ORONO, Maine — The Boston Bruins have had a busy off-season.
The defending Eastern Conference champions, who lost in six games in a thrilling Stanley Cup championship series to the Chicago Blackhawks, traded dynamic young right wing Tyler Seguin and productive all-around right winger Rich Peverley and saw sniper Nathan Horton decide to take his services to Columbus. Reliable defenseman Andrew Ference also left as did aging winger Jaromir Jagr and backup goalie Anton Khudobin.
But the Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2010-11, have added goal-scoring right wingers Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla, free-agent goalie Chad Johnson and youthful wingers Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser.
Former University of Maine All-American defenseman Bob Beers, who is beginning his 17th season as the color analyst on the Bruins Radio Network (WBZ), said he is optimistic about the 2013-14 season.
“I think the Bruins and [Pittsburgh] Penguins have established themselves as the teams in the Eastern Conference that the other teams strive to be like,” said the 46-year-old Beers, who was in Orono last weekend for UMaine’s hockey alumni weekend festivities.
“They could be better than last year but health is always a big factor,” said Beers. “Eriksson is more polished than Seguin is. Seguin is the wild card. He has the ability to be a superstar in this league if he matures and continues to come around like they expect him to.
“But you know what you’re going to get from Eriksson for the most part and you can anticipate what you’re going to get from Iginla. He’ll replace Horton,” said Beers.
The 28-year-old Eriksson, obtained in the trade that sent Seguin to Dallas, has averaged 29 1/2 goals and 40 assists in his last four full seasons and the 36-year-old Iginla has scored 530 goals and added 576 assists in his 1,232-game NHL career and has had 11 seasons in which he has scored 30 or more goals.
“I think the Bruins will be fine at forward. The wild card is the defensemen,” said Beers. “You have a [veteran]) corps with [Zdeno] Chara, [Dennis] Seidenberg, [Johnny] Boychuk and [Adam] McQuaid and now you have [young] guys like [Matt] Bartkowski, [Dougie] Hamilton and [Torey] Krug who can add a little different element to the game they haven’t had. They can push the puck, join the rush and be involved [offensively] that way, which really adds a new element.
Beers, who had a solid 258-game NHL career (28 goals, 97 assists) before retiring after the 2000 season, said Ference will be a tough loss to overcome, particularly from a leadership standpoint. The Bruins will need people to step in and provide leadership in the wake of his departure.
Tukka Rask is coming off an exceptional season in goal and Beers expects him to continue to provide the Bruins with exemplary goaltending.
He was 19-10-5 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage during the abbreviated regular season before going 14-8, 1.88, .940 in the playoffs.
“He was great. And he has such a good attitude. He’s not your typical goaltender. When you talk to him, he’s just a normal person. He’s a good person and the guys love playing for him,” said Beers.
One of the problem areas for the Bruins has been the power play, which was tied for 25th in the NHL last year at 14.8 percent efficiency.
Beers said it will continue to be a work in progress.
“They haven’t had a guy to quarterback the power play. Seguin wasn’t there yet and, as good as [center David] Krejci is, sometimes he did it [well] and other times he didn’t. Eriksson will give them a different look. They may wind up going through the defense [to quarterback it],” said Beers, who thinks Krug could emerge as the quarterback and Iginla’s presence will help.
The NHL will have a new alignment and playoff format this season.
Instead of having three divisions in each conference (East and West) and the division champs and five teams with the most points earning the playoff spots in each conference, there will be two divisions in each conference this season. The top three teams in each division will earn playoff berths along with two wild card teams, those with the most points.
The Detroit Red Wings will move from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference and play in the Atlantic Division with the likes of the Bruins, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Tampa Bay Buffalo and Florida.
Winnipeg will move from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference.
“I like it because now I’ll get to go to Florida an extra time every year,” quipped Beers. “It’s going to be tough. Detroit is in the division now and they’re tough.”
The Bruins will open the season on Oct. 3 when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning.