After having missed the playoffs the last two season, the Boston Bruins are focused on getting back in 2016-17.
It was an interesting offseason for GM Don Sweeney. The Bruins added veteran depth and leadership at forward (more on that below) but lost veteran forward Loui Eriksson, who signed as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks. The Bruins bought out the contract of veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who recently signed a one-year deal with the New York Islanders. Finally, after six seasons in Boston, veteran unrestricted free-agent forward Chris Kelly returned to the Ottawa Senators, with whom he spent his first seven seasons.
Heading into the season, the defense remains a mystery in front of goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Bruins could still acquire a solid, young blueliner via the trade market. If not, they will rely on their current defensive core and hope their blueliners stay healthy and find ways to be productive.
If the Bruins get off to a slow start, coach Claude Julien could be on the hot seat and Sweeney might make a coaching change.
Best new faces
Boston added veteran forwards David Backes and Dominic Moore, along with veteran backup goalie Anton Khudobin. Backes, the former captain of the St. Louis Blues, signed as a free agent and will add depth down the middle and be a strong voice in the locker room, which the Bruins have lacked the past few seasons.
With forward Frank Vatrano sidelined three months because of a foot injury, rookie Danton Heinen, 21, has a chance to earn a roster spot. The former University of Denver standout could skip the minors and have an immediate impact in Boston because he has the hockey IQ and ability to do so. If not, he will develop his pro game in the AHL with Providence. Heinen is not used to the heavy NHL schedule, and he'll need to be consistent in order to stick. So far, he has played well in training camp. Forward Austin Czarnik, 24, has played well during camp and could be a solid replacement as a penalty killer for Kelly. Czarnik is versatile, and that could serve him well.
Where Backes will play remains a question. Having David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Backes as the team's top three centers gives the Bruins a lot of depth. That could mean Matt Beleskey and David Pastrnak play with Krejci. With Eriksson gone, finding chemistry for Krejci will be key. Julien could put veteran centerman Backes on Krejci's right side or move Ryan Spooner to the wing and keep Backes as the third-line center. Krejci had offseason hip surgery, so it will be interesting to see what kind of success he can have this season.
Defenseman Adam McQuaid is healthy to start the season, and the Bruins will need him to remain that way in order to be successful. How much does veteran defenseman Zdeno Chara, 39, have left in the tank? Playing for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey -- and reaching the finals -- should help the captain get off to a strong start, but if fatigue sets in down the stretch, that could be a factor.
If there's one sure thing in the NHL, it's Bergeron's consistent play. Bergeron and Marchand were outstanding for Team Canada during the World Cup, along with linemate Sidney Crosby, as they led their team to a championship. If their play during the best-on-best tournament was any indication of how they'll face this season, both Marchand and Bergeron could be in the top 10 in scoring in the NHL in 2016-17.
Marchand, who recently signed an eight-year deal worth $49 million to remain with the Bruins, should carry his success from the past season (37 goals) and his play in the World Cup into this season.
Rask will be Rask. He'll play his 55 to 60 games and be solid in the majority of them. He has been durable since taking over the No. 1 job during the 2013 lockout-shortened season.
The Bruins will not go a third season without making the playoffs and will earn a wild-card spot. It won't be easy for them, but they will make a strong push down the stretch and finish with a postseason berth. Fifth in the Atlantic.