"It's check your ego at the door. We want to prove we can win." —MONTREAL'S SCOTT GOMEZ
LAST SEASON 53-19-10 (1st in East); lost in second round to Carolina
KEY ADDITIONS C Steve Bégin, D Derek Morris
KEY LOSSES LW P.J. Axelsson, G Manny Fernandez, D Shane Hnidy, RW Phil Kessel, D Aaron Ward, C Stéphane Yelle
In a statistical curio that might puzzle coach Claude Julien if he gave a hoot about statistics—"I don't pay much attention to them," he says—a Northeast Division team has finished first in the Eastern Conference each year since the lockout (Ottawa in 2005--06, Buffalo in '06--07, Montreal in '07--08) and then failed to win the division the following season. After a dominant 116 points in 2008--09, could the Bruins continue the trend of backsliding?
The second-round Game 7 overtime loss to Carolina last spring sabotaged a superb season, but Boston remains the class of the division. It has Vezina-winning goalie Tim Thomas, cornerstone defenseman Zdeno Chara and a slew of dynamic under-25 players, including center David Krejci and old-time hockey left wing Milan Lucic. Julien's forecheck rotation will be more aggressive this season; otherwise the Bruins, who allowed the fewest goals in 2008--09 while ranking second in the NHL in scoring, will stick to the formula: wingers collapsing in the slot defensively, quick transitions, a defenseman joining the rush and a big-time cycle game.
With 36-goal scorer Phil Kessel traded to Toronto for draft choices, Julien will have to find a new top-line right wing for center Marc Savard, but there are capable candidates in Michael Ryder, Marco Sturm and Mark Recchi. And with veteran defenseman Aaron Ward gone, Julien also must settle on Chara's new partner, possibly journeyman Derek Morris, whom G.M. Peter Chiarelli overpaid with a one-year, $3.3 million contract.