Bruins: Crease crisis ends

The Jekyll-and-Hyde team of 2002-03, the Bruins got off to a great start (19-4-3-1), impressing many around the league. Then, they stumbled along into mid-March until general manager Mike O'Connell dismissed coach Robbie Ftorek with nine games remaining in the regular season. Not much changed, though. They finished the year with a mediocre run of 3-4-2 and then were ushered out of the playoffs in the first round by the New Jersey Devils. Their goaltending, when it was healthy, was inconsistent. Their forwards were the club's strength and the defense -- by and large -- was only so-so.

Unlike a year ago, they have a strong idea who their No. 1 goaltender will be -- newly signed Felix Potvin. Defensively, they have a number of new, young faces on whom the organization is very high. At forward, the Bruins have one of the league's top No. 1 centers in Joe Thornton, but with Jozef Stumpel being dealt back to the Kings, they're looking for a No. 2 pivot. First-year coach Mike Sullivan has some raw talent and a decent roster to work with. Will it be enough to lure back the increasingly skeptical fan base?

  • Who's No. 1? Felix Potvin will be expected to solidify a position that for too long has been like the California race for governor -- plenty of candidates but not enough qualified for the job. Potvin's numbers were affected by injury last season -- his own and those of his teammates. The season before -- 2001-02 -- he had 31 wins. The Bruins believe Potvin, at 32 years old, still has plenty left in the tank. At worst, there won't be the chaos in the crease there was last year.

  • A defense in flux: With the departure of Don Sweeney to Dallas, where he signed as a free agent, Sean O'Donnell becomes the graybeard of the blueline corps at the still-young age of 31. O'Donnell said he plans to step up more in the leadership department, something he was very good at last season but which the overall team lacked. The defenseman who played the most minutes a year ago -- Nick Boynton -- remains unsigned and could be headed for a holdout, although it wouldn't make any sense for either side. The team will be without Jonathan Girard's offensive upside, after the blueliner was lost for the season after fracturing his pelvis in four places in a serious car accident.

    Because of the changes, coach Mike Sullivan will be charged with the task of trying to find different defense pairings from a year ago. O'Donnell, Hal Gill, Dan McGillis and Ian Moran are back and youngsters Jeff Jillson, Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina appear most likely to challenge for jobs. McGillis, who was the club's leading scorer in their short playoff appearance despite only arriving in March, can only benefit from starting the year with his new team. Sullivan will be looking for his defensemen to play within a system. No risky business.

  • Front and center: Thornton had a breakout season with 101 points last year and he did it without left winger Sergei Samsonov, who missed most of the year because of an injured wrist that required bone-graft surgery. Instead, the left-shooting pivot found right winger Glen Murray on the other side and helped set him up for a career-high 44 goals.

    Mike Knuble, used in a variety of roles, potted a career-best 30 goals and center Brian Rolston chipped in 27. Second-line center is up for grabs and Andy Hilbert is hoping to put in a claim. Newcomers Kris Vernarsky, Robert Liscak, Sergei Zinovjev and Martin Samuelsson will be hoping to make their presence felt.

    This is the one area where the Bruins are solid. In terms of leadership, Thornton can be a more effective captain as he matures and he has veterans such as O'Donnell and Martin Lapointe to help him out. If he's smart, he'll lean on them.

    Nancy Marrapese-Burrell of the Boston Globe is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.