By Ray Guarino | Follow me on Twitter @rayguarino
Is 2020-21 a transitional season for the Boston Bruins? It seems like an odd question considering the Bruins won the President’s Trophy with the best record in the NHL. They were the only team in the league that reached 100 points in an abbreviated season that saw the league shut down for almost five months between March and August. But this is Boston, where many folks prescribed to the theory that either you win the Stanley Cup or it’s an unsuccessful season.
In the first round of the 2019-20 playoffs, the Bruins beat the upstart Carolina Hurricanes four games to one. The series was much closer than that, though, as three of the four games were decided by one goal, including a double-overtime win for the Bruins in game one.
Overshadowing this series was Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask opting out of the remainder of the playoffs, after game two, for personal reasons.
#NHLBruins goalie Tuukka Rask has opted out of the NHL’s Return to Play: pic.twitter.com/r3c7wjaTwR— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) August 15, 2020
Jaroslav Halak is a more than capable backup goalie in the NHL. But, he, along with the rest of the Bruins, proved no match for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Lightning was the more skilled and more physical team in this series, which saw the Lightning win four games to one on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.
Coming into the 2020-21 season, the Bruins signed Craig Smith to a three year $9.3 million contract to shore up the right side of their lineup. Smith is penciled in on the third-line with Charlie Coyle in the middle. On the flip side, the Bruins lost long-time fan favorite and power-play quarterback, defenseman Torey Krug. As of this writing, Zdeno Chara remains unsigned and is an unrestricted free agent.
So what makes this upcoming season transitional? Let’s start with the injuries. On October 13, 2020, Don Sweeney announced that David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Charlie McAvoy all had offseason surgery. McAvoy had right knee arthroscopy, Marchand had a sports hernia, and Pastrnak had a right hip arthroscopy and labral repair.
McAvoy is expected to be ready at the start of training camp. Marchand’s initial recovery period has him out until mid-late January. Pastrnak’s surgery was more serious, and his recovery could keep him out until late February. With a condensed schedule, that could be upwards to 20 plus games.
A big part of the Bruins success is the power play. In 2019-20, Torey Krug had 49 points in 61 games. 28 of those points were on the power play. The Bruins will try to fill that void with a combination of Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk. Both are adept at moving the puck and skating with skill, but neither of them has a shot Krug has. The other part of the power play equation is Pastrnak. He scored 20 goals with the man advantage, which led the league. A power play without Krug and Pastrnak has the potential to really derail the early part of the Bruins season.
On defense, it looks like the Bruins will have a re-vamped left side, while the right side should remain as it was last year.
The top pair seems set with Grzelcyk and McAvoy. It remains to be seen if Grzelcyk can handle top pair minutes playing against other team’s top lines. It’ll be a significant jump going from the third pair to being on McAvoy’s left. The second pair is where it gets interesting. We know Brandon Carlo is a fixture on the right side. Who plays on his left, and the third pair left is the question. The third pair right side looks like it will come down Connor Clifton and Kevan Miller. Back to the left side. The contenders for the two spots are Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, John Moore, and to a lesser extent Urho Vaakanainen. The defensive pairs could end up looking like this:
That would make Grzelcyk the grizzled (see what I did there) veteran at 26-years-old. Although, I do think we’ll see quite a bit of John Moore throughout the season. These pairs seem unlikely to be enough to bring a Stanley Cup to Boston. There is an argument to be made that it’s time to see what the Bruins have in these defensive prospects that they drafted four to five years ago. The only way to really do that is to let them play in the NHL.
With the power play in flux, the defense is very young and in need of NHL developing, the inconsistency of forwards Anders Bjork, Nick Ritchie, and Ondrej Kase, and the injury to Pastrnak, I say this is a transitional season. If that’s the case, and they’re struggling to make the playoffs as the deadline approaches, they should look to be sellers and see if they can get assets for upcoming unrestricted free agents David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Sean Kuraly.
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