Tyler Seguin’s Progression, Healthy Nathan Horton Should Boost Bruins Offense in Place of Zach Parise-Like Scorer

Tyler Seguin's Progression, Healthy Nathan Horton Should Boost Bruins Offense in Place of Zach Parise-Like ScorerIt's amazing how long these offseasons can seem when you're not playing until the middle of June. The Bruins are taking a longer break than they would have liked, but they have already gotten through much of their extended offseason. We've already had the draft, the development camp and the opening of free agency, though the Bruins haven't actually participated in that last one yet. The next big date on the calendar will be the opening of training camp.

That's still a long ways off, and the wait could be even longer if negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement don't go as smoothly as hoped. But let's not dwell on those dreary thoughts. Not when there's another Bruins Mailbag to go through.

As always, I'd like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn't able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I'll answer as many of them as I can throughout the offseason.

With [Nathan] Horton already sustaining two concussions and the Bruins having an anemic offense at times, do you think they have the firepower to make another Cup run?

– Scott Prosser, Holden

Well, I think the Bruins' offensive woes have been blown out of proportion a bit. While they struggled to score in their opening round loss against Washington when they ran into a hot goalie and a team that was suddenly willing to actually commit to blocking shots and back-checking under Dale Hunter, this is still a Bruins team that finished tied for second in the league in scoring last year.

Horton was a big part of that in the first half of the year and after he went down in late January, the Bruins did slump in February, getting shut out five times in 13 games. Some of that no doubt was because of Horton's absence, but Boston also averaged 3.29 goals a game in March and April, better than their overall season average of 3.17.

There's certainly questions surrounding Horton's ability to both return to the lineup and return to his pre-injury effectiveness, but the Bruins do expect him to be ready for the start of the season. They also have a balanced attack that still featured six different 20-goal scorers last year, and all six of those players (Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly) are back this year. Kelly is the only one of those who may have trouble repeating that production as that was his first 20-goal campaign at age 31, but he contributes in so many ways beyond scoring. Seguin and Marchand still have room to develop further, with Seguin in particular just beginning to tap into his vast potential. Lucic and Krejci are capable of bouncing back from some disappointing showings, particularly in the playoffs.

The Bruins lack that true elite sniper that some teams possess (though Seguin may soon be there), but their success comes through a balanced attack and playing within the team concept. Will that, plus their solid defensive play and team chemistry, be enough for another Cup run? That's hard to predict at this point, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out. They did it in 2011 with most of the same offensive personnel, and if anything they should have more firepower now with the emergence of Seguin.

What are your thoughts on the Northeast division getting more fighters so to speak?

– Sara Misiaszek via Twitter (‏@SaraMisiaszek)

I think it will make for much more entertaining games within the division. The rivalry with Montreal has lacked a bit of its old fire in recent years because Montreal had no answer to Boston's more physical style. While there was some fun in seeing Milan Lucic toy with Mike Komisarek or watching the Habs try to engage in a line brawl with the likes of Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik and Tom Pyatt on the ice, those weren't the kind of matchups to really bring the best out of the rivalry. I'm not sure that adding Brandon Prust alone, or the signings of other gritty players like Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon, will tip the scales too much. But it should make things a little more interesting, especially with Travis Moen also back and Ryan White potentially getting a full season in with the big club.

Buffalo likewise loaded up with superheavyweight John Scott (6-foot-8, 270 pounds) and agitator Steve Ott, who was at the center of the last two memorable fight-filled affairs between the Bruins and Stars at the Garden. Unfortunately, it appears Ottawa is going in the opposite direction as the Senators have not attempted to replace the departed Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka, who signed with the Islanders and Wild, respectively. Ottawa still has Chris Neil, but will he be up to carrying the load after allowing Carkner to handle the heavyweights and Konopka to take care of the volume work in recent years? Toronto is also a question mark with Jay Rosehill unsigned and Colton Orr possibly remaining in the AHL. That leaves just Mike Brown and the aforementioned Komisarek.

So overall, the total toughness in the division hasn't changed all that much, it's just been relocated a bit from Ottawa and Toronto to Montreal and Buffalo. The Bruins don't have any reason for concern though, as they usually play their best when the games get particularly physical or nasty. If the Sabres and Canadiens want to adopt that style, the Bruins should be more than happy to oblige.

Who do you see as the Bruins biggest threat in the division?

