BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Frank Vatrano #72 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Bruins’ Vatrano to miss three months with foot injury

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Frank Vatrano is supposed to be one of the young players the Boston Bruins will be counting on this season to help replace some of the offense they lost when Loui Eriksson signed a free agent contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

Unfortunately for the Bruins they will have to wait a few months before he gets an opportunity to make an impact.

The team announced on Saturday that Vatrano is going to require surgery to repair torn ligaments in his foot and is expected to miss at least three months.

General manager Don Sweeney said that Vatrano was injured in his training in preparation for the team’s training camp.

Vatrano appeared in 39 games for the Bruins in 2015-16 season and scored eight goals, including a hat trick in an early season win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He spent the rest of his season playing for Providence of the American Hockey League where he scored a league leading 36 goals in only 36 games. Just for some perspective on that goal total, only one other player in the league scored 30 goals for the entire season, and that was Chris Bourque who scored 30 in 72 games.

The Bruins need Colin Miller to make an impact

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 25: Colin Miller #48 of the Boston Bruins in action against the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on January 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Boston Bruins won, 3-2. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins — unable to acquire the “transitional” defenseman they were seeking — have turned inwards in their search for improvement.

“We plan to upgrade our D with our play on the ice,” head coach Claude Julien said today, per CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty.

To do so, Julien expects youngster Colin Miller to take a big step in his development. The 23-year-old came to the Bruins as part of the Milan Lucic trade with Los Angeles. He’s put up big numbers in the AHL, but hasn’t quite established himself in the NHL.

Per Haggerty, Julien believes that Miller has “the package” to become a consistent, high-level defenseman; however, in order to so, he needs to cut down on the “reckless” plays.

Earlier this month, Bruins GM Don Sweeney spoke about the expectations for Miller.

“We expect him to come out of the gate strong,” Sweeney said. “He had a good offseason. He had some challenges toward the end of the year where he was up-and-down, came back and reinserted himself and then went back down [to Providence for the AHL playoffs].”

If Miller can progress into the kind of puck-moving defenseman the Bruins hope, a trade for an established, right-shot d-man like, say, Kevin Shattenkirk becomes less necessary.

The Bruins do have a number of other promising defensive prospects, including Charles McAvoy, Jakub Zboril, Brandon Carlo, and Jeremy Lauzon. But those four are all still teenagers, so it’s going to take time before they’re ready to make an impact in the NHL.

Miller can make an impact this season, and that’s what the Bruins are hoping, and expecting.

Related: Even with the same defense, Neely expects improvement from Bruins

Even with the same defense, Neely expects improvement from Bruins

Boston Bruins President Cam Neely, left, and Bruins Chief Executive Officer Charlie Jacobs prepare to leave a news conference in Boston, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, regarding the hockey team's decision to fire general manager Peter Chiarelli days after missing the NHL playoffs for the first time in eight years. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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When the Boston Bruins began their offseason, team president Cam Neely made it a priority to upgrade the blue line.

“We know that it’s an area that we need to improve upon,” he said. “That’s probably at the top of the list.”

A month before the regular season, however, and the Bruins’ back end has not changed whatsoever, save for the deletion of Dennis Seidenberg via buyout.

So how does Neely explain it?

“Basically from April to now everybody is talking about our back end, and not being able to land a top-4 defenseman. We still have an opportunity as far as cap space goes if something shakes free, and I know [GM Don Sweeney] has been working hard trying to do something,” he said, per CSN New England. “But I feel like as a group we can do better than we did last year.

“I think Tuukka [Rask] can play better than he did last year. If that happens we should be a better club. It’s going to be a challenge and it’s going to be competitive. But I feel like the changes we’ve made through the organization, and not just in player personnel, that there’s opportunity for our group to improve.”

Granted, there’s still time for Sweeney to land a defenseman in a trade. The problem is the price. An established puck-mover like, say, Kevin Shattenkirk, will not be cheap to get. And in Shattenkirk’s case, nor will he be cheap to re-sign.

