From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.
1. Zdeno Chara…he’s not so young anymore. In fact, only 12 defensemen were older than the 37-year-old last season, and not one of them came close to averaging the 24:39 of ice time the big Bruin did.
To be sure, nobody’s suggesting that Chara has become an average defender. Team president Cam Neely went so far in May to say, “Zdeno is still, in my opinion, the best defender in the game.”
But even Chara recognizes he has to work to keep up with today’s young speedsters — this after his performance in last season’s playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens drew criticism. (Wrote the Boston Globe after Game 7: “When Chara was on the ice in the first, he looked a little shaky, stumbling around uncharacteristically during one penalty kill shift. He was thrown off balance and so were the Black and Gold.”)
No wonder GM Peter Chiarelli was loath to trade veteran blue-liner Johnny Boychuk, choosing instead to give RFAs Torey Krug and Reilly Smith the hard sell on taking less for the good of the team. Trading Boychuk would mean even more minutes for youngsters Krug and Dougie Hamilton, and nobody can be sure how that would turn out. Those two need to show improvement regardless.
To deny that any decline in Chara’s abilities would negatively impact the Bruins’ chances at winning the Stanely Cup would be to deny his importance to the team.
And to deny that age negatively impacts a player’s abilities would be to deny reality.
2. Who replaces Jarome Iginla on the top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic? We only ask because Iginla scored 30 goals last season. And that’s a lot of goals to replace.
Iginla, of course, was brought in last summer to replace Nathan Horton, who’d left for Columbus. But nobody’s been brought in to replace Iginla, who left for Colorado. So the Bruins are stuck hoping for more from a player that came to them in the Tyler Seguin trade — one who didn’t show all that much in his first year with the club.
“We lost Jarome, but I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year,” coach Claude Julien told NHL.com. “I think we started seeing that at the end of the year and he could be a replacement for Jarome.”
Eriksson has proven he can score goals in the NHL. He had 36 of them for Dallas in 2008-09; four times he’s scored 26 or more in a season. And he’s eager to prove he can still do it.
“I think I can bring a little more,” said Eriksson.
Except he’ll need to bring a little more than “a little more” if he hopes to replace Iginla’s 30 goals. Twenty goals more, to be exact.
3. The new-look bottom six…what if it doesn’t look so good?
When Boston defeated Vancouver in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins didn’t have a single forward that played fewer than 11 minutes.
“From personal experience,” said former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, “I know when we lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team. Probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league.”
It’s not clear if the Bruins will still be able to roll four lines so successfully in 2014-15. They certainly didn’t in the Game 7 loss to Montreal, when Shawn Thornton played just 3:28 and three other forwards — Matt Fraser, Gregory Campbell, and Daniel Paille — each failed to break the 11-minute mark.
Two different games and two different scenarios, sure. But Boston’s bottom six still stands to be quite different this season. The popular Thornton is gone. Eriksson, as mentioned, may move up from the third line to the top line. There are open spots available for the taking.
“The competition, with it comes uncertainty and we’d all like things to be certain, but also the cream will rise to the top and I’m looking forward to it,” Chiarelli said.
“We’ve got some invites, we’ve got some young players pushing, I look forward to it.”
In deciding to let Thornton go, Chiarelli hinted that he wanted a faster and more skilled fourth line. That seemed to bode well for a player like Ryan Spooner, who’s scored at a point-per-game pace in the AHL. However, he’ll have to be reliable defensively if he wants ice time from Julien.
“You can give us some great opportunities up front and score goals,” Julien said recently, in remarks that were believed to be directed at Spooner. “But if you give up more chances against than you create then you’re not helping the team. In the long run, you don’t win championships that way.”
A championship remains the goal for the Bruins.
“I still think we’re in our window,” Neely said.
But the mere fact he had to say it, well — considering all of the above — isn’t that reason to wonder if they really are?