By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter @zcarlone21
The Bruins have had quite the roller coaster of a start to the 2021-22 season, both on and off the ice. Their core has stuck together, and through 44 games, they hold a 26-15-3 record, currently sticking them in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and pretty much locked into a wild card position for playoff purposes. There’s a lot of time left in the year, but the popular storylines for the first half of the season may or may not stick into the second half.
The Bruins have seen it all this season, seeing their defense collapse and stand tall during different periods of time. Their goaltending duo started poorly but has picked up their play lately. Finally, their offense has (somewhat) found their chemistry. While teams, including the Bruins, continue to make up for postponed games during these next few weeks that should’ve been time for players to be representing their respective countries at the Olympics, let’s take a look at some of my predictions for the black and gold for the remainder of the 2021-22 campaign.
Bruins Trade for a Right-Winger
On paper, there are a lot of things this team needs. It’s obvious the Bruins could use another left-handed defenseman or a true second-line center, but I think the assets and potential trade pieces should be used in a different direction. Since the formation of the second line made up of Hall, Pastrnak, and center Erik Haula, they have been great together, and I personally don’t think adding a center that may be slightly more productive than Haula is going to be worth it to clog their depth made up of Patrice Bergeron, Haula, Charlie Coyle, Tomas Nosek, and Trent Frederic. Unless one of Coyle or Frederic are being shipped out, a trade for a center doesn’t make much sense unless the Bruins are eyeing a long-term solution.
The same situation falls on the defense. The Bruins left-handed defense core of Matt Grzelcyk, Derek Forbort, Mike Reilly, and Urho Vaakanainen would only be clogged by the introduction of a new defenseman unless one of those four are included in any deal for a newcomer. The Bruins also still hold Jakub Zboril, who is currently recovering from a season-ending injury.
The risk of letting a position become too clogged doesn’t reach the level of necessity, and I feel the Bruins need a right-winger, specifically somebody to play with Bergeron and Brad Marchand. I love Craig Smith, but he isn’t meant to play first-line minutes. That being said, if the Bruins strike a deal for a right-winger to head to Boston (hopefully at a low cost), their offense would be more complete.
One of Oskar Steen (who could always return to Providence if the Bruins want an experienced lineup to run for the Cup) or Curtis Lazar would find themselves out of the lineup, and Craig Smith could be demoted to the third line or stick with the first and have the newcomer slot in on the third line. Those right-wingers that I think the Bruins should be interested in if the price is right to include Dallas Stars forward Joe Pavelski, Montreal Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli, and Seattle Kraken forward Calle Jarnkrok. All three have the skill set to be able to play with Bergeron and Marchand.
Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk has seemed to have lit a fire in himself to play better hockey ever since he requested a trade from the Bruins in late November. The 25-year old winger has seven goals and 15 points in 39 games this season, already producing at a higher rate than he did during the shortened 2020-21 season. He’s played well on a unique third line made up of himself, Coyle, and Steen. They bring a strong forecheck when they’re able to obtain pressure in the offensive zone, giving DeBrusk the space and chances to be able to produce.
Although he requested a trade from the team and is listed on nearly every trade board leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline on March 21st, I think general manager Don Sweeney will recognize, if he hasn’t already, that DeBrusk can help the team’s bottom-six if he continues playing well. He could also think DeBrusk’s value on the trade market is rising and also opt to trade him at the deadline, but I think a decision on DeBrusk’s movement will ultimately be made following the 2021-22 season.
Ullmark Continues Stand-Out, Becomes Number One Goaltender
If he isn’t already, Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark should be the team’s number one guy moving forward. After a tough start to the season with his new team, Ullmark is playing outstanding, holding a 16-6-1 record along with a 2.64 GAA and a .913 save percentage. Considering his poor start along with the rest of the Bruins lineup, those numbers are more than acceptable. He’s played well in the big moments, unlike goaltender Jeremy Swayman.
Swayman, still just 23 years of age, holds an 8-7-2 record and a 1-6-1 record against opponents currently in the playoff seeding. Because Swayman is still young and definitely needs to be eased into the league, Ullmark should be the guy to play the big games and should be the number one man heading into the playoffs. He’s already proven himself, and this will only help Swayman. The Bruins plans in the net also took a turn when goaltender Tuukka Rask aggravated his injury after a short comeback in January. The 34-year-old is now sadly retired.
‘Pasta’ Hits His Career-High 48 Goals
The safe prediction to bet on for Pastrnak, at the pace he’s producing, is surely somewhere in the 40 to 45 goal range. ‘Pasta’ has been on an absolute tear since being demoted to the second line to play with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula, as he seems to score a goal almost every night. His one-timer is lethal, and he’s racked up 24 goals and 45 points in 44 games so far this season. He’s slightly behind pace to hit his career-high of 48 goals set during the 2019-20 season, but I think he gets there.
The second-line trio seems to be more and more comfortable with one another each night, and no. 88 seems to have a knack for scoring whenever he desires with the current hot streak he’s on. Although he isn’t on pace to hit his career-high in points (95) either, I don’t think his goal-scoring touch slows down anytime soon, and the Czech-native will finish top-five league-wide in goals by season’s end.
Bergeron Snags Selke Trophy
Statistically speaking, Bergeron is having one of his best seasons defensively of his 18-year career. The Bruins captain has 12 goals and 35 points in 43 games this season. His +/- rating of nine is surprisingly the best on the team. We all know one of his strengths is his ability at the face-off dot, but no. 37 has won an astonishing 63% of the face-offs he’s taken this season, making him one of the best defensive and reliable forwards in the game.
His chemistry with Brad Marchand and ability to play with high-end talent on the Bruins top-line and top power-play unit has always worked in his favor, but he’s earned his spot to be there. The 36-year-old center is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but with the way he’s played this year, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see the Canadian-native edge out Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov in the Selke Trophy voting to earn him his record-breaking fifth win.