This is the latest in THN.com’s series of columns on the off-season plans for each NHL team. Today, we turn our attention to the Boston Bruins.
2020-21 Record: 51-26-5
Finish In The Atlantic Division: 4th
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $2.38 million
Restricted Free Agents: None
Unrestricted Free Agents: Patrice Bergeron, F; Anton Blidh, F; Curtis Lazar, F; Joshua Brown, D
What Boston Has: Basically, their entire 2021-22 lineup is intact, with no restricted free agents to re-sign; a solid mix of young talent and veteran know-how (including star forwards David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, Taylor Hall, Jake DeBrusk and defensemen Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Carlo); goaltending depth in Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman; and a change in coaching, with former Dallas Stars bench boss Jim Montgomery reported to be replacing Bruce Cassidy.
What Boston Needs: Certainty about the future of captain Patrice Bergeron, an unrestricted free agent who, rumors have it, will forego retirement for one more season for 2022-23 and return; salary cap flexibility, with less than $3 million available to address in-season needs next season; a quick return to good health for Marchand, who had off-season hip surgery and is expected to be sidelined until December; a resolution, one way or another, for winger Jake DeBrusk, who asked to be traded last season, but stayed with Boston and wound up having a productive year.
What’s Realistic For Boston Next Season: The Bruins should be in the mix for a lower-seed playoff berth in the tough Atlantic Division, but they’re not going to be at full strength thanks to Marchand’s injury. Boston GM Don Sweeney is armed with a brand-new contract extension, but after Cassidy was unexpectedly fired, it’s wholly apparent Sweeney will be under massive pressure to produce wins while his core’s competitive window remains open. The hiring of Montgomery – who had some success in Dallas before stepping away to deal with personal demons – underscores the importance of immediate positive results for this team.
A full season with Lindholm – a trade deadline acquisition this past season who fit in perfectly on Boston’s back end – will help make life easier for their goaltending tandem of Swayman and Ullmark, but their lack of cap space is concerning, and won’t help them keep up with the Joneses in the Atlantic. They’ve got to make do with what they have, unless Sweeney can convince veteran pivot David Krejci, who played in his native Czech Republic last year, to come back, and come back at a notably cheaper pay rate.
If that sounds difficult, and if that sounds like a lot of stars will have to align for the Bruins to continue as a playoff team, that’s because it’s all true. Atlantic rivals in Ottawa and Detroit will be set on making a big push past Boston in the standings, and there’s a very real possibility the Bruins will miss the post-season for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign. And if they don’t make it, who will ownership blame then? Montgomery won’t be seen as the reason why they failed. Someone else may bear the brunt of ownership’s frustrations with not getting past the second round of the playoffs since 2019.
Indeed, as takes place with virtually all former Stanley Cup champions, there will come a reckoning for Boston’s core. That reality may be accelerated by Marchand’s injury, but it was coming sooner or later. Next summer, star winger David Pastrnak will be a UFA and Bergeron almost certainly will retire at that time. It’s unclear whether Pastrnak will want to be part of a bigger rebuild of the roster, so this coming season may be the last hurrah for their Cup-winning foundation. Bruins fans have become accustomed to on-ice success, but there is no assurance that will happen for them in 2022-23.