For the sixth time in six seasons, the Boston Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs under the guidance of coach Bruce Cassidy. General manager (GM) Don Sweeney underwent a roster turnover following the end of the 2020-21 season. Despite the roster subtractions and additions for the 2021-22 season, the Bruins managed to come together and punch their postseason ticket.
In the final installment of grades for the 2021-22 season, we will grade both Cassidy and Sweeney on their seasons in charge behind the bench and in the front office.
The first three months of the season were a struggle for the Bruins. They traded wins and losses, and were spinning their wheels every night and finding new ways to lose. Yes, gone were David Krejci, Jeremy Lauzon, and goalie Tuukka Rask was recovering from offseason hip surgery. When the Bruins and NHL shut down in late December before Christmas to get a COVID-19 outbreak under control, they were on the outside looking in on an Eastern Conference postseason berth.
That’s when everything changed.
When the Bruins took the ice on Jan. 1 for a home game against the Buffalo Sabres, Cassidy changed his lines around with a shakeup. David Pastrnak went from the first line to the second line with Erik Haula and Taylor Hall. Charlie Coyle ended up settling in with Trent Frederic and Craig Smith on the third line in February when Jake DeBrusk was moved to the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. The result? The Black and Gold were one of the top teams in the league from Jan. 1 until the regular-season finale on April 28 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They won 51 games, the most under Cassidy during his tenure behind the bench in Boston.
They finished in the first Eastern Conference wild card spot, mainly because of their slow start in the first three months, but when the lines changed, the Bruins became a different team. The fact that Boston finished with 51 wins considering what was lost after last season and added in the offseason is really nothing short of a miracle. The fourth line aside from Curtis Lazar was a mess, there were a lot of inconsistencies from the defense after the top-pairing, and Cassidy dealt with lengthy injuries to some of his top players, as well as suspensions.
Through it all, they finished with 107 points and took the Carolina Hurricanes to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, a team that outscored the Bruins 16-1 in three regular-season games. Say what you want about how the season ended, but not many coaches would have had this team in that position this season.
It was apparent when the 2020-21 season ended a year ago that there were going to be changes to the Bruins roster. When Krejci announced he was not returning to Boston, that left a gaping hole in the middle behind Bergeron. That spot was never addressed in the offseason or at the trade deadline in March.
Two of Sweeney’s offseason additions struggled in Tomas Nosek and Nick Foligno, but the returns were better on Linus Ullmark, Erik Haula, and Derek Forbort. Ullmark was better in goal than most people thought at the beginning of the season and Haula settled in nicely on the second line between Hall and Pastrnak. Forbort struggled early in the season, but he got better as the season went along and became a valuable penalty killer and shot blocker.
Boston had three needs at the trade deadline, a left-shot defenseman, a second-line center, and a top-six goal-scoring right wing. Sweeney addressed the left-shot need on defense by acquiring Hampus Lindholm from the Anaheim Ducks at the deadline, but never addressed the forward need and it came back to haunt them against the Hurricanes in that series when they could have used another goal-scoring forward on the road. It could have been the difference in any of the four road games they lost.
He gave DeBrusk, who requested a trade, a two-year extension for $8 million, hoping that would make it easier to deal the 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft. It never happened and now you have to wonder what his future is with the Bruins.
Sweeney’s contract expires at the end of the Stanley Cup Final, but President Cam Neely has said that he’s had contact with owner Jeremy Jacobs about re-signing him, which appears to be going to happen sooner or later. There is more uncertainty surrounding Cassidy from Neely’s comments, but firing a coach that won 51 games with a roster that had needs that were not fully addressed would not be a good look. Big questions around the Bruins’ offseason will be answered in the coming weeks and months.
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.