Every offseason is full uncertainty. Of course, the summer is also the time that everyone, from the fans to the media and everyone in between, looks at what the coming season may hold. It's no surprise that once the games are played, just about everybody gets proven wrong in some, way shape or form. Injuries, sleepers and letdowns happen, and it's impossible to always see each one coming.
The Bruins are now 22 games deep, meaning they've knocked off more than a quarter of the regular-season schedule. After a hot start followed by a subpar stretch, they stand at 12-8-2 on the season, and their 26 points are second to the Canadiens (31 points in 24 games) in the Northeast division.
During the offseason, before Tyler Seguin had scored his first goal or Tim Thomas had recorded one of his shutouts, WEEI.com participated in the amusing game of peering into the future, spending a week running a series on who the X-factors of the 2010-11 season would be for the Bruins. Among the players highlighted were Michael Ryder, Tuukka Rask/Tim Thomas, Blake Wheeler and Nathan Horton.
Now that the team is really into the grind of the season, here's a look at how accurate the offseason takes were and who the X-factors are going forward:
THEN: There were a couple of offseason questions with Ryder, of course, the first of which was whether he'd stay in Boston. His name was rarely spoken or written over the summer without his $4 million salary cap hit also being mentioned. The price tag, along with a down year statistically (his goals were down from 27 two seasons ago to 18 last season), made him a whipping boy of sorts among fans.
Adding to the intrigue of Ryder's situation was that, over the summer, there was no indication that Marc Savard would begin the season on LTIR, so there was plenty of speculation that he could have been gone before the start of the season.
NOW: Speculation will swirl until Savard's December return, but performance-wise, X-factor continues to sum Ryder up very well. Nobody was quite sure what to expect from him this season, but he's been among the top offensive performers for a Bruins team that has more to offer offensively than their 2.39 goals per game a season ago.
After picking up 10 points in his first 15 games, Ryder -- much like the rest of the Bruins' offense -- has cooled a bit recently. He has just two points in his last seven games, but the 30-year-old free-agent-to-be has done plenty throughout the season to show that the Bruins will miss him if they are forced to send him and his cap hit to Providence.
Ryder also seemed to be a big help to Tyler Seguin in the early going when the two were linemates. The chemistry was there from the get-go, and the two were able to connect on daring passes that at times may have bordered on being a little too risky, but it never cost the B's.
TIM THOMAS/TUUKKA RASK
THEN: Thomas, of course, was another guy whose salary appeared to be more of a burden than a value. After all, he had seemingly lost the starting job to Tuukka Rask down the stretch and in the playoffs last season and nobody knew how well his hip surgery would take. The question with Rask was how well he'd be able to follow up a season in which he led the league in both goals against average and save percentage.
NOW: After Thomas' blazing start (just three goals allowed and three shutouts in his first six games), naysayers have been left biting their tongues. Thomas' stats have since returned to being a little more human, as he leads the league with a .951 save percentage and is second in the league with a 1.56 GAA. His four shutouts are tied with Carey Price for best in the NHL, and with his next, Thomas will have tied his career-high.
Rask, meanwhile, has yet to look as awful as his 1-6-1 record, and the Bruins have struggled while playing in front of him. Rask stopped just 22 of the 26 shots he saw Sunday, but, as has been the case in some of his other starts, his play wasn't as bad as the numbers dictated. Of the four goals he allowed, only Dustin Byfuglien's could be classified as a softie, and Rask would likely stop it every other time. Even so, there's no denying that Rask has fallen on hard luck. After Sunday's game, the 23-year-old is seventh in the league with a .926 save percentage, but has just one victory to show for it.
When looking at what the Bruins have got in their goaltenders, it's astonishing to think that entering their 23rd game of the season, they have won exactly one game started by Tuukka Rask. They do, as Claude Julien has said countless time, have two No. 1 goalies. The problem is that they don't win in front of both of them.
THEN: At the time Horton arrived, he may as well have swung a deal with Rask for the No. 40 jersey, because 40 was the only number associated with the former Florida winger since the June trade. After all, Horton would be unstoppable with Marc Savard, right?
NOW: Well, Horton hasn't exactly, you know, played with Savard, but everyone still seems pleased with the winger, who is second to Milan Lucic in both goals and points.
