With 116 points, the Bruins won their division for the first time since the lockout, thanks largely to the Vezina-winning season by Tim Thomas. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
I wasn’t kidding when I told The Hockey News boys I expect the Boston Bruins to experience the biggest decline in points this season.
They all looked at me as though I had just failed a drug test.
“Biggest drop in points?” they asked. “But we’re picking the Bruins to again win the Eastern Conference during the regular season. And you’re saying they’re going to soil the bed?”
I don’t think the Bruins are going to do a first-to-worst retreat, nor do I think they’ll miss the playoffs. In fact, I endorse the belief they’re heavy favorites to win the Northeast Division. But there’s no way in the world they’re going to match the 116 points achieved last season when they missed the Presidents’ Trophy by just one point to the San Jose Sharks (117).
Too many good things fell into place for the Bruins last season for the same thing to happen again. Namely, Tim Thomas a runaway winner of the Vezina Trophy; David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic all blossoming into excellent players; Phil Kessel erupting for 36 goals in 70 games; and defensemen Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick becoming offensive stars on the blueline.
The performances of Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard were predictably strong and they’ll be leaders again this season. But if Thomas has any sort of let up and slips from “absolutely outstanding” to “solid, but not spectacular” and even if just one or two of the aforementioned skaters doesn’t again outperform or match last season’s standards, the Bruins could easily slip 10, 15, maybe 20 points off their total of 116.
Let’s face it, prior to last season, Thomas was never ranked higher than a top 10 or 15 goalie on even the most generous of lists – we had him ranked No. 20 among goalies going into 2008-09. So at age 35, there’s a good chance 2008-09 was an aberration. Even if he falls from being the No. 1 goalie last season to No. 4 or 5 this season, the Bruins will secure fewer points.
Because the Bruins did so well last season, they’re an easy candidate for a market correction in the win column. Take a look at last year’s standings and it’s tough to pick many teams that are expected to drop more than 10 points.
Could be the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets overachieved last season and are ripe for a leveling, but not from 92 points to anything less than 80 with all the young, impressive talent on their rosters.
San Jose (117), Detroit (112), New Jersey (106 points), the New York Rangers (95), Florida (93), Minnesota (89) and Phoenix (79) are projected to take a bit of a point slip in my opinion, but other than the Rangers, not to the double-digit degree. Even the rebuilding New York Islanders won’t slide a whole lot down from their 61 points.
So a 15- to 20-point market correction by third-place-in-East-bound Boston will be the biggest drop in the NHL this season.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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