Our Boston Bruins 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
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Another year, another edition of the Boston Bruins dominating in the NHL. The Bruins coasted to their fifth consecutive playoff berth finishing third in the East Division. They lost in the second round for the third time in the last four years, getting ousted by the Islanders in six games. Their 33-16-7 record in the regular season was good for tenth in the league, While their 168 goals for were fairly average (14th in the league), the Bruins excelled defensively only giving up 136 goals, tied for fourth best in the NHL.
The Bruins are a perennial shining example of excellent defense and goaltending, but normally they are a bit more potent offensively as well. Some depth scoring issues became apparent through the year as the team tried to negate the loss of Torey Krug, as Jake DeBrusk had a bad season, and lots of the players the team hoped would step up into bigger roles just didn’t.
Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak was excellent as always, with each player near or above a point per game pace. David Krejci was his usual quiet but effective self on the second line with 44 points in 51 games. And, Craig Smith was a nice addition from the previous offseason with 32 points in 54 games. But after that, scoring from the forwards was a bit hard to come by.
This issue is complicated further by the offseason turnover the Bruins are experiencing. David Krejci has left the team to return to the Czech Republic to play at home. Nick Ritchie, who had 26 points, left in free agency. And, it’s always worth mentioning at this point that Brad Marchand is 33 while Patrice Bergeron is 36 so there is the chance that these two start regressing offensively.
Suddenly, the Bruins are left with Charlie Coyle as the likely second line centre. Coyle had 16 points in 51 games last season. That is not second line level production. The hope is that playing alongside Taylor Hall and Craig Smith on that will boost his offense.
This offseason was also significant for the Bruins in the amount of player turnover they had. Taylor Hall and Mike Reilly were deadline acquisitions. Additionally, in the offseason, they have added Tomas Nosek, Eric Haula, Nick Foligno, Derek Forbort, and Linus Ullmark. All of these players are expected to be regular NHL’ers, and that is a significant portion of a lineup to change year-over-year. With some of the prospects the Bruins are trying to get into the NHL roster underperforming and struggling to crack the lineup, will we now start seeing Boston fall down the standings?
Is there any question at all over who will occupy the first line in Boston? Undoubtedly it is David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand. For years this has been one of the best lines in the entire NHL, and they continued to live up to that reputation again last season. They recorded a 66.1 GF% in their 433 minutes of ice time together in 5v5 play. That is among the best in the NHL and having a line that can both produce elite level offense while shutting down the best of the best defensively will continue to drive the Bruins to the top of the standings.
Beyond that is a bit up in the air this season, however. Taylor Hall is a lock on the second line. Craig Smith is likely taking the spot on the opposite wing as he was well-suited for that role last season. As I mentioned earlier, Charlie Coyle is likely to slot in as the second line centre (or at least have first dibs on it heading into the preseason). That could change in an instant if Coyle does not bounce back after his disastrous 2020-21 season. Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and possibly Jack Studnicka will be next in line if Coyle doesn’t work out. Whatever happens, it will be a major adjustment to not having David Krejci centring this line.
Next up it will be a battle amongst a bunch of new acquisitions and prospects. Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek, Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic are primary candidates to take over the third line. Keep an eye on what happens with Charlie Coyle though, as mentioned, if he doesn’t perform well enough for the second line then he will be in this mix too. As well as Jake DeBrusk, if he bounces back from a bad season.
Remaining among likely Bruins forwards for the fourth line are Curtis Lazar, Chris Wagner, Karson Kuhlman, and Jake DeBrusk. Although the team does have some prospects they would like to get ice time, I don’t foresee Boston wanting to play them on a line like this with very little upside. If the team’s prospects do earn NHL roster spots throughout the season, it would be likely that they would play a bit higher in the lineup with better linemates and push someone else down to the fourth line.
One of the biggest concerns with the Bruins defense last season was their size. Boston’s defenders were getting overpowered quite easily by the opposition and it led to some difficulties and turnovers. Of regular Bruins defenders, Brandon Carlo at 6”5’ (27 games played), Kevan Miller (28 games played) and Jeremy Lauzon at 6”2’ were the only ones really over 6 feet, everyone else was 6”0 or shorter.
The hope for the Bruins defensively is good health. Brandon Carlo missed half of the season and some of the playoffs with injuries, Kevan Miller missed time with various injuries, Matt Grzelcyk was in and out of the lineup and missed 20 games as well.
Assuming good health, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk will anchor the top pairing. McAvoy has done an excellent job at taking over the Bruins defense after Krug and Chara left at the same time and he has developed into one of the best in the league. These two combined make for an offensively dynamic pairing as both are capable of putting up 0.5 points per game over the course of a full season.
Mike Reilly was an amazing addition at last season’s trade deadline with 8 assists in 15 games, putting up a +7 and playing over 20 minutes per game. He fit in very quickly and is expected to be joined on the second pairing by Brandon Carlo. Carlo’s defensive presence and physicality will help balance out Reilly, especially after criticisms levied against Reilly shying away from physicality near the end of last season.
The Bruins brought Derek Forbort in to help counter the concerns over size and physicality on the blueline. Forbort is a 6”5’ defensive-minded, physical defender who blocks a ton of shots. Last season, the Jets utilized him in a second-pairing role where he faced a lot of tough competition. A chance to anchor a third pairing in a lighter role with some penalty killing duties might help him pump those defensive metrics. Connor Clifton is the leading candidate to join Forbort, but Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jack Ahcan are right there looking to jump into the lineup more regularly. If the health of the Bruins defenders is as big a question mark as it was last season, however, those players might end up in the lineup anyways.
The Bruins have a complete overhaul in net for next season. Tuukka Rask is out recovering from surgery and will miss the first few months of the season. Jaroslav Halak left in free agency and signed in Vancouver. And, they traded Dan Vladar to Calgary. That left Jeremy Swayman as the lone returning goalie.
To counter this, Boston signed Linus Ullmark to a four-year contract. Ullmark has been an amazing goalie the past couple seasons. He has managed to put up respectable numbers playing for Buffalo. Despite never playing more than 37 games in one NHL season (and only 20 last season), Ullmark is the de facto starter heading into the year.
Jeremy Swayman took Bruins Nation by storm in his brief stint, putting up a 1.5 GAA and .945 SV% in his 10 games played in 2020-21. That is not sustainable, but it is promising that he was able to come in and perform as well as he did.
This complete overhaul in the Bruins net will likely cause a tricky transition period as the skaters adjust to having different goalies in net. Between different playstyles, having confidence in each other, and knowing strengths/weaknesses, there might be a learning curve at the beginning of the season. After so many years of consistency in both skater positions and goaltending, the amount of turnover here could cause some extra goals against.
Tuukka Rask, if cleared, is willing and eager to come back and play for the Bruins (and only the Bruins) once healthy. Getting him back for the springtime playoff push would be a massive boost, especially if one of Ullmark or Swayman aren’t working out.
Boston Bruins 2021-22 Prediction
3rd-4th Atlantic Division
I sense a power shift in the Atlantic Division as younger, up-and-coming teams earlier in their windows rise up the standings. Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Florida are all more than able to compete with if not beat this Bruins roster. I see Boston’s forward depth as a concern as well as the overhaul in net. Combining that with the aging core and significant turnover on the roster, I think Boston will fall down to one of the lower seed playoff positions this season.
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