Brad Marchand scored a career-high 37 goals last season. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Brad Marchand scored a career-high 37 goals last season. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The NHL season is upon us, leaving Bruins fans wondering whether they’re in for a return to the playoffs or just another frustrating regular season.

Heading into Thursday night’s season opener against the Blue Jackets, B’s fans are probably leaning toward the latter, but an influx of youth into the lineup makes this a potentially exciting team to watch this season, even if expectations aren’t set particularly high.

We’ve done basically every type of season preview imaginable over the years, but Ben Rohrbach did one like this a while back and I want to copy that style, so here’s a bunch of lists to get you ready for the Bruins’ season:

Three questions you probably have:

Will they make the playoffs?

Maybe. Detroit is the only Eastern Conference playoff team from last season that looks like a safe bet to fall out of the playoff picture, and the Canadiens will fare better than they did a season ago. The third Atlantic spot would be a good goal for the Bruins, but their roster isn’t any better than it was when they missed the postseason a year ago.

Will Claude Julien get fired?

I’m not gaga about this team, but the schedule is pretty light early on (see below), so it’s hard to envision them stumbling so much out of the gate that they’d have to pull the plug. If they do struggle, however, he’s an easy scapegoat.

How will the defense be?

You know the answer to that.

Four rookies who are getting a shot:

Austin Czarnik: Of the Bruins’ four rookies, he’s the only who isn’t a first-year pro. Czarnik recently suffered a concussion, but returned to practice Wednesday. The speedy center was all but penciled in to be the team’s third-line center leading up to his injury, and should still get that spot.

Brandon Carlo: The 6-foot-5 righty is eligible for Providence, and while he’ll start the season in Boston, the team is high enough on him that he might have made the team otherwise. Still, he’s just 19, so if he gets squeezed out of the lineup he’ll be better off in the AHL.

Danton Heinen: After two years at the University of Denver, Heinen went pro with an outside shot of making the B’s. That became a reality when Frank Vatrano needed foot surgery and Heinen tied for the team lead with three preseason goals.

Rob O’Gara: Carlo isn’t the only tall rookie defenseman on the roster. The 6-foot-4 Yale grad’s best bet at getting into games early on would be if the team opted to sit Joe Morrow despite the injuries on the blue line.

Three new guys and one kind of new guy:

David Backes: He’s 32 and he’s on a five-year deal. The best-case scenario is that he’s the guy he was last postseason (seven goals and seven assists for 14 points) and sustains that for a few years.

Dominic Moore: Tied with old friend Lee Stempniak for most teams, the journeyman center is a logical fit centering the fourth line.

Riley Nash: When guys are healthy he’s a fourth-line wing. He can also play center if needed.

Anton Khudobin: If Tuukka Rask’s numbers aren’t the same with a lesser defense, banking on Khudobin to experience smooth sailing his second time in Boston might be an overestimation.

Two guys they’ll miss:

Loui Eriksson: The B’s chose David Backes’ mid-30s over Eriksson’s. We’ll see if that was the right decision, but the guess here is that it wasn’t.

Frank Vatrano: Well at least he’ll be back. After scoring 36 goals in 36 AHL games last season, Vatrano might end up scoring no goals in the first 36 NHL games this season due to foot surgery. He’s expected back sometime around late December.

Two guys who could be traded:

Adam McQuaid: The 30-year-old is a good third-pairing right defenseman, but the B’s already have one of those in the younger and cheaper Kevan Miller. McQuaid has three years left on his deal with an annual cap hit of $2.75 million. Moving him would allow the B’s to give a full-time job to Carlo should they feel he’s ready.

Ryan Spooner: This goes against the whole “developing young talent” thing, but the fact is they need a sure thing on defense and Spooner is rightfully one of their best chips because he’s a good young player. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

One guy they’ll have to bury in the AHL:

Zac Rinaldo: I’ll be maybe the first person to ever say “the poor guy” when referring to Rinaldo, but it’s true. He didn’t trade a third-round pick for himself.

