Saturday, June 30, 2012
Bruins' 5 biggest question marks
By James Murphy ESPNBoston.com
With free agency starting and the 2011-12 season officially in the rear-view mirror, it's time to shift gears to the 2012-13 season. What do the Bruins have to do to get back on top after bowing out in the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs? Here are five burning questions to ponder as the offseason kicks off and we look ahead to training camp:
Will Tuukka Rask's rise to the No. 1 job entail any drop-off for the Bruins?
1. Is Rask ready to be the main man between the pipes?
After signing a one-year contract this week, Tuukka Rask wants to prove he is the Bruins' starting goalie for years to come. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said Friday that Rask was offered a multiyear extension last season but preferred to wait and sign for just a year so that he could indeed show the team he is ready to be an elite starter. There were signs that he could when he went 22-12-5 with a .931 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in 2009-10, but since then he has shown only glimpses of that brilliance. Can he perform at a high level while playing more games over the course of an entire season as the No. 1 netminder? If not, will Anton Khudobin -- or the goalies below him in the organizational depth chart -- be good enough?
2. Will Horton return and make an impact?
Bruins winger Nathan Horton suffered two concussions within a calendar year, and while he is reportedly progressing in his recovery, he remains a major question mark heading into the 2012-13 season. Horton had 17 goals and 32 points in 46 games but had his season cut short when he suffered the second concussion on Jan. 22. To say he will be rusty regardless of offseason training would be an understatement. Everyone is hoping for a Patrice Bergeron-like comeback for Horton, but there are no guarantees he can produce at the level he was at before suffering his first concussion in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals. With that in mind, the Bruins are reportedly looking for scoring depth. Do they need to look for more certainty and focus on an impact player to fill the void if Horton is not back to normal?
3. Is Hamilton ready for the NHL?
After the Bruins took Niagara IceDogs defenseman Dougie Hamilton ninth overall in the 2011 entry draft, Hamilton had a breakout season. He produced 72 points and earned the CHL Defenseman of the Year honors. The consensus in junior hockey and NHL circles, as well as with the Bruins, is he is ready to make the jump to the NHL. But Hamilton -- who is at Bruins development camp now -- will have to show he is ready. As Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney recently pointed out, Hamilton will have to "drive a current Bruin out of his spot." So far in Chiarelli's tenure as GM, he has struck out in his attempts to net a bona fide puck-moving defenseman via the free-agent and trade markets. Tomas Kaberle, Joe Corvo and Dennis Wideman didn't live up to expectations. Can Hamilton be that blueliner?
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4. Can the power play be fixed?
Just as the Bruins did in 2011, the Los Angeles Kings won the 2012 Stanley Cup with an anemic power play. But while the Bruins got away with a subpar man-advantage during their Cup run, the Kings were able to score three power-play goals in their Cup-clinching Game 6 win. Clearly, teams generally need at least a decent power play to win. The Bruins struggled on the power play again in their seven-game series loss to the Capitals in the first round this year, going 2-for-23. Afterward, the team brass made it clear that they intended to improve the power play for next season. Whether that's done through personnel changes or internally, the man-advantage could be a key to the team's success in next season.
5. Will the Bruins learn from the Stanley Cup hangover?
To a man, every Bruin acknowledged after their series loss to the Capitals that mental and physical fatigue was a factor in their struggles at points during the regular season and then in the playoffs. With a young core, it's possible to take things for granted and think winning comes easy when you win the Cup, but that's not the case. Now the question is, did that young core learn that valuable lesson and will it translate onto the ice?