With very few changes in the roster, the Bruins opening night lineup is pretty easy to nail down. For the sake of discussion the guys in bold are going to be playing unless injured. The guys in italics are the guys on the bubble who have camp to prove they deserve the spot and the guys underlined are the most likely trade candidates.

Milan Lucic – Marc Savard – Nathan Horton

Tyler Seguin – Patrice Bergeron – Mark Recchi

Blake Wheeler – David Krejci – Michael Ryder

Daniel Paille – Greg Campbell – Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara – Denis Siedenberg

Mark Stuart – Johnny Boychuck

Andrew FerenceMatt Hunwick

The bubble players are where I expect to see the most interesting battles. For forwards its almost a given that Brad Marchand will be held in Boston very late, and may even make the roster. Jeremy Reich is another guy who could be that thirteenth forward quite easily, he’s a veteran with a lot of leadership abilities and no one questions his toughness or willingness to put himself on the line for the team. Jordan Caron, Maxime Suave, Joe Colborne are probably the three who will push hardest for Michael Ryder’s roster spot. The Bruin are in need of an offensive renaissance and if Ryder doesn’t come out of the gate firing on all cylinders he may find himself on the injured reserve or assigned to Providence in favor of one of these youngsters. Not to be forgotten is the seventh or potentially sixth defense spot if Ference or Hunwick are found lacking or sent elsewhere.  McQuaid has the inside line, but Alexandrov is quite likely to push hard as well. Delahey has similar size and physicality.

The next tier of players is even more intriguing. As high as Caron and Colborne were drafted no one would find it a huge surprise if one of them snatched a roster spot from a veterans hands. Despite his off seasons surgery, Suave was one of the very last players sent packing from Bruins camp last fall and has a wicked shot, so even he wouldn’t be a huge shock. Jamie Arniel, Jared Knight, Yannick Rinedeau, Jeff Penner and Zach Hamill all have various things to prove. Hamill’s whole NHL career probably comes down to this camp. He was drafted in the first round of a truly weak draft class in 2007, he’s proved to be slightly less unspectacular than most of his year mates. That draft has to date produced only six players who have played more than 100 NHL games, the 2008 draft has produced five. Hamill has to jump over guys who are bigger, more physical and already have Julien’s trust and respect and I’m not sure he’s going to do that while at the same time going around Caron, Colborne and the rest in the first tier of prospects. If he can’t make the roster, he may want to ask for a trade anywhere he’ll be on the roster.  Jared Knight has to prove he can translate the skills that make this jaw dropping highlight reel to the NHL level and handle the physical play and speed of full grown men.

Arniel’s proved at least to me that the issues that marred his draft year are behind him, now he needs to bury all thought of his being among the players most responsible for last years pathetic AHL Bruins campaign. He’s got the disadvantage of having a few injuries, and a small frame but I think I like his chances better than Hamill’s as he’s got a bit more of an edge.  Yannick Rinedeau lit up Juniors in his final season like he was firebombing them, a series of injuries and the move to the pro-ranks have left his reputation in need of the polish that only a breakout effort in camp and a good early season can provide.  Jeff Penner faces two problems in cracking the lineup, first is a severe shortness of NHL time on a team that lives or dies by its defense, and second is his small size.  With Ference and Hunwick not even close to two hundred pounds, adding the 183lb Penner to the roster in a conference that has Kovalchuck, Ovechkin, Staal, and other large aggressive forwards might be a liability the Bruins can’t afford. Among the positives are good speed, willingness to take a hit, and having made good on his limited playing time in the NHL. In his first NHL game, Penner faced the star studded Washington Capitals and was tossed all the way into the deep end with almost nineteen minutes of playing time.  Particularly telling was his two minutes of penalty kill time, and the fact that he played several shifts with the dealt and unlamented Denis Wideman.

A series dedicated to a retrospective on the last season and a hope for next.

Mark Stuart:

Despite the Bruins continued failure to stock the jersey of the guy who hits with the force of his uniform number caliber, he’s a fan favorite. With good reason is Mark Stuart beloved by the Garden Faithful and the cavalry beyond the causeway. He epitomizes Bruins Hockey. He never takes shifts, much less nights off, he will stick up for himself and his team mates with out batting an eyelash and he does everything in his power to help the team succeed.  As a defensive defenseman he’s at his best blocking shots, taking away shoots, and breaking up passes.

