Other Maple Leafs Season Preview:
As the 2021-22 season looms, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be headed back to the Atlantic Division, along with every other team and their respective divisions. On the forefront, this is a bad thing. We all saw how much of a walk in the park the Leafs’ 2020-21 regular season was, so they’ve got some odds stacked against them now that they’re back in a division with teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers, and the Boston Bruins.
On the other hand, however, there is a certain aspect of refreshment knowing that the Maple Leafs won’t be limited to playing the same six teams all season long. Even though they finished first in the North Division, the schedule definitely got tiring as the season moved along. Over the next few weeks, I will be taking after a series my colleague Matthew Zator started, where I’ll be previewing each team in the Atlantic Division, and how the Maple Leafs match up against them. The series kicks off today with a look at the Boston Bruins.
2020-21 Record: 33-16-7 (73 points, eliminated in 2nd round by New York Islanders)
Notable Additions: Nick Foligno, Derek Forbort, Erik Haula, Linus Ullmark
Notable Losses: David Krejci, Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, Jaroslav Halak, Sean Kuraly
2021 Draft: Fabian Lysell, Brett Harrison, Philip Svedeback, Oskar Jellvik, Ryan Mast, Andre Gasseau, Ty Gallagher
2019-20 Season Series: 0-2-0 (outscored 8-4)
The Bruins are always a bit of a touchy subject when you’re talking hockey with a Maple Leafs fan. They were responsible for the Leafs’ infamous Game 7 choke in 2012-13, and eliminated them through seven games in both 2017-18 and 2018-19. The Maple Leafs last played the Bruins on Nov 15, 2019, where they lost 4-2. This really puts into perspective how long it’s been since the Maple Leafs and Bruins have played, seeing that Mike Babcock was still their head coach at the time.
Bruins Offense Loses Big Pieces, But Should Still Be Competitive.
Perhaps the biggest storyline surrounding the Bruins this offseason was the departure of longtime forward David Krejci, who was the second-longest tenured Bruin at the time, after Patrice Bergeron. A member of the team since 2006-07, the 35-year-old signed with HC Olomouc back in his home country of the Czech Republic.
They also lost Kase and Ritchie, ironically both to Toronto. While Kase was injured for most of the 2020-21 season, Ritchie was their top goal-scorer outside of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand.
While Krejci was a big loss, they did add some solid depth in players like Haula and Foligno. Haula is a pretty consistent 30-40 point player, and Foligno should fit in perfectly with the Bruins’ relentless, gritty style of play. And, of course, they re-signed Taylor Hall. Regardless of who they lost up front, the three-headed monster of Pastrnak, Bergeron, and Marchand, along with Hall, will undoubtedly be a headache for Toronto all season long.
How Do the Maple Leafs Match Up?
If we’re strictly talking offense, I like the Maple Leafs’ odds against Boston. Crack all the playoff jokes you want, the core four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares has been productive in the regular season each year dating back to when Tavares signed, and they have lots of sneaky options up front for secondary scoring including Ritchie, Kase, and Michael Bunting.
Bruins’ Defence Remains Stable
The Bruins lost some pretty big names on the back end prior to the 2020-21 season including former captain Zdeno Chara and now-St. Louis Blue Torey Krug. Despite these losses, the Bruins were able to remain one of the league’s better defensive teams in 2020-21. They allowed the fifth-fewest goals against, and had the second-best penalty kill in the league.
They didn’t lose any big names from their defensive core, and added stay-at-home blueliner Derek Forbort on a three-year contract, who will only strengthen the back end. Charlie McAvoy will lead the charge heading into 2021-22, with guys like Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo, and Mike Reilly rounding out the back end.
How Do the Maple Leafs Match Up?
If you asked me this question any other year, I would have said the Bruins are better without a second thought. And realistically, they will be the better defensive team this year. But with Jake Muzzin returning and the addition of T.J. Brodie on the back end, the Maple Leafs massively improved on the defensive front last season.
The Maple Leafs were only two slots behind the Bruins in terms of goals allowed, finishing seventh-best in the league on that front. Having said that, their penalty kill left a lot to be desired, finishing among the bottom 10 teams in terms of penalty kill percentage. Combine these factors with Bergeron, who’s one of the league’s best defensive players, and the Bruins are still superior defensively. However, it’s closer than it has been in years past.
