<span class="vcard">Jason Brough</span>

Boston Bruins v Carolina Hurricanes

Bruins’ biggest question: Is the blue line good enough?

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It was no coincidence that the Bruins missed the playoffs after trading Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders in October.

Boychuk’s departure left a big hole in Boston’s top four, one that became even more pronounced when Zdeno Chara was injured a short time later.

Now consider that young Dougie Hamilton is gone from the B’s, too. Last season, Hamilton led all Boston d-men with 42 points in 72 games, while logging an average of 21:20 per game.

Minus Boychuk and Hamilton, the Bruins have been left with Chara, who’s 38, Dennis Seidenberg, who’s 34, plus Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Matt Irwin, Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, and Colin Miller.

Of those nine defensemen, only two — Chara and Seidenberg, neither young anymore — have ever averaged more than 20 minutes per game in a full NHL season.

Hence, the ongoing speculation that GM Don Sweeney will sign a veteran free agent, someone like Cody Franson, Christian Ehrhoff, or Marek Zidlicky. (The B’s were believed to be in talks with Mike Green, before he signed with Detroit.)

But regardless if that happens or not, expect the Bruins to make some tweaks to their system.

“At times, we probably got a little bit too stationary on our breakouts,” Sweeney said, per the Boston Globe. “We need to be in motion a little bit.”

Of course, for any system to be successful, it needs the right horses. And as it stands today, the Bruins’ stable of defensemen is more questionable than it’s been in quite some time.

Related: Vote on whether the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window has closed

Under Pressure: Claude Julien

Claude Julien
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Unlike Peter Chiarelli, head coach Claude Julien got to keep his job after the Boston Bruins missed the playoffs in 2014-15.

But retaining Julien was no slam-dunk decision for new GM Don Sweeney. First, the two men had to make sure they were on the same page, philosophically speaking.

Turns out, both were.

“Don and I have had talks and have a very, very similar outlook on what’s needed and what we want to do,” Julien said, per the Boston Herald. “There was never an issue there at all. That’s why it’s worked out. We seemed to be seeing the same things. Personality-wise, we’ve known each other for a long time. It wasn’t as tough a process as far as evaluating as people might think, but it was more about the time that was needed for him to feel comfortable with everything.”

All that being said, it’s hard to imagine Julien keeping his job if the Bruins fall flat again. Ownership still has high expectations for this team; that much was made crystal clear last season.

The challenge for Julien is that Boston is a team in transition. While core players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, and Brad Marchand remain, their success will depend greatly on the success of their youngsters.

“I came up coaching junior hockey, and I know how those young players are,” Julien said in June, per NESN. “I’ve had a lot of patience with those guys. Sometimes, you have to take a hard stance, but it doesn’t mean you’re not patient with them, and that you’re not trying to make those guys better.”

Though his reputation may say otherwise, Julien has had success with youth in the lineup. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, Marchard and Adam McQuaid were rookies, and Milan Lucic was younger than both of them.

The difference then, however, was that the youngsters were significantly outnumbered by players with experience.

As Julien was quick to point out, “there’s a lot of veteran players on that Chicago team, and that’s why they’ve been there three years in a row.”

Related: Julien ‘pretty impressed’ with Sweeney’s moves

Poll: Has the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window closed?

Calgary Flames Vs. Boston Celtics At TD Garden
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Back in 2013, the last time the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final, their leading playoff scorers were, in order, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchard, Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, and Johnny Boychuk.

Of those 10 players, only four — Krejci, Bergeron, Chara and Marchand — remain on the roster. And Chara is 38 years old now.

Add to the fact Dougie Hamilton is gone too, plus the fact the Bruins missed the playoffs last year, and it’s no surprise that many feel their Cup window has closed.

But you won’t hear new GM Don Sweeney say that. Not with youngsters like Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, and Alex Khokhlachev up front. And not after picking up 27-year-old Matt Beleskey in free agency.

Remember that the NHL is a young man’s league. Teams that aren’t constantly refreshing their lineups are teams that get into trouble.

“I don’t think it’s a rebuild. We didn’t strip this down,” Sweeney said in June, per NHL.com. “We have a tremendous core group of guys that are going to obviously carry an even heavier load here in the short term while these other kids can come in and start to take footing.”

OK, time to vote:

Related: Zach Trotman is looking to make the leap

Johnson’s broken wrist recovering on schedule

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One
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Tyler Johnson’s broken wrist is “recovering on the time line” it’s supposed to, he told the Tampa Bay Times yesterday.

The dynamic Lightning forward has been able to remove the brace he was forced to wear and said he’s “going to do everything I possibly can to be ready” for training camp.

Johnson broke his right wrist in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Blackhawks. He went into the series as a legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy candidate, but was held to just one goal and one assist as Chicago beat the Bolts in six games.

Despite the injury, Johnson still finished the postseason with 23 points, tied for the lead with Patrick Kane.

Panthers’ biggest question: Can the old guys hang on while the young guys get better?

Boston Bruins v Florida Panthers
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The Florida Panthers are a bit of an odd team, in terms of their mix.

They have Jaromir Jagr, who at 43 is the oldest player in the NHL by a considerable margin. They also have a couple of 38-year-olds in Willie Mitchell and Shawn Thornton, plus a couple of 36-year-olds in Roberto Luongo and Brian Campbell.

Yet you can’t call the Panthers an old team. These aren’t the New Jersey Devils we’re talking about here.

Not with 19-year-old Aaron Ekblad, the league’s reigning rookie of the year, and 22-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau, who received the same honor in 2013.

Also, Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, Brandon Pirri, Reilly Smith, Vincent Trocheck, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Alex Petrovic, and Dylan Olsen. All of them under 25 years of age.

Oh, and don’t forget Lawson Crouse, the 18-year-old winger that could make the team. And Rocco Grimaldi, the 22-year-old forward who had 42 points 64 AHL games last season.

You get the point.

“We’ve got young players that are very capable of playing for us next year,” said GM Dale Tallon. “We don’t want to shut the door on that. We want those guys to get every opportunity to be on our team. I want to be the youngest team in the league and the best team in the league at the same time.”

The key next season will be for the old guys to hang on while the young guys get better. If that happens, the Panthers have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, and even making some noise once they get there.

On the other hand, if key veterans like Jagr, Campbell and Luongo start showing their age and/or the youngsters experience too many growing pains, they could stumble.

Related: Roberto Luongo is under pressure