The forecast still isn’t completely clear as to what the Bruins intend to do with roster moving forward after a stupendous regular season followed by a disappointing second-round exit in the playoffs. But change is always inevitable in the NHL, and that goes double for teams that fall prematurely to their arch-rivals in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It sounds as if the Bruins players understood this, based upon their exit meetings with the general manager and head coach.
“Every player -- to a 'T' -- that I have seen was like, 'You know, we should have been there' . . . meaning going all the way, or 'We will be there next year,' ” said GM Peter Chiarelli. “We definitely feel strong. Part of my job is to filter that stuff out because I’m the manager, and they’re the players. This is a very good team. There are some tweaks here and there, but it is a very good team.
“We’re strong down the middle, strong to the nets, good character, and a good core. We’ve won the Presidents’ Trophy, we beat Detroit in five, and we lost in seven to Montreal. It’s like, you know, emotional. Very emotional and it is my job to be unemotional about it. This is a good team, and there are some trends in hockey that we have to address in this team. It may be that we don’t get addressed until fall or halfway through the year, or July first, or before. You have to let things unfold sometimes. We’re not going to make too many changes to this team, but there will be some changes.”
With that in mind, here’s a quick look at what the Bruins may be looking at for each position next season:
Forwards: The biggest changes will come to the fourth line, where the Bruins want to get younger, faster and develop a bit more of an offensive bent. There’s a very good chance inexpensive young players like Ryan Spooner and Justin Florek will get long looks on that line with incumbent Daniel Paille, which would mean a 13th-forward role for Gregory Campbell and a new home for unrestricted free agent Shawn Thornton. The Bruins will surely employ an enforcer-type, whether it’s Thornton or somebody else, but it would appear Boston won’t be dressing that “designated fighter” player on most nights in a departure from the way it’s been over the last seven seasons.
The Bruins could also utilize the trade market this summer to address their fundamental lack of speed by adding a fast-moving top six winger to take Jarome Iginla’s spot. Speed is something David Krejci and Milan Lucic could sorely use on their right wing. If the Bruins need salary cap space to make any of these things happen, then dealing away Chris Kelly -- or potentially buying him out -- or Brad Marchand could become remote possibilities. This will be the position group with the most turnover going into next season.
Defensemen: When Dennis Seidenberg returns from his knee injury next year, he'll add toughness, experience depth, and strength around the net . . . all things that the Bruins missed during the playoffs. The B’s are locked in for next season with Zdeno Chara/Dougie Hamilton, Seidenberg/Johnny Boychuk and Torey Krug/Kevan Miller as the top three pairings, and both Matt Bartkowski and Adam McQuaid would be on the outside looking in to start the year. Expect the Bruins to explore dealing both Bartkowski and McQuaid, who is on crutches for the time being after ankle surgery. Bartkowski should still have plenty of value around the league given his extraordinary skating legs and willingness to throw his body around. That would make Bartkowski the most likely guy not returning after a difficult playoff body of work.
Goaltender: Tuukka Rask is as locked in as it gets signed for $7 million per season for the foreseeable future, and the Finnish netminder is the goaltender of the future for the Black and Gold. He’s a Vezina finalist this season and a performer who's considered one of the NHL’s elite goalies. His backup situation will once again be in flux for this season, however. Maybe Chad Johnson is back as the understudy looking after a solid campaign in which he nabbed almost 40 points all by himself. But it would appear Niklas Svedberg is ready to support Rask as his tandem partner, or the Bruins could find themselves another $600,000-per-season goaltender like Johnson last season and Anton Khudobin the year before that. The Bruins will be very okay here no matter what they ultimately decide.