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Bruins Season Report Card 2008-2009

OK, the hangover is over. It’s been a little while since the boys in Black & Gold hung up their skates for the season, so it’s time to find out who made the grade.

It was the most successful season in 10 years for the Bruins, but many rightfully feel they didn’t go as far as they should have. Despite their string of injuries (which we later learned of), the Bruins know they should have beaten the Carolina Hurricanes in the Round 2 series. They didn’t, and their season is now over.

After thoughtful analysis of the entire squad, Sports of Boston is rolling out its report card for the 2008-2009 season for your hockey team from the Hub, the Boston Bruins.

Forwards

Marc Savard, C – As the most important player on the first line, Marc Savard had another fine season for the Black & Gold. He led the Bruins with 88 points (25 goals, 63 assists) and finished with a +23 rating. He was also a key asset for the team, playing all 82 games in the regular season and 11 games in the post-season. In the playoffs, Savard notched six goals and seven assists (13 points), which included tallying a point in the final five games of the series against the Hurricanes. He just always seemed to be in the right place at the right time when the Bruins needed him most. Grade: A

David Krejci, C – Krejci was definitely the most improved player on the Bruins, which says a lot, as most of the team stepped up their game in 2008-09. He was a horse, playing all 82 games for the first time in his three-year career. The increased playing time did wonders for his numbers: 22 goals, 51 assists for 73 points. He notched six game-winning goals, and also led the NHL with a beautiful +37 rating. Grade: A-

Phil Kessel, RW – Kessel had his best season as a Bruin in 08-09, tallying a career-best 36 goals with 24 assists (third on the team with 60 points). He reached 36 goals by mainly scoring in bunches, including a late-season flurry that saw him score nine goals over the season’s final eight games, including a hat trick in the season finale against the Islanders. He was somewhat effective in the playoffs, notching six goals and five assists in 11 games, but he only scored two goals (both in Game 5) in the series against the Hurricanes. I still think Kessel has a room in Claude Julien’s dog house, as the forward had mysterious DNPs throughout the season, but it still stands that he’s a fantastic talent and had a great season. Grade: B+

Milan Lucic, LW – OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit biased…I love Milan Lucic. With that now off my chest, I will point out that Lucic doesn’t need my man crush love to earn a passing grade on his Bruins report card. It’s hard to believe he’s still only 20 years old (he turns 21 on June 7) considering how tough he already is. Lucic tallied a team-high 136 penalty minutes in his second full season, but he’s not your typical run-of-the-mill goon. He’s remarkably disciplined, knowing who to fight and when to fight them. Lucic has skill too: 17 goals, 25 assists (42 points). In all, a great second season for a budding star on the Bruins front line. Grade: B+

Michael Ryder, RW – Ryder was signed to score goals, plain and simple. It was also nice the Bruins signed him from the rival Canadiens, but his main objective was to put the puck in the net. But, he got off to a slow start, scoring only five goals in the first two months of the season. He came on strong late, and finished with 27 goals and 26 assists (53 points). In the playoffs, he was very effective, notching a point in nine of the 11 games. Grade: B

Mark Recchi, RW – 41-year-old Mark Recchi had a nice short regular season with the Bruins, getting into 18 games. He scored 10 goals and added six assists (16 points) during his time with the B’s. Four of his goals and four of assists came on the power play, which is one of his specialties. He scored those 10 goals overall on just 32 shots, for a remarkably accurate .313 percentage. He didn’t do much in the first round of the playoffs against the Habs, but improved against the Canes, scoring three goals and notching two assists in the series. Showing his absurd toughness, Recchi played Games 5 & 6 of the Carolina series with a kindey stone, then played Game 7 after undergoing surgery for the stone. He also said he’d like to return to Boston, and we’d like to have him (hell, if Chris Chelios can still play at 47, why not Recchi at 41/42?). Grade: B

Blake Wheeler, RW – One of the many rising young players on the squad, Wheeler had good first season for the B’s. He collected 21 goals and 24 assists and finished with a beautiful +36 rating. He completely disappeared in the playoffs, however, playing only eight of the 11 games (he was a healthy scratch the final three games). He didn’t record a goal or assist and registered just four shots on goal in postseason play. Overall, though, it was a nice rookie season for Wheeler. Grade: B-

Chuck Kobasew, LW – Kobasew had a second straight solid season for the Bruins, but did fall victim to injury, which limited him to 68 games. He tallied 21 goals and 21 assists (42 points) for the year. In the playoffs, Kobasew notched three goals and three assists, playing most of the Carolina series with two broken ribs. He’s a tough player, and you know he’ll be back out for another strong campaign in 2009-10. Grade: C+

