NHL 2014-15 preview: Boston Bruins

Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.

A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.

Boston is our third-ranked team.

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Boston Bruins
Division: Atlantic
2013-14 finish: 54-19-9, 83 points, first overall; lost to Montreal in Round 2 of playoffs
Leading scorer: David Krejci (69 points)
General manager: Peter Chiarelli
Head coach: Claude Julien
Captain: Zdeno Chara
Opening night starter: Tuukka Raask
Key acquisitions: None
Key departures: Jarome Iginla, Johnny Boychuk

Off-season grade: B. It was an incredibly quiet summer for the Bruins—and that’s just fine for a deep team with a great core and proven supporting cast already in place. Losing Jarome Iginla to free agency was a sting, as his leadership and abilities are of value to a team with very real aspirations of reaching the Cup Finals, but Chiarelli & Co. should have confidence that the Bruins came out of the off-season just as strong as they entered it. Hey, if it ain’t broke….

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Greatest strengths: At the very least, the Bruins are good if not great at everything, but one thing that sticks out when you take a look at the roster is its sheer depth. And that’s important over the course of what should be a long season (factoring in the playoffs), when a team’s ability to absorb injuries and changes to the lineup can make a world of difference in the standings. What’s more is that within that depth is a perfect blend of established talent and rising young stars, both with a wide range of skills that provides head coach Claude Julien with a bevy of options and a versatile group at his disposal for any situation.

Greatest weaknesses: While it remains to be seen if it will become a mitigating factor this season, the centrepiece of the Bruins’ D, Zdeno Chara, is already 37 and is bound to start showing signs of regression one of these days… right? That possibility would strike a real blow to Boston’s blue line, if only because Chara’s incumbent, Dougie Hamilton, may not be ready to fill the captain’s size 12 skates. More on that later. Actually, wait, how about right now?!

Biggest story line to watch: Is Dougie Hamilton ready to breakout? The 21 year-old defencemen showed his puck prowess during last year’s playoffs, and displayed steady improvement after returning from an injury that limited him to 64 games in his first full NHL season. This season you can expect him to make his mark on the power play, where he has the skill-set to become one of the league’s preeminent blue-line threats, and he should be able to contribute anywhere from 40 to 50 points if healthy. If he can continue to progress when staying home in his zone, the Bruins’ defenceman of the future might just be ready right now.

2014-15 prediction: This is an especially solid team built for the playoffs in a weak conference. If the Bruins aren’t in the Stanley Cup Final come June, consider it an opportunity lost.

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