The Boston Bruins won 51 games in the 2021-22 season and finished as one of eight Eastern Conference teams that collected over 100 points to punch their playoff ticket. The 51 wins were a bit of a surprise considering that they hovered around .500 through the Christmas COVID-19 shutdown, but following a return on Jan. 1, they played some of the best hockey in the NHL.
Going into the 2022-23 season, there are still questions surrounding what the roster will look like as it has been a quiet offseason for general manager (GM) Don Sweeney. There are some players that had very good seasons for the Black and Gold last season, but as comes with every season, there are always some that will regress. Here are three players that could have a regression in the upcoming season.
When the Bruins reported for training camp last September, Charlie Coyle and Jack Studnicka were going to battle it out for the No. 2 center spot behind Patrice Bergeron after David Krejci left to continue his career in his home country of the Czech Republic. Coyle ended up missing most of camp with a nagging knee following offseason surgery. While Studnicka impressed, Coyle was given the spot despite missing most of camp, but he made up for it during the regular season.
After struggling as the second-line center between Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, Coyle was draped down to the third-line center spot after Jan. 1 and he settled in nicely with Trent Frederic and Smith on the third line and they were arguably the best line on some nights. During the second half of the season when the Bruins made their run up the standings, Boston was a three-line deep team on a lot of nights and Coyle was a big part of that. He finished with 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points, his second-highest total of points in a season for his career after collecting 56 with the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17.
Coyle, who played in all 82 games for the fourth time in his career, is making $5.25 million this upcoming season after signing a six-year extension in November of 2019. His contract says he is a top-six center, but he has proven that he is a perfect fit for a third-line center. Depending on how things play out with Bergeron and Krejci’s contracts, Coyle could very well find himself in the top-six. Asking the Boston native to have another 16-goal, 28-assist season is a stretch.
The biggest surprise of the Bruins’ 2021 free agency class was when they signed goaltender Linus Ullmark to a four-year, $20 million contract. It was not surprising that Sweeney signed a goalie, but it was surprising that he gave Ullmark an average annual value (AAV) of $5 million, but he proved to be worth it in his first season in Boston.
Splitting time with Jeremy Swayman, Ullmark went 26-10-2 with a 2.45 goals against average (GAA) and a .917 save percentage (SV%). After struggling in training camp and preseason games, once he got his feet under him, he had a good first year for the Bruins and created a formidable tandem in net with Swayman.
While his first season wearing the Spoked-B was a strong one, if there is anything that history tells us with Ullmark, it’s to expect the unexpected. His first six NHL seasons were spent with the Buffalo Sabres and the 29-year-old struggled throughout his time in Western New York. Injuries played a big role in his time with the Sabres and when he was healthy, he had a 50-47-13 record with a 2.78 GAA and a .912 SV%, which is why some eyebrows were raised when he signed his big deal with Sweeney.
For the most part last season, the Bruins were relatively healthy on defense, but that won’t be the case beginning the 2022-23 season. Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk will start the season recovering from offseason surgeries, as is Mike Reilly, which means there are going to be questions that first-year coach Jim Montgomery will need to answer before the season opener. Ullmark struggled in the playoffs and was replaced after the first two games against the Carolina Hurricanes by Swayman who got his team all the way to a Game 7. With his injury history and the Bruins shorthanded beginning the season on the blueline, it won’t be surprising to see Ullmark regress this upcoming season.
At the trade deadline in 2021, the Bruins acquired Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from the Sabres and Hall instantly made a connection on the second line with Krejci and Smith. In 16 games before the playoffs, Hall had eight goals and 14 points, but things were different in the 2021-22 season. After playing with Coyle until Jan. 1, then Erik Haula, Hall finished with 20 goals and 41 assists, but he took off when Pastrnak was dropped down and Haula was moved up.
The trio played well together and Hall even got some time on the first line with Bergeron and either Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk when Marchand was suspended or injured. If there’s one thing that brings out the best in Hall, it’s a play-making center like Bergeron and Krejci. As of now, both players are not under contract and it remains to be seen if they are. If one or neither is, Hall could be in for a tough season with Coyle, Studnicka, Pavel Zacha, or anyone else that will be under contract at training camp.
After scoring 39 goals and dishing out 54 assists for the New Jersey Devils in the 2017-18 season to win the Hart Trophy, Hall struggled with just 26 goals over his next four seasons, which should be concerning for the Bruins heading into the upcoming season where he struggles after having a good season. Yes, I know, he played for the Devils and Arizona Coyotes and Sabres during that time, but it’s still a concerning trend.
There are other possible regression candidates for the Black and Gold for the upcoming season, but these three should be considered near the top with their past history of struggling after good previous seasons. If the Bruins are going to go where they want to in 2022-23, they need these players to have better seasons than regressing.
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.