By: Andrew Thompson Twitter:@godwentwhoops
The Boston Bruins will be going into the 2017-18 season with high expectations. The B’s got themselves back into the playoffs and are looking for a deeper run this year. While the Bruins roster (David Pastrnak permitting) looks like they can achieve this goal, there are a few players the organization are going to have to watch (and carefully manage) if they want to reach the watermark they’re aiming for.
1.) Zdeno Chara
40-year old Zdeno Chara is still regarded by Cam Neely as the Boston Bruins number one defenceman. While he’s still the biggest guy in the NHL, the B’s captain has begun to slow down. In a league that is currently swinging towards speed and technical skill, it could put the Black and Gold at a serious disadvantage as the season wears on.
So what can the Bruins do?
The Bruins will have to manage Chara’s time effectively. The last thing they need is to have Chara out for any length of time this season. They’ll need to limit his playing time to 20-22 minutes a night (not counting overtime). Is this entirely practical? It may not be.
At the moment, the Bruins don’t have anyone who can step up and be the new number one blueliner for Boston. Brandon Carlo could be ready to do it in a couple of years. Charlie McAvoy could step up big-time for the team and show he’s ready to shoulder that responsibility. Torey Krug has proven he can be a top-four defenceman, and may even have it in him to be a top-pair man.
2.) Adam McQuaid
While the media likes to use the moniker ‘injury-prone’ to several current members of the Boston roster, it does aptly fit McQuaid. He’s had a series of injuries during his career, including several concussions and a very dangerous blood clot. Still, the 30-year old blueliner has shown that he’s more than willing to engage anyone on the ice.
Last season, McQuaid told the fans and the media he was ready to become a top-four blueliner. For the most part, he was able to meet Boston’s expectations. Still, fans (and broadcasters) always seem to wince every time McQuaid takes or gives a serious hit on the ice.
Once again, it’s a matter of time management. The Bruins have more options with McQuaid than they do with Chara. Rob O’ Gara is coming up the pipes, as is Jakub Zboril. Charlie McAvoy impressed the front office in the B’s first round matchup against Ottawa.
The B’s could place McAvoy on the second pair (or higher), and that would free up time to use McQuaid more effectively. The B’s will need to use him effectively to win games. McQuaid is the closest thing the Bruins have to a ‘stay-at-home’ defenceman. Against the faster top-six forwards in the league, this could be a problem for the Black and Gold.
3.) Tuukka Rask
Last season, the Boston Bruins came dangerously close to burning out Tuukka Rask (again). Rask ended up playing in 65 games last year for the B’s, going 37-20-5. Rask’s numbers began to decline in the season, and Rask ended up with a decent (but not outstanding) 2.23 goals-against average, and a .915 save percentage.
The Bruins must watch how they use Rask this season.
The ugly truth is that the B’s might not have any choice here. The Bruins were only able to put up a single win without him in the first half of the season. Anton Khudobin looked like a pile of spilled borscht early in the season. Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre both got a shot last year but didn’t hold up well against NHL-level players.
Hopefully, the B’s will catch a break. At the Bruins Fan Fest last Thursday, Bruins President Cam Neely believed Khudobin would be ready for the start of the season. Zane McIntyre also had a solid season last year in Providence. Neely also believed there would be a healthy level of competition for the number two job in Boston.