The news we have all been waiting for is official. The Boston Bruins have brought back captain Patrice Bergeron and his trusted second-line center David Krejci for the upcoming season. While this news was long awaited and certainly needed, questions remain. Although the roster seems to be taking shape, three noticeable holes remain as Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk all rehab from offseason surgeries. To make the return of Bergeron and Krejci worthwhile, the Bruins will have to remain competitive while waiting for the return of the injured trio sometime in November or December. So, who can help buoy the team during the start of the year? Here is one name at each position who could make or break the Bruins’ season.
Forward: Taylor Hall
Sure, Bergeron or Krejci could be picks here, but the captain is returning from his own surgery and Krejci spent last season in the Czech league, so an acclimation period may be in order. Hall has had a healthy offseason to prepare and will be looked to to make up for the scoring Marchand usually provides.
Hall has been up and down during his time in Boston. Originally brought in as the winger Krejci was always searching for during his original stint in Boston, the wing showed flashes but never strung together the extended period of dominance he highlighted in dragging the New Jersey Devils to the playoffs almost single-handedly. With Krejci leaving, Hall struggled to find chemistry with Charlie Coyle, but did show a spark playing alongside Erik Haula and David Pastrnak. It remains to be seen how new coach, Jim Montgomery will structure his lines, but there is an argument to be made to keep a line of Hall, Krejci, and Pastrnak together rather than starting the season with Pastrnak on the top line next to Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk.
The new coach is another aspect to consider. Under Bruce Cassidy there was a belief the offense struggled. Hall showed a greater commitment to playing in all three zones, but his well-roundedness may have hampered his offense a bit. Now under Montgomery, who is expected to open play a bit more and seek offensive opportunities, there is reason to be optimistic his point totals can increase as well.
If Hall can provide offense through the first few months of the season, there is reason for optimism in Boston. If he is slow out of the gate like last season, there is a chance the Bruins are too far out of playoff contention by the time their big guns return for it to matter.
Defense: Brandon Carlo
Let’s make one thing clear from the beginning, Brandon Carlo is not going to step in and replace McAvoy. He is also not going to play and produce offensive numbers the way Grzelcyk does. Carlo is a defensive defenseman through and through whose contributions come from keeping the opponent off of the scoresheet and allowing the more offensively inclined players to create chances at the other end. However, this is why he is so important. The Bruins’ injuries are most focused on the blue line. Although Marchand is a huge piece of the forward group, the fact Bergeron, Krejci, Pastrnak, DeBrusk, and Hall are still in the top six with depth pieces like Craig Smith and Coyle adding in chances means the offense should be serviceable.
Questions arise on the back end. After Hampus Lindholm and Carlo, the second pair figures to be Conor Clifton and Derek Forbert. This pair showed signs of chemistry, but nobody is going into the season thrilled that both players are expected to eat valuable minutes for the team. Even worse, who plays on the third pair? Jakub Zboril was intriguing before an ACL injury last season, but the recovery from that is no sure thing. Mike Reilly hasn’t seized the opportunities he has been given. He is also coming off ankle surgery, so again, what will he actually look like? Jack Ahcan? I’ve said it before, he is an option I think could prove useful, but he has played all of nine NHL games. He has more question marks around what he could be than certainties.
This all goes to say there are so many holes on the blue line, anyone who can keep pucks from going in the Bruins’ net has value. Carlo knows that is his role and he plays it well. In the playoffs last year, he formed a shutdown pairing with Forbert whenever Boston was protecting a lead. As one of the primary penalty killers for the B’s last season, Carlo will continue to play the hard minutes. His success, or failure if you’re inclined towards pessimism, will be a key metric towards the Bruins’ season remaining competitive or collapsing early.
Goalie: Jeremy Swayman
The tandem of Swayman and Linus Ullmark demonstrated their chops last season. The tandem had a goals-against average under 2.45 for the season, and that number was even inflated with shaky play to begin the year. While sharing the crease is smart given the physical toll it takes on each player and the ability to remain fresh for the hoped-for playoff run, Swayman is clearly the goalie of the future in Boston. He does not need to take his throne this season, but he needs to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
As mentioned, when discussing Carlo and the defense, there are holes everywhere you look for the blue line. Swayman will have to continue his strong play to cover for some of the mistakes that are sure to come in front of him. He also will be expected to make these saves without the same level of defensive structure the Cassidy-coached Bruins were known for. Montgomery is no slouch — he will instill his systems and have the Bruins hopefully playing strong in their own end — but matching Cassidy’s totals will be nearly impossible. Last season, Boston allowed the third-fewest shots in the league, averaging under 29 per game on their goalies. It stands to reason that total will likely increase, meaning Swayman will be expected to make a handful more saves, potentially big saves, night in and night out.
Can They Do It?
Look up Rosie the Riveter and tell me what the poster says. Find it? Good. I’ll paraphrase to better fit my case, but yes, yes, they can do it. Hall is a former Hart Trophy winner. He has the pedigree, and he will have the support to succeed. Carlo is entering his prime. He will have the strength and endurance to overcome the hurdles and continue building his defensive pedigree. Swayman can be an ace. This is the next step in his career and one that can hint at the future in Boston. Finally, this is still a team game, so these three will have the support of their teammates who all are aware and will likely constantly field questions about the pieces missing from their puzzle. With this buy-in, the team should have the makings of a roster that will compete and remain in striking distance until reinforcements can arrive.
Once the cap juggling is complete and Marchand and McAvoy, possibly with Grzelcyk, re-enter the lineup, then the team can kick into gear and make their push.The season might not be won in the first month of the season, but it can be lost in that month. Hall, Carlo, and Swayman will have to do their part to make sure it is not lost.
Vince Reilly covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Vince graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelors in History and Political Science and earned a Masters in Sports Administration from Belmont University. He has worked in the Predators Front Office on Analytics and Operations, with Major League Baseball in Replay, and now with Tufts University as a Director of Hockey Analytics. Vince can always be found with a coffee in hand and he promises his sarcastic tone will always shine through his work.