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BOSTON -- The NHL is (almost) back and the Boston Bruins have a chance to be one of the top teams in the shortened 2012-13 season. Given the talent on their roster, losing the season would have been a total waste for the Bruins.
Instead, there is a lot to be excited about in Boston.
Until the CBA is approved by the board of governors and ratified by the union, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli can't comment in depth about the settlement, but he did offer his excitement that the puck will drop soon.
"I am happy that both sides came to a deal," Chiarelli wrote in an email to ESPNBoston.com's James Murphy. "This has been tough on a lot of people, first and foremost, the fans, and all of the other people and workers and businesses around the game."
The Bruins released the following statement from team president Cam Neely: "We are all very excited that the NHL and the NHLPA have reached a tentative agreement, and we look forward to dropping the puck and playing Bruins hockey in front of our fans at the TD Garden soon."
When abbreviated training camps will open and the season will start remains to be determined, but the players share the excitement because at long last they'll be able to do what they've wanted to do all along -- play hockey.
"I'm happy it's finally resolved," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. "It's been too long and I don't think it should have gone this long. But it's here and I'm excited to get going as soon as possible. I don't have any details when we'll get started or how many games, but whatever it is I'm ready to go and I've been ready to go for a while."
Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron just returned to Boston after playing in Switzerland this winter. He also recently played for Team Canada, which won the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland.
"I'm very excited," Bergeron said. "I'm looking forward to coming back to Boston and seeing the guys. Obviously, being on the ice, and the fans, it's been a long wait for them as much as it's been for us and I can't wait to share that with them. Overall, I'm just really excited and looking forward to the whole thing."
|While he enjoyed his time overseas, Patrice Bergeron says he would rather have been playing in Boston.|
Ten Bruins players spent the lockout overseas. Bergeron, Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin all played in Switzerland, defenseman Zdeno Chara played in Prague, defenseman Dennis Seidenberg played in Germany and goaltender Tuukka Rask, forward David Krejci and Andrew Ference all played in the Czech Republic. Goaltender Anton Khudobin played in Russia and forward Rich Peverley played in Finland.
"It was a great experience," Bergeron said. "It was good for me to stay in shape and also see something different. It was a neat experience and obviously the Spengler Cup at the end was an amazing experience also. Overall, it was great, but at the same time it would have been a lot more fun to be playing in Boston."
Those players who played elsewhere this winter already have returned to Boston or are on their way.
Chara, who has been playing in the KHL, will return to Boston on Tuesday, according to his agent, Matt Keator.
"He's excited," Keator said.
The last time we saw the Bruins, they were skating off the ice at TD Garden on April 25, 2012.
The Bruins were the defending Stanley Cup champions during the 2011-12 season and finished the regular season as the Northeast Division winners. Boston, however, lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs when the Washington Capitals won the series in seven games. Each game of that series was decided by one goal and it ended when the Capitals posted a 2-1 overtime win in Game 7.
It was disappointing for the Bruins because they weren't able to defend their Cup title, but it was a trying season as most Cup winners have experienced. Even with the work stoppage looming, the Bruins figured they would be in good shape once the puck dropped.
Well, it's about to drop and the Bruins have their core back and ready to go.
Chiarelli has said from the end of last season that he felt the current roster has a chance to do some special things. It's still a young and talented team and as long as the players can remain healthy, Boston should contend. Chiarelli no doubt is excited about the team's potential, shortened season or not.
The quick turnaround to the start of the season could be an advantage for the Bruins since they won't have many changes to their roster.
"You hope that's going to help us out in the shortened season, that we're very familiar with each other and most of our lines will stay the same," Thornton said. "Things on paper and things on ice are two different things, but I'm optimistic with the fact that we've been pretty much all together for the last couple of years. That will definitely help our chemistry at the start."
Goaltending has been one of Boston's strong points the past few seasons with the tandem of Tim Thomas and Rask. The idea of Thomas deciding to end his self-inflicted banishment and return to the Bruins is unlikely. He says he wants to be with his family and that's probably where he'll stay, so Rask will share the duties with Khudobin.
