Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pool Outlook for Boston

The last of the Pool Outlooks belongs to the Stanley Cup champions of 2011, the Boston Bruins.  The Bruins out-willed their opponents in the Northeast Division for a regular season title and then again through four rounds of the 2011 playoffs, giving them the biggest prize you can win in the game.  The Bruins played exceptionally well when it came down to the crunch and were also pretty good for poolies across the board.  This was a very successful year in Boston, now they are going to have to turn everything on in the off-season for their chance to repeat in 2012.

Most of the credit for the Bruins' success should be given to Tim Thomas, who had a record-setting year in the NHL, with the best save percentage for a season at .938.  Thomas finished 8th overall in pool points in 2011, winning 35 games, 8 of those by shutout and adding 3 assists for 91 points in the year.  He was ranked 3rd among all goalies in points and was the backbone of everything good in Boston.  The hardest thing he'll have to do now is follow it up with something special again.

The Bruins had four of the top 100 scoring forwards in 2011, Milan Lucic (62 points in 79 games), David Krejci (62 points in 75 games), Patrice Bergeron (57 points in 80 games) and Nathan Horton (53 points in 80 games).  None of those four really excelled as an individual, but this showed that their scoring by committee system did have some serious merit to it.  The newly-retired Mark Recchi (48 points in 81 games) rounds out the top five Bruins forwards, who all had a very respectable season in 2011.

Thanks to a better scoring record while in Toronto, the rental acquisition, Tomas Kaberle, turned out to be the leading scoring defenseman finishing the season with the Bruins in 2011. Kaberle finished with 47 points in all 82 games, to lead a formidable group, which had three players in the top 100 of defenseman scoring.  Zdeno Chara (44 points in 81 games) and Dennis Seidenberg (32 points in 81 games) each finished in the top 50, which was very impressive and will likely continue to be a pretty good pairing for another few seasons.

It was only a year ago when Tuukka Rask had the Bruins number one spot, looking like the guy who would remain there for years to come, in spite of a big contract given to Thomas.  Unfortunately for Rask, Thomas took his job back, played big minutes and left Rask as one of the middle-of-the-pack back-ups in pool scoring, leaving him 11 wins and 2 shutouts for 26 points in 2011.  Rask was a pool favourite, going 19th overall in my draft, but turned out to be quite the bust in the end.

2012 Pool Outlook
If keeping the bulk of the team together is what is going to help the Bruins repeat as champions in 2012, then they are well on their way to doing just that.  The Bruins have a solid group of players coming back from their Cup winning squad, which looks really good on them.  The question marks that need settling before puck drop have more to do with the health of key players, more than the signing of depth players.

Milan LucicZdeno CharaTim Thomas
David KrejciDennis SeidenbergTuukka Rask
Patrice BergeronJohnny Boychuk
Nathan HortonAndrew Ference
Rich PeverleyAdam McQuaid
Gregory Campbell
Chris Kelly
Tyler Seguin
Shawn Thornton
Dan Paille
Marc Savard

Salary CapThe Bruins have 18 players (11 forwards, five defense and two goalies) signed on for the 2012 season, plus a buyout still on the books, coming in at an annual projection of only $52.2 million.  That leaves them nearly $10 million in cap space for only three to five players, which is a nice lofty sum to deal with.  That kind of cap space should keep management from stressing too much about making additions and re-signing some players.

The Bruins only have a couple of unrestricted free agents that they will take long, hard looks at before July 1st, Tomas Kaberle and Michael Ryder.  At the right price, I could see each of them returning to Boston for another run at the Cup, but again, it would have to be at the right price.

Only Brad Marchand looms as the most interesting restricted free agent in this off-season, playing as a solid forward in the regular season and a playoff hero for the club.  I can't see him posing too much of a threat to the remaining cap space, but he will get his fair share.

With the depth of forwards, defense and goalies already having set up shop for the Bruins in the table above, it will have to take something special to jump into the line-up as a rookie in 2012.  Jordan Caron started the 2011 season with the Bruins, but fell back down to the minors for better ice-time, he'll likely get a shot at making the team, as will Zach Hamill, who should get another long look in camp, pending a new contract of course.  On defense, Matt Bartkowski is the highest rated blueline prospect on the team and if the Bruins can't find someone on the free agent market to fill in an empty spot, Bartkowski may be called upon to do so.

The Bruins have done a lot of dealing of picks in the past couple years, but they do have a good 1st round pick, thanks to the Phil Kessel deal a couple years ago now.  The Bruins minor league depth isn't terribly impressive, so it will likely come down to the best player available, when the Bruins pick 9th overall.  There should be some quality talent that can jump into the system and help the team out, but it won't likely be right away that this player fits into the organization's scheme, like Tyler Seguin did in 2011.

What I said last year at this time... "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."

Being skeptical about the Bruins and their scoring would have paid off a little bit, as the team didn't blow anyone away with their individual points.  Like I said before, I was big on Rask being the guy in net for the Bruins, but Thomas did the job, making that prediction look awfully foolish.  Savard was a health risk again, but Lucic was one of the team's best forwards in 2011 and I'm glad I didn't touch the prediction for after the drafting of Seguin.  Not a great prediction, but at least the team's work ethic was noticed, both last season and this year's championship run.

Like many seasons, there is always quite the love affair among poolies with the Stanley Cup winning teams and there is a big rush to pick their best guys right away, this will be the case for the Bruins in 2012.  Don't get sucked in.  Health concerns for Nathan Horton and Marc Savard will be the Summer's big discussion, plenty of wonder if their concussions will be serious enough to knock them right out.  The core group will remain the same, I imagine Tomas Kaberle may take reasonable money to stay in Boston, solidifying the defense that helped Thomas do his job.  I don't think the team will score like gang busters through the regular season, but they will win plenty of games to make another run at the Northeast Division title, but will play close enough that they won't win enough games to vie for the Eastern Conference top spot.  Lots can happen between now and the start of the playoffs, so I won't go so far as to predict whether or not they'll repeat.

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