Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pool Outlook for Boston

It's likely going to be a long time before the Boston Bruins live down the crushing defeat to the Philadelphia Flyers in dramatic, record book-writing fashion, but there could be some solace taken in what their future potentially holds, because it was a pretty good season in 2010 to begin with and it looks like they will be able to add some talent at a reasonable cap hit to remain competitive down the line.  It might not be the joys of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals (or beyond) right now, but it has to be worth something, right?

The Boston Bruins had all sorts of changes up front and on the defense and really lacked some consistency throughout their line-up, except for in goal.  You would think it was going to be the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner taking the reins in 2010, but no, it was his younger protege taking over in Tuukka Rask.  Rask and Thomas pretty well split the time in the net through the whole season, but it was Rask leading the team in minutes and wins by the dust settled.   Rask appeared in 45 games for the Bruins, picking up a record of 22-12-5 with 5 shutouts and 3 assists, which totals 57 points for the pool.  Those 57 points were good enough to be the best Bruins player in the pool, 22nd best goalie, 89th overall.

Frankly, when the team's best player only registers 57 points in the season, you would think it was a bad year for that team, but it was only a bad finish to the playoffs, which had little to do with the regular season performances.

As you can see, the bar was set pretty low for the team's best players, so why did the forwards drop the ball in 2010?  Injuries to some key players kept scoring down from the team's forwards all year.  Those who did lead, managed to play in 70+ games, but they were not good enough as a team to put up more scoring than they did.  Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci led the way with 52 points each, but Bergeron had the edge in goals for his picture to be posted.  Mark Recchi ranked 3rd in forward scoring with 43 points in 81 games, while Blake Wheeler had 38 points in 82 games.  Injuries to Marc Savard and Milan Lucic can be looked towards as big turning points in the team's scoring in 2010, so take that into account when you are thinking about their 2011 numbers.

The Bruins blueline had a better showing in terms of their rankings, with three defensemen finishing in the top 100 of the positional scoring.  Zdeno Chara finished 16th among all blueliners, which is down for the big man, with 44 points in 80 games, but you may be able to chalk that up to the lack of power play punch the Bruins had from all of their injuries.  The Bruins acquired Dennis Seidenberg at the trade deadline and he was good enough between Florida and Boston for 32 points in 79 games, which ranked him 44th among all defensemen.   Dennis Wideman had a bit of a down year in 2010, with only 30 points in 76 games, but he still finished in 49th among defensemen, so it wasn't a write-off year.  If some of the Bruins talent up front can stay healthy enough and work that power play into some better shape, I would think that their numbers would be much better in 2011.

Repeating as the reigning Vezina Trophy winner is harder to do than it looks nowadays.  A 17-18-8 record in 43 appearances with the Bruins will likely do that to a guy, but adding 5 shutouts to that total makes his record a little easier to stomach.  Tim Thomas finished the season with 44 points, ranking him tied for 4th in points on the team, 168th in the league and 28th among goalies.  That means the Bruins had two goalies in the top 30, which was a nice insurance policy for the team that had to really battle for their playoff spot at the end of the year. I'll be curious to see how the Bruins approach their goaltending in 2011.

2011 Season Outlook
I think when you look at the keys to the Bruins to get them where they ended up in 2010, I think you can safely say that the Bruins are indeed heading in the right direction, especially with the names they are carrying over to 2011.  The combination in goal is intact, in theory, going forward, while big Zdeno Chara is still in the fold patrolling the front of the net and Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci will have another shot to have a healthy year.

Patrice BergeronZdeno CharaTuukka Rask
David KrejciDennis WidemanTim Thomas
Marco SturmMatt Hunwick
Michael RyderAndrew Ference
Marc Savard
Milan Lucic

The Bruins might be in tough this Summer when it comes to their overall cap hit in 2011, as they only have 12 players signed on at the moment for a chunky sum of $45.7 million against the cap.  They do have a couple of top centres, some scoring wingers, their top two offensive defensemen and their goaltending tandem signed, so it may just be a matter of signing up some good depth and/or youth to fill the remaining 11 spots on the active roster.  If their depth players can come in at $1 million a piece, they should be in good shape.

