Optimism in the hockey world is usually never higher than it is on the first day of NHL training camp.
That’s as it should be with players rested and at their peak health after a summer of healing and recharging the batteries. Certainly the Boston Bruins should feel good after hitting the playoffs for the third straight season last spring and then marching all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final before falling painfully short of their ultimate goal.
Given all of that, expectations will be high for the Black and Gold as NHL training camp gets underway on Thursday with fitness testing and physicals. There will be expectations of another deep run into the postseason and another great year from players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
But the reality headed into this NHL training camp is that it could be a rough few months, if not a difficult entire season, for the Bruins hot on the heels of a bitterly disappointing postseason. It’s all setting up to a challenging training camp with unsigned restricted RFA defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo both holding out to start.
On top of that, fellow defensemen Kevan Miller (fractured kneecap) and John Moore (shoulder surgery) are busy recovering from last season’s injury aftermath. That means there’s a realistic scenario that Connor Clifton, Steve Kampfer and a youngster like Urho Vaakanainen could be the entire right side of Boston’s defense to start the season.
That’s a massive cause for concern.
Then there’s 42-year-old Zdeno Chara and 34-year-old Patrice Bergeron still recovering from lingering health issues related to last spring’s Stanley Cup Final run as well.
Even some of the healthy players have their own issues to deal with. Playmaking D-man Torey Krug is coming off arguably the best season of his career, but has questions in his mind about his future in Boston when he hasn’t had any contract extension discussions entering the final year of his deal. David Backes is an influential, important person in the Bruins dressing room, and the 34-year-old was a healthy scratch in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his former St. Louis Blues team followed by a summer of uncertainty.
These are all significant loose ends to be tied up to start this season, and it doesn’t even mention the Stanley Cup Final hangover or the big time competition in the form of rivals Toronto and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division. It’s all primed to be a challenging start to the season for the Bruins that will start with them shaking off last season’s bitter end.
That’s something Bruce Cassidy wants to put to bed early.
“We talked about [Game 7] today. It’s time to turn the page. It’s time to move on,” said Bruce Cassidy, on the first day of B’s training camp. “I hope they feel the same way. You look at our veteran group. We’ve got Stanley Cup champs, we’ve got gold medalists and guys that have been captains in the NHL. [We have] future Hall of Famers.
“We have very good hockey players and we know what’s at stake when the puck drops. There were a lot of good things last year, but we didn’t reach our ultimate goal. So we’re no different than St. Louis or Ottawa if you take both ends of the spectrum. It’s a new year and every team is starting from scratch and we’re no different. We’ve got a lot of good returning players with some new guys added to the mix, and some young guys that will hopefully push [for jobs]. That’s what we’re focused on to get into the same position as last year.”
It remains to be seen how all of these factors are going to play out for the Bruins.
But B’s fans might want to express some patience with a Bruins hockey club that broke their collective hearts just a couple of months ago. It looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride to start for the Black and Gold with injuries, salary cap issues and heightened expectations all conspiring to make things difficult for them.
The hope has to be that enough of the loose ends can be tied up by the middle of the season, and that the Bruins aren’t too far behind their usual pace in an Atlantic Division that’s getting better and better each season.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.