Bruins

Recapping the Bruins in 2021 and looking ahead to pivotal 2022

Bruins

The Boston Bruins had a very eventful 2021 both on and off the ice.

The 2020-21 season was delayed to January because of COVID-19 and played out using a division-only schedule. It was weird seeing the Bruins not play their longtime rivals such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, but the unique format largely worked out and allowed a 56-game regular season to happen.

It also was the first season since 2006-07 in which Zdeno Chara did not captain the team. The veteran defenseman left the B's in free agency and signed with the Washington Capitals. His departure resulted in first-line center Patrice Bergeron taking over the captain role.

The Bruins finished third in the "East" division and played the Washington Capitals in the first round. After losing the series opener, Boston won the next four games to clinch the series. Despite winning Game 1 against the New York Islanders, the B's lost the series in six games and were eliminated in the second round for the third time in the last four years.

Brad Marchand blasts NHL again over players not going to Olympics

It was a difficult end to a season that did have plenty of promise. The Bruins looked like a legit contender after the April 12 trade deadline, including their first-round defeat of the Capitals in five games.

What made the playoff exit to the Islanders even more frustrating was the team's rapidly closing championship window. Boston's veteran core isn't going to get many more chances to compete for a Stanley Cup. There are too many roster weaknesses, and they haven't been properly addressed even after the team splurged in free agency for veteran depth.

 

Fast forward through the first 26 games of the 2021-22 season and the Bruins look like a slightly above average team. The lack of scoring depth that has plagued this franchise for years remain a huge issue. Depth on the blue line is another problem. The goaltending has been better of late, but the Bruins need more consistency from the tandem of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. Boston's struggles against good teams is also a concern.

The Bruins could make more additions to the roster before the March 21 trade deadline, and general manager Don Sweeney has been quite active in previous years making in-season deals before the playoffs. He'll need to work his magic again because the Bruins are not a true Stanley Cup contender as currently constructed.

With 2021 ending, let's recap the year and look ahead to what 2022 might bring the Bruins.

Biggest move

Trading for Taylor Hall

The Bruins made a splash before the trade deadline in April by acquiring top-six left winger Taylor Hall and bottom-six center Curtis Lazar from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Anders Bjork and a second-round pick. It was a very inexpensive price for a former Hart Trophy winner. 

Hall quickly made a strong impact in Boston, tallying 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 16 games to finish out the 2020-21 regular season. He wasn't as effective in the playoffs, scoring two points (one goal, one assist) in the six-game second-round defeat to the Islanders. Overall, it was a positive move for the Bruins, one that should pay dividends into the future with Hall under contract through 2024-25 at a reasonable salary cap hit of $6 million.

Honorable mention: Charlie McAvoy's contract extension

It's so difficult to find young, franchise cornerstone defensemen. When you develop one, it's important to sign that player long term, and the Bruins accomplished that objective with McAvoy in October. The 23-year-old blueliner signed a nine-year deal worth $76 million -- the largest contract in Bruins history in terms of total value. McAvoy is a top-five defenseman and should be a perennial contender for the Norris Trophy. 

Favorite moment, regular season

Taylor Hall's eighth goal with the Bruins was a phenomenal one. He danced past two Islanders players in the final regular season game in Boston on May 10 and scored the game-winner in overtime. 

The Bruins, thanks in large part to Hall, entered the playoffs with plenty of momentum and optimism.

 

Favorite moment, Stanley Cup Playoffs

Game 1, second round vs. Islanders

After playing the entire season with no fans, some fans and then 25 percent capacity at TD Garden, the Bruins finally played in front of near-100 percent capacity for Game 1 of the second-round series versus the Islanders.

The atmosphere in the building and before the game were incredible. After many, many months of COVID-19 preventing fans from seeing the Bruins in person, we were finally back to some sense of normalcy with a raucous playoff atmosphere on Memorial Day Weekend.

The Bruins fed off that energy from the fans en route to a dominant 5-2 win, headlined by David Pastrnak's hat trick.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, this was the highlight of the series for them. The Islanders won four of the next five games to eliminate the B's from the playoffs.

Biggest positive

Swayman's emergence as a legit NHL goaltender with a bright future was a massively positive development for the Bruins. 

Tuukka Rask looks poised to return to the Bruins in the New Year, but regardless of what happens with that situation, finding a capable young netminder in Swayman is critically important for Boston's short and long term success.

Swayman posted a 7-3-0 record with a .945 save percentage and a 1.50 GAA in 10 appearances last season. He hasn't been as dominant in 2021-22, but his .917 save percentage and 2.29 GAA through 14 games are more than respectable.

It's still too early to label Swayman as a future star, but the early results are very encouraging. 

Biggest disappointment

There were two huge disappointments for the Bruins in 2021.

The first was losing to the Islanders in the second round. The Bruins had a 1-0 lead in the series and scored early in Game 2. They looked poised to take a 2-0 series lead before losing Game 2 in overtime on a horrendous turnover by defenseman Jeremy Lauzon. After winning Game 3 in overtime, the Bruins lost three consecutive games and the series. It was the first time all year Boston had lost three straight games.

Losing Game 5 at home was pretty painful, too, as the Islanders scored three power-play goals on some soft penalty calls, prompting B's head coach Bruce Cassidy to blast the officials in his postgame press conference. The Bruins' effort, focus and performance in the 6-2 loss in Game 6 that ended their season also were disappointing. 

The other major disappointment for the Bruins this year was losing David Krejci over the summer. The veteran center's contract expired, and while there was some hope that he would return for at least the 2021-22 campaign, he decided to return home to the Czech Republic and continue his career there.

 

Krejci's departure left the Bruins with a big hole at second-line center. Charlie Coyle has done an admirable job in that role, but Krejci leaving has made the Bruins' scoring depth -- which was already weak -- even worse.

Notable storylines

Crystal ball for 2022

The future, quite frankly, does not look great for the Bruins. A rebuild could be on the horizon, and even if it doesn't begin in 2022, the chances the Bruins' veteran core competes for another Stanley Cup title are pretty slim.

Patrice Bergeron is 36 years old. He's in the final year of his contract. What if he doesn't return next season? The B's don't have anyone at the NHL level or their prospect pool able to fill a top-six center role, much less replace Bergeron's all-world play. Brad Marchand is 33 years old and remains an elite player, but he's also likely nearing the end of his prime.

If the Bruins fail to reach the conference finals for the eighth time in the last nine years, major changes must be considered.

Outside of David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy, who's the next generation of Bruins stars? Who's replacing Bergeron and Marchand when the time comes?

Fabian Lysell is the organization's top prospect and its best bet at developing another elite player, but he's a long way from becoming that type of star. The prospect pool is stunningly void of premium talent. Poor drafting and dealing away picks for veterans at trade deadlines have left the cupboard mostly bare. There are some decent players in Boston's system, but overall the prospect pool ranks among the league's worst.

The Bruins will have to, at some point, decide whether they want to continue being a good team that's not a legit Stanley Cup contender or just tear it down and rebuild. This franchise hasn't rebuilt in a while. It rebooted after 2014-15, trading key players such as Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton, but it never went into a full rebuild. 

This critical decision might not be made in 2022, but what happens over the next six months will contribute to what is ultimately decided. If the Bruins fail to reach the conference finals for the eighth time in the last nine years, major changes must be considered.

Based on the roster's current makeup, it's difficult to see the Bruins making it past the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially if a combination of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning stand in their way.