The big bad Bruins came into the postseason as serious Cup contenders. They finally had built a great second line and their goaltending was strong. They look amazing in their first round romp of the Capitals. But after a second round loss to the Islanders, a list of weaknesses were apparent for GM Don Sweeney to fix. He has improved the team’s depth, both offensively and defensively, But as the offseason comes to a close, the team still has one glaring problem left.
Offseason additions: G Linus Ullmark, F Nick Foligno, F Erik Haula, F Tomas Nosek, D Derek Forbert.
Offseason subtractions: F David Krejci, G Tuukka Rask, F Sean Kuraly, F Nick Ritchie, D Jeremy Lauzon, G Jaroslav Halak, F Ondrej Kase, G Dan Bladar, D Jarred Tinordi, D Kevan Miller, D Steven Kampfer.
The good news is that the Bruins still have the best line in hockey, all of which are still on their amazing, cheap contracts. Patrice Bergeron is a year away from free agency. He will probably return to Boston but the main worry would be the jump from his $6.8 million cap hit. Bergeron had another great season on both ends of the ice. He netted 23 goals with 48 points in 54 games, while winning over 62 percent of face-offs and finishing second in Selke voting. He has won the award four times and has been a finalist in every season since 2011-12. It feels weird to say that David Pastrnak is two years from unrestricted free agency. After winning the Rocket Richard Trophy with 48 goals in 2019-20, Pastrnak scoring just 20 in 48 games felt like a disappointment. He was still a point-per-game player, one that saw his shooting percentage dip by six. Brad Marchand has the cheapest deal of the three and the one with the longest term remaining, at four years. Marchand’s 29 goals, 40 assists, and 69 points all led the team. Only Pastrnak, Bergeron, and David Krejci had more point than Marchand had assists. Overall, Marchand was third in the league in points, behind the two ridiculous Oilers. After posting a hellish 2.3 shooting percentage over 37 games in Buffalo, the Bruins bought low on Taylor Hall. The former Hart winner proceeded to score eight goals with 14 points in 16 regular season games. His five points in 11 playoff games was a bit disappointing, but the Bruins still rewarded Hall with a new four year contract. Craig Smith was the team’s big free agent signing from before 2020-21. He rewarded the Bruins by becoming a solid second-line winger as he scored 13 goals with 19 assists. You can pencil in Hall and Smith together, but who comes between them is more up in the air after Krejci went back home to the Czech Republic. Charlie Coyle is the favorite, but he took a massive step back as the third-line center in 2020-21. Coyle scored just six goals with 16 points. He was fit for the role in 2019-20 but time will tell if he still is. The alternative to Coyle is Erik Haula, who is more fit for the third line. Haula scored 21 points as a Predator last year. His face-off percentage was over 55. Veteran and former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno has made his way up to Boston. The Bruins won’t overrate Foligno like other teams may have, and will stick him on the third line. Foligno scored just seven times with 20 points in 49 games last year. He has just 34 goals over the past three seasons. Still, Foligno brings the physicality and leadership that is valuable for a third liner. It seemed like a pretty safe bet that the Bruins would move on from Jake DeBrusk this offseason, but he’s still here. Two years removed from a 27 goal season, DeBrusk netted just five in 2020-21, along with nine assists for 14 points in 41 games. He is still 24 and his shooting percentage fell off a cliff, so all is not lost yet. Coming in from Vegas is Tomas Nosek, who showed last year that he can be a solid fourth liner. Nosek’s 18 points in 38 games last year along with time on the penalty kill would have been great for Boston last season. The Bruins will give Trent Frederic a good chance to start this season. The former first rounder scored just four goals in 42 games in 2020-21, but is a very physical threat who had 65 penalty minutes. If Frederic and Nosek take two fourth line spots, then the third is up for grabs. Curtis Lazar is a very good defensive player and scored seven goals last year. Chris Wagner has been with the Bruins for longer but is not exactly an analytical darling. Karson Kuhlman can be a middle-six right winger if someone goes down, but scored just twice in 20 games last year.
This is really the Charlie McAvoy section, as he carried the d-core last year. He is great at both ends of the ice and finished fifth in Norris voting while putting up 30 points. McAvoy will be a restricted free agent after the season, where he should get absolutely paid. Matt Grzelcyk settled into McAvoy’s long-term defensive partner despite playing in just 37 games. He had his best offensive season yet, with 20 points for a 44 point pace. The Bruins gave Brandon Carlo a six-year extension despite having injury concerns. Carlo played in just 27 games in the regular season then missed time in the playoffs, with head injuries being the source of missed time in both occasions. When healthy, he’s a fine second-pairing defender. Boston gave Mike Reilly and Derek Forbort matching three year deals with a $3 million AAV despite there being a big difference in quality between the two. Reilly came over from Ottawa at the deadline and was a big power play threat while posting eight assists in 15 games. Forbort is a capable enough third-pairing defensive defender. He spent last year with the Jets, which was where defenders went to die. He has over 100 blocked shots in all four of his full NHL seasons. Seattle opted to take Jeremy Lauzon over Connor Clifton, keeping the right-handed shot in Boston. He solidified his role on the third-pairing and will now have to adjust with a new partner. Jakub Zboril, a 2015 first-rounder, played in 42 games during his rookie season last year. He posted nine assists. With Reilly and Forbort in the fold, it will be hard for Zboril to break into the left side of the defense.
You may have notice Tuukka Rask’s name as one of the subtractions this offseason. As of this writing, Rask has not been brought back by Boston. They are expected to re-sign Rask, although he will be out until at least January. They brought in Linus Ullmark, who managed to put up decent numbers in Buffalo, which is saying something. His .917 save percentage in 2020-21 was a career high. Rookie Jeremy Swayman impressed during a short stint in the NHL. Swayman played in 10 games, posting a 1.50 GAA with a .945 save percentage.
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Taylor Hall – Charlie Coyle – Craig Smith
Nick Foligno – Erik Haula – Jake DeBrusk
Trent Frederic – Tomas Nosek – Curtis Lazar
Extras: Chris Wagner, Karson Kuhlman
Matt Grzelcyk – Charlie McAvoy
Mike Reilly – Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort – Connor Clifton
Extras: Jakub Zboril
The Bruins improved their depth, but everything was not a boost. For the first time in years, they need a second-line center. They also need Swayman to be the real deal, while Rask could be done in Boston. There are questions, which could easily push the Bruins down in the standings. Despite a fourth place finish, I think they will make the wild card.