BOSTON -- The 2011-12 Boston Bruins' season came to an abrupt and stunning end Wednesday night as they lost Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series, 2-1 in overtime, to the Washington Capitals.
The Bruins entered the season as defending Stanley Cup champions and quickly found out how hard it would be to defend the title. It was a season-long learning process and, as Claude Julien pointed out after Game 7, more of a mental test than a physical one after a shortened summer. But what seemed like a blur is now over and the Bruins will have a more normal offseason to prepare for 2012-13 campaign.
With that in mind, here are five things the Bruins must address in the offseason.
1. Clutch scoring: Yes, the Bruins' offense improved drastically this past season, as they were second overall in overall scoring. But when it counted most, they couldn't get the big goals. They scored 15 goals in this seven-game series, but they did not generate enough quality scoring chances and did not bury enough of the ones they had. That was the difference in the NHL's first playoff series that saw every game decided by one goal. Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin came through with overtime winners in Games 1 and 6, respectively, but not enough of the Bruins' big guns -- such as David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand -- delivered when the team needed them most.
2. What to do with Tim Thomas? It sounds almost inconceivable to imagine the Bruins trading Thomas only a year removed from his Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup winning season. Thomas was by far the backbone of that Cup run last season and has been a very good goalie during his tenure here in Boston, but he is 38 and entering the final year of a five-year deal that will see him paid $5 million against the salary cap. Thomas had a decent season at 35-19-1 with a 2.36 GAA and .920 save percentage, but he -- just as his team did -- struggled through January and February, and in this series Thomas was not the Thomas we saw in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't good enough. With Tuukka Rask ready to be a No. 1 goalie and only 25, and under contract as a restricted free agent, it may be time to part ways with Thomas for a scoring forward and/or high draft pick and then take the money and put it toward Rask and other free agents. It should be noted too that Thomas' no-movement clause expires June 30.
3. Address 2012 and 2013 free agents: As mentioned above, the Bruins need to sign Rask and they are on record as saying they will. But they also have to decide whether to sign seven unrestricted free agents in Brian Rolston, Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Joe Corvo, Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau, and another restricted free agent in Benoit Pouliot. The guess here is that Kelly, Campbell, Mottau and Pouliot are all re-signed. But the Bruins need to start thinking about the following summer as well, when Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference, Thomas (if he's not traded) and goalie Anton Khudobin are unrestricted free agents and Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and Jordan Caron are restricted free agents. Will they extend any of them this summer?
4. Try to figure out the health of Nathan Horton: The Bruins player personnel moves when addressing scoring will definitely be affected by the health of Nathan Horton, who never returned from a concussion suffered Jan. 22 (his second in one calendar year) and was unable to even attempt a legit comeback for the playoffs. Where he is in his recovery process and whether he can ever be the Horton he was last season -- when he played a major role in the Bruins' Cup win -- will be hard to gauge but has to play a role in what trades and signings the Bruins make.
5. Fix the power play: The Bruins somehow won a Stanley Cup in 2011 without a power play that could score, but it finally caught up to them in this series with Washington and may have been the reason they're hitting the golf courses early. The Bruins were 0-for-3 in Game 7, failing to convert on a power play with less than two minutes left in regulation. They were 3-for-21 in the series, and this has to be addressed in the offseason -- whether with new players or a new power-play coach.