Unrestricted free agency is going to play a large part in the Bruins Summer, with names like Mark Recchi, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Miroslav Satan, Steve Begin, Shawn Thornton and Mark Stuart all heading that way for July 1st.   Most of those names were very important to the Bruins in 2010 and it will be interesting to see what kind of numbers the team would drum up for some of these pending UFAs.  Recchi, Begin, Satan and Thornton all made $1 million or less in 2010, so there may be some minor raises there, thanks to their successes in 2010, but all could be wrapped back up in Bruins colours before too long.  Boychuk may warrant a nice pay raise after a very good year in Boston, gaining some respect for his tough style of play.

Restricted free agency won't be a walk in the park for the Bruins with Blake Wheeler, Dan Paille and Vladimir Sobotka leading the group into free agency this Summer.  With all these names and some cap space not being there for some, I would be trying to rule out Wheeler from the Bruins 2011 roster because of these reasons, likely trying to move him this Summer. 

The Bruins have been one of those teams that don't rush their prospects into the NHL too quickly or put too much pressure on them to turn pro.  The team has plenty of young talent and they were fortunate to see a couple of their top prospects sign pro deals before the end of the season, opening up the doors for making the team next season.  6'5" centre Joe Colborne has to be the most attractive of the bunch coming out of the NCAA system in Denver, scoring at a very good pace.  If the Bruins are going to be short down the middle, Colborne would do well to raise the average height in that position.   Jordan Caron, Brad Marchand and Zach Hamill are also on the radar to do good things in training camp for the Bruins.  It appears that the forward lines are in good hands down the line.

The Boston Bruins will be a busy team in the 1st round of the Entry Draft this year, having two picks to choose from, including the Maple Leafs' 2nd overall pick and their own pick which will be the 15th pick in the 1st round.  Those are going to be two great picks.  The reports are suggesting that the Bruins are going to go with the can't miss pick that the Oilers don't take between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, but for how high Cam Fowler is rated and their need for some more blue chip defensemen, I am wondering if they can really pass up on a great blueliner and wait until the 15th pick to possibly pick one.

What I said at this time last year: "It's rather scary to think that the Bruins were so very good in 2009 and despite the possible turnaround in personnel, they do have some young kids that will come in and wow some people right away and fill some gaps at a reasonable price. It's going to be a hard season to pick Bruins this Fall, as there will be a lot of poolies with Bruins circled on their list. The trick will be to not overvalue the Bruins players like Lucic or Kobasew, despite them playing some quality minutes with some quality players. Right now, I'm going to marginally increase some players projected numbers, but I am also going to look at a few guys and take them down a bit, as they may have overachieved in 2009. Still, the Bruins are a quality team to pick from and will likely be picked pretty clean by the end of your draft."

I think I was at one point saying that there may have been a few players that overachieved in 2009 could have been somewhat correct, as there were a few players that did drop down in their production, but in most of those cases, you could attribute that to injuries for the most part.  The Bruins did have some turnaround in their roster and still managed to pull off a decent position in 2010, but overall, it would have been wise to be skeptical about picking them in your 2010 fantasy team. 

For 2011, I would have to imagine that it will be somewhat similar to the past couple years in terms of how the team fares in the standings.  I think I have to give Claude Julien a lot of credit for the work ethic and team play the Bruins have, but I do remain rather skeptical about whether or not the Bruins will be a good team to pick players from for pool points.  I will definitely like Rask for more minutes and thus more points, but I don't trust some of these health risks like Savard or Lucic, which should hurt my projections for the rest of the Bruins.  If Boston does in fact go with Hall or Seguin, my thoughts may change, but that's predicting two steps ahead, which is a dangerous idea as it is.

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