The Bruins start camp this week with the rookies in first, then the vets. That is business as usual. Also as usual there are questions in goal and up front, where last season scoring was always iffy. The curious part is that with goal scoring such an issue, there does not seem to be much room for younger players to displace the veterans. The Bruins seem 'blessed' with a lot of veteran players who are vastly experienced at not scoring goals. PJ Axelsson, one of my favorite players, nonetheless is hamhanded in front of the net. Peter Schaeffer showed flashes of offensive competence last year, but more often than not he was dancing along the boards rather than roughing it out front where the goals are. Milan Lucic showed so much promise, and delivered in the physical departments, but he really was not a constant scoring threat. He will be interesting to watch this season, to see if any Iginla rubbed off on him, after he spent some of the summer training with Iggy.
Of course we all want the difference maker to be Patrice Bergeron. Looking back it is really quite remarkable that the Bruins made the playoffs with the injury to Bergeron, and after that to Alberts, after losing Fernandez and having to scramble to get Alex Auld to back up Thomas. This season I hope Patrice will be back and trying to prove to everyone that he can rebound from that head shot.
In goal the big question is Manny. Will Fernandez play the way he did at Minnesota and Dallas, or the way he didn't last year at Boston. Tim Thomas will be Tim; strong when fresh, weak when overworked, and a coin flip whether the next shot will result in a spectacular save or a disastrous goal. The young goalies barring injury will be making coach Murphy look good in Providence, biding their time.
On defense the quest ion is Chara's shoulder. Zdeno is like the Atlas of myth, literally carrying the Bruins on his shoulders, and if one of then is not healed, that will shake the Bruin's world. At the now-annual Bruins season ticket holder meeting a week or so ago, the reports were that he will be ready and in camp, but I did not hear anyone saying he was fit and ready - it sounded a bit iffy. If Chara has to play carefully, it takes a good deal off the Bruins defensive game.
That leaves a lot of weight on the Bruins other vet defensemen, none of whom can tear up the league or put fear in the hearts of opposing forwards. They are solid but not spectacular. The guy who could rise above and make a difference is Dennis Wideman. If Wideman has matured and has a breakout year, that could propel the Bruin up two or three spots in the East. It would be great also if one of the younger defensemen stepped up from Providence, or if Andrew Alberts is able to come back from his own season ending injury to play well.
To me, this is the best time of the off season, when anticipation peaks and hopes are high, and the Bruins have just as much chance as any team to lift the cup at the end of the year. We can dream, can't we?