By: Scott Wood | Follow Me On Twitter @ScottHoHPodcast
After years of being perennial contenders, there is a near consensus expectation from pundits for the Boston Bruins. Get ready to head to the playoffs as a Wild Card.
Jackie Spiegel of The Sporting News, Shaun Filippelli of The Hockey Writers, and Adam Proteau of Sports Illustrated all have the Bruins in a Wild Card position (behind the Lightning, the Leafs, and the Panthers). And the conglomerate over at NHL.com has mixed opinions, with most agreeing that the Bruins are destined either for that Wild Card position or are likely third in the division.
One may agree or disagree with this assessment, but debating the quality of these takes isn’t what this article is about.
Heading into the offseason, Don Sweeney and the Bruins were in a rare position where they had both cap space and a real sense of what was needed for the Bruins to contend in 2021-22. With David Krejci’s plans uncertain and Tuukka Rask’s injury, there were big skates to fill, but there was also a sense of excitement. After years of hugging the cap, the Bruins finally had the financial versatility to go get the pieces they needed to get Patrice Bergeron and company another crack at the Cup.
What we got instead was underwhelming list of quietly solid additions. NIck Foligno, Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek were brought in to bolster the Bruins’ bottom-six. Mike Reilly was re-signed on the blueline along with former first-round pick Derek Forbort. Linus Ullmark was given $20 million to replace Tuukka Rask in net, coming in from the sad-sack Buffalo Sabres of a year ago.
No first-pairing defenseman. No one to keep goons like Tom Wilson at bay. Sure Taylor Hall was re-signed, but a lot of his early success with the Bruins was tied to the instant chemistry he found with David Krejci. Instead, Hall will play with (to quote Don Sweeney) “center by committee.” Another crossed finger that someone (anyone) will adequately replace the departure of a critical member of the Bruins’ core.
With the rise of the young New York Rangers, the surprise competitiveness of the new Florida Panthers in 2021 and an even bigger surprise Stanley Cup Finalist in the Montreal Canadiens, the path for the Bruins hasn’t become any easier.
Somehow however, despite my disappointment with the strategy (and the overall negative tone to this article) I find myself more excited about the uncertainty, than dreadful of the potential standings finish. This Bruins club will look and feel much different this season than we’re used to and I can’t wait to analyze and discuss where we’re at five, ten, thirty, and sixty games into the season.
The fans of the Buffalo Sabres and (say) the Arizona Coyotes would be happy just to make the playoffs. I remember that feeling well after Claude Julien was brought in to replace Dave Lewis in 2007. As Bruins fans, we have been spoiled by being the near perennial contender, to the point where anything more uncertain than that status feels like failure.
I propose an embrace of the ambiguity. A renewed sense of elation after a Bruins win, rather than it simply meeting our expectations. A discussion of “why and how” after a loss, instead of a sense of apocalyptic doom. After all, where the Bruins finish in the regular season is of little consequence, provided they make the show.
Because (as our rival Montreal Canadiens so nauseatingly showed us in the bubble) once a team makes the playoffs, anything can happen. And that anything can be pretty exciting.