This season was hampered by his first trip to the injury unit in his time as a Bruin. Worse, his second and third trips to the trainers table followed hard on its heels. Having entered the Bruins line up two full seasons ago and stayed there up until the time of his first injury he was the Bruins reigning Iron-Man at the time of his first injury a broken sternum. His second injury occurred after leveling one of the best and most underrated players in the NHL.

Next season is pretty simple for the man dubbed The Caceman, continue to improve his offense, keep his defense at at the level that made him the best defenseman on the ice in the Carolina series two years back and stay healthy. He’ll likely be paired with Johnny Boychuck for a good portion of the season. Several times last year they were the best pairing on the ice. With the additional seasoning both have received I can’t wait to see what havoc they reap on both ends of the ice.

David Krejci:

As the Bruins third center, he has mostly seen time against the number two and number three defensive units of other teams. This past season saw him spend time as either the number one or two center when injuries took Bergeron and Savard out of the lineup. The difference in quality of competition showed more than once as top defensemen and better forwards than the previous campaigns exploited his less than two seasons of NHL experience.

Lamed is the best word to describe Krejci’s second full season in Boston. Lamed by the recovery from a hip injury which he returned to the ice from ahead of time. Lamed by wingers either plagued with inconsistency and off ice issues or just buried in the midst of what admirers and management hope was a sophomore slump. Between the mud puddle depth on wing and a team that seemed to regard apathy as its first duty this young centers season had few highlights.

Next season he has to first hope for rejuvenated wingers or an upgrade in them. He also needs to keep his awareness of the puck and opponents high or risk another season ending injury like the clean and clobbering Mike Richard’s hit that took him out of the playoffs.

One of the latest rumors of where Marc Savard and Tim Thomas might end up is well Inane. Really. Both guys have no trade clauses, neither wants to leave the hub, and both are nearing the end of their careers. Neither has yet lifted the Cup, nor even played in a Stanley Cup Final series. Both have had to battle for respect, both are top shelf players.

While I think the Islanders are no more than three seasons from being ready for a good playoff run, they have too many weaknesses to be a viable destination for two guys hungry to drink from the Cup that Gretzky, Hasek, Bourque, Orr, Lafluer, Roy, and other giants of the sport have to take a step backwards.

Tavares is hugely talented and no one with the wit to recall that ice is cold can say otherwise. Moulson is a solid offensive threat. Streit is probably the most underrated defenseman in the NHL and they’ve drafted some impressive talent in the last two or three season, which is what happens when you finish in the lottery for years running. Nino Niedderreitter, Kyrill Kabanov, Kirill Petrov,  Travis Hamonic, Brock Nelson, and Calvin de Haan can’t help but improve the team. No doubt the Islanders management will snag a few of the right free agents to fill in the holes.

All that said, the reasons against going to the Islanders for both players are huge.  The Atlantic division may just be the toughest division in the NHL next year. The Penguins, Flyers and Devils are all dangerous, skilled and good at winning games. The Rangers have both King Henrik and Gaborik, with Del Zotto, Girardi and company in between and are all quite effective.

If either one were going to waive their NTC, it would be to go to a team with a lot of potential, and probably closer to their home towns. Thomas being from Michigan, and Savard from the Ottawa area leave the likelihood of the Islanders quite low. On top of that the Islanders had horribly low attendance percentage even without taking into consideration the small, broken down arena and low percentage of seats sold. The Town of Hampstead hasn’t shown itself to be a great friend of the ownerships plans to replace the oldest arena in the NHL either.

Entering last season as the Bruins ironman Mark Stuart was poised for a breakout season. The previous spring he’d been the best defenseman on the ice in the Boston-Carolina series. He’s always brought his desire to win, his focus and his ferocity. Not known as a goal scorer he is shut down defensive force who is fairly similar to the Flyers Brayden Coburn.

During the first month of the season he was a +2 with three points as the Bruins mostly spun the wheels. Later in the season he would break his sternum early in a game, and continue playing while dishing out more hits. Later after delivering a clean, devastating hit

on Anze Kopitar, is forced to defend himself against a visored Wayne Simmonds, breaking his hand in the process.

