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Boston Bruins: An Uncertain New Chapter

Oct 5, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Boston Bruins celebrates the goal by Boston Bruins center Matthew Poitras (51) against the New York Rangers during the third at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Bruins ran roughshod over the entire NHL last season before things came to a screeching halt in a first-round playoff loss to the Florida Panthers. In the offseason, the Bruins lost their first-line center and captain, their second-line center, and all three of their trade deadline acquisitions. The Bruins have a ton of talent at key positions, but have more question marks going into this season than in any season in recent memory.

Key Additions

The Bruins added a ton of new faces in the offseason, though none of their free agent signings really qualifies as a big splash. Most of their additions came in the form of bargain shopping depth on defense or in bottom-six forward roles.

New (or returning for a second stint) Bruins include James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Geekie, Milan Lucic, Patrick Brown, and Kevin Shattenkirk.

They also should have several to-be-confirmed “additions” in the form of young players making the jump to the NHL. Forward Johnny Beecher and defenseman Mason Lohrei are the two most likely candidates.

Key Subtractions

While the Bruins’ offseason additions were minor, their offseason subtractions were huge. The most notable is the retirement of captain and franchise cornerstone Patrice Bergeron, who remained at the very top of his game until the very end.

As if losing your number-one center isn’t bad enough, the Bruins also lost their number-two center, with David Krejci joining Bergeron in retirement. Along with being a tough blow on the ice, the loss of Bergeron and Krejci carries an emotional gut punch as well, both guys having been a key part of so many great Bruins teams over the past 20 years.

The Bruins were also forced into a salary dump trade that saw Taylor Hall sent to the Chicago Blackhawks, leaving a hole on the third line. In addition, the Bruins saw all three of their trade deadline acquisitions head elsewhere: Tyler Bertuzzi, Dmitry Orlov, and Garnet Hathaway all skipped town after brief stays.

Strengths for the Boston Bruins

Goaltending

The Bruins will return their Jennings-winning tandem of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman this season. While some regression from last season’s eye-popping performances is expected (particularly for Ullmark), the Ullmark-Swayman tandem should remain among the league’s best.

Defense

The loss of Bergeron’s three-zone prowess will certainly hurt, but the Bruins are built on team-wide defense and responsibility that shouldn’t completely collapse without him. The B’s have two elite defensemen in Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm, along with a reliable (if understated) defensive defenseman in Brandon Carlo.

High-end talent

While the departures listed above certainly hurt, the Bruins still have top-tier talent at key positions. David Pastrnak is among the league’s best pure scorers. Brad Marchand is an elite two-way forward. The talent on the blue line and in the crease was discussed above. This isn’t a team of “some guys” slapped together and tagged with a spoked-B.

Weaknesses for the Boston Bruins

Center

If you lose your two best centers in the same offseason, you’re going to be a little light when the next season rolls around. Simply put, the Bruins did not replace (or even really attempt to replace) Bergeron or Krejci. Instead, they promoted from within, hoping some combination of Pavel Zacha, Charlie Coyle, Trent Frederic, and maybe Johnny Beecher can fill the roles. It’s quite a gamble.

Depth scoring

As mentioned above, the Bruins added plenty of depth guys to the forward corps this offseason. The problem is a ton of goals and points went out the door when Bergeron, Krejci, and Hall left. It’s hard to see exactly where those goals and points are going to come from. In the best case scenario, the injection of new faces and youth goes extremely well and the Bruins have three scoring lines. In the worst case scenario, goals are hard to come by outside of Pastrnak’s line.

Unknowns

Sure, you rarely have any real certainties going into an NHL season – but the Bruins are taking an awful lot “hopefully…” risks heading into this season. Hopefully Zacha can elevate his game, hopefully Coyle can play a bigger role, hopefully the new guys gel, hopefully the young guys can hang…a lot of things need to go right for this to work.

Biggest Questions for the Boston Bruins This Season

We covered most of them in the weaknesses above, but there are plenty:

  • Can Zacha and Coyle hang as your top-two centers?
  • Can the Bruins’ team defense survive Bergeron’s departure?
  • Who will pick up the slack when it comes to secondary scoring?
  • Is there enough talent and reliability on the blue line behind McAvoy, Lindholm, and Carlo?
  • Can the Bruins hang in there in a difficult Atlantic Division?

Star Players for the Boston Bruins

While the Bruins lost a star in Bergeron, they still have plenty of bright spots in the lineup:

Pastrnak is the star man among the forward corps, coming off of a 61-goal regular season. The Bruins will need him to be productive again this season, especially with question marks further down the lineup.

Marchand, the team’s new captain, remains an elite two-way forward who is a terror to play against.

McAvoy continues to improve and is among the league’s best all-around defensemen. He may not put up the flashy point totals of other guys, but he does everything so well and still hasn’t hit his ceiling.

Lindholm gets overshadowed a bit by McAvoy, but he has blossomed into the exact defenseman the Bruins were hoping for when they acquired him from the Anaheim Ducks.

Finally, Ullmark is a star in his own right, and Swayman isn’t far behind.

Any lineup that features that many stars should be able to do some damage.

Under-the-Radar Player Who Will Have a Big Impact

He may not qualify as under-the-radar due to the obvious importance of his new role, but Zacha may be the most important player heading into the season.

Whether he’s technically your top or number-two center will depend on which line you consider your “first” line, but Zacha will be vitally important regardless. The Bruins hoped Zacha would take a step forward last season when they acquired him from New Jersey; he responded with a career year. Now, however, the pressure to perform in a top-two center role will be significant, and the Bruins don’t have a ton of fall-back options. If Zacha can build on last season’s growth, the Bruins will be fine. If he struggles in the expanded role, there will be trouble.

Key Young Player for the Bruins this Season

This one remains fluid, as a few different guys could fill this role depending on the roster decisions the Bruins make.

Matt Poitras, a 19-year-old center selected in the second round of the 2022 draft, has had an excellent preseason — but his status as a “NHL or juniors” player due to his age made the Bruins’ decision a little tougher. With Poitras on the roster, he’ll give the Bruins a speedy, dynamic option at center, something they desperately need.

Johnny Beecher, the Bruins’ first-round pick in 2019, appears set to make an NHL impact this season. He had a strong preseason and seems like he’d be a great fit on the fourth line.

If Beecher can lay claim to that 4C spot, it will give Jim Montgomery some flexibility elsewhere in the lineup.


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