Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bruins Training Camp: Top 5 Storylines

1) Two's company, three's a crowd
Coming into camp, we knew that Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez would be fighting for the starting spot in goal. What we didn't know was that Tuukka Rask would emerge as the leading contender.

As if it's not complicated enough already, the Bruins are now operating with a 1A/1B/1C goalie tandem. Thomas and Fernandez have both looked rusty at times, while Rask appears cool and confident against big-league snipers. It's unlikely that the Finn will find himself in the driver's seat before the New Year, but he's giving Bruins management a good reason to take a Habs-like approach to their goaltending controversy.

2) Trade coming down the tracks quotes Pete Chiarelli as saying there is a "better than 50 percent" chance that the Bruins will make a salary-clearing trade in the next few days. Phil Kessel's name is being floated as a possible piece of trade bait, though I suspect there would be a minor revolt in the fanbase if Kessel were traded so early in his development. Peter Schaefer, on the other hand, is probably keeping a packed suitcase handy -- if Chiarelli can't find a trade parter, waiving Schaefer wouldn't be out of the question.

[update: The Boston Herald has dropped Marc Savard's name as a possible casualty in a blockbuster trade. This would be not only shocking, but senseless for a host of reasons -- Savard nearly led the league in assists last season on a defensive-minded team, Patrice Bergeron is still a question mark as #1 center, the Ryder/Savard combo would be gone, and frankly it just doesn't make sense for the Bruins to make a blockbuster trade right now.]

3) Lucic struggles
Milan Lucic is all the rage in Boston these days, with Cam Neely comparisons being thrown about quite liberally among the fans and media. So the big winger's lack of production in the preseason might be a damper on the hype -- perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to assume that the 19-year-old would enjoy a Hall of Fame career before being crippled by Ulf Samuelsson.

In 4 preseason games, including an 8-3 thrashing of the Habs, Lucic has one secondary assist. That's not exactly top-line production, and suggests that extra defensive attention might become a factor in the dreaded sophomore season. Keep an eye on Looch's development, because it will figure into expectations not only for this season, but the Bruins' long-term outlook as well. The Bruins Hockey Blog suggests we might still be a year or two away from seeing the "real" Lucic.

4) Wheeler rolling
A counterbalance to Lucic's struggles is the encouraging play of Blake Wheeler. The young winger, who ditched the Coyotes organization to play in Boston, has been turning heads with a goal and three assists so far in the preseason. By all appearances, Wheeler has earned at least a brief opportunity to impress at the NHL level, probably displacing Jeremy Reich as a 4th-line winger. As a #5 overall pick in 2004 (just behind some guys named Ovechkin, Malkin, Barker and Ladd) Wheeler was expected to be a future All-Star -- perhaps we're seeing a turning point in Bruins history. The Bear Cave details Wheeler's chances of snagging a roster spot.

5) Ghosts of Injuries Past
Like the goaltending issue, this storyline has been played to death in the media already. Nevertheless, B's fans will be on the injury watch for the first several weeks of the season to ensure that several key players are able to recover from the injury-riddled 07-08 campaign. The Bruins Hockey Blog reports that Zdeno Chara is expected to suit up tonight in Montreal, testing his injured shoulder for the first time this preseason. In the same game, Manny Fernandez will continue to work on his recovery from IR, and of course Patrice Bergeron will be on the watch list all season to ensure he's not the next Lindros.

Fortunately, the Bruins don't face the Flyers until February.

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andrewrice said...

Personally I never bought into the comparison between Lucic and Neely. Maybe the size and the will to fight but Neely's skills were top notch. I still feel Lucic has a lot of work to do to even be in the same sentence as Neely.

Unknown said...

He's come up with some big plays in some big moments, though, and that shouldn't be forgotten. I'm hoping he'll get more into it when the real season begins.

andrewrice said...

true... oh and by the way if chiarelli dumps savard in a trade i think itll just open the thornton wound that hasnt healed

Tom said...

I agree, trading your leading scorer twice in four seasons is not the way you run a franchise. I can forgive the Thornton trade to a certain extent -- see my "Blowin' up the Bruins" post -- but trading Savard would just be reckless.

The only way I could see it happening is if Minny is looking to trade Gaborik. I'd have to really think about that one.