Back in December, I wrote a “Dear Santa” letter with my wish list for the Boston Bruins’ 2020-21 season. While things initially started out great for the team, the Bruins have been on a bit of a roller coaster in the last several weeks. With a packed schedule going into the final stretch of the season, it will be a tight race for the playoff spots in the MassMutual East Division.
Now that we are officially past the halfway mark of the season, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back and see which wishes have come true so far this season and which ones are we still dreaming about.
1. Charlie McAvoy Finishes in the Top 5 For Norris Trophy
It’s safe to say that Charlie McAvoy is having one of the best seasons of his young career so far. It wouldn’t have been unsurprising to see a bit of an adjustment period at the start since he was playing without Zdeno Chara’s leadership or Torey Krug’s offensive might. Yet, from the very first game, he looked completely comfortable as the number one defensemen on the team.
Through 35 games so far this season, he has four goals and 18 assists for 22 total points. He’s also a plus-10 and averaging 24 minutes and 23 seconds of ice time a night. This is almost two minutes more than his career average up to this point. He already has five power-play points, which is more than he’s had in the last two seasons combined. But most of his points are coming at even strength, which has been a weak point for the Bruins all season.
So how does McAvoy match up against other defensemen? He’s top 30 for total points and tied for 30th in plus/minus. He’s 18th amongst defensemen for total time on ice. He’s consistent in all the stats that are used for consideration. What sets him apart from some of the guys ahead of him in points is just how much the Bruins have come to rely on him.
The Bruins are a different team when McAvoy is on the ice and is a major impact player for them this year. He drives the offensive pace for the team, and when he and Matt Grzelcyk are on the ice together, they barely need to play defense because of their combined offensive skill.
At this point, he is most likely a lock for a top-five finish in voting for the Norris Trophy after finishing 10th last season. He may even make a push to be a finalist. Will he win when stacked up against heavyweights like Victor Hedman? Probably not. But he’s definitely turning heads in 2021 and has taken the step forward the Bruins needed him to make to stay competitive.
The one concern with McAvoy at the moment is that he did miss last night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers with an upper-body injury. Hopefully, it isn’t too serious. The only thing that could really deter his campaign to be a finalist for the Norris Trophy is a long-term injury.
2. An Outdoor Game
Another one that came true! The Bruins played the Flyers outside at Lake Tahoe on Feb. 21. They went on to win that game 7 – 3, David Pastrnak had a hat trick, and Trent Frederic scored his first NHL goal.
It was a great game for the team and brought about some memorable moments. Pastrnak’s disappointment at being called out to do media while the team was playing “Barbie Girl” in the locker room is a moment that belongs in Bruins’ history books. Not to mention the iconic fashion the team showed up to the game in.
As you can see, the setting was beautiful, and it was the team-building, fun event that you would hope for from an outdoor game. The pictures absolutely speak for themselves.
3. Jake DeBrusk Scores 20+ Goals
Seriously, does anything else need to be said about this? In order for Jake DeBrusk to reach this, he would need a goal in at least 17 of the last 21 games of the season. That would be a tall order for even the most talented of players in the NHL.
It’s been a disappointing season for DeBrusk. To be fair to him, he has missed time with an injury and spent about two weeks on the Covid Protocol list. In 23 games this season, he has three goals and four assists for seven points. He has a career-low shooting percentage, only 6.7%. Two seasons ago, when he had 27 goals and 42 points in 68 games, he had a shooting percentage of 17.31%.
At this point, if DeBrusk could get something going and reach 10 goals for the season, it would go a long way for this team. But at this moment, it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll still be a Bruin next week as the trade deadline approaches. Given his poor showing so far this season, I don’t know how much the team would be able to get for him or if it would even be worth it. Whatever they get probably won’t be able to push this team over the line and make them a higher contender. But, sometimes, a change of scenery can be exactly what a player needs.
