The Boston Bruins didn’t do a whole lot this off-season because they believe in their group. And they should. Boston pushed hard last season and was within a game of winning it all, taking the Blues to Game Seven. The core of this unit is strong and skilled, so why mess with the formula?
“Hopefully one more step,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said. “That’s ultimately what everybody is looking for, another opportunity.”
That opportunity will come with a roster largely the same as 2018-2019, with a mountain of veteran players that’ve seen the Bruins through to the post-season and the Cup Final on several occasions. Boston still boasts a good balance of guys from that 2011 Stanley Cup win and that’s provided a sense of steadiness in the locker room.
That’s not to say it’s smooth sailing. The Bruins have two key restricted free agents – Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo – to sign before camp. Boston president Cam Neely isn’t too worried, but he does have a contingency plan in case the deals aren’t made. That Mitch Marner impasse continues to slog these issues out for various teams around the NHL, so the Bruins aren’t unique in that regard.
Brad Marchand finished last season as one of six players to hit at least 100 points. He also topped his career-best power play point totals and found himself tied for third in points-per-game for the last two seasons. He’s a steady performer, but injuries might be a concern. Marchand was banged up in the playoffs and could come into 2019-2020 with some wear and tear.
David Pastrnak had another brilliant season in 2018-2019 and you can count on more of the same this season. The winger had at least 80 points for the second straight year, but he was limited to just 66 games thanks to injuries. He would’ve topped 100 points had he skated all 82 games. He, like Marchand, is a little banged up from the post-season. Pastrnak played with a hand injury during the playoff run.
Despite missing 17 games due to injury, Patrice Bergeron set career highs last season in points. And if you’re spotting the trend, you know these Bruins are banged up and worn out. Maybe. Bergeron is a workhorse like the rest of the Bears and it’s safe to say you can line him up for some more serious point-getting in 2019-2020. Also, he’s worth watching when the Bruins are short-handed.
Offensively, Boston likes pairs. They tend to develop people as duos and assemble their lineup around that idea, which is what moulded the foundation for the Bruins’ second line. Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci managed the part last season, with coach Bruce Cassidy correcting matchups along the way. Krejci put up 73 points, tying his career high, while DeBrusk also reached career highs in goals.
You can expect DeBrusk to take another leap in 2019-2020, especially if Cassidy keeps things level. Last season, DeBrusk and Krejci accounted for the lead in five-on-five zone starts percentage, which means they can drive possession and win the puck.
The Bruins are a shrewd defensive team. They’re hard on the puck, they play a wise game. That said, penalties have given them some trouble. They were second in penalties last season and did not fine-tune with a solid penalty kill. In fact, Boston was often out-and-out crummy on the PK – especially on the road. They were 25th overall when short-handed away from their own barn.
To their credit, the Bruins stiffened up for the post-season and wound up third behind the Dallas Stars and New York Islanders. But there are issues. Boston has a group a touch on the elder side, averaging 29.7 years-old. 42-year-old Zdeno Chara certainly does all he can to pull that number up, of course.
Torey Krug, John Moore and Kevan Miller are all north of 28, but the core rests on the RFAs McAvoy and Carlo – two right blueliners. That’s why getting them into camp on time is so important. If there’s a positive in this for management, it’s that McAvoy is ineligible for both offer sheets and arbitration.
Tuukka Rask was dominant in the playoffs. Everyone knows that. The downside was that his regular season play left a lot to be desired. Rask experienced his fourth straight season playing below .918, which is kind of a problem but kind of not. The Bruins seemed to do well anyway, perhaps because they had two goalies with at least 22 wins each.
The other, Jaroslav Halak, thrived in the backup role and posted a .922 save percentage to Rask’s .912. Halak also posted five shutouts.
The Bruins really are one small step away from the Promised Land. It’s hard to imagine them sliding much in the standings or in the overall season outlook. They should be able to push back to the Stanley Cup Final with this group and their game plan is sound, as always.
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