By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s been a relatively quiet summer for the Bruins.
How quiet? The last NHL transaction general manager Don Sweeney executed was July 14, when he re-signed center Colby Cave to a two-year two-way contract.
For the most part, the Bruins will be bringing back the same team that won 50 games, earned 112 points and bowed out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the second round against Tampa Bay last season.
For those who haven’t been paying close attention between the time the Lightning’s dismissal of the Bruins and this week’s opening of media access to captains’ practices in Brighton, here’s a small primer on the Bruins’ offseason and issues they have entering training camp. (Bruins players are scheduled to report to main camp Monday, Sept. 10):
The Bruins wanted to add a little size without sacrificing mobility, so they imported 6-foot-2 defenseman John Moore as an unrestricted free agent July 1. For those who weren’t diligently watching New Jersey Devils games the past three seasons, Moore averaged nearly 20 points per season in red and black. He will give coach Bruce Cassidy some options for mixing and matching his defense pairs.
Sweeney also imported some bottom-six forwards in NHL veterans Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom, and Slovakian veteran Martin Bakos (on a two-way contract). These forwards are expected to bring versatility and experience, while also possibly being forced out of jobs if some of the Bruins’ prospects skip a step in their development.
Jaroslav Halak is the newest backup for Tuukka Rask, following a long line of goaltenders that have had varying levels of success in that role.
Rick Nash hasn’t decided if he’s going to continue playing. Riley Nash (Columbus), Tim Schaller (Vancouver) and Anton Khudobin (Dallas) were lineup regulars, or semi-regulars, who hope their new homes will bring them a better opportunity in addition to their heftier paychecks. Austin Czarnik won’t be riding the Providence-Boston express any longer after leaving for Calgary.
What’s it all mean?
It means the Bruins, like most teams, have questions to answer before training camp. Let’s briefly grapple with three of them:
Who’s Centering The Third Line?
Right now it’s a competition between rookies Ryan Donato, Jakub Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka to replace Riley Nash in the middle of the third line. That might be a lot to ask of a first- or second-year pro, but with Wagner, Nordstrom and David Backes around for veteran support, the Bruins might be able to survive leaning on a green third-line center. Of course, that’s not an ideal situation for a team looking to again challenge for the top of the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have been on a hot streak with rookies seamlessly filling holes, but one has to worry that if the above-mentioned quartet falters, or one of them is a better fit as a top-six wing, someone like Backes, Wagner or Sean Kuraly could suddenly be asked to do too much.
How Do Eight Defensemen Fit Into Six Lineup Spots?
Adding Moore seemed like the first in a series of moves on the Bruins’ back end, and then it wasn’t. With two weeks until training camp the Bruins have eight veteran defensemen, a luxury that Cassidy could enjoy. But it could also backfire if politicking for playing time gets in the way of team chemistry or sporadic playing time takes its toll on guys who have to sit out. This could be the wave of the future, with teams asking defensemen to rotate more in order to preserve their health through the rigors of the schedule in a league that’s faster than ever. It could also just be a sign that the Bruins are waiting for the perfect time to swing a trade using their overabundance of defensemen.
Regardless, it’ll be a challenge for Cassidy to sort things out during a China-interrupted training camp, and then break the news to two guys that they’re not playing when the season opens.
Who’s On The Wings?
This is the easiest question to answer in terms of identity but not role. We know some combination of David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork and Donato should be filling the right side of the Brad Marchand/Patrice Bergeron combination and both flanks of David Krejci. We know DeBrusk and Krejci have found chemistry in the past. We know Pastrnak with Marchand and Bergeron was the best line in the NHL last season.
What we don’t know is whether the goal will be to balance out the lines or go top-heavy again, or if the Bruins will have to worry about being top-heavy because two wings not named Pastrnak could possibly make Krejci’s line again into a 1A line. Of course, we also know that there’s a high probability the Bruins will be shopping for the same thing (top-six right wing) at this season’s trade deadline that they got last year when they acquired Rick Nash.
One question we can all agree on the answer: Is summer over and hockey season here? Yes!
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.