Bruins Arguably Improved Between the Pipes
Tuukka Rask is sticking around. Let’s get the important part out of the way. But the Bruins did see a bit of a shift between the pipes for this year. With Jaroslav Halak signing with the Vancouver Canucks, they brought in Linus Ullmark to replace him. Halak was just about everything the Bruins could have asked for as a backup goaltender, but Ullmark looks like he could be even better.
In 2020-21, Ullmark recorded a 9-6-3 record with the Buffalo Sabres, including a 2.63 goals against average (GAA) and a .917 save percentage (SV%). When you consider that Ullmark was playing for Buffalo, who had an impressively bad 2020-21 season, these are borderline Vezina numbers. And now that he has the opportunity to play for a much better team, these numbers may start to climb.
How Do the Maple Leafs Match Up?
I’m going to give the Bruins the edge here once again, just because the Maple Leafs’ goaltending tandem poses many more question marks. Jack Campbell provides the fans with lots of hope this season, and Petr Mrazek gives the tandem lots of potential. However, Campbell has yet to prove that he can play at that level over the course of an 82-game season. At least with the Bruins, you know what you’re getting from Rask.
Head Coaching Matchup: Sheldon Keefe vs Bruce Cassidy
It feels like it’s been a lifetime since the Maple Leafs played the Bruins, as the aforementioned Babcock was still behind the bench at the time. We’ve seen Cassidy outcoach Babcock in the playoffs on more than one occasion, but Keefe has never coached against the Bruins. We know that Cassidy is a good coach, but given Keefe’s regular season success, we won’t know how the two bench bosses match up until Keefe is given a shot against them.
Message From Enemy Lines
The rivalry between the Bruins and the Leafs means that there will always be a decent match up whenever they meet. Both teams are vastly different than when they last met and that means there are more question marks. In the past, the Bruins have been effective in shutting down the Leafs top players, but with the absence of David Krejci, more pressure will be put on Patrice Bergeron. He is a phenomenal two-way center, but he can’t be everywhere at once at the Leafs offensive depth may prove to be tricky. Still, the most interesting part of the approaching matches will be the goalie matchup between Petr Mrazek and Linus Ullmark. Both are coming off of injuries and are playing for new teams. In what is sure to be tightly contested matchups this season, how well and how quickly they adjust to their new homes will surely have a mark on this season.Hannah Garfield, The Hockey Writers
Bruins Prospect Corner
While most of the Bruins’ lineup appears to be set in stone, there are always going to be a couple of players who could step up and shine. Here are a few players who could surprise and make the Bruins’ roster out of camp.
Fabian Lysell, Left Wing
This one is a bit of a stretch, but Lysell is easily the most intriguing forward prospect the Bruins have right now. Drafted 21st overall by the team in 2021 after he was originally projected to be a top-10 pick, it’s unknown where Lysell will be playing in 2021-22. His Western Hockey League (WHL) rights are owned by the Vancouver Giants, so he could spend his season there if he needs more time to develop. But if not, he will report to the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Providence Bruins and could earn a call-up if he impresses.
Jack Studnicka, Centre
Studnicka has a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the Bruins’ step back in terms of centre depth. The 2017 second-round pick had his first true cup of tea in the NHL last year, with three points in 20 games.
Whether or not he starts off with the team is unknown, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t get significant looks in the NHL this season.
Zachary Senyshyn, Left Wing
Senyshyn will be entering his fourth season with the Providence Bruins, and in each of the last three seasons, he’s gotten a taste of NHL action. Last season appeared to be his first true step forward developmentally, finishing the 2020-21 AHL season with 13 points in 18 games. I’d have to imagine he’ll start with Providence, but like Studnicka, I would not be shocked at all to see him get some looks with the Bruins.
Nov. 6, 2021 vs Boston
Mar. 29, 2022 @ Boston
Apr. 29, 2022 vs Boston
2021-22 Season Prediction: Fourth in Atlantic
Can you tell the Atlantic Division is loaded with talent? I want to be clear that I think the Bruins will make the playoffs and will make noise when the time comes. But if we’re strictly speaking about the regular season, I think Tampa Bay, Florida, and Toronto will all come out on top. Skill seems to overvalue defence in the regular season, and considering how much Florida is improved, I see the Bruins finishing fourth and claiming one of the wildcard spots. However, the story of how they match up compared to Toronto could be far different come playoff time.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2015 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.