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Welcome to our 2022-23 Preview series. In each article we’ll be focusing on a different team, reviewing how they did last season, what their summer has been like, and what their outlook is for the 2022-23 campaign.
We’ve already covered the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Tampa Bay Lightning so we’ll continue our look at the Atlantic Division today by examining the Boston Bruins.
2021-22 Season in Review
It would have been an over exaggeration to say that the Boston Bruins were beginning a new chapter in 2021-22, but the team was without some of its long-time members. Tuukka Rask, at least at the start of the season, wasn’t a member of the team and the Bruins were prepared to move on with the combination of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman in net. Meanwhile, David Krejci was gone, opting instead to play far closer to home with Olomouc HC in the Czech league.
Still, the Bruins didn’t lack for talent. Neither Ullmark nor Swayman were star goaltenders, but they combined to be a solid tandem. Up front, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron were as effective as ever. Marchand had 32 goals and 80 points while Pastrnak finished with 40 goals and 77 points in 72 contests. Bergeron didn’t quite match them offensively, scoring 25 goals and 65 points in 73 games, but what little he lacked offensively, he vastly made up for defensively. Bergeron finished first in Selke Trophy voting and it was a well-deserved award.
Boston also had their first full season of Taylor Hall, who scored 20 goals and 61 points in 81 games. He definitely helped, but even with his presence, the second line was something of an ongoing concern for the Bruins. Boston was a middle-of-the-road team offensively with 3.09 goals per game, and a lot of that can be attributed to mediocre offensive depth despite their star power.
All the same, the Bruins cruised along throughout the season. They posted a 51-26-5 record and did not suffer their first and only three-game losing streak until April 10-14. Tuukka Rask’s brief return only to retire after four starts because of his hip issues and Jake DeBrusk’s trade request in November that went unfulfilled did mark difficult sections of the Bruins season, but overall everything went well for Boston. Clearly Boston was still a good team, the only remaining question was if they were good enough.
Boston had the 10th best record in the NHL, but because of the stacked nature of the Atlantic Division, they were a Wild Card team and forced to play the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. Boston certainly made a series of it, pushing the Hurricanes to seven games. Marchand was particularly good, scoring four goals and 11 points over the series. However, Ullmark struggled mightily in net in the first two games of the series, putting Boston behind out of the gate. Swayman took over and held his own, but the Bruins were ultimately eliminated in the first round.
How has their summer gone?
At the time of writing, I can’t pass judgment. The Boston Bruins are hoping to lure back Krejci and re-sign Bergeron, who is currently an unrestricted free agent. If they can succeed on both fronts, then their summer will have been a success. If they can only sign one of the two, then it’s a wash, and if both walk away then this will go down as one of the most difficult summers in recent memory for Boston.
That’s especially because other than the intrigue with Bergeron and Krejci, this has been an uneventful summer for the Bruins. They acquired Pavel Zacha from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Erik Haula. But they didn’t lure any significant free agents and the Zacha trade is the only noteworthy one they’ve made since March.
At least they haven’t lost any major players either, with the possible exception of Bergeron. Even DeBrusk has rescinded his trade request, so the Bruins don’t have to deal with that anymore.
Really, the single biggest change so far has been the Bruins surprise firing of head coach Bruce Cassidy, who was replaced by Jim Montgomery.
Again, how the Krejci and Bergeron situations play out will influence the Bruins outlook, but even if they get both of them, Boston looks like a team on the decline. Bergeron recently turned 37 and Krejci is 36, so whether or not they decide to return to Boston, age is increasingly becoming a factor for them.
Another key member of their core, Marchand, turned 34 in May and Hall will be 31 in November. The Bruins have some younger players too, like Swayman, who is just 23, and the leader of their blueline, Charlie McAvoy, is only 24. However, whether it’s this year or in the near future, Boston is going to need some high- end forwards to fill in the gap from those who are approaching retirement and it’s not clear that they’ll be able to do so.
To make matters more complicated, Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs has made his opposition to the idea of Boston rebuilding quite clear, but in the cap era we haven’t seen much in the way of successful examples of a team managing to avoid such a process indefinitely without being dragged out of the playoffs for a prolonged stretch either by design or against their will.
So, is the latter the fate of the Bruins? Well consider that Marchand had double hip surgery and is expected to miss the first two months of the season, Matt Grzelcyk had shoulder surgery and probably won’t be available until November, and McAvoy underwent shoulder surgery that will probably sideline him until December.
Combine that with the additions the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings made this summer and the Bruins’ hold on a playoff spot in the difficult Atlantic Division looks significantly less secure than it was last year. They can’t be dismissed though. Boston still has a solid group that knows how to win and while Ottawa and Detroit have closed the gap some, both teams have significant question marks of their own and might not be quite playoff ready yet.
I would still consider the Bruins likely to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division next season, but the battle for a Wild Card spot will be a fight that might not be decided until the final week or two of the campaign.