Five reasons to be optimistic about Bruins next season

Five reasons to be optimistic about Bruins next season
May 28, 2014, 2:45 pm
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There shouldn’t be much discussion at all about whether the Bruins had a successful season. The Bruins are in a window as Stanley Cup contenders that’s incredibly finite, and probably only has two or three more years of championship level before the nucleus starts getting a little too old, and too expensive. Failure to get out of the second round of the playoffs simply isn’t good enough, and it doesn’t matter how accomplished the regular season was that happened before it.

Watching the Canadiens and Rangers battle in the Eastern Conference Finals only reinforces the feeling that the Bruins should still be playing hockey at this point, and they have only themselves to blame for that. But it’s not all doom and gloom despite the eventual failure in the postseason to the hated Habs.

Here are five things to be optimistic about headed into next season when it comes to the Black and Gold:

1. Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller might have experienced some difficult moments in the playoffs, but the future is bright for the Bruins with such talented young defensemen.

Hamilton was the best of the bench in the playoffs, logging big minutes, helping anchor the shutdown pairing with Zdeno Chara and playing tough, physical hockey in a prominent role. He didn’t have too many mistakes in his own end at all, and ripped up the Detroit Red Wings’ penalty kill with his aggressive one man rushes on the power play.

Krug had some rough spots defensively and in the neutral zone as attested by his final minus-2 rating, but led the Bruins with 10 points in 12 games while putting together five power play points. He will be a difference-making player on offense for Boston for the foreseeable future as he learns how to survive during those moments pinned in the D-zone.

Miller was rock solid all season before getting rattled a bit toward the end of the Montreal series, but returns as a tough, physical, affordable third pairing defenseman that’s proven he’s capable of playing 20 minutes a night if necessary. There were growing pains with all three, but each of them will only be better because of it.

2.  Reilly Smith was perceived as a throw-in to the Tyler Seguin/Loui Eriksson deal with the Dallas Stars, but finished his first full NHL season with 20 goals and 51 points while playing all 82 games.

Even better he bounced back from a slump at the end of the regular season to notch four goals for the Bruins in the playoffs, and was an active contributor throughout the postseason. Clearly he’s played his way into Boston’s plans as a solid right wing option alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and somebody that has the kind of offensive skill that will play into the NHL level. He wasn’t as physical – or as persistent defensively -- as the Bruins would prefer for a top six player, but that’s something the Bruins will continue to work on with him.

The Bruins are in a good spot with Smith entering restricted free agency: he’ll get a raise, but isn’t likely to break the bank on his second contract given relatively modest cachet. But Smith is also a valuable piece on the trade market as a young, talented offensive winger if other teams wanted to make the Bruins an offer they couldn’t refuse. It isn’t likely to happen, but they have a 22-year-old player with value on the upswing of his career. That’s never a bad thing.

3. Hurt, heartache and bitterness isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Boston Bruins.

Falling to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round leaves the Black and Gold with as sour a taste as they’ve had in their mouths in a long time, probably not since blowing a 3-0 lead to the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. That kind of embarrassing defeat gave Boston the motivation to win it all the following season, and proving people wrong has always been one of the Bruins’ best qualities when backed into a corner.

They were the overwhelming favorites in the 2014 playoffs, and they didn’t wear it well at all. Perhaps going back to a hockey team with a Zdeno Chara-sized chip on their shoulder will be exactly what the Black and Gold needed, and keep the fire burning deep into next year’s postseason. Players like Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Dennis Seidenberg all have questions surrounding them entering into next season, and – if past history is a prologue to the future – that will pull hungry, dominant campaigns out of all of them next season.

4. The Bruins dealt all season with a lack of speed that was made unassailably obvious to anyone that watched the Boston/Montreal playoff series, and was the biggest reason why the B’s struggled against them all season.

Their defensemen corps is young and pretty good when it comes to turning the puck up the ice, but there wasn’t enough speed among the 12-man forward group against a Montreal defenseman corps that was exposed in the next round against the speedier Rangers. They were never quite the same speed-wise after waving goodbye to Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Nathan Horton after last season. That failure in the postseason should make it obvious to the Bruins front office and GM Peter Chiarelli that the Black and Gold need a speed transfusion among their forward group. A faster option on right wing along with David Krejci and Milan Lucic would be a good place to start.

Perhaps impending free agent Marian Gaborik will be an option, but that seems more and more far-fetched with each goal he scores for the Kings in the playoffs. Perhaps a Chris Kreider-type player will be available via trade for the Bruins this summer, but there are only so many speedy offensive options moved from team-to-team. Perhaps it will be youngsters like Ryan Spooner and Alex Khokhlachev brought up to the NHL ranks to infuse some speed into Boston’s lineup. Or any combination of the three above. But the loss to the Canadiens was a clear, honking alarm bell to the Bruins that they have a need for greater speed starting next season, and those “tweaks” will make them a more formidable team in the long run.

5. A lot can happen between the end of this postseason and next September, but the Bruins have some tremendous building blocks for a third line that will again be legitimately lethal next season.

Loui Eriksson may get slotted elsewhere depending on what happens with impending free agent Jarome Iginla, but the Swedish connection of Eriksson and Carl Soderberg was something to build on moving forward. The 16 goals and 48 points for the Big Swede is just scratching the surface of what he can do at the NHL level given his size, strength, skill and courage level, and the Bruins are fully expecting Eriksson to be a better player next year after a full season in the Bruins system, and with the concussion problems fully in the rear view mirror. Those two elite forwards on a third line will overwhelm second and third pairing defensemen from opposing teams, and give Boston the scoring depth that is the bedrock of their offensive production.

A deep, well-balanced roster is a pretty good place to start from given how the salary cap has prevented many other teams from achieving the same kind of balance. But just take one look at the damage that Rene Bourque is doing for the Canadiens to gauge just how important an effective, dangerous third line can be for a playoff team. That could be Soderberg next season if he wants it badly enough now that he’s got one full season under his belt.