This same hand would come back to haunt him later taking a second month out of his schedule and limiting the big, physical bruiser who has been dubbed “the Caveman” for his strength, to just four games against the Flyers.

Having been resigned to a one year contract that will leave him an unrestricted I have to wonder how much he really desires to play here in the future. Andrew Ference who has only once played a complete NHL season and was a veteran when he arrived in the middle of the 2006-07 season, has played less games in that time than Stuart who was rookie and broke in that year. Ference in his time with the Bruins is a -16, and managed just three goals in that time, is somehow being paid half a million more. Stuart in that time has been a +29 with only his rookies year, in which he played 17 games being a minus year with a -1. Stuart also has 12 goals in that time.

To all appearances, a +/- differential of 45, three times the amount of NHL goals scored, and sixty nine more games played across five years is good for a $575,000 surcharge on your salary. Also of note is that the game differential is more games than Ference has managed to acquire in any one season with the Bruins and is more games than he’s played for any team in all but three seasons stretching back to his rookie year in 99-00.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Brayden Coburn a draft year mate of Stuart just reupped with the Flyers. Coburn is very comparable to Stuart with a touch more offense but less grit, and both play behind one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Coburn’s two year deal is for $3.2 million per season on an equally cap strapped team. Coburn now in his second NHL organization is a career +15.

I’m afraid it might just be time for this:

Thomas:
5) He’s a freaking Vezina winner stupid.

4) Despite at least two injuries Thomas had the same number of shutouts in eleven less games than the year he won the Vezina.

3) Thomas put up better post season numbers behind a poorer defensive unit than Rask did in the teams last two playoff appearances. And unlike Rask his post season numbers were better than his regular season ones.

2) If the Bruins management is really desperate to free up cap space and have (wisely) ruled out buyouts, they should assign Ryder to Providence immediately and plan to promote a youngster or sign a UFA.

1) As young goalies like Price, Raycroft and Mason have proven a good rookie (half)season by a goalie is highly indicative of future success.

Savard:

5) Because short of rapists, and true locker room cancers one should love the elite play even if you hate the player.

4) Even if Seguin or Hall (or Colbourne or Caron or…) is the second coming, they are unlikely to have the endurance to play at a high level come April, May and June.

3) Let’s see, he’s one of the most productive players in the post lockout era. He’s even done it with bad linemates.

2) If the Bruins management is really desperate to free up cap space and have (wisely) ruled out buyouts, they should assign Ryder to Providence immediately and plan to promote a youngster or sign a UFA.

1) Players as productive as Savard in any sport sell tickets, sell merchandise, sell jerseys, and in some cases even sell hockey to people who otherwise might not give a damn.

5 Quick reasons each why Savard or Thomas should go

Savard:

5) Cap Space. Honestly, unless Suave, Colborne or the like are showing more promise than even their biggest boosters think, this is a silly reason. About the only UFA forward still out there that could potentially be signed for 4 million a year and be worth it is Alexander Frolov, Tanguay and Nolan might be worth it but either would be happy with a $2.75 mil deal based on their age, the chance for success and their last year.

4) With Hall or Seguin coming in on top of Bergeron, Krejci, Sobotka, Colborne, Caron, Hamill, Campbell, Arniel, Goggin, Nelson, Riendeau, Soderberg, Tremblay, and Whitfield (not to mention whoever they draft) it might be argued that the Bruins have a number of men who can play center. True, at this point after Bergeron and Krejci the rest are either unproven or proven borderline in the NHL, but no team has absurd depth at all positions, and several of the men after the first two could hold down the third and arguably the second center slot on over half the teams in the NHL.

3) For all his amazing talents, Savard is not a very athletic player. With the generally younger team the front office has constructed in the last two off season, he’s become one of the slower men on the ice, and is possibly the least physically fit. As Mike Richards and other members of the Flyers proved a couple weeks ago, conditioning wins championships.

2)  The potential return is enormous. With his cap friendly deal, his consistent point production, and his recent transition into a three zone, two way player who is savvy in all situations, its not outside question to bring back a pair of first round draft picks or a fist full of prospects. Trading him to say Columbus even without a roster player coming back might yield former #6 pick Nikita Filatov, and former #21 John Moore.

1) It’s possible management doesn’t like him.

