Entering the 2021-22 NHL season, the league is going back to their traditional 82-game schedule after adjusting the last two seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Boston Bruins enter the season following a summer that included some roster turnover as they return back to the Atlantic Division.
Boston is like all the other teams in the league, they have championship aspirations with the new season. Things won’t come easy for the Black and Gold with a tough division that includes the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and their two rivals from Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. If the Bruins are going to finish in the top-eight in the Eastern Conference and get a postseason berth, they will need a lot of things to fall into place. Here are three keys for the Bruins this season if they are to make the playoffs.
1. Bruins Remain as Healthy as Possible
Yes, this can be said for every team, but after a shortened 56-game 2020-21 season that saw Boston hit hard with injuries, it will be more important that they avoid the injury bug as much as they can this season. Depth is always an issue and it remains to be seen how much depth they have in certain positions, but they would rather not have to test the depth a lot this season.
How good is the Bruins prospect pool? Depends on who you talk to, but it is not a highly regarded group around the league. Last season, the Bruins were buried with injuries from goaltending to their defense. Things got so bad on defense that general manager Don Sweeney had to hit the waiver wire to add defensemen Jared Tinordi from the Nashville Predators, and their rookie goaltenders played well enough to keep them in playoff position.
Sweeney and the front office would like to stay away from the waiver wire this season and not have to dive deep into their defensive depth. Staying as healthy as they can this season will go a long way into them getting through the 82-game schedule and the Atlantic Division.
For the first time in a long time, the Bruins will enter the season without the services of Tuukka Rask in the net. Currently a free agent, Rask is recovering from offseason hip surgery and is out until January or February, so he has time to choose to re-sign, retire or play for another team. It’s clear that the front office made plans for post-Rask, regardless if he returns or not.
Sweeney signed free agent Linus Ullmark to a four-year, $20 million contract on the first day of free agency and then turned around and traded Dan Vladar to the Calgary Flames. That leaves youngster Jeremy Swayman with Ullmark to play between the pipes. Ullmark does have a history of injuries, which could be a concern through an 82-game season and Swayman is hoping to follow up his strong 10-game 2020-21 season in the NHL.
Considering what he had in front of him with the Buffalo Sabres, Ullmark still managed to finish his 117 games in a Sabres uniform three games over .500. This has the makings to be a good signing and a Swayman/Ullmark tandem could be a duo that has success in the future.
3. Third-Line Production
One thing that separated the Bruins from the New York Islanders in the second-round playoff series was the play of the Islanders’ third-line. This offseason, Sweeney addressed the need to give the bottom-six, more importantly, the third-line, a different look heading into this season.
Back is Jake DeBrusk and Boston is looking for a bounce-back season from their 2015 first-round draft pick. It certainly can’t get much worse than last season when he had five goals and 14 points in 41 games. Free-agent veteran signings Erik Haula and Nick Foligno should go a long way in helping DeBrusk have a better season. In the preseason, Haula looked the best of the free-agent signings from this summer.
Of course, health will play a big part in not only the teams’ success, but also this line’s success. In the playoffs, this trio could be the difference between winning a series or losing a series.
There are other factors that will go a long way in helping the Bruins get to where they want to. Their bottom-six play and production needs to be better than it was last season, as well as Charlie Coyle, who begins the season in the second-line center spot between Taylor Hall and Craig Smith. Another key will be Sweeney’s ability to address any needs at the trade deadline. He did last season when he acquired Mike Reilly, Hall, and Curtis Lazar.
A lot of things need to come together over the grind of the season for the Bruins to not only get to the playoffs, but make a run. It all starts on Saturday night against the Dallas Stars at the TD Garden.
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Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.