The 2017-18 season both went better than expected and worse than expected for the Boston Bruins. Entering the season, the Bruins were fresh off of a first-round playoff loss to the Ottawa Senators and the hope was that the team would be able to progress from there. After all, the team went from perennial Stanley Cup contenders to a team narrowly missing the postseason in consecutive seasons.
A playoff loss in the first round was progress in itself but it certainly wasn’t where the team wanted to be.
In that regard, a 50-win, 112-point season and a trip to the second round of the postseason should be considered a huge win and a step in the right direction. When factoring in the fact that the Bruins arguably were hit the hardest of any team in terms of injury and were using more rookies across the board in impact roles than any other team in the league, the season looks even better on paper.
Unfortunately, expectations aren’t set in stone prior to a season. With the way the Bruins played throughout the year, expectations began to rise and legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations were running rampant. In that way, the 2017-18 season went worse than expected for the Bruins.
Heading into 2018-19, the expectations are sky-high for the Bruins. Whether or not that means this season’s success hinges on a Stanley Cup isn’t clear. In fact, very little is clear about this team right now and the rest of training camp and the preseason will help answer some very important lineup questions as well as set early expectations for the 2018-19 season,
2017-18 Record: 50-20-12, 112 Points (2nd in Atlantic Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference, 4th in NHL Standings)
Key Roster Additions
- John Moore
- Jaroslav Halak
- Joakim Nordstrom
- Chris Wagner
- Karson Kuhlman
Key Roster Losses
- Adam McQuaid
- Anton Khudobin
- Riley Nash
- Rick Nash
- Tim Schaller
- Nick Holden
2018 NHL Entry Draft
- Axel Anderson (2nd round, 57th overall)
- Jakub Lauko (3rd round, 77th overall)
- Curtis Hall (4th round, 119th overall)
- Dustyn McFaul (6th round, 181st overall)
- Pavel Shen (7th round, 212th overall)
Projected Lines: Forwards
Projecting the Bruins’ opening-night lineup at this point in the offseason is a fruitless endeavor. With so many players legitimately competing for spots on the roster, it’s impossible to truly lock down who will play where. It would be a safe bet to assume that the Bruins coaching staff feels a similar way as well, even if they have an idea of what they’re looking for heading into the season.
With that said, a season preview wouldn’t be complete without some sort of guess at what the lines and pairings could look like.
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Danton Heinen
Ryan Donato – Trent Frederic – David Backes
Peter Cehlarik – Sean Kuraly – Noel Acciari
The reason this lineup is almost certainly not going to be the opening-night lineup comes down to the sheer number of options head coach Bruce Cassidy has to work with. For starters, the third-line center role is up for grabs with anyone from Forsbacka Karlsson to Trent Frederic and even Sean Kuraly competing for the role. To a lesser extent, Donato and Backes could even compete for the role (though the former hasn’t taken any shifts at the position during camp).
Early on, it seemed like Forsbacka Karlsson would be the prime candidate for the role to start the season. He hasn’t taken many strides during training camp or the preseason that’s made him stand out, however, and while there have been some negatives to Frederic’s game, he’s looked better in the early goings than Forsbacka Karlsson. Both should see time at the position this season but Frederic has the slight edge for now.
The right-wing position is the most in-flux position on the roster as well as any of the four players listed on the right side could play on the top-line alongside Bergeron and Marchand. The only certainty in that group is Pastrnak playing right wing. Outside of that, we could even see one of Donato, Bjork or Heinen scratched for the first game of the season with a newcomer like Nordstrom or Wagner getting minutes.
Starting Backes on the fourth line seems highly unlikely and for that reason, he retains his third-line spot at this point in the preseason projections. With that said, two of Donato, Heinen and Bjork could be the third-line wings to start the season. Still, playing two young players like Donato and Frederic with a veteran like Backes seems like the appropriate play early on.
Another factor to consider is Peter Cehlarik’s play this preseason. He is making it nearly impossible to send him down to the AHL to start the season and if Bjork isn’t ready to go early on, Cehlarik could get an audition early in the year, even if it’s on the fourth line. He’s also a prime trade candidate this season, though the Bruins may not want to give up on him just yet despite his injury issues.
