Since the NHL crowned the Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup champions in September, the league has been saying that they hope to begin the 2020-21 season on Jan. 1. Now that we are in the second week of December, that seems unrealistic.
The league has not made any announcement about what the season will look like, but realistically, we are looking at a 52 or 56-game season. The NHL will also be forced to realign their divisions geographically to limit travel or if the border between Canada and the USA remains closed.
A new divisional alignment, leaked from a recent report, has the Boston Bruins in the East Division with the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals.
In that case, the Bruins would lose some important Atlantic Divison foes. Gone for this season would be the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs due to border closures and they would also lose games against the Lightning, who they’ve battled for the top spot in the last two seasons, the improving Florida Panthers and the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings.
Here’s a look at how the Bruins will stack up against their new opponents in what everyone hopes will be some kind of 2020-21 season.
The Sabres seem to have been rebuilding for years and it’s been nine seasons since they last made the playoffs. They have one of the more exciting players in the league in Jack Eichel, but they still have questions surrounding their defense and goaltending.
The Sabres brought in Eric Staal to add scoring and they managed to ink Taylor Hall to a one-year, $8 million contract in one of the most curious free-agent signings this offseason. The Bruins were also interested in Hall, but not at that price. Despite these moves, the Sabres are a team the Bruins should be able to get a lot of points from.
The Bruins have had a lot of success against the Hurricanes, including in the last two playoffs, and it should continue into this season.
Two years ago, the Bruins swept the former Hartford Whalers in the Eastern Conference Final and eliminated the Hurricanes in five games in this summer’s quarterfinal series in the Toronto bubble.
This offseason, Carolina lost Justin Williams, who retired, and unrestricted free agent defenseman Sami Vatanen remains unsigned. Regardless, they are another team, like the Sabres, that the Bruins should be able to gain points from.
New Jersey Devils
Also like the Sabres, the New Jersey Devils always seem to be rebuilding. They have a young talent in Jack Hughes, but building around him will take more time.
The Devils had the fourth-worst goal differential in 2019-20 with a minus-41. Only the San Jose Sharks (-44), Senators (-52), and Red Wings (-112) were worse. Things aren’t likely to get much better this season, even if there are only 56 games, and the Bruins would be wise to take advantage of that. Of all the teams mentioned here, the Devils are most likely to finish in the basement.
New York Islanders
The Islanders were the surprise team of the Return to Play this summer and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final before falling to the Lightning. They are on the rise with head coach Barry Trotz, who is among the best in the league at making adjustments.
In July 2019, goaltender Semyon Varlamov signed a four-year, $20 million contract to come to Brooklyn. After winning 19 of his 45 appearances during the regular season, he had an 11-7 record in the playoffs with a 2.14 goals-against average (GAA) and a .921 save percentage (SV%). The Bruins went 2-0-1 last season against the Islanders with two of the three games going to overtime.
New York lost defenseman Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche in free agency and former Bruin Johnny Boychuk retired. Still, the Islanders are a frustrating team to play against and Boston will have their hands full.
New York Rangers
The Rangers were swept in the Stanley Cup qualifying round by the Hurricanes, but they came out as the real winners with the first-overall selection in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, thanks to the lottery, which landed them prized forward Alexis Lafreniere.
With Lafreniere joining forwards Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Artemi Panarin, the Rangers have the potential to score a lot of goals. Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox anchor their defense in front of young goalies Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev. This is a team that will be tough for the Bruins to play against as they go through a season of getting younger on defense. They will be one of the more explosive teams on the schedule.
The Flyers got hot in the Return to Play, winning all three of their round-robin games to clinch the top-seed in the playoffs. They beat the Canadiens in six games before falling to the Islanders in six. The Bruins went 1-2-1 against Philadelphia, with their only win coming on March 12, behind a 36-save shutout from Tuukka Rask, to snap the Flyers’ nine-game winning streak before the season was paused two days later.
With little turnover since the playoffs, the Flyers will enter the season with Jacob Voracek, Claude Giroux, and Sean Couturier leading the way upfront. Defenseman Matt Niskanen retired, but goalie Carter Hart returns as one of the best young netminders in the league.
As usual, the Bruins will have to be on the top of their game if they want to fare better against the Flyers this season.
If there has been one team that’s a thorn in the Bruins’ side, it’s the Washington Capitals. Boston has dropped 17 of their last 19 against the Caps and having to play them more than the normal three times a season will be a tall task.
Alex Ovechkin tied the Bruins’ David Pastrnak with 48 goals in 2019-20 to share the Maurice Rocket Richard Award and the Capitals signed former Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to a one-year, $1.5 million contract after Braden Holtby left for the Vancouver Canucks in free agency.
Defenseman Justin Schultz signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract to play in the nation’s capital with Lundqvist after leaving the Penguins. The Bruins have their work cut out for them if they are to change their luck against Washington.
A Tough Schedule
The Bruins would be wise to take advantage of games against the Sabres, Devils, and Hurricanes to rack up as many points as possible as games will be tough against their remaining opponents.
The later the season starts the better for the Bruins who could be without their top two scorers Pastrnak and Brad Marchand who are both recovering from offseason surgery. In a shortened season, missing either of those players early on could be devastating for the Black and Gold.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. 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.