Welcome to our latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. The Puck Drop Preview series takes you through each team as the season is fast approaching. The preview will focus on the narratives surrounding the team ending last year, during the offseason, and heading into the 2021-22 season. Puck Drop Preview also focuses on what the season has in store for each team from a roster and expectations perspective. Join us, as we look at all 32 teams before the season starts. Today, we take a look at the 2021-22 Boston Bruins.
2021-22 Boston Bruins
Last season saw the Boston Bruins be put in a tough position. They would be playing in arguably the most difficult division in the NHL. All but two teams were considered potential playoff teams prior to the start of the year. The Bruins would fight hard all season. They wrapped up the regular season with a 33-16-7 record which would be good enough for third place in the division. To put the difficulty of the division in perspective, only six points in the standings separated the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins and fourth-place New York Islanders at the end of the year.
Over the course of the year, the Perfection Line combined for 165 points, led by Brad Marchand’s 69-point year. Charlie McAvoy also stepped things up with a 30-point campaign and further established himself as the top defenceman. Injuries also forced a certain rookie goaltender into the lineup. Jeremy Swayman came in and showed everyone why there was chatter that he was Boston’s future in net.
The postseason came with optimism. Taylor Hall was added at the trade deadline and gave David Krejci stability on the wing. Mike Reilly also bolstered a weak defensive group and brought offence from the blue line. A first-round matchup with the Washington Capitals was a breeze, winning the series in five games. A second-round series versus the New York Islanders did not go as smoothly. The top offensive performers disappeared in the series and they would be sent home in six games.
There were a few notable players that did not return to the Bruins roster this offseason. David Krejci was not re-signed and opted to play overseas. It was announced that Tuukka Rask would have to undergo surgery right before the offseason got underway. As a result, no contract extension was reached with the team. Rask hit the open market but has yet to sign with a team. Rumour has it that he will join the Bruins on a one-year deal for a minimal amount for one last run at a Stanley Cup.
With additional depth needed, general manager Don Sweeney made a flurry of signings in the first few days of free agency. To add to the offence, they signed Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek. The three of them bring much-needed depth to the forward group. If Nick Foligno could possibly be in the lineup on the opposite wing of Taylor Hall, it would bring additional versatility to his game.
The defence needed more help than the offence. The left side was starting Matt Grzelcyk on the top unit last year and didn’t have Mike Reilly until after the trade deadline. This year, they brought in Derek Forbort to shore up that side. They also added Linus Ullmark to fill the void left by Rask. He will likely split the starts with Swayman.
Erik Haula – Trent Frederic – Tomas Nosek
The top line is the same as it has been for several seasons now. The second line, however, does not feature a single player who was in the same role two years ago. Taylor Hall has replaced David Krejci as the main play driver of that unit. Craig Smith played well on that line last year and should remain there so long as he remains consistent. Should his play falter, Nick Foligno could swap roles with him. But for now, Smith should be pencilled in there. Charlie Coyle also sees a promotion to the second line. This role has been foreshadowed by his contract extension signed two years ago.
The bottom six is greatly changed from a year ago. Three of Boston’s free-agent signings should start with this group. Foligno should provide a veteran presence for two of Boston’s young guys in Jake DeBrusk and Jack Studnicka. Trent Frederic was also surprising last year and should be the bottom line centre for the 2021-22 Boston Bruins.
Matt Grzelcyk – Charlie McAvoy
Mike Reilly – Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort – Connor Clifton
Boston’s top four defencemen remain unchanged from the lineup we saw in the postseason last year. Grzelcyk and McAvoy should be a solid two-way duo with higher offensive upside than any other pair. The second pair has the largest disparity in play style of any other unit. Carlo is the epitome of a stay-at-home defenceman while Reilly is a stellar offensive threat. They should be a solid duo that can be unpredictable for opposing teams.
Connor Clifton has been with the Bruins for several years now. He has been an important piece of the AHL’s Providence Bruins for a long time and is frequently the seventh defenceman for Boston. Now he could find himself with a more important role as a fixture on the bottom pair. Derek Forbort has spent most of his NHL career thus far with the Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins may have overpaid for his services, but he will still be an important piece on an improved defensive group.
Bringing in Linus Ullmark was a logical choice for the team. They needed someone who can be an important part of a tandem with Jeremy Swayman. While he was good last year in the few appearances he got, Swayman is still largely unproven. By bringing in Ullmark, he can serve as the 1A in what should be a fairly evenly split duo. Swayman is definitely the goalie of the future, but may not be quite ready to be a full-time starter. If Ullmark struggles early, Swayman could get the bulk of the starts.
Players to Watch
Jeremy Swayman is the obvious answer. The young guy was sensational last season and should get much more time this year. Another big name to keep an eye on is Jake DeBrusk. He has a solid performance in the playoffs even though he was largely absent in the regular season. This is a big prove-it year for the 2015 first-round pick. The last guy to watch is Jack Studnicka. He got some time last year but didn’t do much with it. He is another guy that the clock is ticking for some kind of results.
Prediction for the 2021-22 Boston Bruins
The 2021-22 Boston Bruins should have a similar regular season result from last year. The team lost some high-end talent, but got deeper as a result. They should have another strong campaign and are built for a deeper playoff run. This team’s Stanley Cup window is closing. If they want to win it all, they need to do it now. They should finish third in the Atlantic Division.