Our Boston Bruins 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
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The reign of the Boston Bruins still continues. At the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, Boston sat atop the NHL with 100 points (44-14-12 record). They finished 7th overall in goals for (227), 1st overall in goals against (167), 2nd in powerplay percentage (25.22%) and 3rd in penalty kill percentage (84.19). Needless to say, this team is an absolute force and even though it is a little bit out of date at this point (written back in May 2019), my previous post about Why the Boston Bruins are so Damn Good still rings true.
That all being said, the theme for the Bruins this past offseason was a shake-up on their defense that may be the signal that things will start to change in Boston. The main outgoing player was Torey Krug leaving in free agency, which has created a massive hole in their top-4. Second, team captain and longtime Bruin Zdeno Chara is not getting any younger and remains unsigned at the time of posting, with reports that Chara and the Bruins are not close on a new deal.
The overarching themes here are players aging out of a productive spot on the team or players leaving for opportunity elsewhere. David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Tuukka Rask are all into their early-mid thirties and that is typically when production starts to diminish.
Make no mistake, the Bruins will still be a good team. Next season, at least. But they are now hitting a stage where they have to rely on unproven or inconsistent players to come in and fill roles left by those who depart the team for whatever reasons. Some of these players arrive via trade, such as Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie, and others are highly ranked prospects, like Urho Vaakanainen and Jack Studnicka. And since the Bruins have been a good team for many years, the prospect pool can be a little shallow at times.
Some of these players may not be the safest of bets to fill new roles, either. Ondrej Kase is perpetually on the “soon-to-breakout players” lists but can never get there due to injury troubles. Nick Ritchie is a consistently underperforming prospect who finds himself in on-ice disciplinary troubles fairly regularly. With it expected that David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand will miss the start of the 2020-21 season recovering from surgeries, the Bruins may be in tough trying to piece together replacements, however temporary they may be.
Enjoy it while it lasts, Bruins fans, they may have jumped the shark these past couple seasons.
Kevan Miller (returning from injury)
Boston Bruins Roster Overview
Not much will change in the top-6 for Boston’s fowards once the season gets underway. As mentioned, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand are expected to miss time while recovering from injury, but once they are back there is no doubt they will be reunited with Patrice Bergeron to reform what is perennially one of the best lines and most utilized lines in the NHL.
They are most certainly followed by David Krejci and Jake Debrusk, though this is where the lineup shuffle begins as there are many candidates to start filling these holes. Newly signed Craig Smith is a personal favourite, as he is a good fit for the Bruins style of play but can also contribute offensively as a regular 20-goal scorer. Charlie Coyle would be a good fit in the middle of the forward lineup as well, though the team would probably like him playing a bit higher up in the lineup than the third line with his $5.2 million cap hit.
The Bruins’ bottom-6 is where the uncertainty begins. They have a mixture of offensive potential and physicality. Guys like Kase, Anders Bjork, and Sean Kuraly are supposed to bring some depth scoring but are not the most reliable in that regard. Others, like Nick Ritchie, Greg McKegg, and Chris Wagner, are there to provide the trademark Bruins physical play, but occasionally struggle with discipline and getting hemmed in their own zone.
There will likely be a lot of lineup shuffling and highly inconsistent lines while Bruce Cassidy figures out what will work as the team has a lot of evenly matched options for filling out the bottom half of the forward lines. Unfortunately, they may be destined to a rough start to the season until Pastrnak and Marchand return.
The Bruins used to have an intimidating top-4 on defense. Scary, even, like the bear in their Reverse Retro jersey.
Now, with Torey Krug in St. Louis and Zdeno Chara likely not sticking around, that same group looks a lot easier to beat. Looking beyond just the quality of the players that are leaving the organization, it is also important to consider the leadership and identity that has left as well. Chara had been in Boston for 14 seasons as leader of the defense and team captain, with Torey Krug picking some of that role up as Chara began to wind down his duties. Now, someone on this defense will need to pick up that role and quick to help form some sense of cohesion and unity in that group.
It is going to be Charlie McAvoy’s time to shine. He has sort of been in Torey Krug’s shadow for a couple of seasons but as McAvoy, who will be 23 when the season starts, hits the beginning of his prime years as a defender, the Bruins need him more than ever to step into the spotlight. McAvoy’s offense will be one main area that will be looked to for improvement. His career high of 32 points is a bit shy of the 50 that Krug would tally.
Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk are also being rocketed up the depth charts and will be playing top pairing roles at times now as well. The team will also be hoping that Kevan Miller can have an impact while the leadership of John Moore and Steven Kampfer can guide the group into a new era.
Still maintaining their place as one of the best tandems in the league, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are expected to return to the Bruins’ crease. Having a duo like this addresses two major concerns heading into the 2020-21 season. First, if the defense is weaker and lacking chemistry/cohesion early on, solid goaltending can help bail them out. Second, if the schedule is compact and full of back-to-back games, the coaching staff will not have to hesitate splitting the workload between Rask and Halak.
Both of these goalies are entering the final year of their contracts. Rask, 34 at season’s end, and Halak, 36 at season’s end, might not have many years left at the high level they perform at. This could be the last year of this tandem for the Bruins if one or both leave Boston.
Boston Bruins 2020-21 Prediction
1st – 3rd East Division
The Bruins got placed in the Thunderdome East Division for the 2020-21 season, but that ultimately bodes well for this team. If any group can handle this type of competition and pressure, it is the Bruins. They may get off to a slow start as players adjust and return from injury, but Boston should shine in this division.
That concludes our Boston Bruins 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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