Bergeron’s Decision Ultimately Determines How the 21’-22’ Bruins Season Will be Judged

( Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer / AP Photo )

By: Van Alan | Follow me on Twitter @VanAlanClark

On the surface, the 2022 Boston Bruins season looks like a disappointment. The Bruins failed to make it out of the first round in what might be the final season of Patrice Bergeron’s career. If you’re a lazy sports radio type, that’s probably what you’re saying this week. However, if you bother to look at what happened with the Bruins this season, you’ll realize that that isn’t accurate.

The Bruins matched up in the first round with the Carolina Hurricanes. This was far and away the most challenging possible matchup. The ‘Canes had the 3rd best record in the NHL and are probably the most complete team in the Eastern Conference. They beat the Bruins in a tough seven-game series where neither team could figure out how to win a road game.

The ‘Canes got the edge by having home-ice advantage. That really isn’t a disappointing result. And if/when the ‘Canes make it to the Stanley Cup Final, I hope some people will revisit some of the freezing cold takes they’re putting out there right now. The Bruins were an excellent team this year. They lost to a team that was just a little bit better. They would have beaten a lot of other teams in the East. They got the hardest possible matchup.

Even with the tough loss, you aren’t being fair if you don’t look at how easily this series could have been different. The ‘Canes were the better team in Game seven. They deserved to win. And the effort from certain Bruins players – notably the third line – was very disappointing. The Bruins did not get a complete team effort in the season’s most crucial game. This was disturbing and should impact Don Sweeney’s year-end evaluation of certain players.

They were once again the better team for most of the first period like they were in every game in Raleigh. That game would play out differently if they could have capitalized on just one of their many chances in the first ten minutes. If Trent Frederic’s wrister off the post caroms in instead of out, it’s 2-2 midway through the game. If that happens, Max Domi never gets a chance to make it 3-1 20-seconds later. The exact same thing played out in Game one. Those sequences went the ‘Canes way every game in Raleigh, which was the difference in the series. Sometimes you just can’t find a bounce.

It’s a tough loss. But it’s not a disappointment. If they had lost to Washington or Pittsburgh or New York or even Toronto, that might have felt like underachieving. The ‘Canes team they lost to is a deep, battle-hardened group who put up 116 points this season. The Bruins got the hardest possible matchup in the first round, and they came up one win short. But of the 16 playoff teams, the Bruins are better than a lot of them. Better even than some who are still playing right now.

We also should consider the fact that Don Sweeney actually found a way to improve this team over the course of the last 12-months. Some of the off-season acquisitions – Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek in particular – look like whiffs. Others – notably Derek Forbort, Erik Haula, and Linus Ullmark – proved their worth over the 2nd half of the season. Acquiring Hampus Lindholm solidifies the defensive group for the next five years. And there are at least a few exciting prospects on the way who can and probably will help this team next season. The roster is overall in a good place heading into next season. They’re actually in a better spot than they were at this point last year. 

If you overlook one massive question hanging over everything Bruins – what happens with Bergeron?

Everything positive I’ve said in this article is based on the assumption that Bergeron returns. If he returns and still plays at his customary level, the Bruins are still capable of building a contender around him. They have many of the pieces already in place. If he hangs them up, there is a massive hole at center, and Sweeney will likely have to do something drastic to address it. The Bruins are not in a position to go full rebuild. Without Bergeron, they would end up in the worst possible place – stuck in the middle. Not good enough to contend but not bad enough to bottom out.

If Bergeron returns, this was a pretty good season, and the Bruins are well set up for next year. They could even be better next year.

If he’s gone, this year was fun, but they’re in trouble.

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