The Bear Cave

June 24, 2009 8:13 AM

Teams Can't Have Too Much Offense

The old adage states that defense and goaltending wins championships. While that is certainly true, teams do need to put the puck into the net in order to be successful. This past season, the Boston Bruins were successful in all three zones on the ice, leading to their first place finish in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez combined to allow 196 goals to earn the Jennings Trophy for the fewest in the league, while the offense lit the lamp 274 times, second only to the Detroit Red Wings, who led the way with 295 goals.

Offense seems to be the biggest story of the offseason for the Bruins, as that is where the majority of their free agents play. A few weeks ago, the team signed David Krejci to an extension, taking one of the challenging names off of the list of things to do. However, that still leaves Phil Kessel and Byron Bitz in the restricted free agent category, while PJ Axelsson, Mark Recchi, and Stephane Yelle are all unrestricted free agents. Out of the five, Kessel has drawn the most attention, as he will earn a significant raise from the $850,000 he made this past season. Bitz will likely demand a slight increase, but should still be very affordable. Yelle's contract this past season was for $750,000. If Boston can get him in that same range, that could be looked at as a steal. Recchi and his $1.25 million deal are contemplating retirement, so that's a wait and see. Axelsson made $1.85 million this past year, while continuing to show just how valuable he is to a team with his tremendous ability to kill penalties.

With those five still in question for the time being, that leaves eight players under contract that played for the Bruins during the playoffs. Marco Sturm missed most of the season, but should be back and ready to go for opening night, so the guaranteed number of forwards should be nine at the moment. Even though Kessel and Recchi are both free agents, Boston is still in fantastic shape in terms of scoring. Marc Savard, David Krejci, Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler, and Chuck Kobasew all netted 20 or more goals this past season, while Milan Lucic was right there with 17, and Patrice Bergeron dished out 31 assists. Sturm had seven goals and six assists in 19 games before going down with an injury, meaning he should also be a key contributor to the offense. The ninth forward currently under contract is Shawn Thornton. Thornton is more known for his physical side, but was still able to record 11 points on six goals and five assists.

Obviously, the team's decision on Kessel will have the greatest impact on the free agent market, as that will determine the tightness of the salary cap. If Kessel does sign on the dotted line with the Bruins, they may be forced to trade away some salary if they want to explore free agency. If Kessel opts to go somewhere else, that should open up some possibilities. Although the fans in Boston would certainly enjoy a big name such as Marian Hossa, the likelihood of that happening is right around zero. The club is too close to the cap, and a superstar isn't a need at this point. Last summer, the Bruins locked up Michael Ryder for three years and $12 million. $4 million per season is on the high side this year, but someone in the $2 million ballpark could be worth a shot. A few unrestricted free agents in that category are San Jose's Mike Grier, Pittsburgh's Ruslan Fedotenko, Columbus' Jason Williams, and Colorado's Tyler Arnason. These aren't the best players in the world, but they can certainly play a role that would lead to success.

Looking within the organization, there is another forward that should make the NHL roster in 2009-10. The only reason he didn't stay in Boston last season was because the numbers weren't in his favor. Vladimir Sobotka has 73 games under his belt with the Bruins, registering two goals, ten assists, and twelve points. He also played in six playoff games during the 2007-08 campaign, putting two goals past Carey Price. While he did see 25 games of action in Boston, most of Sobotka's season was spent in Providence this year, where he had 20 goals, 24 assists, and 44 points in 44 regular season contests. The 21-year old kept the production going in the playoffs, picking up 13 points in 14 games.

Two other players in Providence that would be worthy of a job in Boston are Martin St. Pierre and Jeremy Reich. St. Pierre led the Baby B's with 66 points this season, and Reich had a breakout season offensively with 21 goals and 13 assists as the team's captain. Unfortunately, both of these gentlemen are unrestricted free agents, meaning they may walk if the right offer is presented by another team. The three restricted free agents in the system are Wacey Rabbit, Ned Lukacevic, and Carl Soderberg. Fans are still waiting to see Soderberg after he was acquired from the St. Louis Blues for Hannu Toivonen in July of 2007.

It may sound odd, but Peter Schaefer is almost guaranteed a spot with Providence this coming season. Despite having played in 556 NHL games, Schaefer is due to make a cap-killing $2.3 million after finishing tied for tenth in scoring with a mere 26 points in the AHL during 2008-09.

In terms of the future, the Bruins are in great shape with their young forwards. Brad Marchand and Mikko Lehtonen began their professional careers this past season, and were immediately put into conversation as two of the AHL's top rookies. Lehtonen scored 28 goals and 25 assists in 72 games, trailing Marchand's 18 goals and 41 assists in 79 games. Zach Hamill missed the first 15 games of the year due to injury, but rebounded nicely with 13 goals and 13 assists to finish out his first full season in Rhode Island. Hamill was tied with fellow rookie Jordan Knackstedt, who also registered 26 points, while picking up ten goals and 16 assists. The list of rookies doesn't end there. Matt Marquardt compiled 22 points, scoring nine times and helping out on 13 other occasions. Levi Nelson had a quiet season offensively with two goals nad five assists, but brought a ton of energy to the table on the checking line. Jeff LoVecchio is the final forward under contract. Unfortunately, he missed the entire year with an injury.

The great news with that list is that the Providence Bruins should be one of the better teams in the AHL once again, as they will attempt to reach the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season. However, most of these players will need this season to further develop their games at the minor league level. A few of them could earn some minutes with the big club if the correct situation arises, but there isn't any rush, as LoVecchio is the oldest player in the group at age 23.

Beyond Providence, there is even more offensive talent in the system. Jamie Arniel, Brock Bradford, and Yannick Riendeau will likely be in the AHL this coming season, while Joe Colborne, Mark Goggin, Maxime Sauve, and Nick Tremblay still have time left before they are able to turn pro.

In the grand scheme of things, does Boston need to take a forward in the early rounds of this year's draft? No. If the right player is available when the Bruins select, it may be wise to go ahead and take advantage of that pick. However, it isn't a necessity. By my calculation, the Bruins will have five picks this season. That number may increase. If it does stay the same, two forwards would be a safe number, with one going somewhat early and one going late.

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