– lotuschild32 via Twitter (‏@Lotuschild32)

I think Buffalo could be the team to make a run at Boston's hold on the division crown this year. Everything fell apart for the Sabres last season when Milan Lucic ran Ryan Miller and no one on Buffalo stood up for their netminder. Between Miller suffering an injury and struggling mightily in the ensuing weeks and the team facing a loss of respect around the league and within their own locker room, the Sabres went into a long tailspin that not even their late charge could overcome to get them back into the playoffs. But that late rally did show the Sabres were still capable of playing some good hockey, Miller remains a solid goalie and they addressed their lack of grit and toughness. They seem the most ready to make a run at knocking the Bruins off their perch atop the division.

Ottawa made great strides last year but I'm still not convinced of the Senators' goaltending. The same can be said for Toronto, which also has question marks on defense. Montreal should be improved if the Habs can stay healthy and the toughness they added should help there. Randy Carlyle and Michel Therrien should be able to put in solid systems to make those two clubs more competitive the way Paul MacLean did in Ottawa last year. It will be a tougher division, but the Bruins should still be the favorites going into the season.

What will New Jersey and Nashville do to rebound from the devastating losses of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter?

– Jake Reiser via Facebook

There aren't a lot of options, at least in the short term. The Devils could take a flier on Alexander Semin to replace some of the offense lost with Parise's departure, but he would do little to make up for the all-around play and leadership Parise provided. They may just stand pat, recognize that this is now clearly Ilya Kovalchuk's team and just try to fill the void with internal options. They may not be able to make it back to the Cup Final without Parise, but they should still be a competitive team with Martin Brodeur back in goal, a solid defensive system and an offensive core to build around with Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson and emerging star Adam Henrique.

The picture is not as rosy in Nashville. Suter's departure will make it difficult to lock up Shea Weber to a long-term deal, and the Predators captain and Norris finalist is even more vital to their defense. Add in the failed experiment of bringing Alexander Radulov back from the KHL and Nashville will have a harder time rebounding from the loss of Suter. If the Predators can get Weber to commit to a long-term deal, they can still be a competitive team with him and Pekka Rinne as the foundation, but they already face the challenge of playing in a very tough division with Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago. Last year was their best chance to make a deep playoff run and that window may have slammed shut with Suter's signing in Minnesota.

A lot of impatient Bruins fans don’t follow the salary cap situation and are getting [upset at the team] for standing pat. As soon as we ditch the [Tim] Thomas contract and list [Marc] Savard as unable to play, there we be a move or two by Peter Chiarelli. My question is: Have you ever seen the incredible depth we have on our hockey team at any point in time? I just may take in a Providence game just to see how well our prospects are doing.

– Dave Best, London, Ontario

Well, I certainly appreciate the optimism and enthusiasm. I would also heartily encourage you to attend some Providence games if possible. The AHL is usually a very entertaining product with prospects battling to get noticed and earn a call-up providing plenty of intensity and action. This year's Providence team will have some prospects worth watching as well. While there's a chance a few of these guys will make a push for jobs in Boston out of camp, you'll likely see Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner up front in their first full pro seasons, along with newcomer Chris Bourque and holdovers like Lane MacDermid and Carter Camper. Torey Krug and Tommy Cross will also be in their first full pro seasons on defense, while Swedish import Niklas Svedberg should be worth checking out in net.

As for the first part of your question, I don't know that getting around the Bruins' cap issues will be quite as easy as you make it seem. The Bruins may be able to trade Thomas to a team looking for help to reach the cap floor, but there's no guarantee of that. The teams in that situation may choose to wait to see what happens with the new CBA that needs to be negotiated. It's possible that the cap could be reduced or the floor lowered or eliminated altogether.

As for Savard, it's a lot more complicated than simply listing him "as unable to play" and using that $4 million cap hit on another player. For one thing, LTIR doesn't apply in the offseason, though that is not really an issue as teams are allowed to exceed the cap limit by 10 percent during the offseason. But even during the season, LTIR doesn't simply give the team an amount of extra cap space equal to the injured player's cap hit. It's a much more complicated formula than that. I would direct you to the relevant CBA passages, but it would probably take you longer to read them than it will take the owners and NHLPA to agree to a new CBA (here's hoping anyway).

In short, I wouldn't count on Chiarelli making any big moves this summer or bank on him being able to easily create the cap space for such hypothetical moves. I think it's very possible once the initial flurry of signings is complete that Chiarelli may be able to take advantage of a bargain or two among the players still looking for a deal to add a veteran seventh defenseman or some depth up front to compete with Jordan Caron for that final third-line spot. But the roster assembled today is pretty much the roster you will see at the start of camp.

Have questions for Douglas Flynn's mailbag? Leave them in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter @douglasflynn or send them here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week. Be sure to check back to see if your question was answered.

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