Other Bruins Preview Articles:
- Center Depth Questions
- Defense Preview
- Winger Depth
- Goaltending Depth Lacks NHL Experience
- College Prospects to Watch
Entering the 2021-22 season, there have been some changes on the Boston Bruins roster from the last time we saw them skate off the ice last June at the Nassau Coliseum following their Game 6 second-round loss to the New York Islanders. Some long-time veterans are not going to be at training camp in mid-September, with one possibly making a return at some point this season.
Last season, the Black and Gold, like the rest of the NHL, found themselves in a new 56-game realigned division so that travel would be cut down because of COVID-19. This season, the league is returning to their normal divisions with an 82-game schedule, which means two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and the much improved Florida Panthers are back in the Atlantic Division. With the league returning to a normal regular season, here are three burning questions facing the Bruins.
1. How Good Will the Goaltending Duo Be?
Entering the summer, there was a lot of questions surrounding what the goaltedning would look like with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak free agents. Rookies Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar carried some of the load last season when injuries and illnesses hit the top two netminders. More questions rose to the surface at Rask’s end of the year media availability when he announced he played the second half of last season and the playoffs on a torn hip labrum, which required surgery with a lengthy recovery period until January or February of 2022.
Which route was general manager Don Sweeny going to choose to address the goaltending for this season? We found out on July 28, the first day of free agency. Boston signed former Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark to a somewhat surprising four-year, $20 million contract. Sweeney then traded Vladar to the Calgary Flames and Halak left in free agency to sign with the Vancouver Canucks. That left Swayman as the choice to begin the season with Ullmark.
Ullmark has the makings of a sneaky-good signing. When healthy, he had a 2.78 goals-against average (GAA) with a .912 save percentage (SV%) in 117 games for the Sabres. Despite playing for an organization that was rebuilding during his time there, he managed a 50-47-13 record.
Coming off an impressive showing in 2020-21, Swayman will look to get more playing this season too. In 10 games in 2020-21, the former University of Maine star went 7-3 with a very impressive 1.50 GAA and a .945 SV% with two shutouts, which made the decision to trade Vladar easier for Sweeney. Having a Ullmark/Swayman duo to begin the season seems fine with young defensemen Charlie McAvoy and he knows that Rask, who is recovering from surgery, could be in the fold sometime this season if he signs a contract this winter.
“We have Swayman and Ullmark, and Tuukka is rehabbing now … and we absolutely love ‘Tooks,'” McAvoy said. “I think he’s the best goaltender in the NHL. So if you’re able to bring him back into the fold, like I said, it’s a luxurious problem to have. I’m really excited to start the season (with the goalies we have) and then, you know, possibly get Tuukka back at some point.”
It is a good problem to have, but it has to come together on the ice. That will be the question as the season goes along. If Rask does re-sign, then the Bruins will have a No. 1 goalie who will be fresh for the second half of the season.
2. How Is the Bottom-Six Forward Grouping Going to Look?
There was an overhaul needed here this offseason and Sweeney knew it. Gone are Sean Kuraly and Nick Ritchie, with three veterans brought in to add experienced depth. Erik Haula, Nick Foligno, and Tomas Nosek were brought in free-agent contracts, which gives coach Bruce Cassidy flexibility. All three can play both center and wing and if needed, can slide up to the second-line should an injury occur.
The biggest wild card with the bottom-six is Jake DeBrusk. It’s no secret that 2020-21 was a season to forget for the 24-year-old left wing. After signing a two-year bridge deal for $7.35 million last November, he managed just five goals in 41 games after scoring a career-high 27 in 2018-19 and 19 in the 70-game shortened 2019-20 season. Things got so frustrating for Cassidy that he made DeBrusk a healthy scratch twice in the regular season and once in the playoffs. It would not have surprised anyone of the Bruins traded DeBrusk this offseason, but they have held onto him hoping for a bounce-back season. Here is how things might look at the start of the season.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Jake DeBrusk||Erik Haula||Nick Foligno|
|Tomas Nosek||Trent Frederic||Curtis Lazar|
That is one of many ways that Cassidy could go when it comes to putting together the bottom six. Foligno has the most flexibility of the group in that he can play both wings, as well as center. There are other players that will have a say come training camp to fill out the final two lines for the Black and Gold.
3. Who Will Be the Second-Line Center?
For the last 15 seasons, David Krejci has been Mr. Reliable at center for the Bruins with Patrice Bergeron. This summer, Krejci announced that he was not going to re-sign with Boston and instead continue his career in his home country of the Czech Republic to be closer to his family. That leaves a gaping hole on the second line which needs to be filled.
Entering camp, Charlie Coyle will be given the first opportunity to center Taylor Hall and Craig Smith. Last season was a tough one for the Boston native who played the season with injured knees, which required surgery in July. He is expected to be ready when camp begins in a couple of weeks and there are, however, other options that will push the 29-year-old Coyle for the position.
Haula is more than likely destined for the third line, while Curtis Lazar and Trent Frederic are both going to be battling for the fourth-line spot. One name to keep an eye on is Jack Studnicka. He has been considered the center-in-waiting for when either Krejci or Bergeron leaves, and now the 22-year-old has an opportunity to make his case.
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There are many ways for Cassidy to go in putting together his bottom-six forwards, and a lot will depend on what happens with the second-line center spot. There is no question that on paper, the bottom-six looks better than it did when last season ended, but it needs to translate to the ice. If it does, there’s no question that they will be a deeper team this season.
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.