Thomas

5) Rask had an amazing season. Clearly the younger, cheaper goalie is the way to go.

4) Thomas’s contract is too long. At his age a three year deal would have made much more sense, and as his hip injury proves, he’s not holding up well.

3) The team is more comfortable playing in front of a goalie with a slightly less bizarre style.

2) Thomas will cause problems as a back up. Of all the reasons I’ve heard, or pondered for moving the former Vezina winner this is the most absurd. He had at least two injuries last year and still managed better numbers than most goalies, that said it is theoretically possible.

1) The potential to move him for a good return in picks or prospects is too big to resist.

Assuming the Boston Bruins really are actively shopping the Ottawa native, there are probably a finite number of teams he’d be willing to go to who might want him in return. It’s a safe bet that the Pens, Wings, and Flyers aren’t holding open any spots on their dance card for him. The Oilers, Panthers, Stars, Lightning are all out for a number of reasons. It’s highly doubtful the Bruins would be willing to trade him within the division unless they could get more goal scoring help on wing, or possibly more leadership.

So let’s look at some places that might want Savard for the long haul.

Atlanta has the lures of familiarity with the city, and great weather. They also have a dynamic young roster without a great deal of depth at center. The team is far more balanced than it was when he left several years ago, and has one of the better defensive corps in the division.  They have the #8 pick as well which if Boston simply wishes to reload and get younger, larger and more aggressive as they’ve stated for years might be a great place to snatch Niederreiter or some other catch. On the negative side, the Thrashers have an ownership group that lacks cohesion, and is (perpetually) rumored to want to sell.  They are probably also a good defensive defenseman away from a playoff appearance.

Calgary has the lure of familiarity, a familiar face in premier power forward Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla. To compliment him there is emerging star Rene Bourque, one of the NHL’s ten best defensemen in Jay Bouwmeester, and top tier tender Miikka Kiprusoff, all hungry to hoist the Cup.  Any trade with the Flames will almost certainly require the Bruins to take back some, and possibly a lot of salary as the Flames are over $53 million with just 18 players signed. There is also the question of how willing the Flames management would be to put the teams future in the hands of two aging stars with high salaries.

Columbus while in the minds of hockey purists (or fat heads) this place is a backwater, their average home head count was only about a hundred below the New Jersey Devils. With Rick Nash, RJ “the Capitals Defense will sink them” Umberger, Nikita Filatov (The Russian Phil Kessel?) and others just looking for a top tier center Savard would have the opportunity not only at a Cup or two, but possibly of having his jersey retired their if he plays out his contract with a cup win or two. Sure it’d be easier to get ones number retired in a newer market than in a place like Montreal or Boston, but a retired jersey is not something most athletes can claim.

Minnesota, a team that seems to have been looking for a good center since they came into the league currently leans heavily on the undervalued services of Mikko Kiovu. The Wild could be in a worse cap position, have a solid goal-tending position, a defense that was hampered by a lack of anyone to do anything with their outlet passes, and sniper Havlat to ride roughshod over defenses on Savard’s wing.

Ottawa, while trading Savard inside the division is probably not on Chiarelli’s top ten list of things to do this off season, if the Senators do indeed trade Spezza, production wise Savard is probably the best available replacement. Coming into last season the two were two or three points apart for the past several seasons, with Savard having spent a great deal more time killing penalties and Spezza having blocked a few more shots in that time. In terms of cap hit, Savard’s is lower and shorter to off set the age difference. Assuming the Senators do part with Spezza, if they don’t bring back a solid defenseman for him, the difference in Cap hits might allow the Senators to retain Volchenkov. For Savard, Ottowa has proven they can play hard against top tier teams, and its his home town. Being on the first team to raise the Cup in your home town isn’t something many men will ever have the chance to do.

While I’m not 100% convinced the Bruins should or will trade Savard, these are currently among the most interesting possibilities.

Did the Boston Bruins were raped and rolled today?

While dumping Dennis Wideman to acquire some offensive finish and size in Horton they were forced to part with far too much. Wideman for Horton is about even in salary, by reputation they are not highly self motivated, and age wise they are not far apart. Selling Wideman down the I95 to a team actively looking to get rid of Horton should not have required much, a third round pick, maybe a second. To take on the additional baggage of an RFA forward who’s yet another in their retinue of small, bottom six players.

