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Five Burning Questions At Start Of Boston Bruins Camp

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BRIGHTON, MA – With Boston Bruins training camp now underway, it’s the time for storylines and narratives to begin to take hold, impressions made with the new B’s coaching staff and at the end of it all a roster that will be ready to start the regular season less than a month from now. So with that in mind, here’s five burning questions facing the entire Boston Bruins squad as they enter a season with significant challenges, important changes and the same old expectations with an experienced, talented group.

1) Who is going to step up with Brad Marchand, Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy out until at least November? This is really the most significant development for the Boston Bruins and everybody has known about it since the summertime when Marchand got both his hips done, and both McAvoy and Grzelcyk went under the knife for shoulder surgery. The good news is that Grzelcyk will be back in the opening days of November, but it’s going to be a few weeks afterward for Boston’s top left winger and No. 1 defenseman. So what’s going to happen while they are gone? Pavel Zacha will be the first to get a shot at Marchand’s left wing spot as the Boston Bruins put him alongside Patrice Bergeron to get an indoctrination into the Bruins way of doing things. Zacha isn’t going to score at the same clip as Marchand, obviously, but perhaps skating on Bergeron’s left side will get him into more of an attack mindset after being less assertive with his shot in the past.

“He plays the game the right way,” Bergeron said. “He’s always well-positioned. He’s got a great shot. Even from talking to him, he wants to become a shoot-first mentality a little bit more than what he’s had in the past.”

On defensive Hampus Lindholm is obviously going to pick up a lot of extra minutes with McAvoy out and play in all situations, and Brandon Carlo will eventually step into that top pair spot during camp keeping the seat warm until McAvoy can return. Mike Reilly will step into Grzelcyk’s spot while the Bruins look at Jakub Zboril and Connor Clifton as possible right wing candidates, and Jack Ahcan will certainly get an extended look as well given where he’s at in his Boston Bruins development track at this point. The bottom line, though, is that the Bruins will be missing arguably their best overall player and their best two puck movers for a significant portion of the start to the season. That’s going to be a big test early.

2) Will Fabian Lysell crack the opening night lineup? The 19-year-old former first round pick rolls into training camp with some good momentum from his performance at World Juniors and last week’s rookie camp in Buffalo. With that in mind, the Boston Bruins have slotted him on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Zacha to start training camp and really want to get a look at what the dynamic, skilled Lysell can bring to the table right away. It’s obvious he has details to iron out in his game and that he’ll need to get stronger for the puck battles along the wall as David Pastrnak also did at the same stage of his career, but there’s also a line of thinking that they could really use his offensive ability early in the season with Marchand on the shelf until Thanksgiving. It will all come down to how close he is to being a finished product as the preseason rolls out and he’ll certainly get his chances early in training camp to make an impression, but the safe bet here is that he’ll wind up in Providence to start the season to round out some of the edges to his game. But the future is bright with this guy as one of Boston’s top prospects is coming close to being NHL ready

3) Will David Pastrnak sign a new contract with the Boston Bruins before the start of the regular season? This will be the ongoing dramatic backdrop during the preseason for as long as it plays out. Pastrnak said all the right things when he rolled into Boston and looks primed and ready to have a massive season for the Black and Gold in the walk year of his contract. Does he truly believe Boston is his home and where he wants to stay as he indicated, or is there an element of Pastrnak wanting to see how this season plays out with a new coaching staff and a changing roster before he inks a massive eight-year deal with the team? Does Pastrnak want to be the highest paid player on the team eclipsing $10 million per season, and do the Boston Bruins want to keep all their players under the $10 million mark as the Tampa Bay Lightning have managed to do while going on serious Cup runs with their core group? As we’re illustrating here, there is definitely some burning questions with Pastrnak and they’re just going to get deeper and more intensive if they carry over into the regular season without a done deal.

“I don’t think there’s a concern,” Sweeney said when asked if there would be any issues with contract negotiations rolling into the season. “David would be the only one to ideally speak to that. In a perfect world, as we’ve referenced, to try and be aggressive to have him signed long-term as a lifelong Bruin has always been our goal. David shed a little light on where he was at personally. We respected that and had conversations. I’m going to continue to have conversations.

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“I’d ideally like to get it done at the earliest point possible. Hopefully he feels the exact same way and his camp. That’s what our goal is.” If that happens then Boston Bruins fans are going to get some Johnny Gaudreau vibes with everything that’s going done at the bargaining table.

4) How long can the “softer” side of Jim Montgomery last as the new Boston Bruins coaching staff gets going? Clearly the Boston Bruins players were ready for a different voice and a different delivery system for the messaging from the coaching staff and that played a major role in the decision to fire Bruce Cassidy and bring in new head coach Jim Montgomery. Several veteran Boston Bruins players said earlier this week that they expect a bit of a softer approach from the new coaching staff when it comes to dealing with the younger players. That’s all well and good if those younger players are performing, but what happens if Jake DeBrusk falls into bad habits of the past or Brandon Carlo’s game continues to regress as it has at times over the last couple of seasons. What then? Everybody wants to talk about the defensemen being more involved offensively and the Boston Bruins taking more risks to join the rush this season, and that should be a discernible difference in their overall offensive approach.

“It’s not a huge philosophical shift,” said Sweeney. “It’s just a little more of a willingness to have some mobility, to have some motion. There’s a tradeoff. How much tradeoff? What’s the downside of the burp at the offensive blue line that leads to an outnumbered chance? That’s what we’re going to have to weigh through. I don’t think it will be caution to the wind with any of our defensemen.”

But this humble hockey writer’s guess is that the soft touch will quickly go away if things aren’t going well even if it’s already very clear that Montgomery is going to be much less critical of players publicly than Cassidy was during his five plus seasons behind the Boston bench.

5) How quickly will a trade come for the Boston Bruins to create needed salary cap space when Marchand, McAvoy and Grzelcyk return? There have been whispers about Boston Bruins players like Craig Smith, Mike Reilly and even Connor Clifton potentially out on the trade market with the B’s in need of cap space once they get healthy, or perhaps even a move to slide Nick Foligno down to Providence if things got really desperate a few months into the season. That would be a last resort for this Boston Bruins team, though, given the respect for Foligno and the relative lack of cap savings that a move like that would encompass. The prediction here: Once the Boston Bruins get healthy on the back end, it could be Reilly’s time to move on to his fourth organization after stints with Minnesota, Montreal and Ottawa prior to coming to Boston. If one of the younger wingers like Lysell, Oskar Steen or Jack Studnicka pops, then perhaps Smith might be the guy to move based on his relative trade value around the league and the $3 million in savings the B’s could get with a deal. Either way, Don Sweeney has painted himself into a bit of a corner with his roster building where a move will need to happen when the LTIR situation clears up a month from now.

Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston, WEEI.com, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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Mrbruin4

Pretty much all the playoff teams have some sort of cap issues heading into the season. Boston is no different

Rick W Murray

My only question up Til now, is how in gods name does Sweeney still have job?!?!

Kevin L

I have the same ‘burning question’ today that I had months ago —
why are Sweeney & Neely still there??

Mrbruin4

I am Mrbruin4 in numbers to big to ignore. My knowledge of the bruins exceeds most sports writers. Go ahead ask me a question make it tough.

Steve R.

Don t waste time playing 12,17,93,14, in exhibition games.Play all the young players and evaluate them.You already know that those guys are limited1

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