Bruins

Five BOLD Bruins predictions for 2021-22 NHL season

Bruins

The 2021-22 NHL season begins Tuesday night, so it's time to make some predictions.

The Boston Bruins are one of the more intriguing teams entering the new campaign. They made a lot of changes over the offseason, adding several veteran forwards through free agency and overhauling their goaltending. It's also an older group that might be facing its final chance to win another Stanley Cup.

Here are five BOLD predictions for the Bruins' upcoming season, which begins Saturday against the Dallas Stars at TD Garden.

David Pastrnak scores 55-plus goals

The last Bruins player to score 50 or more goals in a season was Hall of Fame forward and current team president Cam Neely during the 1993-94 campaign. The most incredible part of that season for Neely was he only played in 49 games because of knee issues and still reached the 50-goal mark.

Pastrnak will eclipse that mark this season and get to at least 55 goals. The superstar right winger almost certainly would've hit the 50-goal milestone in 2019-20 but the COVID-19 pandemic ended the regular season about 10 games early. Pastrnak had 48 goals through 70 games.

With good health, an elite skill set, plus the fact he plays on the league's best line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, everything is set up for the Czech forward to have a monster offensive season.

 

Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin is the only player to score 50-plus goals since the 2012-13 campaign. Pastrnak will join him this season, and also win his second career Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy.

Jeremy Swayman finishes top 10 in SV% and GAA

The Bruins paid 28-year-old goalie Linus Ullmark a four-year, $20 million contract in free agency. It's one reason why, despite the fact he was outplayed by Swayman in the preseason, the Swedish netminder probably will begin the year as the No. 1 goalie. 

It won't take long for Swayman to overtake him, though. In fact, a bonus bold prediction is Swayman establishes himself as the clear starter by January. The rookie netminder was brilliant last season, posting a 7-3-0 record, a .945 save percentage and a 1.50 GAA in 10 appearances. The poise and composure he showed in net for a first-year player was quite impressive.

After a strong training camp and preseason, Swayman is poised to carry that success into the 2021-22 regular season. He will finish in the top 10 among all goalies in save percentage and goals against average during the regular season, thus making him the goaltender of the Bruins' present and long-term future.

Charlie McAvoy wins the Norris Trophy

McAvoy is a top-five defenseman in the NHL and should've been a Norris Trophy finalist last season but finished fifth in the voting.

He won't just be a finalist this season, he'll win the award, becoming the first Bruin to do that since Zdeno Chara in 2008-09 (How Chara didn't also win in 2013-14 remains a mystery).

McAvoy was incredible during 5-on-5 action last season, as you can see in the chart below. He finished in the 89th percentile or higher in both even strength offense and defense. When McAvoy was on the ice last season, the Bruins accounted for 58.51 percent of all 5-on-5 shot attempts, which was the fourth-best rating of any defenseman. 

The one thing that could hurt McAvoy's Norris case is his scoring. He hasn't put up gaudy points totals -- his career high in points is 32, set in 2017-18 and 2019-20. That's not a bad thing, but voters often factor in high offensive numbers more than they probably should for this award.

That said, the Bruins will be a top 10 scoring team this season, and McAvoy will benefit tremendously from that. He will tally between 55-65 points, with an increase in power-play scoring driving a lot of that improvement.

Bruins acquire top-four defenseman at trade deadline

This prediction is based purely on what I think the Bruins' biggest need will be as the March 21 trade deadline approaches, not based on any reporting. 

Boston did not acquire a top-four defenseman in the offseason, only signing Derek Forbort in free agency. Forbort might play a bunch on the top pairing with McAvoy, which isn't the best idea. A lack of depth and top-tier talent on the blue line has been a major issue for the Bruins in their last couple playoff runs. Last season, injuries to Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller were too much for the B's to overcome in their second-round series against the Islanders. 

 

If the Bruins are contenders at the trade deadline, they must make a serious run at acquiring a legitimate top-four defenseman. How many more Stanley Cup runs does this core have? This season could be the last one, so there needs to be an aggressive approach from the front office to do everything possible to make sure defensive depth is a strength entering the playoffs.

The best target is Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm, who's in the final year of his contract. The Predators were fighting for a playoff spot last season, so they didn't become trade deadline sellers. We'll see what unfolds this season.

Bruins beat Lightning in second round of playoffs

Another Boston playoff series win over a Tampa Bay team? Yes.

The Lightning are the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, so it's hard to bet against them. But this year could be difficult for them. Their top players have played a ton of hockey over the last year-and-a-half. Two of their best forwards, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, also have dealt with injuries during that span. They lost a couple important depth players in the offseason, most notably Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Yanni Gourde.

The Bruins are better-equipped to beat the Lightning than in previous seasons. Boston has better scoring depth, particularly in the bottom-six with the offseason additions of Tomase Nosek, Erik Haula and Nick Foligno. Star left winger Taylor Hall is back for a full season after scoring eight goals with six assists in 16 games for the Bruins after they acquired him at the trade deadline.

Beating the Lightning four times in seven games is an extraordinary challenge, but this Bruins team, as long as it doesn't face any major injuries come playoff time, will get over the second-round hurdle that's stopped them in three of the last four seasons.