One smart re-signing:

John-Michael Liles: They’ve got too many bodies on D (seven defenders are on one-way deals), but if the B’s do make moves, Liles has the flexibility to serve as a left or right defenseman on the second or third pairing. He also provides time for guys like Carlo to develop in the AHL if need be.

One happy stat:

– The Bruins are going to score because they pretty much always do. They finished fifth in goals last season and have finished in the top five in four of the last five 82-game seasons.

One sad stat:

– The Bruins had three 30-goal-scorers last year. They replaced one of them (Eriksson) with a guy (Backes) who has seen his goal total decline in each of the past two seasons, from 27 in 2013-14 to 21 last season.

One guy who will have better luck than last year:

Torey Krug: His four goals last season were surprising, but he had a career-high 244 shots on goal with an unbelievably unfortunate 1.6 shooting percentage. If that percentage bumps up to even 5 (it was 7.7 and 5.9 his other two seasons), he would have had 12 goals. Krug still managed to rack up 40 assists and a career-high 44 points. Between his performance and his health throughout his career (he’s missed a total of eight regular-season games in his three full seasons), there isn’t much to worry about with Krug.

Speaking of Krug, three guys who could get Chris Kelly’s ‘A’:

Torey Krug: The top choice here. Young guy who’s got his act together and, most importantly, hasn’t won. You won’t find complacency there.

David Backes: The longtime captain of the Blues has made himself comfortable in Boston.

Brad Marchand: Often times, you just give the letter to the best player. Marchand cares more than anybody, but it’s safe to assume he’s got at least three or four more suspensions ahead of him in his career.

Three dumb takes you might hear during the season:

Brad Marchand’s on pace for fewer than 37 goals. Did they sign him too early?

– No. He took a team-friendly deal. Even with something of a statistical regression, he still could have gotten that deal at the end of the season. It just wouldn’t be as team-friendly.

(After month) They’re in first place. Are they Cup contenders?

– Seriously, watch out for mid-November, because the B’s might be sitting pretty standings-wise at that point. Only six of their first 16 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, including five straight against non-playoff teams to begin the season. By Nov. 13 (the end of another such five-game stretch), high standing would be encouraging, but not a sign that their problems are fixed.

(Probably at a lot of points when they lose) Julien’s the problem.

– He probably won’t be the problem that often.

Blog Author: 
DJ Bean

Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller were already expected to miss the Bruins’ season-opener Thursday night, but general manager Don Sweeney announced on Wednesday that the team’s best player will be joining them on the sideline.

Patrice Bergeron will not travel with the team to Columbus after suffering a lower-body injury. He is considered day-to-day, according to Sweeney.

Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron

Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller were already expected to miss the Bruins’ season-opener Thursday night, but general manager Don Sweeney announced on Wednesday that the team’s best player will be joining them on the sideline.

Patrice Bergeron will not travel with the team to Columbus after suffering a lower-body injury. He is considered day-to-day, according to Sweeney.

David Backes reportedly moved to Bergeron’s spot at center between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak at Wednesday’s practice, while rookie Danton Heinen moved up to the second line with David Krejci and Ryan Spooner.

McQuaid is considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Miller, meanwhile, will miss approximately six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a fracture in his left hand.

Sweeney also announced that the team has called up forward Tim Schaller, who will give the Bruins some depth at either center or wing.

Blog Author: 
Scott McLaughlin

The Bruins had Media Day festivities Tuesday in anticipation of the 2016-17 season launch, and longtime owner Jeremy Jacobs said he is planning on additional games at the end of the campaign.

Jeremy Jacobs

Jeremy Jacobs

The Bruins had Media Day festivities Tuesday in anticipation of the 2016-17 season launch, and longtime owner Jeremy Jacobs said he is planning on additional games at the end of the campaign.

