By: Kevin O’Keefe | Follow me on Twitter @Kevin_OKeefe89
The season with many question marks is almost upon us as we inch closer to training camp and the season opener against Dallas on October 16th. With many new faces and the departure of David Krejci, many fans are left to wonder, how good can this team really be? Who will be the second-line center? Will the defensive depth be enough? How will the goaltending situation pan out? Is this team capable of winning a cup? All these questions and more won’t have an answer, unfortunately, until the puck is dropped and the season is well underway. Here I will go over my three bold predictions for the Boston Bruin’s 2021-2022 season.
Charlie Coyle will secure the second-line center position and score 60 points
The biggest question mark of all this season must be, who will take a hold of the second-line center position? Bruin’s general manager, Don Sweeney, has insisted on the team taking a “center by committee” approach this season. Sweeney’s commitment to that was shown in free agency, where he signed a plethora of versatile forwards who can all play the center position. I look at these players as back up for the second-line job as the guy who will get the first crack at it, Charlie Coyle, is being looked upon by head coach Bruce Cassidy, as a guy who can get the job done next to Taylor Hall and Craig Smith.
Coyle has the toolset and the skill to take this opportunity and run with it. His heavy possession game, solid defensive play, and good offensive skill is a recipe-for-success in a top-six role. Coyle has also proven he can be successful as a top-six guy when he laced up for the Minnesota Wild in the 2016-2017 season, accumulating 56-points in 82-games mostly playing on the teams second-line. Since coming to the Bruins, Coyle has shown off his skill set and importance to this team in a third-line role where he has flourished.
Besides last season where he was playing an inconsistent role while battling injuries, he’s had solid production as the team’s third-line pivot. In the 2019 playoffs, Coyle was one of the Bruin’s most important forwards, with 9-goals and 16-points through 24-games-played. He followed that performance up with a solid regular season, playing primarily as the team’s third-line center, next to Danton Heinen and a mix of wingers on his right-side. Coyle mustered up 37-points in 70-games-played in that role before the unfortunate pause to the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His performance for this Boston team in a limited role since arriving is what leads me to believe Coyle will take this opportunity and run with it. Playing with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith consistently will give this player all he needs to reach the 60-point mark for the first time in his career while surprising many Bruin’s fans who have seemed to give up on him after one bad season that saw him playing in a situation that wasn’t in his favor.
Linus Ullmark will end up being the starter for the playoffs
When the Bruins scooped up the former Buffalo Sabers netminder, Linus Ullmark, I was ecstatic knowing Boston had just done something I didn’t believe was possible. That was creating a goaltending tandem that is on par or better than Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. I understand that Rask is probably going to go down as the best goaltender in Bruins history, but what Swayman was able to show last season in a small sample size and how well Ullmark played for a bad Sabers team gives me a feeling that goaltending is once again going to be one of the strongest areas on this team moving forward.
Of course, this would mean that Swayman would need to continue showing he belongs in the NHL, and Ullmark would also need to prove he can handle being counted upon by a contending team, but I have no doubts that both players will rise to the challenge and be among the best in the league when it comes to goaltending duos.
There is also the inclination that Rask will be back with the team come January. If the duo of Ullmark and Swayman are playing at the level of a Jennings Trophy candidate, do you really mess that up by inserting a goalie fresh off a hip surgery into one of those roles? That will be a story to watch out for.
Regardless of if Rask comes back or not, I believe Linus Ullmark will have a career year and solidify himself as the go-to starter in the playoffs. Ullmark showed just how good he can be on the worst team in the league (maybe on history) with a winning record of 9-6-3 in 20-games-played and a .917 SV%. There’s also concern about his health, but as it stands, he is healthy and ready to go for the 2021-2022 season.
The Bruins medical and conditioning staff is also among the best, which would help Ullmark out tremendously if he were to have any in-season injuries. If Ullmark can have those numbers playing for a team as bad as the Sabers, there is no reason why he can’t become a breakout goaltender this year behind one of the best defensive systems in the league.
The Bruins will compete in the eastern conference finals
Did Sweeney do enough to set this team up for a deep playoff run? I’d say there’s a mixed review out there when it comes to that question. It’s not just about what the Bruins were able to accomplish in the off-season; it also has a lot to do with how the rest of the East shakes out.
The reigning Stanley Cup champions, The Tampa Bay Lightning, will be looking to make it 3 cups in a row this season, while the Florida Panthers are looking like a powerful team. You also have the Leafs, and while they may seem to choke themselves out of the first round every season, a blind squirrel gets the nut occasionally. Toronto is still a strong young team, regardless of what their recent playoff history may dictate.
With the Bruins being in such a strong division, it may seem unlikely they can make it to an eastern conference final where they may be the 3rd or 4th best team among the ranks. In my eyes, this team has just as good of a chance as any of them to make it to the final four.
Tampa Bay’s departures this off-season, along with two deep Stanley Cup-winning playoff runs in consecutive years, may run out of gas when they reach the second round this year. The Leaf’s in recent years don’t really match up well against the Bruins. The Panthers look strong but can be beaten in a 7-game series against the Bruins. The Atlantic is tight when it comes to the best in the division, with little drop off from first to fourth in the division.
This Bruins team also looks like one that is primed for a deep playoff run. The addictions at forward have given them the depth in their bottom-six they have been longing for, and the addition of Derek Forbort gives them a solid piece who can step into a top-4 role if an injury occurs. The goaltending on this team could once again be spectacular.
The biggest reason why the Bruins couldn’t make it to the final four these past playoffs had a lot to do with grit and lack of defensive depth. If they had a guy like Derek Forbort able to step in when Carlo went down and guys like Haula and Foligno in the bottom-six providing that gritty, hard-nosed style of play, Boston very well could have taken the islanders in 7-games to advance to the final four of the playoffs.
These are, of course, very bold predictions, but predictions that absolutely have a chance at coming true. If the health of the team is there at the right moments, the New-look bottom-six can gel, the new goaltending tandem shines, and the defensive style of this team remains in place, this team will be a blast to watch. Gear up Bruins fans, hockey is right around the corner, and it will be a hell of a ride.