Key losses: Sergei Gonchar, D (FA - PIT); Sean O'Donnell, D (FA - PHX); Michael Nylander, C (FA - NYR); Mike Knuble, RW (FA - PHI); Brian Rolston, C/RW (FA - MIN); Martin Lapointe, C/RW (FA - CHI); Dan McGillis, D (FA - NJ); Andy Delmore, D (FA - DET); Felix Potvin, G (UFA)
Key player unsigned: Nick Boynton, D
Forwards: The B's have the proverbial glut of forwards. They are as deep and solid as anyone down the middle with Joe Thornton, Zhamnov, Scatchard and Travis Green. It's hard to believe Big Joe is only 26, and harder to believe there were thoughts in Beantown of moving him. The year off helps young forwards Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes, Andy Hilbert. With so many capable forwards, it comes as no surprise that wingers Sergei Samsonov and P.J. Axelsson are rumored to be on the trade block as Boston looks to acquire another defenseman or at least to free up salary to help re-sign key restricted free agents.
Defensemen: The blueline has taken hit after hit since the end of the 2003-04 season. Gone are McGillis, O'Donnell and spring-rental Gonchar, three of the top four defensemen in terms of ice time for Boston last season, and the fourth, Boynton, is unsigned. Signing Boynton must be priority #1 for the B's and priority #2 has to be adding defensemen. Leetch is running on fumes at this point in his career. Jonathan Girard will return from injury (he hasn't played since 2002-03) and be counted on to give the team significant minutes. 2003 first-round pick Stuart will get a chance. Still, this team needs to add a defenseman or two.
Goaltenders: Andrew Raycroft won the Calder Trophy as the League's rookie of the year in 2003-04 with a spectacular 2.05 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. With a depleted defensive corps in front of him, the dreaded "sophomore slump" looming, a playoff collapse under his belt, and only 11 games played since the end of 2003-04, the cards are stacked against a repeat performance. Backing up Raycroft will likely be top Finn prospect Hannu Toivonen, who posted monster numbers in AHL Providence in 2004-05. Coincidentally, Toivonen was 29-18-3 with a 2.05 GAA and a .932 SV% for Providence, almost mirroring Raycroft's 29-18-9 with a 2.05 GAA and .926 SV% for Boston in '03-'04. Don't be surprised if Toivonen pushes Raycroft and a goalie controversy emerges in Boston.
Bottom line: The Bruins had the second best record in the Eastern Conference in 2003-04 and a 3-1 series lead over Montreal in their first-round playoff series. Then the collapse - 5-1, 5-2 and 2-0 losses and an early tee time for a team many had picked to go to the Finals. Will that embarrassment steel the B's resolve? Will it always be in Raycroft's head? Last season's team played good defense and got timely goals - the team was towards the top of the League in goals against, but in the middle of the pack in scoring, power play and penalty killing. Barring a trade or two, the 2005-06 incarnation will inevitably take a step backwards. Despite a marginally better offense, the blueline as it stands now, is significantly worse and there will be enormous pressure on Raycroft to carry the team in only his second season. The Bruins are still a playoff team, but not likely a division winner and not a contender for Lord Stanley's Cup unless they sign Boynton and/or otherwise shore up the blueline.
Update (8/30): The Bruins have re-signed defenseman Hal Gill. This certainly helps the blueline.
Update (9/16): The Bruins have re-signed Andrew Raycroft.