Let’s get this out of the way first: the idea that a season is a failure if the team doesn’t win the championship is stupid.
There are plenty of people out there who parrot this take, and it’s not a good one. Yes, your ultimate goal is to win the title. Yes, you can be disappointed if the team doesn’t achieve that goal.
However, not achieving that goal doesn’t mean the season was a lost cause.
That’s a pretty good summary of how I feel about this Bruins season: a disappointing ending, but plenty of positives to take into 2018-2019.
Hey, it was better than last year
Along with winning a title, the basic goal of every season should be to improve on the results of the preceding season.
An additional win in the second round means they got two wins further than they did in 2016-2017. Hey, it’s not a trophy, but it’s a sign that things are trending in the right direction.
It’s also a little helpful from a frustration standpoint to realize that the Bruins lost to a better team this year; I’m still baffled that Ottawa managed to make the Conference Final last year. That was not a good team.
Key players showed improvement
Along with the team improving as a whole, you want to see growth from your individual players. While you can’t expect aging vets to continue to get better and better, you do want to see improvements from the core guys.
This year, encouraging improvements came about in several Bruins players, particularly David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller.
In the regular season, Pastrnak increased his goal-scoring output by a single goal and had nine more assists; in the playoffs, he scored more points in Game 2 against the Leafs than he did in his first go-round against the Senators.
Marchand finished with the same number of regular season points as he did last year, with five fewer goals and five more assists. However, he reached those numbers in 12 fewer games, mainly due to league discipline and injury. Like Pastrnak, he put up huge numbers in the playoffs.
Miller and Carlo are slightly different cases. Neither put up eye-popping numbers, but both showed great strides in their overall game. Carlo’s injury left a decent hole on the blue line heading into the playoffs, and Miller’s season made the decision to keep him over Colin Miller slightly (very, very, very slightly) more understandable.
Both had their hiccups over the course of the season, sure. But Carlo’s positioning and stickwork greatly improved, and Miller proved more willing to use his skating game to make things happen.
The kids were alright
One of the biggest questions coming into the season was how the “kids” would handle full-time NHL action. The “kids” in question varied from game to game, but the main ones were Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork.
For the most part, they passed with flying colors.
McAvoy was among the best Bruins on the ice on a regular basis. DeBrusk scored in his first NHL game and didn’t look back. Heinen had a steady, impressive rookie campaign. Bjork saw his rookie season derailed by injuries, but looked decent when he was out there.
The Bruins headed into the season with a healthy mix of veterans and kids; the kids proved they could more than hold their own, setting things up nicely for next season.
There were a few positive surprises
Other than the players mentioned above, a couple guys stood out as having particularly good seasons that could carry over into next year.
Anton Khudobin gave the Bruins a reliable back-up goalie for the first time in years. He was able to spell Tuukka Rask for stretches at a time, and kept the Bruins afloat while Rask was finding his game earlier in the season.
He may end up being too pricey to bring back, but the Bruins should certainly inquire about having him re-up.
Matt Grzelcyk finally made the jump to the NHL, appearing to leave his AHL days behind. He was a guy Bruins fans had almost forgotten about, as he was drafted six years ago next month. His skating game brought an attacking element to the Bruins’ blue line, and he was decent in his own zone as well.
He’s a restricted free agent, so the Bruins will need to make a decision on him. Re-signing him seems like a no-brainer, but they may elect to use him as a trade chip.
This isn’t meant to be a “sunshine and rainbows” post. The Bruins still got eliminated in five games after nearly winning the Eastern Conference in the regular season, and still have plenty of holes to address going forward.
However, the saw improvement from core guys, great debuts from the kids and a better finish than last season.
You can’t ask for much more than that (aside from a Cup, of course).