Additions have B's players feeling good

Additions have B's players feeling good
August 13, 2013, 12:45 am
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MIDDLETON – The one overriding theme for the Boston Bruins headed into a new hockey season is clear and unmistakable.

With the start of NHL training camp still one month away it’s all about inevitable change for the Black and Gold. A roster makeover is something Boston’s management held off on for as long as they could, but ultimately they couldn’t dodge it with a dropping salary cap ceiling and a pressing need to upgrade their right wings.

The strict economic limitations of the lowered salary cap may only be for the first full season coming out of the lockout, but that was enough to kick off some mutations to the team’s DNA.

The Bruins head into next season with four major contributors gone from their 2011 Stanley Cup team, and will experience more roster alterations than at any other point over the last five years. The names and faces that are gone from the Bruins scene are still a little unsettling to think about for a team that hasn’t changed much at all.

Game 7 playoff hero Nathan Horton decided he wanted a more quiet existence than Boston, and took a big, fat contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets as they move to the newly formed Metropolitan Conference. Former alternate captain and playoff warrior Andrew Ference is gone from Boston after seven solid seasons, during which he became as important a dressing room presence and inclusive force as anybody else in a Black and Gold uniform.

Rich Peverley is a versatile forward capable of playing wing or center, a master of the winning face-off and a speedy player able to perform in any given situation to potentially arise during a hockey game.  

Tyler Seguin was already an All-Star and on the cusp of being a 30-goal scorer at 21 years old after three seasons in Boston, and his former teammates still believe he’s fully capable of turning into a superstar in Dallas.

“It’s a couple of months ago now, so it’s tough to give you exactly what I felt right after the [Seguin] trade,” said Shawn Thornton. “A lot of it might have had to do with the fact he could have been one of our highest paid forwards next year. The performance and a bunch of things might have come together, and we got an unbelievable player in return [in Eriksson].

“It’s still a process for [Seguin]. I think people sometimes forget that he’s just 21 [years old]. Maybe it’s the fact that we had [Patrice] Bergeron here at 21, but I think he was more mature at 21 than I was at 31. He’s going to be an unbelievable hockey player, he’s going to score a ton of points and he’s going to mature into a great hockey player. I wish him all the success in the world in Dallas.”

Together the four players combined for 39 goals and 85 points during the 48-game shortened season last year, and have all had their “up” moments during their respective careers in Boston. The exiting Boston players move on with full acknowledgement from their former Bruins teammates that greatness may await them at their new hockey destinations.

“From what I’ve been told, it sounds like it will be a seamless transition with the guys we’ve got coming in,” said Thornton. “With Loui Eriksson, both Axelsson brothers texted me to tell me what a great guy he was, and how much we’re going to love him. I’ve heard a lot of rumors that he might be the most underrated guy [in the NHL] right now. He’s scored 25-30 goals each of the last five years, and he’s great defensively.

“Everybody knows who Iggy is, and that he’ll fit right in with that [David Krejci and Milan Lucic] line. You know Looch and Horton had a lot of chemistry, and they got along really well off the ice. But I think [Iginla] is going to fit in there really well even though these are probably questions that are better for Peter [Chiarelli] than me. I’m really exited for this upcoming year.”

But as much as the departures and the roster turnover will cause some level of uncertainty and unknown once camp opens, the Bruins also know that they didn’t exactly stand still and wave goodbye. Instead they’ll bring in 27-year-old All-Star forward Loui Eriksson, who has averaged 29.5 goals and 69.5 points in his last four full seasons for the Dallas Stars, and future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla. The 36-year-old had scored at least 30 goals in each of his last 12 full NHL seasons before last year’s lockout-shortened campaign.

The argument is there that consistency and overall production will actually improve in trading Seguin/Horton for Eriksson/Iginla, and the young group of B’s defensemen (Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski) showed a penchant for puck-movement during the playoffs. On paper, the three Bruins players at Shawn Thornton’s Putt and Punches for Parkinson’s golf tournament on Monday afternoon all believed that Boston can, and will, be better next season.

It might seem like a bit of braggadocio for a hockey club that made it to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final less than two months ago, but Thornton, Dan Paille and Tuukka Rask all believe the Bruins will be better next year.

“I think our team looks good. We really look competitive again. It obviously hurts to lose the guys that we did, but that’s the sad business side of it sometimes,” said Rask. “We lost the guys, but I think the replacements we got are as good . . . if they’re not even better. I think we’re in a good spot.

“You can always be better. Looking at last year I don’t think we really played our best hockey, but we still made it to the Finals. A lot of things have to click. You know how it is: you have to play as a team, and a lot of stuff has to happen for you. But if you look at the roster, I can’t see any reason why we can’t be better.”

On paper, Rask and the rest of the Bruins are 100 percent bang on in expecting that they’ll be even better than a team that was two wins away from capturing their second Cup in three years. With Eriksson and Iginla they’ll be more consistent at finishing off plays around the net, and the line of Bergeron, Marchand and Eriksson could be the most dynamic two-way forward group in hockey.

“Could” is the operative word in all of this.

Starting next month it will be about the Black and Gold proving it on the ice rather than relying on advanced stat geeks crunching the player projection numbers on sheets of paper.

The reigning Eastern Conference champion Bruins wouldn’t have it any other way.