Patrice Bergeron, C – Now the team’s third best center, Bergeron had a nice season recovering from his horrific concussion the year before. He notched eight goals and 31 assists (39 points), but missed 18 regular season games mostly due to various injuries. In the playoffs, he didn’t score a goal at all, and needs to work on his scoring touch (he had just one goal his last 27 games overall). One of his biggest strengths is the faceoff, and in Game 7 against the Canes, he went 20-12. Grade: C+

Stephane Yelle, C – Given his expectations (he was the Bruins fourth line center), Yelle had a decent campaign. He finished with seven goals and 11 assists (18 points) in 77 games this season. In the playoffs, Yelle was almost a non-factor, finishing with just one assist in 11 games. Grade: C+

P.J. Axelsson, LW – Dale Arnold once said on WEEI of Axelsson, “He’s just not as bad as everyone thinks he is.” He even likened him to the Celtics’ Brian Scalabrine, but I happen to think Axelsson is a better version of Scal and brings a similar type of game. P.J. is extremely helpful on the defensive end, and is also good in penalty-killing situations. The longest-tenured Bruin, P.J. (6 goals, 24 assists) is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and may not be here next year. Grade: C+

Byron Bitz, RW – Bitz had limited action in the regular season, getting into 35 games. He notched four goals and seven assists (11 points), and it would appear he has a future on one of the Bruins four lines. In the playoffs, Bitz played just five times, but was effective, scoringa goal in Game 7 against the Hurricanes. The future is definitely bright for this 24-year-old. Grade: C+

Shawn Thornton, LW – Thornton, the official team tough guy of the Bruins, had an adequate season overall. He was a reliable cog on the fourth line, and was second on the team with 123 penalty minutes. He didn’t score much, however, as he took 136 shots this year, and only connected on six of them (.044). In the postseason, Thornton notched his first career playoff goal in Game 3 against the Habs, but didn’t do much else. Grade: C

Incomplete Grades – LW Marco Sturm (19 games, injured), C Vladimir Sabotka (25 games, Providence), C Martin St. Pierre (14 games, Providence), C Petteri Nokelainen (33 games, traded), RW Martins Karsums (six games, traded), RW Mikko Lehtonen (1 game, Providence)

Defensemen

Zdeno Chara, D – Coming off off-season shoulder surgery, Chara had a tremendous season for the Bruins, capped off by his Norris Trophy finalist nomination. He finished with 19 goals and 31 assists while anchoring the top defensive line all season. He was a little less effective in the playoffs while worn down by shoulder, knee, and groin injuries. He still managed a goal and three assists in 11 games. Sadly, Chara’s playoff performance will be remembered by his errant pass against the Hurricanes in Game 2, which led to a Matt Cullen goal and a 3-0 loss. All in all, though, Chara had a banner year for the B’s. Grade: A-

Dennis Wideman, D – Wideman played alongside Chara for much of the year, and had a terrific season himself. He, too, notched 50 points (13 goals, 37 assists) and proved to be a valuable puck-mover in the defensive zone (which is more than I can say for some other Bruins defensemen). In the playoffs, Wideman tallied seven assists and a +3 overall rating in 11 games. Grade: B+

Matt Hunwick, D – When he played, Hunwick was very solid for the B’s. But, he only played in 53 games in his second overall season in the NHL. In that limited time, Hunwick recorded six goals and 21 assists (27 points). He was invisible in the playoffs, literally, playing in only one game overall. Had he been healthy all year, one has to wonder what could have been. Grade: B

Mark Stuart, D – Stuart played whenever called upon and was able to stay remarkably healthy (82 games). Back by his durability, Stuart finished with five goals and 12 assists (17 points) and a pretty +20 rating. He played all 11 games in the playoffs too, finishing with an assist and a +5 rating. Grade: B

Andrew Ference, D – Just like Hunwick, Ference was really good when he was able to play for the B’s. He got in 47 games, getting one goal and 15 assists with a +7 rating. The Bruins really needed Ference’s puck-moving ability in the playoffs, but he was limited to just three games in the Carolina series due to injury (torn groin, bruised pelvis). OUCH. Grade: B-

Aaron Ward, D – Ward will be most remembered for taking a sucker punch from Scott Walker in the Carolina series, and that’s too bad because it clouds an otherwise good campaign. During the regular season, Ward got into 65 games and notched three goals and seven assists (10 points) with a +16 rating. In the playoffs, he talled one goal and a +4 rating, playing some big minutes on D with injuries to Hunwick and Ference. Grade: B-

Shane Hnidy, D – In the regular season, Hnidy was serviceable. You wouldn’t trust him too much with the puck, but otherwise he was pretty reliable, as he played 65 games and finished with totals of three goals and nine assists (12 points). Perhaps it was unfair to Hnidy that he was pressed into action due to injuries of other defensemen (Hunwick, Ference) in the playoffs, but Hnidy wasn’t as effective as need be. He played some big minutes, finishing with a goal and a -1 rating overall in postseason play. Grade: C

