The Boston Bruins were supposed to be a playoff bubble team going into last season. Instead, they were two points from having the best record in the Eastern Conference. What does 2018-19 look like?
After winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 and getting back to the Cup Final two years later, that group's time had passed and Boston had to move in a different direction. The game itself was changing and the Bruins' front office knew big, physical players were being replaced by players who could skate but still had good size.
Over the years, Boston had made plenty of mistakes on giving up on players too soon for a variety of reasons (Tyler Seguin, for example, liked the nightlife too much for the team's liking and was stupidly traded). However, GM Don Sweeney brought more sensibility when he took over and restocked the farm system and was more patient. That paid off last year as six rookies played key roles for the B's.
Sweeney's blueprint is to build from within and add outside pieces where necessary. This offseason Boston was in the discussion for coveted free agents John Tavares and Ilya Kovalchuk, but nothing ever really heated up. Instead, Sweeney signed defenseman John Moore to a five-year, $13.75 million contract; brought in veteran Jaroslav Halak to join Tuukka Rask at the goaltender position; and added depth at forward with Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner.
The NHL odds board has the Bruins as the third choice in the East at +570 at 5Dimes, behind Toronto and Tampa Bay (who are all in the Atlantic Division). Sweeney and head coach Bruce Cassidy still see room for improvement for every young player and the core of veterans.
How Boston Improves
Though Brad Marchand will never win the Lady Byng Trophy (sportsmanship), he is on every sportsbooks' top 20 for the Art Ross Trophy, which goes to the player with the most points. Marchand was the Bruins' leading point producer with 85 last season and he accomplished that in only 68 games. If Marchand would have averaged 80 games like everyone else did in the top 20, he would have finished in the top 5, which should bode well if he avoids suspensions because of temporary insanity on the ice.
Patrice Bergeron is as solid as they come but at 33, he has slipped, which is why Danton Heinen has to take the next step and become the team's top center.
Marchand and David Pastrnak are in the top 25 for the Richard Trophy (most goals). Pastrnak, a 22-year-old winger, had 35 goals last year, which tied him for 15th. He still has greater potential and needs to add more nastiness to his game in the offensive zone.
Boston will enter the season bloated with defensemen, with eight in all with the Moore signing. But Sweeney is fine with that, knowing Zdeno Chara will turn 42 during the season and still recalling he had three healthy regular blue-liners in the 2017 playoffs in the first round against Ottawa, which is why they lost.
Cassidy likes Moore and Chara and the talents of Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, Charley McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk.
If you like to make NHL picks on point totals, those will be out soon from the fine list of sportsbooks at SBR, and Boston could well deserve consideration.