This also doesn’t take into account Lee Stempniak and Daniel Winnik who are both in camp on PTOs. Stempniak specifically has looked good in the preseason and is certainly proving he deserves an NHL job. With that said, the Bruins best bet may be to run with their current group of players, let other teams take a shot on the veterans, and circle back to additions if necessary at the trade deadline.
When Bjork is eventually healthy, the Bruins might also be wise to slot Pastrnak with Krejci and use Bjork on the top-line alongside Bergeron and Marchand if things aren’t working early on.
Projected Pairings: Defense
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
John Moore – Kevan Miller
If you’re like me, you probably love seeing Matt Grzelcyk in the lineup each night. Despite his lack of offense in his rookie season, the Massachusetts-native made an excellent impact each game he skated in the lineup and was a legitimate X-factor alongside Miller last season on the Bruins’ bottom pairing.
With that said, it’s hard to envision the Bruins sitting Moore in favor of Grzelcyk to start the season after making such a long-term investment in him. There is the possibility that the Bruins could slide Moore over to the right side to flank Krug with Grzelcyk retaining his position alongside Miller to start the year with Carlo sitting early on. It’s up in the air for now, but the addition of Moore will create some difficult decisions this season – a good problem to have.
Another piece to consider here is Urho Vaakanainen who is forcing his way into the lineup with his play this preseason. With how packed the current depth chart is, however, it may not be the time to slot him into the lineup to start the year. He will almost certainly be the team’s first option for a callup on defense though.
Between the Pipes
The Bruins are in similar shape heading into 2018-19 as they were heading into 2017-18 in terms of goaltenders. Tuukka Rask will remain the Bruins starting netminder this year – a role he’s proven capable of undertaking despite some shaky seasons skewing public opinion of him.
With a 34-14-5 record and a 2.36 goals against average and a .917 save percentage, Rask played admirably for the Bruins. Though he may not be an “elite” goaltender by today’s standard, he’s still proven to be an above-average goaltender for the Bruins when they need him.
Are there better goaltenders out there? Sure. Are there significantly worse goaltenders out there? Undoubtedly there are.
Backing up Rask will be Jaroslav Halak – the former New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens goalie who has struggled in recent seasons but who has a history of playing solid hockey nonetheless. He isn’t the starter he once was in Montreal but he should be an adequate backup for Rask.
Whether Halak is an upgrade on Anton Khudobin is unknown but there’s no reason to think there will be a significant drop in play between the two.
What to Expect
The 2018-19 season could end up being very similar to the 2017-18 season for the Boston Bruins. A year that will feature many newcomers to the lineup – both as veterans and as young prospects either making the full-time jump to the team or getting their first full season underway with the club, many questions will be up in the air for much of the year.
These unanswered questions won’t necessarily be bad ones, however, as many of them will surround lineup questions based purely on the depth and number of players the Bruins have to choose from each and every night. The opening night lineup will not be the lineup in December, the lineup at the trade deadline or even the lineup in the postseason. That’s a simple fact that rings true for every team every single season.
There will be times when fans will be happy with the product on the ice, times when they’ll be wishing certain players were scratched, sent down or traded in favor of others and times when they will simply hate everything that’s going on with the team (for one reason or another). When the team boasts as much talent as the 2018-19 Bruins, however, the latter feeling will likely come few and far between with the odd slump that hits every team from time to time.
In general, this season should be an exciting one for the Bruins that will give them the chance to prove that the 2017-18 season wasn’t a fluke. While Chara and Bergeron will have to work hard to replicate their success from a season ago, even a slight regression from either of them would keep the Bruins in good shape.
A bounce-back year from David Krejci and a consistently healthy lineup could do wonders for the Bruins this season and if both of those things come true, the Bruins have a chance to be even better than they were a year ago. Still, there’s also a distinct chance that they could fall back and become the third-place team in the division or even a wild-card team.
Either way, the Bruins should be penciled into a playoff spot early on. Whether or not they keep that spot will be up to them.
2018-19 Record Prediction: 48-23-11, 107 Points (2nd in Atlantic Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference, 5th in NHL)