This NHL season was bound to be strange. Not only is it in the middle of a global pandemic, but it also is shortened to 56 games. Ultimately making every game important. The Boston Bruins were predicted to be a powerhouse team in the MassMutual NHL East Division. Their strong mix of high-end offence, depth, and decent defense, with top tier goaltending, suggested a high place finish among the competition. However, this offseason proved to be a challenge for Bruce Cassidy, the front office, and the Boston Bruins offence as a whole, with the losses of two (almost three) key players.
Boston Bruins Offence is Shut Down
If it isn’t clear by now, the Boston Bruins offence is in a drought. Their middling even-strength play has been a detriment to their overall performance. Tight competitions with a young and inexperienced New Jersey Devils team are the epitome of this. This could be a trend that is changed within the week. However, Bruins fans around the hockey community have the right to be concerned if it doesn’t. The losses of two key offensive contributors over the hiatus have contributed to the overall cascading of offensive production.
It should come as no surprise that the loss of David Pastrnak is hurting the total production of the Bruins on offence. Arguably a top five winger, Pastrnak’s production alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron has been elite. In 2019-20 he totaled a career-high 48 goals and 47 assists for 95 points. Furthermore, thanks to the data from Evolving-Hockey, we can look at a player’s total value through WAR and xWAR (a variant of WAR that weighs expected goals for and shooting talent more). Pastrnak ranked 11th in WAR and third in xWAR last season.
Additionally, we can look at a player’s on-ice contributions through Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM). While the majority of Pastrnak’s RAPM stats are around average, the one that stands out at even strength is his GF/60 (Goals For per 60). In the 2019-20 season, he ranked 16th, vastly outperforming his xGF/60 (expected Goals For per 60). The power play is more of the same, but with a better production in xGF/60 and CF/60 (Corsi For per 60). All of this indicates that his reputation as a fantastic finisher is true. It’s pretty easy to conclude that Pastrnak is producing at an elite rate, whether you purely use the eye test, analytics, or a mix of both. Any time a player of his pedigree is out for an extended period regression is probable.
Torey Krug was another key piece that departed this offseason through free agency to the St. Louis Blues. While not as impactful as Pastrnak overall, Krug played a vital role quarterbacking a top power play in the NHL. He also helped fill a hole in the weakest side of the Bruins defence. Fifty-five percent of Krug’s overall point totals were from the power play. He was still serviceable at even strength, but the man advantage is where he thrives. This is also represented in his advanced metrics.
Krug finished the 19-20 campaign with a 1.3 WAR and 2 xWAR. Not only were his total value metrics good, but his on-ice metrics (especially on the powerplay) were above average. He was top 10 in GF/60 and CF/60, and top 25 in xGF/60 with the man advantage and around average to slightly above average in the even-strength numbers. The big thing with Krug was the amount he shot the puck. His even-strength CF/60 was 13th among all defencemen.
Sometimes Corsi numbers can be misleading, but in this case, they aren’t. Krug’s shots, even if they didn’t get through the traffic, were able to create offence through rebounds and second chances in front. Despite a lot of the shots being considerably low danger (indicated by his average xGF/60), there were still multiple occasions where the proceeding shot turned into a flurry of chances for the forwards in the slot. Ultimately making Krug’s value a bit higher even if his RAPM statistics don’t encapsulate everything the eye test does.
What it Means for the Future
Both Krug and Pastrnak played key roles in the Bruins Stanley Cup Final run in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. The loss of Pastrnak is temporary, but it’s still a massive contributor to the offence being stifled so far this season. Krug’s departure in free agency has taken a toll on the powerplay, which is uncharacteristically average thus far. The Bruins are very fortunate that Marchand was not out as long as he was first projected to be. The loss of him, Pastrnak, and Krug would have been killer.
Expecting the Bruins to remain this mediocre in terms of offensive output is unwise, even if they are without Pastrnak for another week or two. They are, after all, the Boston Bruins, coached by Jack Adams award winner Bruce Cassidy. Their roster is still very strong. However, if this trend continues until Pastrnak returns, it will be very telling to other teams that he should be their main priority when deciding matchups.
As for Krug, he isn’t returning. While he is a loss on the powerplay, his production at even strength can be replaced. The Bruins first power play unit is still star-studded, so even with the quarterback leaving, it is something that can be maneuvered around.