On top of this they gave up a highly valuable first round pick. Had this been last years draft, sure send it packing without regrets the 2009 draft class was just that weak. With the possibility of blue-chippers like Etem, Neiderieter, Campbell or other high end talents sliding out of the top 10 there’s little doubt the 15th pick in 2010 will be more valuable in a year or two than any of the men now packing their bags for a new city.

Let’s take a look at some possible why’s to this otherwise inexplicable overpayment:
The Bruins have no intention of signing Campbell, and will either repackage him or let him walk and take the compensation (if any).
Management views Campbell as a replacement for Begin, Paille or another bottom six forward and expect to sign him cheaper than the player he’s replacing.
Campbell is bound for AHL where he will spend the year mentoring younger players.
Management decide that it unlikely they could unload further salary (Ryder, Ference for example) for any meaningful return and would not be able to fit the cap hit of whomever is drafted #15 under the cap and expect their choices at that position not to opt for college or be eligible for the AHL.
Maybe the Bruins brain trust just doesn’t view this draft as being as deep as many in the media do.
Maybe, just maybe the Bruins believe they got two top six forwards back because they know something the rest of us don’t.

Only time will tell, if this was a Raycroft for Rask or a Versteeg for Bochenski trade, but not only does this move deprive the Bruins a high end player one or two years away from playing at a high level in the NHL at most, it robs them of even the threat of an offer sheet next year as well.

While it doesn’t free any cap space, it does reduce blueline clutter, hopefully opening the door for both Stuart and Boychuck to be resigned to multi-year deals.

Over the past couple months, a number of people have wondered if perhaps it wasn’t time for the C to come off Chara’s jersey. The most persistently named new destination for the captaincy has been Patrice Bergeron. There is no argument anyone can make to me that Bergeron would not make a good captain, but that isn’t the question. The question is if he would make a better or at least different captain.

Last season Zdeno Chara was 16th in scoring for defenseman in the NHL, in the 08-09 season he was 12th and had six more points. The 08-09 season was as all remember the year he just about walked away with the Norris trophy dominating all three zones.  In 08-09 Chara also had the #9 scorer for forwards in Marc Savard, the #31 in David Krejci, the #55 in Mark Rechhi, the #57 in Phil Kessel, #81 in Michael Ryder, to support him. That’s five forwards in the top 100 on a team that was second in goals scored, the team also boasted seven forwards who scored twenty or more goals.

In the 2009-10 season the highest ranked Bruins forward was #84, Patrice Bergeron. That’s three positions lower than the fifth highest player for the previous years team.  So pinning the lack of offense on Chara is a non starter, especially when none of the defenseman ahead of him on the points last had anywhere near as many as his league leading shots on goal.

Another point to consider is leadership qualities. Chara has in his time here displayed remarkable conditioning, has managed to chase down Ilya Kovulchuk from behind to break up a break away without taking a penalty, has fought some of the (other) biggest, meanest men in the NHL, played an entire season with a dislocated finger, averaged more than one hundred each blocked shots and hits while playing through other injuries and not quitting on his team ever.  Bergeron has played through similar situations, and led in key stats for his position. The two of them have irreproachable work ethics, and tenacity that is probably not great for their long term playing prospects. I doubt either one will be playing in the NHL at Recchi’s age.

Both Bergeron and Chara are quiet, soft spoken guys who do a great deal of community service and make themselves available to the press are on a regular basis. They play hard, practice hard and if anyone doubts the heart of these two they just don’t know hockey or either player.

One quality lacked by both players, and probably the only one you can use as a legitimate attack on either as leaders is that neither is likely to be the guy who goes into the locker room after the team played a poor period and kicks over trash cans, throws things and calls people out by name. Neither guy is a fire eater in the way Phaneuf and Pronger are said to be. On the other hand, I don’t think I can picture Toews, Lidstrom, or Crosby doing any of those things either. Ray Bourque probably wasn’t big on those qualities either.  While I think that the team needed at least one fire-eater all season, I don’t see someone who can be both an elite level player and fulfill that role on the roster.  Recchi has been mentioned for his passion, but I don’t think he qualifies as elite, and isn’t an improvement over either Chara or Bergeron in other categories.