The wait is almost over. Over the last few months, fans have anxiously awaited the start of free agency, the NHL Draft, and finally, the World Juniors. Now, the 2022-23 season is nearly upon us. The rosters are almost fully constructed, coaching vacancies have been filled, and predictions for point totals, award winners, and Cup favorites are all pouring in. In short, it is almost hockey season once again.
With the season fast approaching, today’s task is to outline four key dates for Bruins fans. These days are indicators to stop and assess the team, rather than tune in to watch a certain game. Therefore, they are not match-up dependent, or a prediction of games to watch. This is a guide for key days that can be used as barometers to gauge how the Bruins’ 2022-23 season is going.
Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022
This is the date Bruins fans have had circled since the Game 7 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes back in May. The Bruins open their season on the road against the Washington Capitals. The third Wednesday of October will give fans their first look at the black and gold following the offseason moves of general manager Don Sweeney, including the return of David Krejci from his year back home in Czechia. This will also be the first day Jim Montgomery is behind the Boston bench for a game that will impact his record as a head coach in Boston.
One game will not decide the season, it will merely be an opportunity to overreact and extrapolate one outcome to an 82-game schedule. However, it always helps to start the year with two points, rather than leaving them on the table against a conference opponent. Fans will not be upset by beginning the season on a winning streak rather than a losing streak.
Another element of this day is the light it will hopefully shed on some of the Bruins’ offseason injuries. By this time, there should be some indication of how the recoveries of Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk are going. Finding out how each player’s recovery is going will be important in dictating the rest of the Bruins’ season. Although none of these three will be playing on opening night, their timeline back to the ice will be a talking point as fans clamor for news about an eventual return.
Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022
American Thanksgiving is more than just a time to overflow plates with food and watch football games all afternoon. Even though there will not be a hockey game this day, it is circled on every hockey fan’s calendar. This is because, since the 2005-06 season, over 75 percent of the teams in a playoff position on the final Thursday in November make the postseason the following spring. If the Bruins can hold onto a top-eight spot in the Eastern Conference, all signs point to another year of playoff hockey in New England.
On top of the stats supporting the relevance for making the playoffs, the Bruins also have late November targeted as a return for their key players mentioned above, as Marchand and McAvoy are tentatively out until November or December. By Thanksgiving, this timeline should be clearer. Being able to insert two All-Stars into the lineup is as good of an addition as any team could hope for a month and a half into the season.
The current collection of healthy Bruins will be tasked with holding onto a playoff position or at least remaining in striking distance for the first month of the season. If they can do this, the reinforcements of a healthy Marchand and McAvoy could rally the team into a strong second half and playoff berth.
Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023
Typically, this would be the day the Bruins face off at Fenway Park for the 2023 Winter Classic. That game has been moved to Monday, Jan. 2. Although not playing on this day, the Bruins will view the calendar change as a measuring stick for the season. The day before a national audience tunes in for the outdoor game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, it will be important to assess the Bruins’ 2022-23 season to date.
This day is also well past Marchand and McAvoy’s recovery timeline, so both players should have played in several games by this point. These games will give fans an indication of how well each player recovered and whether they will be able to regain last season’s level of play, a factor that will be important in the Bruins’ push for a playoff spot.
Similarly, these games back from injury should be an indication of how Montgomery will construct his lines with a full complement of players. Will he put Marchand on the wing with Patrice Bergeron and Jake Debrusk as Bruce Cassidy did? Will David Pastrnak rejoin Marchand and Bergeron on the Perfection Line? On the blue line, will McAvoy slot in with Hampus Lindholm on the top pair? Will Lindholm and Brandon Carlo form a strong enough pair that Montgomery won’t split them up, instead opting for the analytical combination of McAvoy and Grzelcyk? These questions will have better answers on New Year’s Day rather than at the end of August.
Thursday, April 13, 2023
The last date on this list is, coincidentally enough, the last day of the regular season. As such, it is self-explanatory. Wherever the Bruins sit in the standings following their game against the Montreal Canadiens is where they will finish the season. Whether their point totals are good enough for the playoffs will no longer be a question, as it will be known, one way or the other.
This day will also bring about a whole new set of questions. How was the first year under Montgomery? How did Sweeney manage the roster and the team’s assets? Possibly, who will the Bruins’ playoff opponent be and how do they match up with them? These questions cannot be answered yet, as there are 82 games to work through first. But, where the Bruins fall in the standings come April will indicate the future of the franchise. If the team remains competitive, management can keep trying to drag one more year out of a waning championship window. If the team drops out of the playoff race, questions will begin to stir around the future of Sweeney, what David Pastrnak decides to do with his next contract, and if a rebuild must be considered.
What’s Next for the Bruins?
As you’re reading this, the days keep getting closer and closer to hockey season. Mark your calendars with these dates, and feel free to share any I may have missed in the lead-up to highlight reel goals, jaw-dropping saves, and bone-crunching hits in October and beyond.