The Boston Bruins will be younger, faster and more fun to watch this season. But will it matter come playoff time? There are no guarantees.
Parity rules in the NHL. As teams slog through their 82-game schedules, on most nights a single goal can spell the difference between victory and defeat.
Razor-thin margins also apply in the standings. When the Bruins take the TD Garden ice for their season opener Thursday night against the Nashville Predators, they’ll be among a dozen teams in the Eastern Conference with legit postseason aspirations.
Reality, of course, is a harsh judge. Only eight will make the cut.
This is the tightrope coach Bruce Cassidy’s club must navigate.
In 2017-18, the Bruins should be an up-and-coming team. Starting with Thursday’s opener, a promising cadre of rookies will be called on nightly to reinforce a proven (but-aging) veteran core.
Nobody’s calling the B’s a Stanley Cup contender – and for good reason. But if a few things fall into place, what’s keeping them from making a bit of a surprise run?
Then again, if a few things fall out of place, what’s keeping them from tumbling down the standings into also-ran status?
There are no guarantees in the NHL. Such answers won’t emerge until winter yields to spring and the playoffs draw closer.
To tide you over, here are four questions we’re asking as the Bruins drop the puck on a new season.
Are rookies ready for NHL duty?
Three rookies (Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy) could play prominent roles this season. Bjork and DeBrusk each secured top-six forward spots out of training camp, while McAvoy and second-year pro Brandon Carlo are among the top four defensemen. If the kids can produce on a consistent basis, the Bruins have the makings of a deep, dangerous team. If they struggle, it will hurt more on defense, where depth is a concern. There are more forwards in AHL Providence waiting for their shot.
What about the coach?
Credit goes to Bruce Cassidy for sparking the Bruins and securing a playoff spot following the mid-season firing of long-time coach Claude Julien. But that was last season. Now that he’s shed the interim tag, is coach Cassidy up for the challenge of a full NHL season? He’ll rely on young legs and more aggressive neutral zone play to keep up with the speed-first ways of the modern NHL. At least it will be more fun to watch than previous Bruins teams, this we already know from last spring’s audition.
Is Bruins’ core elite or old?
Maybe they serve avocado ice cream in Slovakia. Much like Tom Brady, all eyes are on 40-year-old Bruins captain Zdeno Chara as he enters what is supposed to be the twilight of his career. Chara is still good – and remains a lynchpin of the Bruins' defense. Will this remain so in March when Big Z turns 41? To a lesser extent, the mileage is also ticking upward on the career odometers of center Patrice Bergeron, 32, and goalie Tuukka Rask, 31. No one is anticipating a rapid decline from these franchise players, but if their stats start to slip, or if they struggle to stay healthy, you have to wonder if the old Black and Gold guard realistically has another Cup run in them.
Can supporting cast bounce back?
We’re looking at you, third line. The Bruins expected more from Ryan Spooner, David Backes and Matt Beleskey last season. If the trio can turn it around, the Bruins should have enviable scoring depth at their disposal. If they sputter again, Spooner will be gone and the contracts of Backes and Beleskey will officially be albatrosses around GM Don Sweeney’s neck. Second-line center David Krejci is also seeking a bounce-back year after consecutive injury-plagued seasons. Having scoring dynamo David Pastrnak on his right wing to start this season certainly won’t hurt his quest for redemption.