THE Boston Bruins ended last season coming up just short of a second Stanley Cup title in three years.
This year’s Boston product could be even better.
The Bruins open the season tonight when Tampa Bay visits TD Garden for a 7 p.m. game.
As is the case with any offseason, there were additions and subtractions from the Boston roster. But the overall equation appears to be a clear check mark in the “upgraded” column.
Out are three important pieces up front, Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley, as well elder statesman Jaromir Jagr and defenseman Andrew Ference.
In are veterans Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson at the forward position and backup goalie Chad Johnson.
The Bruins will also be looking for the next step from developing young players such as Jordan Caron, newly acquired Reilly Smith and blueliners Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug.
Iginla is 36 years old and his best days as a top-level scoring threat are behind him. But he still has plenty in the tank, as evidenced by his 14 goals and 19 assists in 44 games with Calgary and Pittsburgh last season.
Iginla will be especially valuable as a leader and on the power play, where he can still set up scoring chances or finish with a quick snipe. He should replace Horton’s production without much trouble.
Erikson, meanwhile, brings a durable scoring presence to the Bruins and is an upgrade over the frustratingly inconsistent Seguin.
Smith is still finding his way at the NHL level after 37 games with Dallas last season. Caron appears ready to stick in the NHL after up-and-down shuttles between Boston and Providence.
Still in place are the key components David Krecji, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Add in Iginla and Eriksson and the top two lines are among the best in the league.
The defense remains one of the best in the business as well thanks to the top four of Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid, Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk. Dougie Hamilton’s rookie season showed flashes of what he could become, but his inexperience led to just seven playoff games and the rest of the run spent on the sidelines. How his sophomore campaign plays out will be a main storyline.
Krug, meanwhile, made some noise with four goals and two assists in 15 playoff games. He is a natural on the power play, with good ice vision, excellent puck-moving skills and an accurate shot. There’s no reason to believe his playoff performance was a fluke.
And between the pipes, Tuukka Rask begins his first full-length season (remember last year’s lockout?) as the Bruins’ top netminder. Rask has the tools to become an elite goalie in the NHL.
Johnson provides a decent backup option to give Rask a breather, but if Rask was to suffer a long-term injury, Johnson could be exposed. As it stands, he’s a good stop-gap while Malcolm Subban develops in Providence.
As always, the ups and downs of a long NHL season are impossible to predict. But at least on paper, the current Bruins team appears poised to make a run. Notes: Bruins forward Carl Soderberg (ankle injury) will not play tonight against Tampa Bay and Krecji will likely be a game-time decision as he continues to battle back spasms. Boston also announced Wednesday that defenseman Kevan Miller was placed on waivers for the purpose of sending him to Providence.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.