“I share the expectations with everybody here that we’ll be in the playoffs,” said Jacobs, on a dais alongside CEO Charlie Jacobs, president Cam Neely, general manager Don Sweeney, and head coach Claude Julien. “And I expect them to get deep in the playoffs. I think there’s a very good mix of young and old, experienced players. I’m looking forward to going into the playoff season.”

The Bruins are coming off missing the postseason for the second-straight year, with last season’s 93-point total falling just short of qualifying due to losing a tiebreaker with Detroit (greater number of wins, excluding shootout wins).

Pressed for a timeline for playoff success, Jacobs replied: “Yesterday.”

“I really think we’re so close to being truly a competitive playoff team and contender,” the elder Jacobs continued. “Who saw San Jose last year? It wasn’t me, that’s for sure. Circumstances evolve. We could well be a serious contender. Every day there’s that mandate. Whether or not they hear it is something else. Our expectations are high. I talk to Cam quite a bit, so I think we all share that.”

The B’s had made the playoffs for seven consecutive years before the current lull, which saw Sweeney replace Peter Chiarelli in April of 2015.

“The great thing that Don brings is intuition and knowledge of what [our] young players can be, and where they could go,” Jacobs said. “He spent so much time with them and so much a part of the draft. He’s been building more than harvesting. I’d like to see us build from within rather than from the outside, because you pay a price for it. That’s what you’ve seen over the last year, paying that price.”

Jacobs said he was impressed with what he saw from his roster in Saturday’s preseason finale, a 1-0 OT win against Philadelphia. Rookie defensemen Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara, as well as forward Danton Heinen, were featured in that game for Boston.

“What you’re seeing with these young players, we didn’t trade these guys,” Jacobs said. “We stayed with them. The game Saturday night was a real good indication of what we’re capable of. I really enjoyed it, thought it was very entertaining. There’s a lot of youth out there and I was seriously impressed.”

Blog Author: 
Ken Laird
Seth Griffith

Seth Griffith

Seth Griffith put up some impressive AHL numbers but never quite translated that into NHL success in Boston. Now his time with the team is done after the Maple Leafs claimed the 23-year-old forward off waivers Tuesday.

Griffith led the Providence Bruins with 77 points last season and also put up good numbers there in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but he managed just 11 points in 34 NHL games across two seasons while averaging just over one shot on goal per game.

Tyler Randell and Tim Schaller cleared waivers and are set to start the season in Providence. The Bruins need to get their roster down to 25 players by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Blog Author: 
Scott McLaughlin
Austin Czarnik

Austin Czarnik

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas has been suspended six games by the NHL Department of Player Safety for a “high, forceful hit that [made] significant head contact” to Boston forward Austin Czarnik during Saturday’s preseason finale at TD Garden.

Gudas’ six-game ban will cost him $245,122 according to Gudas is a repeat offender under terms of the CBA for an illegal hit in December of 2015 against Ottawa’s Mike Zibanejad (a three-game suspension).

Czarnik, 23, was trending towards beginning the season for Boston as the third-line center between Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes, but a concussion suffered on the hit leaves his season start date in doubt. Last year with Providence in the AHL, Czarnik tallied 41 assists and 61 points, good for third-best on the team in both categories.


Blog Author: 
Ken Laird
David Backes is entering his first season with the Bruins. (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

David Backes is entering his first season with the Bruins. (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

BOSTON – The Bruins wrapped up their exhibition slate Saturday night at TD Garden with a 1-0, OT win over Philadelphia. While final 23-man rosters likely won’t be announced before Monday’s 5 p.m. league deadline, here’s a look at five pressing questions facing the team as the B’s look to snap a two-season skid of missing the postseason.

How much impact will David Backes make on David Krejci’s wing?

When Bruins GM Don Sweeney decided in July to spend his $6 million AAV chip on the 32-year-old Backes instead of the now-departed 31-year-old Loui Eriksson, it was a given that Backes’ performance in 2016-17 would be in the spotlight.

Now that it appears Backes been given the task of jump starting centerman David Krejci from the right wing while grooming young left wing Ryan Spooner, perhaps Backes has even more pressure on him.

