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Atlantic Division Preview: Will the Boston Bruins Overtake the Red Wings?

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Want the scoop on what the B’s might do this year? We’ve got you covered.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Boston Bruins Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back, denizens of Hockeytown! We hope your summer has been filled with good laughs, high spirits and plenty of glorious sunshine. To get us back in the hockey mindset, we’re going to take a look at the rest of the division and how the Wings stack up in comparison to each team. So dust off your jerseys, pick up a fresh octopus and let’s get ready for some hockey! First up, let’s have a look at the Boston Bruins.

What The Bruins Did Last Year

  • Record: 42-31-9 (3-1 vs Detroit), 93 points
  • Atlantic Division Finish: 4th Place
  • Goals For: 240 (5th in the NHL)
  • Goals Against: 230 (T-19th)
  • PP%/PK%: 20.5% (7th)/82.2% (11th)
  • Playoffs Result: DNQ, finished 9th in the Eastern Conference

Despite having the same number of points as the Red Wings, the Bruins narrowly missed out on the playoffs because they had one fewer win in regulation or overtime than us. I guess holding the second, third and fourth tiebreakers doesn’t do you any good if you don’t hold the first one. But hey, such is life. And I doubt anyone else in the NHL was upset the Bruins were golfing in April.

Boston’s Offseason

Before we talk about this offseason, you just have to look at the amount of talent that Boston has either traded away or lost in free agency the past two years. I knew the Bruins sold off a lot of talent because of the salary cap, but wow. Below are some of the players the Bruins have lost since July 1st, 2014 and their stats from this past year.

All stats score, zone and venue adjusted courtesy of Corsica.Hockey.

Yikes. I understand the Bruins couldn’t have kept each of these players due to salary demands, but that’s a solid group of players to let go. Sure, they’ve gotten some great prospects in return but having great prospects isn’t the same as having a good NHL player when you’re trying to make the playoffs. And at any rate, prospects are still just that; prospects.

Anyway, on to this offseason, which was a little uneventful compared to the previous year for Boston. Re-signing Torey Krug to a 4 year, $21M deal was a fantastic move. Krug’s a spectacular young defenseman and he’ll be called upon heavily to help Zdeno Chara prop this defensive group up.

Chart from Own The Puck

HERO Charts aren’t the end-all and be-all in player analysis, but just from a quick look, Torey Krug is good.

Another solid move was buying out Dennis Seidenberg. At the time he had two years left on his deal at a cap hit of $4M. Not exactly what you want to shell out for a depth defenseman; Corsica Hockey’s similarity calculator lumps Seidenberg’s season in with the likes of Marc Staal, Ben Hutton, Roman Polak, Johnny Oduya and Jonathan Ericsson from this past year. It’s pretty clear Seidenberg not playing 60+ games for Boston next season can only help them.

Boston also brought in David Backes, but he’s 32 and is being paid $6M per year for the next 5 years. And the Bruins already have two great centers in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. It’s not entirely clear why they felt the need to get another in free agency. Sure, Backes can play center or wing but if you’re playing him on the wing, you might as well have re-signed Loui Eriksson for the same cap hit. They produce points at roughly the same rate and faced a similar level of competition, contrary to what might be popular belief. Furthermore, even though Eriksson’s teammates weren’t as good as Backes’, Eriksson produced far better possession numbers at even strength.

Chart from Own The Puck

Backes is essentially an older, cheaper Krejci who doesn’t produce as many points as Krejci. He gives Boston head coach Claude Julien more options with the lineup, particularly on the penalty kill, and might open the door for Krejci to be moved for a good defenseman. But he’s not going to cover up for the Bruins’ deficiencies on defense at 5v5 or suddenly put their forwards ahead of Pittsburgh, Washington, or Tampa Bay in the East.

And finally that brings us to Doug Houda. One of the most underrated losses that Boston has suffered over these past few years, Houda was the brains behind Boston’s superb penalty kill until he was let go this summer. To make matters worse for Boston, he works for the Wings now. Prashanth did a great job breaking down the ins and outs of Houda’s penalty kill here, in case you want to read about it more in-depth. The B’s have had a very good penalty kill for the past few years, perhaps that changes with Houda’s departure.

This team, much like Detroit, doesn’t seem to have much direction. The Bruins’ identity is built on physical play and good defense, but there aren’t many bruisers on this team and their defense looks worse than ours. Most of their best players are over 30 years old, yet they’ve spent the past two years letting pieces of a Presidents’ Trophy team go. Boston’s a team stuck somewhere in no man’s land, not flawed enough to finish in contention for a lottery pick but not good enough to crack the playoffs and make some noise. Does that change this year? Maybe.

What Can We Expect Them To Do This Year?

I’d look for Boston to improve their defense with some sort of trade acquisition. Look for Sweeney to use Boston’s great farm system and forward corps to make a run at a defenseman, provided the astronomical asking prices go down, or replace one or two players internally. It seems Joe Morrow and Colin Miller will be regulars in Boston’s lineup after two years of splitting time between the AHL and NHL. Prospects like Brandon Carlo or Jakub Zboril could easily find themselves in the NHL this year and Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, and Linus Arnesson are all well-seasoned prospect defensemen who could get a look as well.

Given the questions on defense, Boston’s fate is going to heavily rely on how Tuukka Rask plays down the stretch. Boston needs his absolute best. Rask’s stats look pretty average, and in some cases well below average, from this past year. His 5v5 adjGSAA/60, seen below, was much closer to what Jimmy Howard turned in than Petr Mrazek for comparison. That’ll need to change.

Because the Wings and Bruins are pretty evenly-matched up front and on defense, I’d say goaltending will be what separates these two teams. Whether Rask regains his 2012-13, 2013-14 form or Mrazek stays at the top of his game the whole season will probably determine which team, if either, plays hockey in April.

Something else to keep an eye on is special teams. Boston’s been far better on the powerplay and penalty kill compared to the Wings for some time now. But we’ve brought in Doug Houda for the penalty kill and hopefully will see improvement on the man advantage with Pat Ferschweiler no longer running things. Both teams have a lot of fresh faces behind the bench, so it’s not clear whether the Bruins or Wings have the advantage at this point. But if the Wings can turn the tables on the B’s and gain the upper hand on special teams for a change, it could make a world of difference, potentially securing a 26th consecutive playoff berth.

Florida and Tampa Bay seem to have the two top spots in the Atlantic locked up but your guess is as good as mine for who finishes 3rd - Boston is certainly in the mix with the Wings. The past two years we’ve held them off for that last spot and it looks like the race for 3rd will be close yet again. Now that Boston seems to be in a position to start adding players to their core, coupled with the loss of Datsyuk, they could find themselves back in the postseason at our expense. Don’t expect them to win the Cup, but be prepared for them to give the Wings a run for their money.