Welcome to the latest file in THN.com’s NHL-team-by-team breakdown of big questions before the start of the upcoming regular season. On this day, we’re looking at Three Burning Questions for the Boston Bruins:
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR THE BRUINS IN 2022-23:
1. How will Boston play before its injured key players return to action? Very few NHL teams could lose their first-line winger and top defenseman before the season even begins, and still manage to stay in the race for a playoff berth. But that’s the challenge for the Bruins, who won’t have star forward Brad Marchand and No. 1 blueliner Charlie McAvoy until December. (They’ll also start the season without veteran D-man Matt Grzelcyk.) This will put tremendous pressure on the rest of Boston’s lineup, and in an Atlantic Division that has significantly improved teams in Ottawa and Detroit, those absences may well put the Bruins in a significant hole they could have problems climbing out of.
With new head coach Jim Montgomery running things, and with reliable contributors David Pastrnak, Taylor Hall and Jake DeBrusk in tow, the Bs can’t be counted out of the playoff picture, especially after they return to full health. However, the injury bug devastated the Stanley Cup opportunities of a few franchises last season. Boston could be the next one, as many believe it doesn't have sufficient elite-level depth to overcome one-quarter of the year without two of their best players. How the Bruins compete in October and November just might be the difference between making and missing the post-season.
2. What will the Bruins’ greybeards be able to contribute? It was a welcome relief for Bruins fans to hear that star center Patrice Bergeron would be returning to the team on a one-year, team-friendly contract. The appeal of familiarity also applies to the return of second-line center David Krecji, who spent the 2021-22 campaign playing in his homeland of Czechia. But the 36-year-old Krejci won’t find it easy to jump back into the world’s best hockey league. Indeed, once you hit your mid-thirties in this young man’s era of the sport, you’ll need a hyperdrive just to keep pace.
In 2020-21, Krejci generated a respectable 36 assists and 44 points in 51 regular-season games with Boston. In his past two NHL seasons, he’s averaged a sliver over 17 minutes of action per game, and this coming year, he’ll likely be playing with Hall and either DeBrusk or Pastrnak. He’s got no excuses to not post above-average offensive numbers, and Montgomery needs him and Bergeron to thrive. If one of them does slump, it could be a gigantic problem for Boston’s opposition-zone attack, and for their playoff hopes in general.
3. Which young players, if any, will step up for the Bs? The Bruins are an older team, especially up front: seven of their top 10 forwards are 30 years old or older, with only Pastrnak (26), DeBrusk and winger Pavel Zacha (both 25) on the young side. Making matters worse, Boston’s prospect pool is one of the weaker in the NHL, meaning it’s quite unlikely a rookie or sophomore player will push their way into the top two lines.
Meanwhile, on defense, they’re slightly younger – McAvoy (24 years old) and Brandon Carlo (23) are younger than 27 years old, and four are between 28-30. Boston has a solid goalie tandem in Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, but they’re both going to be challenged to a bigger degree this season, if only because of McAvoy’s absence.
As it stands, the Bruins have a pair of 24-year-olds on their fourth line, but neither of those two players (Trent Frederic and Oskar Steen) are going to be difference-makers for them this year. The veterans will all be in the spotlight in Boston all season long, and it’s improbable they’ll get a notable bump from their youngsters.