The Krejci line needs to produce for Boston to succeed. And while Backes has shed the pressure of the captaincy in St. Louis, he’s added the the weight of being Boston’s marquee addition and now second-line glue guy, all while leaving his natural center position (at least for now) for an ‘all-center’ line of Spooner – Krejci- Backes as the season approaches.

“He’s been great on the ice, but he’s also been great off the ice,” head coach Claude Julien said when asked about Backes’ early impact on the team. “He’s talking to the young kids, helping them out. I hear him on the bench, making sure he’s talking to his linemates all the time and letting them know what’s expected. He’s a real positive influence in our dressing room.”

Backes admitted the newly formed line has potential, but also is dealing with some growing pains.

“Krejci’s so creative and smooth with the puck at times I think I crowd his area,” said Backes. “I need to get away from him and let him make a play through space. We’re learning each other, adapting to positional play. We need to talk more, talk every time we get off the ice, ‘where can I go, where can I help you out?’ [Spooner] has the assets of great speed and skill, I can use my size and Krejci has creativity and ability to distribute. We just all need to get on the same page.”

Ryan Spooner wants to avoid a run-and-gun game. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Can Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak take the next step?

Spooner, who scored the Saturday overtime winner off an assist from Backes in three-on-three action, had nothing but praise for the early advice he’s getting from his new associate, but also admitted he’s had to adjust to his new left wing spot.

“I felt a little bit better [Saturday],” Spooner said. “I watched some tape and found against Montreal [last Tuesday] I was lost in my own end a little bit. Felt like I was drifting to the middle of the ice. Tonight I felt a little bit better, but it’s going to take some time. Backes has been extremely helpful with me. I’ve asked him a lot of questions, and he’s been great. If I can get the puck to the net for him, he’s a big guy, it’s going to work.”

The 24-year-old Spooner is coming off his first full season in the NHL, finishing with 13 goals and 36 helpers over 80-games last season playing primarily at center between Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. With Spooner’s faceoff win-percentage at just 42.8 in 2015-16, perhaps moving him off the pivot is the right call. But, can Spooner score 20-plus goals as a top-six winger in the NHL?

Meanwhile, Pastrnak’s 15 goals over 51-games last season are pretty solid proof he’s more than 20-goal capable if he can stay healthy. Injuries to several body parts (finger, foot, ‘upper-body’) piled up on Pastrnak last year and have him trying to shed an ‘injury-prone’ label.

However, Pastrnak’s scoring ability couple with the prospect of playing all season with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron make Pastrnak an obvious breakout candidate this season.

Boston’s offense last season was a quite respectable 5th best in the NHL at 2.88 goals-per-game, but jumps from Spooner and Pastrnak in the scoring department will ensure it stays among the league’s best despite the loss of Eriksson.

Zdeno Chara's lone Norris win came in 2009. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Is the D good enough?

While Boston’s offensive stats last year portrayed a playoff-caliber team, the team’s defensive goals-allowed-per-game mark of 2.78 was 15th in the league, and led to a goal differential of just +8 (consider that they were +84 just two seasons ago).

The defense obviously is the area of most-needed improvement.

John-Michael Liles stuck around after his late February trade from Carolina and 17-games played with the Bruins, and he along with Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Aadm McQuaid and Kevan Miller figure to be the team’s top-five.

A year ago, Zach Trotman, Matt Irwin and Joe Morrow were in the season-opening lineup (albeit with Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the shelf) so by comparison this year’s grouping seems more stable.

The 25-year-old Krug also has a new four-year contract, and presents the possibility of a bounce-back season in the goal scoring department after seeing his totals decline from 14 to 12 and just four a year ago.

However, the 39-year-old Zdeno Chara certainly showed his age on a few occasions last year over an 80-game slate, and presents the possibility of even further declining as well.

Competition in training camp between veteran Christian Ehrhoff (in on a pro-tryout agreement), Colin Miller, Morrow, and rookies Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara make for an interesting battle at the bottom of the depth chart.

