We’re getting closer and closer to NHL returning and with that has the entire hockey community abuzz. On top of hockey returning comes the return of the BSC Bruins mailbag.
The majority of questions received for this mailbag had to do with the playoffs and specifically how the Bruins traverse roster and lineup decisions as well as taking a look at the competition ahead. Because of this, I limited the selections to a few questions that covered everything.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the questions.
“Thoughts on What You Think the Playoff Roster May Look Like? Other than [Kevan Miller] Will Everyone Be 100% [Healthy]?” (Dejaun via Twitter)
If I had to guess, I’d say that the Bruins will be at full strength once the playoffs start with the exception of Miller who, once again, has dealt with another setback in his recovery from injury.
With that in mind, the 28-players I’d include for the Bruins playoff roster would be as follows:
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, Ondrek Kase, Nick Ritchie, Sean Kuraly, Anders Bjork, Chris Wagner, Par Lindholm, Joakim Nordstrom
Extra Forwards (5):
Jack Studnicka, Karson Kuhlman, Trent Frederic, Anton Blidh, Paul Carey
Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton
Extra Defenders (3):
John Moore, Steven Kampfer, Urho Vaakanainen
Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak
Extra Goaltenders (2):
Dan Vladar, Maxime Lagace
If the Bruins are going to put together a playoff roster that’s built to last, they’d likely have to carry more than eight or nine defenders including the extras to feel comfortable. If we’ve learned anything in the past it’s that the Bruins’ defensive depth has come to bail them out multiple times over the last few seasons.
In this scenario, they’d have four full lines, three full pairings, a full goalie tandem as well as six extra forwards, four extra defenders and two extra goalies.
Alternatively, the Bruins could look to carry 19 forwards and nine defenders, but this seems to be the most optimal way of going about things.
“If You Were Bruce Cassidy and Game One of the Postseason Started Tomorrow, What Lineup Would You Ice for Game 1?” (SpokedZ via Twitter)
This is a pretty big decision that has to be made and it’s one that head coach Bruce Cassidy is undoubtedly already considering.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume this includes the intra-conference round-robin tournament.
The players who will likely be in the lineup for the Bruins isn’t really the issue. The real discussion comes down to where each player will start the game and beyond that, where each player will finish the game.
Cassidy has never been hesitant to shuffle his lineups mid-game and to his credit, it’s garnered results in the past. With so many players capable of playing in a middle-six role on this Bruins’ club, it also makes sense that Cassidy would do a little experimenting in this round-robin tournament considering there’s no risk of elimination.
With that in mind, the lineup I’d start for Game 1 would have to look like this:
|Brad Marchand||Patrice Bergeron||David Pastrnak|
|Jake DeBrusk||David Krejci||Ondrej Kase|
|Nick Ritchie||Charlie Coyle||Anders Bjork|
|Sean Kuraly||Par Lindholm||Chris Wagner|
|Zdeno Chara||Charlie McAvoy|
|Torey Krug||Brandon Carlo|
|Matt Grzelcyk||Jeremy Lauzon|
In the past, I’ve argued that the Bruins should look to use Pastrnak alongside Krejci and DeBrusk with Bjork on the top line with Marchand and Bergeron. I’ve also argued that the team should look to use McAvoy and Grzelcyk together in a full-time role.
Those ideas may still be on the horizon one day but with the additions of Kase and Ritchie to the team and with the regular season officially completed, the time for experimenting this season is over.
To start the playoffs, the Bruins need to go with their tried-and-true lineup, despite the fact that the season finished with Ritchie playing on the second line with Krejci and Kase and DeBrusk lining up alongside Coyle on the team’s third line.
There’s always room to figure things out mid-game and mid-series, but this should be the opening lineup for the postseason.
“Which of the Eight Play-In Teams Scares You the Most, Which Would the Bruins Best Match Up Against, Who’s a Sleeper From That Group?” (HockeyGere via Twitter)
Looking strictly at the eight play-in teams in the Eastern Conference, there are a few teams who the Bruins should definitely be wary of playing. When it comes down to it, any of those eight teams have a chance of doing something because the playoffs are known to shock people – looking at you, 2019 Blue Jackets.
On paper, none of the eight teams necessarily scare me if I’m the Bruins, but again, I wouldn’t be taking any of them lightly at all. The Penguins were the fifth-seed in win-percentage at the time of the pause. They’re also led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.
The Carolina Hurricanes finished the season with a plus-29 goal differential, the highest mark among any team to not earn a top-four seed. For reference, the Penguins were right up there with a plus-28 goal differential as well.
The Toronto Maple Leafs may struggle against the Bruins, but they’ve also taken the Bruins to a Game 7 in the first round in each of the last two seasons. What this means is that the Bruins also struggle to put away the Maple Leafs and though they’ve edged them out two seasons in a row, there’s no guarantee they’ll do so again.
Bruins Best Playoff Match-Up
The Bruins best matchups would likely come against the Montreal Canadiens or New York Rangers.
Interestingly enough, the Bruins only lost nine regular-season games against Eastern Conference teams in regulation. Two of those losses came against the Tampa Bay Lightning, two against the Detroit Red Wings and one each against the Canadiens, Penguins, Capitals, Senators and Blue Jackets.
While the Canadiens were able to earn a victory against the Bruins in the regular season, it’s still hard to imagine them beating the Bruins four out of seven times.
The same can be said about the Rangers who lost all three regular season match-ups against the Bruins (two in regulation, one in overtime) before they traded Brady Skjei to the Hurricanes at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. It’s hard to imagine them putting up much of a fight in a seven-game series.
That said, the playoffs are a crazy time and I’m fully expecting to eat these words in a few months as nothing is a given in professional sports.
It doesn’t really feel fair to call them a sleeper considering they finished with the sixth seed, but the Hurricanes would have to be my pick in the Eastern Conference. Outside of the Hurricanes, my next pick would be the New York Islanders who happened to finish seventh. Boring, I know.
My biggest sleeper in the postseason, however, would be the Vancouver Canucks.
“Where Does Studnicka Fit in the System Next Season?” (JoshuaBellTHW via Twitter)
This is the hardest question I was asked for this mailbag. While the playoffs are uncertain and planning a roster/lineup for the postseason is difficult, it’s even harder to project where the 2020 Presidents’ Trophy winner’s best prospect will fit in next season.
Studnicka has all the makings of a top-six player who will almost certainly be a major player for the Bruins one day. Unfortunately, his role with the Bruins in the immediate future is as cloudy as can be given the current landscape of the team.
If we’re assuming Studnicka will immediately be a center on the team, he’s already battling with Bergeron, Krejci and Coyle for that role. If we’re expanding the position to forward in general, then Studnicka would be competing with Marchand, Pastrnak, DeBrusk, Bjork, Ritchie and Kase as top-nine forward options.
Realistically, Studnicka is an NHL-ready forward who will be given every opportunity to compete for a job coming out of training camp. Realistically, he’ll likely be competing with Bjork and Ritchie more directly barring any sort of trade.