From an offensive standpoint, not much will change. The team's top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton should be intact.
Horton missed the second half of the 2011-12 season after suffering his second concussion in a seven-month period on Jan. 22. According to his agent, Paul Krepelka, Horton is healthy and ready to play.
"Nathan is all set and ready to go, has been for a while now," Krepelka said.
The trio of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and Seguin should be ready to go, too.
"That chemistry is something that's going to help us right out of the gate," Bergeron said. "At the same time, everyone is in the same boat. It's a shortened season, it's going to be a quick one, so there will be a lot of games and you need to make sure you stay consistent because you know you don't have as much time to get into the playoffs."
Peverley and Kelly could have a new linemate, possibly with the addition of Chris Bourque from Providence. Then there's the Bruins' energy line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Thornton.
From a defensive standpoint, Chara again will lead the way and he could have a new partner on the blue line. Boston's top prospect, defenseman Dougie Hamilton, will be in camp and should make his NHL debut this season as a full-time blueliner for the Bruins.
The 19-year-old former first-round pick (ninth overall in 2011 draft) recently played for Team Canada in the World Junior Championship and currently has eight goals and 33 assists for 41 points in 32 games for the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL.
Johnny Boychuk, Seidenberg and Ference are back, along with Adam McQuaid, who had surgery last October for thoracic outlet syndrome after a blood clot developed under his collarbone. He's been skating and hopes to be back soon. The Bruins also signed Aaron Johnson during the offseason in hopes of bolstering the blue line.
While the NHL has been on hold, the AHL has thrived, especially for the P-Bruins in Providence. Despite a 4-1 loss to the Springfield Falcons on Sunday at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, Providence coach Bruce Cassidy was thrilled with the news the lockout has ended.
"It's about time," Cassidy said. "That's my thoughts on it. I don't know enough about who got the best part of the deal, but I'm just glad they're playing."
The P-Bruins have more than a few players who deserve a look for a roster spot in Boston. In fact, Chiarelli and Bruins coach Claude Julien have attended many games in Providence this season, which has been a solid scouting tool for the organization.
"We'll lose players in the short term until Boston gets up to speed. How many? I don't know," Cassidy said. "Depending on how that mini-training camp goes, I assume we'll lose at least a forward or two, maybe a defenseman."
Bourque could be that forward. He's played 32 games for the P-Bruins this season and has eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points in his first season in the Bruins' organization.
"It's obviously good for the game that the NHL is back," Bourque said. "I haven't really been able to think about it because we had a game today, but it's great and hopefully I get an opportunity. Hopefully I get the opportunity to show what I've got and hopefully try to earn a spot up there."
Bourque and his teammates in Providence have an advantage over some of those Bruins players who decided not to play overseas.
"We're in game shape, that's for sure," Bourque said. "I think some of the guys who stuck around here aren't able to get into that game kind of feel and that's big. That's why guys went overseas, to get in game shape. We're lucky down here to play at a high level because of the lockout. I think that benefits us, the guys going up to try out for a spot."
Providence forward Jordan Caron recently suffered an upper-body injury and could miss up to three weeks.
Depending on how the Bruins decide to handle Hamilton, along with McQuaid's health, Boston could be looking for one or two defensemen from Providence. Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski could fill the void.
"I don't know who they'll be looking at on the back end because from night to night there have been different guys who stick out," Cassidy explained. "All our guys on the back end have played really well for us, and other times some of them have looked young. But for the most part they've been pretty good, so whoever it is, hopefully they get a chance to get up there and play."
With his father at almost every home game this season, Chris Bourque hopes his play in Providence will help him earn a spot on the Bruins' roster. If not, like every other die-hard hockey fan, he's just happy the NHL is back.
"I'm a fan of hockey and I'm a fan of the NHL. It's just going to be good to watch it," Bourque said. "Hopefully I get to play in it, but for the fans it's great to have something else to do other than watch basketball and all that other kind of stuff."