Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word on Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Boston Bruins.
Puck Drop Preview: 2019-20 Boston Bruins
Last regular season, the Bruins added a few players before their first game. Chris Wagner and Jaroslav Halak were probably the most notable of the bunch and helped in the regular season.
The Bruins finished with a 49-24-9 record for 107 points, which earned them the second spot in the Atlantic Division. The B’s added Charlie Coyle at the trade deadline and locked up Zdeno Chara for another year right before their push for the playoffs.
In a truly improbable 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Bruins found their way into the Cup Final. We all know how that went and there’s no need to reiterate how the Game 7 loss felt. The world watched what happened and we’re on to the 2019-20 Boston Bruins season.
This off-season, the Bruins signed and re-signed some players that can make an impact for the bottom-six forwards. On the first day of free agency, the B’s inked Brett Ritchie, a winger from the Dallas Stars, to a one-year deal worth $1 million. They also grabbed Par Lindholm from the Winnipeg Jets. The Swedish forward was given a two-year, $1.7 million deal.
Their key re-signing so far has been Danton Heinen with a two-year, $5.6 million contract that was signed on July 9.
However, the Bruins still have two free agents that they need to evaluate. Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo still have not completed a deal with the B’s. It would be a complete disaster for the Bruins if they can’t resign McAvoy before the season starts. A top defenceman joining a couple of months into the season could set this team back further than it already appears they’re going to be. There isn’t an abundance of players like McAvoy and at 21 years of age, he still has plenty to offer.
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Karson Kuhlman
Danton Heinen – Charlie Coyle – Brett Ritchie
Joakim Nordstrom – Sean Kuraly – Chris Wagner
The top line should stay together at least for the early stages of the season. They produced for the Bruins and even though it may be good to diversify the talent on the top two lines, Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak are one of the best trios in the game.
DeBrusk and Krejci also had success last year, but they need to be aligned with someone not named David Backes. Kuhlman produced five points in 11 games last season and would be a good fit to learn alongside some well-developed players.
It is also entirely possible that Charlie Coyle switches with Kuhlman. Both players are comfortable in the center and right-wing positions, so head coach Bruce Cassidy may swap the two if the Bruins need more production from their top two lines.
The fourth line earned a reputation last year that Nordstrom, Kuraly, and Wagner look to keep. They were able to grind when the team needed them and find the back of the net in big moments. The Bruins depth is what helped them last year and it will have to help them again this season.
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk – Steven Kampfer
In all likelihood, McAvoy gets re-signed. He’s far too good of a player to be watching in a suit because they can’t negotiate a contract. If he does come back, the top line will continue as usual with Torey Krug next in line. Clifton proved that he could play at the NHL level, but still has a lot to learn. Krug showed that he can hold his own, but he has to make sure he plays as he did in the playoffs first.
The bottom two pairings, aside from Krug, have the ability to be shuffled throughout the season. Kevan Miller, John Moore and (maybe) Brandon Carlo could enter the lineup during the year if Cassidy wants to swap out some of the younger defencemen.
To put it simply, the plan implemented last year worked. Halak took 37 starts in contrast to Rask’s 45. And with a lighter workload, Rask performed much better in the playoffs than the years prior.
It looks like the Bruins will do this again, but don’t be surprised if the Bruins call up one of their younger goaltenders like Dan Vladar and Kyle Keyser. Even if all they do is ride the bench in place of Halak, the Bruins need to begin exposing their prospects to the NHL level. Of course, some pre-season games will offer insight to that level, having them be a part of a regular-season game might not be a bad idea as both Rask and Halak are not exactly at the early stages of their careers.
Players to Watch
Kuraly had a good year with 21 points in 71 games. On the fourth line, there isn’t a whole lot more you can ask for. In the playoffs, though, he recorded four goals and six assists and came up clutch for the Bruins when they needed a fourth-line spark. If Coyle and Kuhlman do end up switching, there shouldn’t be a reason why Kuraly couldn’t overtake the centre spot on the fourth line, bumping Kuhlman further down the depth chart.
Ritchie is only inked for a year with the Bruins, so his future is uncertain. The 26-year-old had his best season in 2016-17 but hasn’t put up great numbers since then. Surely he wouldn’t want to bounce to another team or another league, so if Ritchie plays well this season, we may be seeing more from him.
If he is re-signed before the season, McAvoy should have a phenomenal season for the Bruins. He’s becoming a leader for the team and growing his game right next to one of the most dominant players to ever skate in an NHL game. That firsthand experience of talking with a legendary leader like Chara will make McAvoy a much better player for the Bruins if they don’t screw the deal up.
There is a lot of potential for the Bruins to do well this season. But in all honesty, there’s a lot of room to fail. Despite a record year, the Tampa Bay Lightning still made improvements to their team. So did the Toronto Maple Leafs. In comparison, the Bruins didn’t do all that much besides sign a couple of short-term deals.
Other than those two teams, the Bruins stand a good chance against the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens in their division. That, of course, could be wrong as a few of those teams have made moves that could propel them higher in the standings this year.
Prediction: As far as this season goes, I’d say the 2019-20 Boston Bruins squeak into the playoffs but suffer a first-round exit to either the Leafs or the Bolts. It isn’t what I want to see, but the battle looks pretty uphill for the B’s unless they figure out their remaining contracts and erase the heartbreak of last year early on.
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