While Horton's excitement has gotten just about as much attention as his lethal wrist shot, the 25-year-old has displayed flaws in his first season in Boston that he is admittedly trying to correct. For as good a scorer as he is, Horton doesn't take nearly enough shots. He's gotten two or less shots on goal in 11 of his 22 games this season (he's had no shots three times). Of course, the percentage of his shots that go in is greater as a result, but Horton's made no lie about his intent to get more pucks to the net.
At the time of his last goal, Horton's longest goal drought was three games, which he'd encountered just once. Since then, Horton has gone seven games without a goal.
With eight goals (three of which have come on the power play) thus far, Horton is on pace for 30 this season. That would come just a goal shy of his career-high 31 set in 2006-07, his third year in the league.
THEN: The question was whether Wheeler would have the big season that could prevent him from going year-to-year contract-wise. Wheeler went to arbitration this summer and was awarded $2.2 million. With the third-year player set to be a restricted free agent once again at season's end, many were interested to see whether he would turn things around from the slight dip in production he had (18 goals after 21 as a rookie).
NOW: Nobody really considered what Wheeler could bring as a center until the idea of him beginning the season as a pivot was kicked around in training camp. His number was eventually called for the position following David Krejci's concussion, and he's proven capable in the time he has spent at center, a position he hadn't played since his college days.
To this point, Wheeler has five goals, including the team's only tally Sunday, and four assists. Still, it seems that until Wheeler puts together a monster season, fans will be disappointed with his output. He's on pace for 19 goals, which sort of splits the difference of his totals in his first two years, but he's been a bigger piece of the puzzle in games the team has been without Krejci.
The biggest X-factors the Bruins could hope for going forward are bigger than just one player: Lady Luck and offensive consistency. Given the slump the Bruins are currently in the midst of (1-3-1 in their last five games, with five goals in their last four), a major priority for the team remains getting the first goal, something they've struggled to do recently. Considering they have just one goal over their last two games, it doesn't really matter when it's scored -- if they produce that little offense consistently, it might not help if they score first.
So which players could ignite a fire if they themselves encounter a hot streak? Here's a couple of additions to the list.
Can the return of the injured players help a guy who's been healthy all season take off? If it means Tyler Seguin could stick at wing, then yes.
Seguin has eight points through his first 22 games in the NHL. Two years ago, Steven Stamkos had seven through his first 22 games, with only two goals. Seguin is 16th in points among rookies, behind the likes of Jeff Skinner (19), Jordan Eberle (14) and Taylor Hall (11), but it wouldn't be surprising to see an uptick in the numbers as the season wears on, similar to Stamkos' in February of 2009.
Stamkos had a modest six goals heading into February of his rookie year before going off for 17 more beginning on Feb. 12. He finished the season with 23, and hasn't stopped scoring since.
Seguin seems to have it in him -- watch him in the explode through the neutral zone just once if you're unsure -- and the extra gear that he has is going to be an enormous problem for opposing teams eventually.
The Bruins have always had a plan of playing Seguin on the wing in his rookie year, but they simply haven't had all of their centers healthy. Savard's been out and Krejci's gone in and out, and as a result the 18-year-old has been getting a head start on learning about life as an NHL center, something that consists of a lot more learning than sticking at wing would.
Once Savard returns, the team should finally have all four centers -- Savard, Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and Gregory Campbell -- and Seguin can focus on burning teams with his speed and scoring touch. Whether that will translate to a Stamkos-like offensive outburst remains to be seen, but it's not out of the question.
The Bruins aren't going to bring Savard back until he's ready fully jump back in, and that day appears to be drawing near. The 33-year-old center's been putting extra work in to get caught up physically, so once he gets back in the lineup, he can focus more on his playmaking and less on getting acclimated.
The biggest immediate impact that Savard might make is that his return could jumpstart a lethargic offense. There's no telling who he'll end up playing with, but if Savard is his old self in game action, his wingers -- whether they need it or not -- will get a jolt that the team must be hoping will be felt throughout the lineup.
A guessing game regarding what exactly Savard will bring coming off of post-concussion symptoms is tough, but if there's any player who can step and have a huge impact on this offense, it's Marc Savard.
The Bruins can get a spark from anywhere, and despite the funk they currently find themselves in, their next boost from whomever may not be far away.