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Five questions for the Bruins in the 2011-2012

July 27, 2011

Danny Paille is having his day with the Cup in Welland, Ontario. He’s having cake, too. Photo courtesy of Bruins Twitter feed.

We’re deep in the dog days of summer. Free agency’s frenzy is over, development camps done with, and training camp is but a distant post-labor day mirage still. I have five questions for the Bruins now, but those questions are apt to change once the roster becomes clearer around training camp and the exhibition games. The changes will be minimal, but like anything with the Bruins, it’s the minor details that have the big effects.

So where are we at? As the Cup winners, what will they do in 2011-2012? Who will be there? What will they bring?

1. Timmy or Tuukka? Bruins fans everywhere bowed to the might of double Vezina and Smythe winner Thomas this season. At the ripe age of 37, he brought his finest when it mattered most. Unorthodox he may be, but he propelled the Bruins forward. Question is–how durable is he? His off-season hip surgery last summer was life-changing, and game-changing. He has played loads of pro hockey, but perhaps not at the clip of some of his contemporaries. Will this mean he’s better able to take on a rugged schedule in his 38th year? Maybe. Maybe not. Father Time might be on his heels. The beauty of this is that Tuukka Rask is waiting in the wings, able as ever after his own surgery for a torn meniscus last month. He is the goalie of the future. But how soon with that future be? The scenario we can’t help but be nervous of is one in which Thomas fails to perform at a similar level to last season, or even plummets, and he or the coaching staff are unwilling or unsure of when to plug Tuukka in net full-time. That uncertainty could be a problem. With Tuukka and Timmy, I think that sort of “competition” between goalies to win the starting role could be detrimental. In a tandem of youngins’ like Varlamov and Neuvirth last season, it was healthy. As much as the goaltenders respect and admire one another, it’s clear that the age and experience discrepancy between the two could result in some hurt feelings or tension if there’s an out-and-out war between them.

2. Sophomores. As noted previously, Brad Marchand’s breakout rookie year may not be replicated. The real mover (or loser) looks to be Tyler Seguin. Posting just 11 goals and 11 assists last year with extremely limited ice-time, it’s not even clear what he’ll bring to the table. A deep playoff run followed by a Cup win has to provide him with the confidence he severely lacked during the season, but at the same time, we can only hope that doesn’t bolster his “do it all” attitude on the ice. It’s one of his greatest assets, and greatest weaknesses: trying to accomplish too much on every shift. It produces utter confusion and turnovers and poor positioning. But it also produced a number of highlight reel goals. But he also can’t look meek or timid, as he so often did, especially later in the season. How he comes out will change the Bruins roster.

3. Recchi and Ryder no more. Who’s in? With the two right wingers gone, some space has opened up. But it’s still pretty log-jammed when it comes to who might fill it. Left wing Benoit Pouliot can’t be slotted in immediately without some shuffling. But Julien and Chiarelli have high expectations for the former 4th overall pick, and they’ll want to place him in situations where he can excel. Will he end up on the ever-changing third line? The Peverley-Kelly-Seguin carousel could go round and round. But for Seguin’s sake, I hope it doesn’t. Kelly and Peverley can play in nearly anyone situation, any line, any time. Caron could be in the mix, in right or left wing. I think Seguin could be a bet to slide into Recchi’s position, providing even more skill to a line that rests mainly on defensive responsibility and quickness. Spooner and Knight are real wild cards. Having just been signed to ELC’s, it’s unclear whether they’ll head back to the OHL. Training camp will tell. But they could compete for a wing position (though natural centers, they don’t have a chance yet there).

4. Top stuff. Though stagnant at times in both the regular season and playoffs, the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line was a revelation. They were the top line the Bruins had longed for for many seasons. Their chemistry blossomed as the season progressed, with Krejci finding seams and perfecting passes with astoundingly frequency and precision. They will only get better. With Lucic’s nose surgery done with, he can rebound, we hope. Is another 30-goal season in the works?

5. Cup hangover. The Hawks had. Will the Bs? It’s tough, when you’ve just won it all and had a shortened summer of fun and training. Every team in the league will be out to beat them, to prove themselves. Can the Bruins withstand that onslaught?

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