It’s been 136 days since the Boston Bruins were eliminated from the NHL’s playoff bubble by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Many things have changed since Aug. 31.
David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand underwent offseason surgeries. Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug changed sweaters. Tuukka Rask opted back in. And Patrice Bergeron was named the franchise’s new captain.
But as the B’s get set to begin the 2020-21 season Thursday night in New Jersey, it’s still very clear where their bread is buttered.
“The Bruins have very strong goaltending,” Rampart Casino race and sports director Duane Colucci told NESN. “Goalie tandems will be crucial this year and that’s why they’ll be solid. They’ll definitely need a bounce back from Rask, who opted out in the bubble, but Tuukka is one of the top three goalies in the NHL when he has his mind right and he’s into it. And (Jaroslav) Halak is more than an adequate backup. In the futures market, we’ve got Boston with the fourth-best odds to win the Stanley Cup. They can still be very competitive.”
Rask currently is +1200 ($100 wins $1,200) to win the Vezina Trophy at FanDuel Sportsbook and that’s definitely a bet I would entertain. It’s a contract year for Rask, he’s got something to prove and I’m guessing head coach Bruce Cassidy gives him the net in two of every three games this season. The B’s will go as far as Rask takes them.
Count me in at 12-to-1.
When healthy, Boston’s top-six forwards are good enough to carry the mail. The Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak top line is loaded when healthy, and Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Ondrej Kase form a very formidable second line. Secondary scoring could be an issue, but that’s the case everywhere.
Many people expect a defensive regression with the subtractions of Chara (Washington) and Krug (St. Louis), and that’s totally fair. But the Bruins allowed the least amount of goals in hockey last season and team brass has total faith in the next generation of blue liners.
“It’s going to fall on the goalies and the younger defensemen,” Colucci said. “Chara set the tone and he was the team leader for almost 15 years. They’ll miss Krug on 5-on-5 and the power play. But Boston has been one of the best organizations at developing young defensemen.”
By all accounts, Jeremy Lauzon will get first crack at the top defensive pairing with rising star Charlie McAvoy. Lauzon is being groomed to be a shutdown specialist who logs minutes on the penalty kill.
Matt Grzelcyk will likely take Krug’s spot at the point on the top power-play unit. Grzelcyk has big shoes to fill, but playing with Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand and Pastrnak should ease the transition.
Colucci believes the East division is the toughest to forecast. The Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are all around +400 to win it. The New York Islanders (+800) and New York Rangers (+1000) could surprise. The Buffalo Sabres (+2000) and New Jersey Devils (+4000) are the longshots.
“Buffalo is much improved,” Colucci said. “The Islanders are still there. The Rangers are loaded on offense with (Mika) Zibanejad, (Artemi) Panarin and they’ll get better with the prodigy (Alexis) Lafreniere. But there are question marks, too. Pittsburgh and Washington are getting older. (Braden) Holtby isn’t there anymore for the Caps to lean on. (Sidney) Crosby and (Alex) Ovechkin aren’t getting any younger. And we haven’t even talked about how good Philly was last year. Boston should compete for the top spot, but that’s the toughest division in hockey from top to bottom.”
Lastly, booking bets during a pandemic has been difficult for sportsbooks due to all the moving parts. Guys like Colucci are taking shots from all directions and they’ll be ready to move their betting lines at a moment’s notice.
“The COVID outbreaks, the last-minute scratches and learning the goalie rotations are all extremely important” he explained. “These teams are going to rotate in net, especially the teams with two good goalies like Boston and Vegas. We’ll be doing our best to figure out the patterns for which one is starting between the pipes. The COVID outbreaks are the most important to monitor, though. When bunches of guys have to sit and a team loses two or three defensemen, we’ll be scrambling to make adjustments.”