Given last season’s and this season’s disappointments, the potential 30-goal scorer DeBrusk was predicted to be coming into the 2015 NHL Entry Level Draft, which seems more and more like a pipe dream. He could still be a decent scorer and be maybe a 20 goals a season type of guy. But the Bruins need that guy now, and his window to prove himself as such is quickly closing in Boston.
4. David Krejci Gets Consistent Linemates
Lol: part two.
The Bruins continue to struggle with figuring out their line combinations. Once again, David Krejci has found himself with a rotating cast of wings. At various points throughout this season, he’s had Pastrnak, Nick Ritchie, Craig Smith, DeBrusk, and Ondrej Kase.
Part of the problem has definitely been injuries. Kase, who was expected to play on the second line with DeBrusk and Krejci going into 2021, has been injured since the second game of the season back on Jan. 16. There is still no timetable for his return. DeBrusk and Krejci have also both missed stretches due to injury.
Even when largely healthy, the Bruins continue to struggle with depth scoring. The second line isn’t producing goals at even strength. In 32 games, Krejci has two goals and 21 assists for 23 total points. Eleven of his 23 points have come on the power play, including both of his goals.
I suppose after this many years, it is wishful thinking that Krejci would have any sort of stability on his wings. He does deserve kudos for dealing with this for so long without complaint. Though, the most recent combination of him, Pastrnak, and Ritchie has looked good in the small sample size so far. We’ll have to see if Bruce Cassidy keeps with it or moves on to another combination.
5. One More Season of Zdeno Chara
My wish list was published on Dec. 12. As we know now, on Dec. 30, Chara signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals, ending his 14-year tenure in Boston. The understanding of what went down is that the Bruins wanted to commit to youth on the blue line and wanted him to play a more depth position that would have seen him as the 7th defenseman. He believed he could still compete at a high level, and the two parties departed with no bad blood.
Of course, this could be wrong, but that seems to be the story. In 38 games this season, the big man has two goals and seven assists for nine points, not far off the 14 points he had in 68 games in 2019-20. He’s a plus-twelve and averaging 18 minutes and 39 seconds of ice time. He’s doing well in Washington and seems to have made a good impression in the locker room.
McAvoy’s ascendance this season and the decent play out of the young guys (at least until the most recent stretch of games) have replaced some of his on-ice presence. Sure, the Bruins could have used him this season, especially with all the injuries, but injuries and who they affect can never be predicted.
Where his presence seems to be missed the most is in the locker room, which is honestly to be expected. This isn’t to knock Patrice Bergeron as a captain, who has been a tremendous leader for this team even before getting the ‘C’ on his sweater, but Chara was a really important presence. Given Cassidy’s recent parental ‘I’m not mad, I’m disappointed’ statements at the lack of energy from the team, you can’t help but wonder if the absence of Chara’s famous work ethic is playing a role.
Yes, one more year of Chara would have been nice, but it’s hard to fault either side for the departure. The Bruins had young guys ready for a shot, and he still wanted to be a competitor. It’s one of the things that made him such a great player and leader in Boston for so many years.
Obviously, I was aiming a little too high with my wish list. While they all seemed within reach in December, as the season has progressed, it appears they really weren’t. Besides the Chara wish, the DeBrusk and Krejci wishes are linked to depth scoring, once again the biggest struggle for this team.
If I were to create a wish list going forward for the rest of the season, there are two things I would like to see. The first is another player reaching double digits in total goals for the year. Right now, Brad Marchand has 18, Pastrnak 16, Bergeron 15, and Ritchie 10. The next highest is Smith with six. Getting any bit of support in scoring for the top line would go a long way for this team since right now, Bergeron and Marchand are pretty much single-handedly pulling this team into the playoffs.
My second wish is to see Jakub Zboril score his first NHL goal. There have been a few scored so far this season, and it would be exciting to see another. Despite some recent struggles, he’s had a decent rookie season and now just needs to become a bigger offensive contributor. There have been mistakes and rough spots, but on a whole, he’s proven this season that he can play in the NHL after coming in with only two games of experience.
What are your wishes for the rest of the season? Comment below what you’d like to see the Bruins do in their remaining 20 games.