By Mike McMahon
Phil Kessel wanted his money, and the Bruins didn't have the money to give him. That's the bottom line.
The Kessel saga, while over and done with, is still a hot-button topic with fans, and there remains an underlying criticism that the Bruins should have gotten more - at least a player for this year's team.
The Bruins, however, had no money left under the salary cap to sign Kessel — that's what it all comes down to. Trading the 21-year-old Kessel, who had a team-high 36 goals in 70 games, for any significant player would have cost more than the roughly $1.7 million the B's have under the cap.
But even without "Saint Philip'' — who was the butt of much criticism during his Boston days for a perceived lack of effort — the Bruins forwards will not only survive, they'll thrive.
Last year the B's, the top seed in the East, were upset by Carolina in the conference semifinals. This year expect more for the Black and Gold.
The entire offense centers around Marc Savard (25 goals, 63 assists, 88 points last year) and David Krejci (22-51—-73). Both have flawless vision and play-making ability.
While not all his fault (concussions), Patrice Bergeron's (8-31—39) doesn't look like he'll ever regain his early promise of greatness. He can play at both ends of the ice and is the most offensive third-line center in the league, but at almost $6 million per season, in a salary-cap era, he's vastly overpaid.
Milan Lucic (17-25—42, 136 penalty minutes) isn't a go-to scorer but he's a game-changer. He'll benefit from playing alongside either Savard or Krejci and should score over 20 goals.
If Michael Ryder (27-26—53) can hover around 30 goals as he did last year, and second-year man Blake Wheeler (21-24—45) continues his development, the Bruins should be similar to last year, when they were second in the NHL with 3.29 goals a game.
The B's also welcome back Marco Sturm (7-6—13), who appeared in just 19 games last season due to a knee injury. Sturm scored 27 goals each of the previous two seasons, so he'll lessen the blow of Kessel's departure.
Zdeno Chara (19-31—50) is the anchor on a blue line that should be much improved.
General manager Peter Chiarelli dealt Aaron Ward (3-7—10) to Carolina in June, but signed Rangers free agent Derek Morris (5-15—20) to a one-year contract the very next day.
Morris brings the B's a puck-moving presence — something they lacked, especially after Matt Hunwick (6-21—27) went down in the playoffs and missed the entire Hurricanes series.
Morris makes the first pass out of the defensive zone with ease and can quarterback the power play and has also tightened up his play in his own end, which was a giant flaw in his game early in his career.
Johnny Boychuck (0-0—0 in 1 game) makes the squad as a seventh defenseman, but the former second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche shined in 74 games with Providence last season, scoring 65 points, his best season at any level of hockey.
He's not the prettiest in the league, but Tim Thomas (36-11-7, 2.10 goals-against, .933 save percentage) is one of the best. Though he's aging (will turn 36 before the season ends), Thomas won the Vezina trophy last season.
He'll be pushed by heir apparent Tuukka Rask (33-20-4, 2.50, .915 in Providence last season), who just turned 22 years old and is a former first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rask also posted a shutout in his only NHL action last season, a 1-0 win over the Rangers at the TD Garden.
Goaltending as a position of strength for the B's, who might have the best 1-2 punch in the NHL.
Eastern Conference Playoff Teams
1. Boston Bruins%No reason to think they'll slide
2. Pittsburgh Penguins%Defending champions
3. Washington Capitals%Best team in a weak division
4. Philadelphia Flyers%Will give Pens a run for their money
5. New Jersey Devils%Defense wins
6. New York Rangers%Talent galore starts in net
7. Carolina Hurricanes%Staal needs to carry this bunch
8. Montreal Canadiens%Reeling Habs barely make it in
Western Conference Playoff Teams
1. San Jose Sharks%Best team in the league
2. Chicago Blackhawks%Youth gets a year older
3. Calgary Flames%Bouwmeester makes a difference
4. Detroit Red Wings%Goaltending is iffy
5. Anaheim Ducks%Bobby Ryan is a beast
6. St. Louis Blues%Young team, but tremendous talent
7. Dallas Stars%Turco is aging, not much scoring
8. Vancouver Canucks%Luongo carries this team
Eastern Conference final:
Bruins over Capitals
Western Conference final:
Sharks over Blackhawks
Stanley Cup Final
Sharks over Bruins