As 2022 comes to a close and we approach the 2023 Winter Classic at Fenway Park between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 2, looking back at the last 12 months, there were certainly some big stories when it came to the Bruins. The last 12 months have been filled with plenty of positive and negative storylines for the Black and Gold.
As the Bruins look toward 2023, they enter the New Year at 28-4-3 with the best record in the NHL and the most points with 57. With the Winter Classic just two days away, here are the five top stories of 2022 that surrounded the Black and Gold.
5. Bruins Re-Sign GM Don Sweeney
When the 2021-22 season ended, general manager (GM) Don Sweeney had his contract expire and his future in Boston was unknown. On June 27, the Bruins announced that they signed Sweeney to a multi-year contract.
There was never really any doubt as to whether team owner Jeremy Jacobs or Bruins president Cam Neely would not bring Sweeney back after his first seven years as GM. His drafting has come under the most fire since being hired in 2015 as well as his strange decision to sign Mitchell Miller back in November, but you can’t deny that some of his trades and getting players to sign team-friendly contracts are one of his strengths.
4. Bruins Keep Jake DeBrusk
When it became public in November of 2021 that Jake DeBrusk had requested a trade through his agent, the 14th overall pick of the 2015 Entry Draft went about his business and remained a professional through the scrutiny. Things changed however in February with a lineup adjustment.
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Ahead of a West Coast trip, DeBrusk was inserted onto the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron and the rest they could say is history. DeBrusk thrived with two of the top forwards on the team and even scored his first career hat trick on the trip against the Los Angeles Kings. As the trade deadline in March approached, the Bruins signed him to a contract extension for two years and $8 million. At the time, it was a move thought that would make it easier for Sweeney to deal him without a $4.41 million qualifying offer hanging over the team that acquired him would face over the summer as a restricted free agent (RFA). As the deadline came and passed, DeBrusk remained in Boston and they are benefitting from that non-move today.
DeBrusk rescinded his trade request over the summer and is having a strong first half of the 2022-23 season and one of the reasons why Boston leads the league with 59 points. He has 14 goals and 13 assists in the top six and is on pace to set new career highs in each category. Sometimes the best moves are the ones not made and Sweeney holding onto him looks like an excellent move.
3. Bruins Acquire Pavel Zacha from Devils
One of the worst-kept secrets over the last couple of seasons has been Sweeney’s efforts to try and acquire Pavel Zacha from the New Jersey Devils. After failing to do so at the last two trade deadlines, he was finally able to land the sixth overall pick of the 2015 Draft in a July trade for Erik Haula.
Haula’s one season in Boston will be remembered for him taking over the second-line center position after the first of the year between Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak. For as well as he played, he was not the long-term answer, which made him expendable. Zacha has been everything the Bruins hoped he would be and more in his first 35 games wearing the Black and Gold.
He has five goals and 17 assists, but it is more than the scoresheet where he’s making an impact. Being able to play both the wing and center spot, he filled in for David Krejci when he missed time with an injury earlier this year, he plays on the second power play unit, kills penalties, and is a playmaker for whatever line he plays on. His hockey IQ and ability to see the ice is what makes him a valuable asset to the Bruins.
2. Bruins Acquire Hampus Lindholm from Ducks
At the trade deadline in March, the Bruins were looking for a left-shot defenseman and struck it big when they acquired Hampus Lindholm from the Anaheim Ducks. In return, Sweeney sent prospect Urho Vaakanainen, John Moore, and the Bruins’ 2022 first-round pick to Anaheim, and with the hefty package going west, signing Lindholm beyond the rest of the season was a must.
One day after the trade, the Bruins announced that they agreed to an eight-year, $52 million contract extension with Lindholm to keep him in Boston as a top pair with Charlie McAvoy. After the trade, Lindholm struggled with injuries the remainder of the regular season and in the playoffs, but this season, he has proven to be worth his value, especially when McAvoy missed the beginning of the season recovering from offseason surgery.
In 35 games, he has four goals and 21 assists with a plus/minus of plus-27. He is excelling in all situations and his offensive game has taken off, which included a game-winning overtime goal on Nov. 1 against the Penguins. Boston has the future top-pairing on the blueline with McAvoy and Lindholm.
1. Bruins Fire Cassidy and Hire Montgomery
The biggest story of 2022 happened in early June when Sweeney went to Bruce Cassidy’s suburban Boston home to deliver the news that he was going to be fired, three weeks after being told his job was safe for the final year of his contract. The firing was shocking considering the second half of the season the Bruins had gone from outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture to the seventh seed as the first wild card and 107 points.
It took Sweeney just under a month to find Cassidy’s replacement and hired Jim Montgomery, who spent the last two seasons on Craig Berube’s staff with the St. Louis Blues, on June 30. What was a surprising hire has turned into nothing but gold for Boston through 35 games in 2022-23.
Montgomery’s new system has opened things up for the defensemen to be able to be more part of the offense and some of the younger players (DeBrusk, Trent Frederic, and Connor Clifton) have taken their game to the next level of development. Montgomery also put Krejci, who signed as a free agent in August, on the same line with Pastrnak, something that Cassidy did not do, and the results have led to Pastrnak on pace for a 60-goal season. Overall, not many people outside of the locker room saw the start that Boston had to the season coming with just a few minor tweaks to the roster from the one that skated off the ice in Carolina following a Game 7 loss to the Hurricanes last spring. Under Montgomery, the Bruins players look like they are playing stress-free hockey, not worried about making a mistake, and having fun playing together.
There are other storylines that could have made this list. The controversial signing of Miller in November, the play of goaltenders Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, or the hometown discount deals that Bergeron and Krejci took to return for another run in Boston. As the calendar turns to 2023, the two biggest questions facing the Bruins are what does the future hold in Boston for Pastrnak who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this upcoming summer, and do the Bruins have one more championship run in them? Time will tell, but 2022 will not be a year that will be forgotten by Bruins fans for a long time.