Steve Montador, D – Acquired at the trade deadline to help bolster the defensive unit, Montador certainly had his moments in Black & Gold. In 13 regular season games with the B’s, Montador tallied a point and a +3 rating. In the playoffs, he stepped up when needed, tallying a goal and two assists with a +5 rating in 11 games. I wouldn’t trust him to take the puck from blue line to blue line, but Montador proved adequate on the defensive end. Grade: C

Incomplete Grades – D Matt Lashoff (16 games, traded), Johnny Boychuk (1 game, Providence)

Goaltenders

Tim Thomas, G – What can you say bad about Thomas’s season? He wasn’t perfect, but he was about as good as any other goalie in the NHL. Despite starting just 54 games, Thomas notched a career-best 36 wins, five of them coming via the shutout. He led the NHL with a 2.10 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. He started all 11 games in the playoffs, and was a brick wall, going 7-4 with a stingy 1.85 GAA and a .935 SV%. What more could you ask for from the future 2008-2009 Vezina Trophy¬†winner? Grade: A+

Manny Fernandez, G – Part of the reason Thomas was so good was that he was so well-rested, and it’s easy to rest one of the best goalies in the NHL when you have a backup as good as Manny Fernandez. He started 27 games during the season, finishing with a 16-8-3 record with a shutout. He notched a 2.59 GAA and a .910 SV% during the regular season, and didn’t play¬†a minute in the playoffs. A free agent, Fernandez will likely move on to another squad to make way for Tuukka Rask as the B’s top backup. Grade: B+

Tuukka Rask, G – Yes, I know he played only one game, but his performance was so memorable, it deserves mention on the report card. In late January, Rask was called up to fill in for the injured Manny Fernandez and give Tim Thomas a rest. Rask finished that game against the Rangers with 35 saves and his first NHL shutout in just his fourth career start, to help the Bruins win 1-0. With Fernandez likely gone for next season, Rask will move in as the backup goalie and netminder of the future. Grade for the one game: A+

Coaching

Claude Julien – Let’s take a look at some numbers involving the runaway Coach of the Year, Claude Julien.

  • Bruins record in 2005-2006 under (gulp) Mike Sullivan: 29-37-16.
  • Bruins record in 2006-2007 under (gulp) Dave Lewis: 35-41-6.
  • Bruins record in 2007-2008 under Claude Julien: 41-29-12, loss in first round against Canadiens
  • Bruins record in 2008-2009 under Claude Julien: 53-19-10, loss in second round against Hurricanes

Notice a trend here? The best way to analyze a coach is how much better he makes his team. Looking at the last four years, with the horrible Mike Sullivan and Dave Lewis eras included, Julien shines above them with a strong 94-48-22 record in two seasons with the team. He’s brought along young players slowly, and put them in situations where they cant hurt themselves or the team. He also has a good grasp of how to handle the enigmatic Phil Kessel, which will only help Kessel’s development. I would’ve loved to have seen Julien bring this club to the Stanley Cup Finals, but I’ll take a steady improvement if it means we’ll see this team hoist Lord Stanley in the near future. Grade: A

Front Office

Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely – The Front Office, headed by GM Peter Chiarelli, has done a fantastic job in completely rebuilding the Bruins since the lockout. They signed two core players in Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard, and further built the team through the draft and creative trades. This past off-season, Chiarelli made a pretty good signing in Michael Ryder (27 goals), who came in and contributed down the stretch. The club also traded for Mark Recchi and Steve Montador at the deadline, and both helped the Bruins surge toward the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins didn’t make it all the way, but they had the talent to do it, and that’s Chiarelli’s job. Oh, and he won the NHL’s Executive of the Year Award, too. Grade: A

Overall Season Grade

The Bruins had a remarkable season and pretty much dominated the Eastern Conference from start to finish. They had the best goalie (Tim Thomas), the best coach (Claude Julien), and the best general manager (Peter Chiarelli). They had a 35-goal scorer in Phil Kessel, and they had the perfect mix of youth and experience to help carry them to the No. 1 Seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

But, unfortunately, they fell well short of what they should have accomplished. This team was a Stanley Cup contender, but instead they fell in the second round to the Hurricanes, who subsequently were swept by the Penguins in the next round. The B’s battled through a plethora of injuries late in the year, and eventually succumbed to them.

The Bruins have something to prove next season. They have to show that they are indeed a Stanley Cup contender. As long as Chiarelli can keep the main core intact, this should be a dangerous team for many years to come. Grade: A-

About KC Downey - @kc_downey

KC is the "head coach" of the Sports of Boston, LLC blog network. Follow him on Twitter: @kc_downey

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