The end of the 2021-22 regular season is upon us and what a year it has been. From the highs of Patrice Bergeron scoring his 400th career goal on Thursday (April 28) and the emergence of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman as a competitive goalie tandem to the lows of Brad Marchand’s suspensions and Tuukka Rask’s retirement, it has certainly been an interesting season.
Before the focus completely shifts to the postseason, let’s give out some good ole awards to commemorate the best of the 2021-22 regular season.
MVP – David Pastrnak
David Pastrnak turned his season around so completely that his slow start honestly feels like a fever dream. However, this is Pasta, management and Bruins fans alike have come to expect excellence from the 25-year-old Czech. And yes, you read that right, he is only 25, soon to be 26 later in May. There is still so much exciting hockey left to see from him.
Pastrnak finished the 2021-22 season with 77 points in 72 games, including 40 goals, most of which came after the New Year began in January. His career-high is 48 goals in 70 games in 2019-20. The fact that he came close to that after a slow start shows just how incredible he has been in the last few months.
The biggest indicator of team MVP is how much you influence the team around you. Is it really a coincidence that the Bruins had a very up and down, unremarkable start to the season when Pastrnak wasn’t at his best? Or that the recent struggle of the team while he was injured? Pastrnak is the pulse of this team. When he is on, this team is very different than when he is not.
The other remarkable thing about Pastrnak’s season is that he had so much success while playing the majority of the season on a line with Marchand and Bergeron. Since he came into the league, the three of them playing together has been something to see. The “Perfection Line” has been one of the best lines in the NHL for the past few seasons.
Now though, the Bruins have found a way to “spread the wealth” throughout the lineup. He found great chemistry back in January with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula, revitalizing their games, and seeing consistent depth scoring for the first time in ages. Pastrnak doesn’t just play his own game but brings up the guys around him as well. That’s why he’s my choice for MVP.
Honorable Mentions: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy
Most Improved – Erik Haula
At the beginning of the season, Don Sweeney’s signing of Haula did not look like a great idea. After an okay year in Nashville in 2020-21 that saw him score 21 points, including nine goals in 51 games, the Bruins signed him to a two-year deal with an average annual value of $2.375 million. When it took up 12 games to score his first goal, that deal was looking like an overpay.
Though, as mentioned above, after finding chemistry on a line with Pastrnak and Hall, Haula lit up. He went on to finish the season with 18 goals and 44 total points in 78 games. The second-best season of his career, only lagging behind the frankly ridiculous, magical first-year run with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-19 when he had 29 goals and 55 points.
Haula went from being on the bottom of the Bruins’ scoring chart to finishing sixth overall, which is exactly what the team needed. They never needed him to put up the same points he did that first season in Vegas (though no one would have been complaining if he did) since they had their elite superstars in Pastrnak, Bergeron, and Marchand to do that. All they needed was a consistent, depth scorer to take some of the pressure off of those guys.
It was a rough start, but Haula became that guy. For years, the Bruins have lacked a consistent presence behind the top line. Finally, they have found it and the team is better off for it.
Honorable Mentions: Taylor Hall, David Pastrnak, Linus Ullmark
Best Moment(s) – Evolution of the Goalie Hug
Who doesn’t love seeing NHL players having some personality? Essays could be written about the lack of personality in the NHL, and how it’s hampering the growth of the sport. So, when an opportunity does come around to show a bit of personality and show that hockey players aren’t robots, it’s refreshing.
Ullmark and Swayman’s tradition of hugs after a win is a fun, whole, breath of fresh air that brings a bit more joy to every Bruins win. It’s been one of the best things to come out of the season outside of the game. The fans have gotten behind it along with the team and social media, and it’s just fun. Hockey is fun and it’s nice to see Ullmark and Swayman embracing it.
Moment for the History Books – Willie O’Ree Number Retirement
The Willie O’Ree number retirement ceremony was a moment that was long overdue. His number 22 belongs up in the rafters of TD Garden along with the rest of the Bruins greats who have come before. The ceremony was a wonderful and emotional moment for all. While O’Ree was unable to join them in person for the ceremony, he was finally able to come to Boston a few weeks ago and see it in person.
The work that he’s done throughout his life to make the game of hockey more inclusive has improved the sport for the better. To see not just the Bruins honor him with the number retirement, but so many other teams around the league also acknowledge the historic event and his contributions was one of the best moments of the season and one that will be remembered for many years to come.
Rookie of the Year – Jeremy Swayman
The Bruins have had a number of young players get an opportunity this year, but none shined as bright as Swayman. Honestly, if there wasn’t a more crowded field than usual of rookies this year, he probably would be a Calder Trophy finalist. Even without that and despite hitting a bit of a rough patch in the last month, he has had a phenomenal rookie season in 2021-22.
Coming out of college at the University of Maine, he was predicted to be the goalie of the future for the Bruins, but no one expected that he would be this ready this young. He’s only 23 years old and made his debut earlier than expected last season due to injuries and COVID at only 22-years-old.
Swayman started in 39 games this season and went 23-14-3. He had a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.41, a .914 save percentage (SV%), and three shutouts, while also successfully avoiding a sophomore slump, a curse that seems to follow many young goaltenders who come into this league.
What really stuck out the most besides the on-ice talent this season, was the maturity Swayman exhibited when he was sent down to Providence at the beginning of 2022 with the signing of Tuukka Rask. While he had been playing well, it was obvious at the time that a healthy Rask and Ullmark would be the tandem going forward and he would be the odd man out.
Rather than being angry or upset, he stayed focused and put up several great games in Providence. When Swayman returned to the lineup with Rask’s injury and subsequent retirement, he never showed an ounce of bitterness for the way things had happened. He may be young, but he’s shown that he has the maturity and skill to stick around for a while.
Honorable Mention: Oskar Steen
Biggest Surprise – Jake DeBrusk
There’s been a lot of surprises when it comes to Jake DeBrusk this season. First was the reveal that he had requested a trade. Then was the incredible turn his season took in early 2022 when he caught on fire. Of course, there was the biggest surprise that he was not traded at the deadline like many assumed after the request, and was given an extension instead.
Overall, DeBrusk’s entire journey during the 2021-22 season was a rollercoaster. Despite everything happening off the ice, he finished the season with 42 points in 77 games, including 25 goals. He almost matched the 27 goals he had in the 2018-19 season, which is arguably the best season he’s had of his young career so far.
After a disastrous 2020-21 season, 2021-22 was a pleasant surprise. It was great to see him return to form and should he be traded this offseason, the Bruins should get a much larger return than they would have if they traded him as soon as he made the request known.
Onto the Carolina Hurricanes
The 2021-22 regular season is now behind us. There will be plenty of time to further dissect the past season once summer hits, but for now, the focus is on the Carolina Hurricanes. Their first match-up is in Raleigh on Monday, May 2. It will certainly be a challenging series as the Bruins lost all three of their regular-season matchups.
Make sure to follow along throughout the postseason at The Hockey Writers.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. Currently, I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting at Boston University. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.