Up front, the B’s did land David Backes in free agency, but they also lost 30-goal man Loui Eriksson.

The Bruins open the regular season on Oct. 13 in Columbus.

Related: Blues might just keep Shattenkirk

Neely: Bruins aim to sign Marchand to extension before season begins

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 28:  Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden on February 28, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Lightning defeat the Bruins 4-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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If you want to be a core member of an NHL team, it almost feels like a contract year comes one season earlier than it does for fringe players.

Naturally, there are some players who straddle that line, and they may feel as if they face two contract years.

The reasoning is simple: teams can re-sign a player with a season remaining on a current contract, so important pieces often nab extensions at almost the first opportunity. It sounds like the Boston Bruins would prefer to go that route with Brad Marchand.

Cam Neely said as much during an appearance on CSN’s Great American Hockey Show podcast.

“We’d like to get Brad signed. We’ve made that clear to him, and we’ve made that clear to his agency. I know (GM Don Sweeney) has been working with their group to a get a deal done,” Neely said. “We’d like to get something done before the start of the season.”

Risk and reward

Of course, the Bruins and Marchand must find the right compromise regarding timing and value.

During Bruins day, PHT broke down the many variables that factor into what Marchand’s contract might look like. It’s possible that the pesky-yet-talented winger might want a lengthy contract coming in at $7 million per season, which would nudge him ahead of elite two-way center Patrice Bergeron.

As that post asked, would the Bruins really make that kind of commitment to a guy whose mischief occasionally outweighs his production?

Marchand’s side

In case you’re wondering, Marchand’s more or less said all the right things about contract negotiations without really tipping his hand.

Another big season could generate an even bigger financial windfall for Marchand than signing early, but his pugnacious style might also elevate the risk of injuries or suspensions. Missing time would make his breakthrough 2015-16 season (37 goals, 60 points) look like more of an outlier.

To some extent, it’s a game of chicken for Marchand in particular: do you possibly take less money for more security or swing for the financial fences?

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Barring a major injury or other unexpected circumstances, the 28-year-old is virtually assured a huge raise from his bargain $4.5 million cap hit. It merely boils down to how much money, how many years and where he’ll end up.

‘Really happy’ to be back in Boston, Khudobin will be key for Bruins

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 6:  Anton Khudobin #35 of the Boston Bruins stretches in the warm-up prior to playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 6, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs 5-2 to take a 2-1 series lead. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins missed the playoffs again last season, and their backup goalie — Jonas Gustavsson finished 11-9-1 with a .908 save percentage — was part of the reason why.

And, so, finding a better backup became one of three things the Bruins set out to achieve this offseason. (The two other things were getting “heavier” at right wing, which was solved by signing David Backes, and adding a “transitional” defenseman, which has not yet been solved.)

They hope they’ve found the right backup in Anton Khudobin, after giving the 30-year-old Russian a two-year, $2.4 million contract on July 1. Khubobin has been good for the them in the past — he went 9-4-1 with a .920 save percentage in 2013, before leaving to sign with the Hurricanes — but his numbers have dipped considerably the past two seasons. He was sent to the AHL last year as the odd man out in Anaheim. There was a report near the end of the season that he was planning to sign in the KHL, though obviously that never came to fruition.

“It was two good seasons in Carolina,” said Khudobin, per the Bruins’ website. “And last year, I wouldn’t say that it was good, but it was up and down, as you always have in your career. It’s normal. Right now, I’m in my spot and I’m really happy to be back.”

Last year wasn’t a particularly great year for Tuukka Rask either. He went 31-22-8 with a .915 save percentage, well below his career save rate of .924. So in essence the Bruins will be hoping that both their goalies can bounce back. If that happens, a return to the postseason could be the reward.

“Focus on helping the team get some more points and get higher in the standings,” said Khudobin. “Making playoffs always [is the goal]. … I know Tuukka is going to play more and he’s No. 1, so I just focus on my game and how I’m going to help the team.”