Monday, December 21, 2020

Boston Bruins 2020-21 Season Preview

 


       The big, bad Bruins steamrolled their way to the postseason once again in 2019-20. They were the only team in the league to hit 100 points before the regular season ended. While they started off poorly in the postseason, not winning a round robin game, they pounced the Hurricanes in five before the only team that could stop them, the eventual champion Lightning, knocked out the Bruins in round two. Goaltending became an issue when Tuukka Rask opted out in the middle of the postseason, and with both Rask and Jaroslav Halak becoming free agents after the season, the goalie talk will never stop unless there are extensions signed. The Bruins still have their "Perfection Line" intact, but some surgeries could see them missing Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak by game one. 

Additions: F Craig Smith, F Greg McKegg.

Subtractions: D Torey Krug, D Zdeno Chara, F Joakim Nordstrom, F Brett Ritchie.

Best Move: Signing Craig Smith.

Worst Move: Letting Torey Krug walk.

One Move I'd Make: Sign D Zdeno Chara (or Ben Hutton as an alternative option) to a one year deal.

Best Contract: David Pastrnak, three years remaining with an AAV of $6.66 million.

Worst Contract: John Moore, three years remaining with a $2.75 million AAV. 

New Division Rivals: Buffalo, New Jersey, Islanders, Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.

Pending UFAs: David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak, Sean Kuraly, Par Lindholm, Kevan Miller, Greg McKegg, Steven Kampfer.

Pending RFAs: Brandon Carlo, Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic.


Forwards

The only member of the perfection line that we can confidently say will be in the Opening Night lineup is Patrice Bergeron. Entering his 17th season at age 35, Bergeron scored 31 goals with 56 points, and this was his third consecutive season with at least 30 goals. The impressive part about it is that he hasn't played in more than 65 games in any of those three years. A four time Selke winner, he finished in second in 2019-20. The always pesky Brad Marchand had sports hernia surgery in early September. He scored 28 goals this past season, which was actually the first time hadn't hit 30 since 2014-15. Still, his 87 points was the second most in his career. Marchand led Bruins forward in ice time with 19 minutes and 27 seconds on average. At 24, David Pastrnak is the youngest and best member of this top line. He won the Rocket Richard trophy with 48 goals, and scored a career high 95 points. Hip surgery could make him miss the first month of the season, so I did not include him in my projected lines. I could see either Ondrej Kase or Craig Smith, who have a combined six regular season games as a Bruin, to fill in for Pastrnak. An analytics darling, Smith comes in on a three year deal. He played on the third line in Nashville, and I wouldn't be surprised if he goes back there upon Pastrnak's return. Smith is a five time 20 goal scorer, and he came close last year, finishing with 18. Acquired from Anaheim at the trade deadline, Kase had one assist in six regular season games in four in 11 playoff games with the Bruins, and hasn't scored a goal in gold and white. He has regressed after a breakout 2017-18, but injuries have played a part in that. David Krejci's 73 point 2018-19 seems like an outlier, but so does his 43 point 2019-20. If healthy, he is more of a 50-60 point player. Jake Debrusk was an RFA before agreeing to a bridge deal. He has been a nice player for Boston over the past three years, although his 35 points in 2019-20 was a career low. He scored 19 goals. He has a very high 54% CF% in his career. A playoff hero from 2019, Charlie Coyle's first full season in Boston showed how he fit in. He can play right wing and center, and for now he's locked into the third line center role. His 16 goals in 2019-20 was his most since 2016-17, and you could say the same for his 37 points. A 2nd rounder in 2017, Jack Studnicka can get a third line chance while Pastrnak is out. He had an assist in his two NHL games last year, and he scored 23 goals with 49 points in 60 AHL games. He is only 21 years old. The final member of the third line is Anders Bjork, who could be pushed out of the lineup by Studnicka when Pastrnak returns. Bjork played in a career high 58 games in 2019-20, and scored nine times with 10 assists. He could also move down to the fourth line while Nick Ritchie moves up. Ritchie's physical game could make him a better fit to replace Joakim Nordstrom on the fourth line. He had two points in seven games after a trade from the Ducks. He only had one point in eight playoff games, so he will want to have a do-over with the Bruins starting this year. Sean Kuraly finished with 23 points in 69 games, and he averaged 97 seconds a game on the penalty kill. Chris Wagner, Kuraly's linemate who can play center and wing, had similar stats, with nine less penalty kill seconds and 13 less points. Par Lindholm can fill in on the 4th line, and he was a big part of the penalty kill in his 40 games played last year. Greg McKegg will make Boston his 7th team. He scored five goals in 53 games for the Rangers last year.

Defensemen

With Krug gone, Charlie McAvoy should move up to the top power play unit. One of the league's most underrated defensemen, McAvoy is only 23 and an another analytics darling. He finished 10th in Norris voting and put up 32 points while averaging over 23 minutes a game in 2019-20. Around him, this defense is pretty weak and could use another addition, specifically on the left side. The Bruins like Matt Grzelcyk, enough to give him a four year extension in the offseason. He will jump from the third to first pairing this year. Grzelcyk put up a career high 21 points with a +15 rating in a career high 68 games. Despite playing in a career low 67 games, Brandon Carlo put up a career high 19 points. He averages over 20 minutes of ice time a night, and over three minutes of that was on the PK. Connor Clifton has only three points in 50 career regular season games, but eight in 26 playoff games. Jeremy Lauzon had 13 points in 45 AHL games before playing in 19 NHL games. He is a physical player who took 29 penalty minutes in the NHL last year. John Moore has been disappointing after signing a five year deal that was even considered bad for Boston at the time. While both him and Lauzon played a lot of PK time last year, neither have much offensive potential. Moore had three points in 24 games. The oft-injured Kevan Miller is back after missing 2019-20. If he plays, it will be his seventh season as a Bruin. Former first rounder Jakub Zboril, a 23 year old with only two NHL games, is also an option.

Goalies

Goaltending is a big question for the Bruins. Both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak had great numbers last year, but both are free agents after the season. The Boston fanbase is very divided on Rask, who just won the Jennings and was second in Vezina voting after a .929 SV%, plus a league leading 2.12 GAA and 22.51 GSAA. The "he's not good in the playoffs" narrative doesn't work either, as in 93 career postseason games, Rask has a .926 SV% and 2.20 GAA. The Bruins will do whatever they can to keep him. Halak on the other hand is a more questionable case, as he has played his way out of Boston, but in a good way. In two seasons as Rask's backup, Halak has a .921 SV% and a 2.36 GAA. The in-house options weaken afterwards. Dan Vladar had amazing AHL numbers, but in only 25 games, and he got absolutely shelled in his one playoff appearance versus the Lightning. He's looked good in the Czech league during the break.


Projected Lineup

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Craig Smith

Jake Debrusk - David Krejci - Ondrej Kase

Anders Bjork - Charlie Coyle - Jack Studnicka

Nick Ritchie - Sean Kuraly - Chris Wagner

Extras: Par Lindholm, Greg McKegg

IR: David Pastrnak


Matt Gryzelcyk - Charlie McAvoy

Jeremy Lauzon - Brandon Carlo

John Moore - Connor Clifton

Extras: Kevan Miller, Jakub Zboril


Tuuka Rask

Jaroslav Halak

Extras: Dan Vladar


Prediction

The Bruins enter a much tougher division than they had before. Previously, the Lightning were contenders and so were the Maple Leafs, but besides that the division is weak. Now, in the new East Division, only the Sabres and Devils look like non-playoff teams. There are no Lightning-level threats though, so while the Bruins will struggle at times, they will end up atop the division.

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