Just like every other team in the NHL, the Boston Bruins had some notable departures from their 2020-21 roster, as well as some additions. With some of the departures, both their power play and penalty killing units will be affected. With that said, let’s look at both units with who left and who could fill in the holes left by the departed beginning Oct. 16 in the season opener against the Dallas Stars at the TD Garden.
The Bruins return most of their top unit in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak as forwards, and either Matt Grzelcyk or Charlie McAvoy on defense, take your pick. Gone is David Krejci, who announced he is not returning to the Black and Gold, instead choosing to continue his pro career in his home country of the Czech Republic. Krejci had become a key member of the unit, averaging 15 points a season in the last six seasons. A skilled playmaker, his loss over time will be felt.
Another loss to the power play unit is Nick Ritchie, who was not given a qualifying offer by general manager Don Sweeney and became an unrestricted free agent, eventually signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs. When Pastrnak was out to begin the 56-game shortened 2020-21 season recovering from offseason surgery, Ritchie was a big part of the success of the man advantage with four of his five power play goals on the season in the first eight games. Once Pastrnak returned, the 25-year-old Ritchie begin to see less power play time as the season went on. When on the ice on the power play, Ritchie was a nice net-front presence for Boston to have.
The Bruins have players returning that can fill the void with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith as forwards. Coach Bruce Cassidy is hoping Grzelcyk, who was hampered by injuries last season, will be healthy enough to assume the quarterback position on defense on the unit, something they missed last season following Torey Krug’s departure in free agency to the St. Louis Blues. Last season, they finished ranked 10th in the league, but there is still too much talent to finish outside the top 10 this season.
Last season, the Bruins were near the top of the league killing penalties, trailing only the Vegas Golden Knights in the regular season. Marchand and Bergeron combined to lead a unit that was strong throughout the season, as they combined for seven shorthanded goals. After the top two, the Bruins got contributions from Sean Kuraly, who left in free agency to the Columbus Blue Jackets, among other players.
The biggest loss on the penalty-killing unit is on defense with Jeremy Lauzon, who was selected by the Seattle Kraken in their expansion draft in July. When healthy, he led all Bruins defensemen in time-on-ice shorthanded, which was key with two injuries that kept Brandon Carlo out half of the season. Also leaving was Steven Kampfer, who signed a contract to continue his career in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), as he played some key minutes shorthand when in the lineup when the defense was hit hard with injuries last season.
While losing Lauzon will be felt on the penalty kill, Derek Forbort, who was signed as a free agent from the Winnipeg Jets can easily fill in some of those key minutes Lauzon had. Forbort, who can also play some power play minutes if needed, is a big blueliner, at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, and sacrifices the body, blocking 115 shots for the Jets last season in 56 games.
While Forbort can fill in some key minutes on defense, Sweeney signed three free-agent forwards to bolster the bottom-six that also have experience killing penalties. Tomas Nosek, Erik Haula, and Nick Foligno have experience shorthanded and can fill in with valuable shifts down a man. Expect the Bruins to still remain effective on the penalty kill and remain near the top of the league this season.
Different Looks, Same Results?
With the firepower returning on the power play and the talent that Cassidy can replace Krejci with, there should be not much of a drop-off and a chance for more production than last season. Penalty-killing has some key subtractions, with Lauzon being the biggest one, but Forbort can easily slide in and fill those key shifts, which should keep the Black and Gold near the top of the league again in 2021-22.
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.