Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Boston.
The five-year timeline lends itself to plenty of change throughout the forward group, but one thing that will remain consistent is the presence of the so-called ‘Perfection Line,’ though remaining one unit in five years’ time is unlikely. Brad Marchand will still be under contract, David Pastrnak will almost certainly be re-signed and an aging Patrice Bergeron – who will be 38 when the 2023-24 season begins – can fill a Joe Thornton-esque role as an aging-but-valuable middle-six pivot. The one major UFA retention that is forecasted as part of this exercise is Charlie Coyle, who is just now entering his prime and fit in well in Boston, particularly during the past post-season. Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen also remain, but the rest of the group changes significantly, and the hope is savvy young pivot Jack Studnicka, who was the 76th-highest ranked prospect in Future Watch 2019, will flourish under Bergeron’s tutelage.
The projection is that Torey Krug re-signs and remains a key part of the blueline, but the success of this group hinges on the continued growth of Charlie McAvoy, who is already a No. 1 defender, and Brandon Carlo, who stepped into the spotlight during the Bruins’ run to the 2019 Stanley Cup final. It’s not a three-man blueline, however. Current Bruins Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton, he of a new three-year, $3-million contract, will help round out the defense, while Urho Vaakanainen could be an NHL fixture sooner rather than later.
There is no blue-chip keeper on the way, but that might not matter. There are a handful of netminders who have been able to ward off Father Time. Look at the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne, who has remained a consistent top option into his late-30s. That gives hope that Tuukka Rask, who will be 36 when the 2023-24 campaign begins, will be able to continue to shoulder at least half of the load in the Boston crease. Who does he help shepherd into the top job? That’s anyone’s guess, but the top prospect is University of Maine netminder Jeremy Swayman.
Undertaking this exercise with a franchise that is right in the midst of its Stanley Cup window is difficult, if only because its top players are aging and its prospect base doesn’t feature enough sure-things to get a true feel for what the roster will look like down the line. However, given how well Boston has developed several of its prospects, particularly defensemen, there’s reason to believe the Bruins will be able to remain a playoff team even when they begin to truly start thinking about life after Bergeron.
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