick. Health and some game-to-game consistency will also be key in pushing the Finn to the NHL.
Jaroslav Halak: Life with Jaroslav Halak will always feature high-hows and low-lows. His first season in Boston featured exactly that, as he began with some stretches of seriously unbeatable hockey, only to turn in some downright ugly starts at the mdway point of the year. One thing that made a major difference for Halak upon coming to Boston? The number of high-danger chances the Bruins allowed in front of him. It was night-and-day compared to the assault Halak faced with the Isles.
Tuukka Rask: I will go to my grave saying that the Bruins owed him a pick-me-up in Game 7 given the way he played to push them to that point in the first place. The Bruins are hoping to get Rask about 50-55 starts in 2019-20.
Reinforcements: Maxime Lagace is the organization’s new No. 3 goaltender, and reports to Providence after a preseason run that featured stops on 31-of-33 shots thrown his way in two appearances. Lagace posted a .914 with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves a year ago, and has appeared in 17 NHL games in his career, all with the Vegas Golden Knights… The 6-foot-5 Daniel Vladar is probably the next in line after Lagace. Vladar has a 19-15-6 record and .905 save percentage in 43 career AHL games.