Julien praised Carlo and O’Gara for their work Saturday night, saying that despite some early nerves they improved as the game went along and made solid decisions. They both figure to be in the mix at some point this season, if not for the upcoming opener.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask also approved of seeing the new blood in the lineup, and also what he described as a more aggressive mindset in the defensive zone.

“O’Gara and Carlo look great even thought they’re young,” said Rask. “That’s a great sign, something you need in the league. Last year when we were watching and waiting, teams started to cycle and guys didn’t know who to take. When you’re jumping quick that creates that aggressiveness and everybody needs to react. It helps everybody be on the same page, and D plays a big part in that.”

Frank Vatrano

Frank Vatrano

With Frank Vatrano out, which young forwards can the team count on to make an impact?

Vatrano’s foot injury that has him in a walking boot and out until at least Christmas was a significant downer for the Bruins’ young forward depth. “We lost a winger that we thought would make significant strides this year,” Julien recently said matter-of-factly. “Even when he comes back he’ll be three months behind.”

With 39 NHL games played last year and eight goals plus an AHL goal-scoring title, Vatrano is still the team’s top hope to inject some young scoring punch down the line.

However, in the short term Vatrano’s injury gives an opportunity for rookies  Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen to possibly make the roster and show what they can do.

Czarnik, provided he’s not out for a length of time from a Radko Gudas boading penalty on Saturday, has looked smooth centering Beleskey and Hayes. Last year in Providence, the 5-foot-9 Czarnik was third on the club in points with 61 (20 goals), and brings a playmaker’s skillset.

“I think he’s a real smart player. I think he’s a headsy player. He’s got great hockey sense, great hockey vision,” Julien said. “He’s definitely a player who’s had a great camp, certainly opened a lot of eyes.”

Heinen, who played fourth-line left wing on Saturday on a line with Dominic Moore and Riley Nash, was a 20-goal scorer for Denver University last year but will probably be eased into NHL minutes this season.

Claude Julien will be back as Bruins head coach next season. (USA Today Sports)

Will a system tweak keep the Bruins relevant in a speed league?

As Backes noted after his signing in July, “I don’t think the game’s getting slower.” With speed teams like Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay winning the Eastern Conference the past two seasons, is the ‘heavy’ NHL game a dinosaur?

The Bruins appear to have tweaked their style somewhat in camp this season, but will still be relying on their trademark physicality and counter-attack to win.

“If you start to manage the puck in the right way, you can occupy the offensive zone and do a lot of the things that teams that are heavy can do,” said Backes. “Winning every battle that you get into, being able to control the puck once you get it.”

Julien admitted the team had a pack-the-box mentality last year at times on D, and have worked on speeding up the decision making process from the back end.

“We talked about playing a little tighter and closing a little quicker on the puck carrier,” said Julien. “Our team has worked on that since the first day of training camp. We’re a lot quicker closing than we have been, versus letting them have the outside and protecting the middle. Our forwards have to do a real good job of being above theirs so our D have an opportunity to get the puck and make a play.”

“We’re trying to change the way we play a little bit,” new assistant coach Bruce Cassidy told the Patriot Ledger. “Some of the stuff we’re trying to incorporate here, we’ve done a little bit in Providence [the past few seasons]. It’s not reckless hockey, but trying to defend quicker to get pucks back sooner, so that we can get into transition sooner and play with the puck.”

Blog Author: 
Ken Laird

BRIGHTON — Bruins forward Zac Rinaldo was placed on waivers, Friday according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnson. The move was certainly an expected one, as the forward was not expected to make Boston’s roster out of training camp.

BRIGHTON — Kevan Miller was back on the ice for the Bruins for Friday’s practice, another positive step for the defenseman after the team learned that Tuesday’s lower-body injury was just a bruise.

While Miller was on the ice, there were several absences in Seth Griffith, Jake DeBrusk, Tim Schaller, Tyler Randell, Sean Kuraly, Zac Rinaldo, Joe Morrow and Adam McQuaid.