3 Bruins who could make or break the start of the season
The news we’ve all been waiting for is official. The Boston Bruins have brought back captain Patrice Bergeron and trusty second-line center David Krejci for the upcoming season. While this news was long overdue and certainly needed, questions remain. Although the roster appears to be taking shape, three notable holes remain as Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk are all in rehab after offseason surgeries. To make Bergeron and Krejci’s return worthwhile, the Bruins will need to stay competitive until the injured trio returns in November or December. So, who can help support the team at the start of the year? Here’s a name at every position that could make or break the Bruins’ season.
Attacker: Taylor Hall
Of course, Bergeron or Krejci could be choices here, but the captain is returning from his own operation and Krejci spent last season in the Czech league, so a period of acclimatization could be in order. Hall has had a healthy offseason to prepare for and will be sought out to make up for the score Marchand usually provides.
Hall had its ups and downs during his time in Boston. Originally brought in as the winger Krejci was still looking for during his initial stint in Boston, the winger showed flashes but never chained the long streak of dominance he highlighted dragging the New York Devils Jersey to the playoffs almost single-handedly. With Krejci gone, Hall struggled to find chemistry with Charlie Coyle, but showed a spark playing alongside Erik Haula and David Pastrnak. It remains to be seen how new coach Jim Montgomery will structure his lines, but there is an argument to be made for keeping a line of Hall, Krejci and Pastrnak together rather than starting the season with Pastrnak on the front line next to Bergeron. . and Jake DeBrusk.
Related: 3 Bruins who benefit from the return of Bergeron and Krejci
The new coach is another aspect to consider. Under Bruce Cassidy, the offense was believed to be in trouble. Hall showed a greater commitment to playing in all three areas, but his versatility may have hampered his offense a bit. Now, under Montgomery, who is expected to open up the game a little more and look for attacking opportunities, there is reason to be optimistic his points tally may also rise.
While Hall can be offensive in the early months of the season, there’s reason for optimism in Boston. If he’s slow from the gate like last season, there’s a chance the Bruins are too far out of the playoffs by the time their big guns return to count.
Defender: Brandon Carlo
Let’s make one thing clear from the start, Brandon Carlo is not going to step in and replace McAvoy. He’s also not going to play and produce attacking numbers like Grzelcyk does. Carlo is a defensive defender through and through whose contributions come from keeping the opposition off the scoresheet and allowing the more attack-minded players to create chances at the other end. However, that is why it is so important. The Bruins’ injuries are mostly concentrated on the blue line. Although Marchand is an important part of the attacking group, the fact that Bergeron, Krejci, Pastrnak, DeBrusk and Hall are still in the top six with depth elements like Craig Smith and Coyle adding chances means the offense should be usable.
Questions arise on the back-end. After Hampus Lindholm and Carlo, the second pair is Conor Clifton and Derek Forbert. This pair have shown signs of chemistry, but no one comes into the season thrilled that both players are expected to eat up valuable minutes for the team. Worse still, who plays on the third pair? Jakub Zboril was intriguing before an ACL injury last season, but recovery is not a sure thing. Mike Reilly did not take the opportunities presented to him. He also just had ankle surgery, so again, what will he actually look like? Jack Ahcan? I’ve said it before, he’s an option that I think might come in handy, but he’s played in all nine NHL games. He has more question marks about what he could be than certainties.
All of that means there are so many holes on the blue line that anyone who can stop the pucks from entering the Bruins net is valuable. Carlo knows it’s his role and he plays it well. In the playoffs last year, he formed a tight duo with Forbert every time Boston protected a lead. As one of the B’s leading penalty killers of the past season, Carlo will continue to play the tough minutes. Its success, or failure if you’re inclined to pessimism, will be a key indicator of whether the Bruins’ season stays competitive or falls apart early.
Goalkeeper: Jeremy Swayman
The tandem of Swayman and Linus Ullmark demonstrated their qualities last season. The pair had a sub-2.45 goals-against average for the season, and that number was even inflated by shaky play to start the year. While splitting the crease is smart considering the physical cost to each player and the ability to stay fresh for the hoped-for playoff streak, Swayman is clearly Boston’s goaltender of the future. He doesn’t need to take his throne this season, but he does need to avoid the dreaded sophomore crisis.
As mentioned, when discussing Carlo and defense, there are holes everywhere you look for the blue line. Swayman will need to continue his solid game to cover some of the mistakes that are sure to come in front of him. He’ll also have to make those saves without the same level of defensive structure that the Cassidy-coached Bruins were known for. Montgomery is no slouch – he’ll instill his systems and have the Bruins With a bit of luck play strong in their own end – but matching Cassidy’s totals will be nearly impossible. Last season, Boston allowed the third-fewest shots in the league, averaging less than 29 per game on goaltenders. It stands to reason that the total will likely increase, which means Swayman will have to make a handful of additional, potentially significant saves night after night.
Can they do it?
Look for Rosie the Riveter and tell me what the poster says. Find it? Good. I’ll paraphrase to better fit my case, but yes, yes they can. Hall is a former Hart Trophy winner. He has the pedigree and he will have the support to succeed. Carlo enters his prime. He will have the strength and stamina to overcome obstacles and continue to build his defensive pedigree. Swayman can be an ace. This is the next step in his career and one that may hint at the future in Boston. Finally, this is still a team game, so these three will have the support of their teammates who are all in the know and will likely be constantly answering questions about the missing pieces of their puzzle. With this buy-in, the team should have the makings of a roster that will compete and stay within striking distance until reinforcements can arrive.
Once the cap juggling is over and Marchand and McAvoy, perhaps with Grzelcyk, re-enter the roster, the team can then shift into high gear and make their effort. The season might not be won in the first month of the season, but it can be lost in that month. Hall, Carlo and Swayman will have to do their part to make sure he’s not lost.
Vince Reilly covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Vince graduated from Grinnell College with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science and earned a master’s degree in sports administration from Belmont University. He has worked in the Predators Front Office on Analytics and Operations, with Major League Baseball in Replay, and now with Tufts University as Director of Hockey Analytics. Vince can always be found with a coffee in hand and he promises his sarcastic tone will always shine through his work.