2017-18 NHL Team Preview: Boston Bruins

Is Boston’s Stanley Cup window still open?

The Bruins returned to the playoffs last season after snapping their historic streak and missing two years in a row prior to that. It was a short-lived appearance, though, getting beaten out by upstart Ottawa in six games.

Now, Boston returns with many of the same players and some exciting youngsters looking to make an impact. David Pastrnak leads the way in that group and has to prove he’s worth his brand new $6.66 million cap hit with another season around the 70-point mark or more.

But this team is still led by Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask — three players who have won a Cup with the Bruins. They are all now in the back halves of their primes, but going strong. The window will remain open as long as these players are putting up big numbers, which they should continue to do for another few seasons. But given Boston hasn’t won a playoff series in three years, the whole team has to prove its contender status all over again.

UP-AND-COMING PLAYER TO WATCH

We got a quick look at Charlie McAvoy in the playoffs last season and now he figures to play an impact role on the Bruins in 2017-18. After moving on from Boston University, McAvoy played four AHL games at the end of last season before the playoff call-up to a banged-up Bruins blue line. He put up three assists and averaged 26:11 of ice time per game, behind only Zdeno Chara.

He won’t be playing those kinds of minutes this season, of course, but a top-four spot is likely and he’s one of the top defence prospects for the Calder Trophy. Along with Brandon Carlo, who emerged last season, McAvoy is a central piece in Boston’s next generation of defencemen, and they hope he develops into their future No. 1.

WHAT A SUCCESSFUL 2017-18 WOULD LOOK LIKE

With Bergeron, David Krejci and Rask in their 30s and Chara now in his 40s, the Bruins are working to keep any Stanley Cup window open. Pastrnak, Carlo, McAvoy are all seeing their roles on the team grow and that provides hope that after a couple of playoff misses in 2015 and 2016, last season’s appearance kick-started a new streak.

But for a truly successful season, the Bruins need to improve on last year. Most people had them as favourites over the Ottawa Senators, but injuries piled up against them and were too much to overcome. With an experienced roster helped out by emerging and impactful young talents, a healthier Bruins team could go a round or two in the playoffs and that’s the bare minimum for them to be a success.

BIGGEST REMAINING QUESTION

Rask has played 199 regular season games over the past three years, an incredible workload in today’s NHL. He isn’t the biggest remaining question, but his workload and backups are.

Last season, Boston had a big problem with their backup goalie options. Anton Khudobin, Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban went 1-10-2 with Rask on the bench from October to February, throwing away tons of points. Khudobin came back from an AHL demotion to finish 6-1-0 down the stretch so there’s some optimism at the position coming into this season.

The last time Rask played less than 60 games was in 2013-14 (58 games) when he posted a .930 save percentage, 2.04 GAA and won the Vezina Trophy. Now entering his 30-year-old season, it would be ideal for his workload to fall to that level again, but if the backups are costing them too many points in the standings, it’ll be hard to turn away from Rask.

Boston did nothing to help the backup question in the off-season and return with Khudobin or perhaps Subban in 2017-18. For the Bruins to make the playoffs and then go on a deep run, Rask needs to be healthy and fresh.