It should go without saying, but putting too much stock into preseason predictions in any sport is often a fool’s errand.
Take the 2017-18 Boston Bruins, for example. Coming off a season in which Boston sneaked into the playoffs only to fall to the Ottawa Senators in the first round (things can change in a heartbeat in the NHL), many experts saw the Bruins struggling to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2018 — and if they got in, a quick exit would follow.
Instead, the Bruins were one of the NHL’s bigger surprises, coming within one point of winning the Atlantic Division. They got by a pesky Toronto Maple Leafs team in the first round before bowing out against a superior Tampa Bay Lightning squad in the second round.
For a team in the midst of rebuilding on the fly, it was a wildly successful season in hindsight. Boston obviously exceeded expectations, and the progression of young players validated the plan in place.
But what about the 2018-19 edition of the Black and Gold?
Bovada currently has the Bruins pegged at 11-to-1 to win the Stanley Cup. Only Tampa Bay, Toronto and the Winnipeg Jets have better odds to hoist the Cup. That’s a good-news/bad-news thing for the B’s.
On one hand, with the Bruins coming off a 112-point season and relatively little offseason turnover, they should be considered a favorite. The line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is arguably the best in the entire sport. In Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy, the B’s have the makings of a borderline elite top defensive pairing. Tuukka Rask, while perhaps not likely to contend for the Vezina, is still a goalie a lot of the league would love to have. Boston’s core of young talent should continue to progress.
All of those things are good. All of those things should inspire hope and confidence this season.
The Atlantic Division is loaded. We’ve covered the Bruins’ prowess, but how about the Lightning? They won the Atlantic and then looked like men among boys against the Bruins in the second round before running into the eventual Cup champions in the Eastern Conference Finals. Steve Yzerman’s attention-grabbing exit aside, the on-ice product underwent very little offseason change. The Bolts are still loaded and look poised for another deep run.
The team everyone wants to talk about, though, is Toronto. The Maple Leafs pulled off the biggest move of the offseason, inking John Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million contract and adding him to a team filled to the brim with young talent that pushed the Bruins to the brink last spring without Tavares.
So, what should we expect of the Bruins? Obviously, missing the playoffs would be a major disappointment. Aside from injuries, there’s no excuse for that to happen. Even if you want to pencil in Toronto and Tampa Bay atop the division, there’s no reason Boston can’t grab the third spot or at the very least secure a wild card. Can we expect 112 points again? Probably not, given the improvement at the top of the division, but anything shy of 105 points or so would be a fairly steep step back.
As far as the playoffs go, it’s not unfair to expect another trip to the second round. That likely means a first-round showdown with Toronto or Tampa Bay, with the Bruins likely being the underdogs in either. But failing to at least back to where they got last season — when they were ahead of schedule — should also be considered a disappointment.
At this point, it’s all about progression for the Bruins. While they might lack the elite young talent possessed by Toronto or the all-around depth showcased by the Lightning, the Bruins have done a commendable job in once again joining the ranks of the NHL’s elite. With that, though, comes higher expectations, which should make this one of the more fascinating B’s seasons in recent memory.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images