The Bruins will kick off the 2021-2022 season a week from Saturday, and it’s certainly shaping up to be an interesting season.
For the second year in a row, the Bruins are heading into the season after an off-season that saw the departure of pretty big names — Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug last off-season, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask (maybe) this off-season.
The Bruins loaded up at free agency, bringing in a wealth of new faces to try to replace those who have moved on.
So, we’ve got a whole bunch of new guys, a new second-line center, a new goalie, Patrice Bergeron in the last year of his contract, the defending Stanley Cup champion (twice) back in your division...other than that, smooth sailing!
Let’s take a look ahead at what to expect in 2021-2022.
Player to watch: Charlie Coyle
It may seem like a bit of a stretch, but I’d argue that Coyle will be the player most crucial to the Bruins’ success (or lack thereof) this season.
After a disappointing season last year, it was revealed that Coyle needed (and eventually had) multiple surgeries on his knee, which certainly casts his underwhelming 2021 campaign in a different light.
At his best, Coyle is an efficient possession player who’s able to use his body to protect the puck, create space for his teammates, and eventually drive offense.
He seemed a half-step slow last season, which makes sense, given the knee issues.
This season, barring a drastic change, the Bruins will be asking Coyle to take on an elevated role as second-line center.
“Sure Charlie, just go out there and replace a 15-year Bruin and drive secondary scoring, the most critical element to this team’s success. Good luck!”
While there’s a chance Jack Studnicka gets a look at 2C if Coyle isn’t fully ready at the start of the season, it sure seems like the job is Coyle’s to lose; if he loses it, it probably means the Bruins are in trouble.
If Coyle can recapture his 2019 form and develop chemistry with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, the B’s will be in good shape.
If the second line flounders with Coyle in the middle, the Bruins will have to figure out alternative — and figure it out quickly.
Storylines to watch this season
Will the goaltending hold up?
For the first time in a while, the Bruins are heading into the season with legitimate questions in the crease.
Talk radio takes aside, the Bruins have had a reliable guy in the crease for the better part of a decade. This season, they’re heading into the year with promise between the pipes, but with a lot of big “ifs” as well.
Linus Ullmark will be great...if he’s actually better than being on the Buffalo Sabres made him look.
Jeremy Swayman will be great...if he can extended that flash of promise from last season over an entire campaign.
(Plus, then you can throw in the looming spectre of Rask potentially returning as well.)
It’s likely that at some point this season, one of Swayman or Ullmark will falter (or get hurt) to the point that the other needs to pick up the slack.
Will either be able to handle it?
What does a full season of Taylor Hall look like?
Hall’s mini-stint with the Bruins after the trade deadline was a success, so much so that the Bruins signed him to a four-year extension in the off-season.
One of the best parts of Hall’s arrival was that it solved a years-long “wing for Krejci” dilemma, only for Krejci to skip town this summer.
The optimist in me says that Hall could be quite a weapon playing with a center like Coyle, and that he won’t miss a beat.
The pessimist says that Hall’s production will decline playing with a less talented playmaker than Krejci.
Will Charlie McAvoy take the next step?
Freshly emerged from Zdeno Chara’s shadow, McAvoy entered the (inter)national conversation after his strong season last year.
McAvoy finished fifth in Norris Trophy voting — is this the year he truly challenges for the award?
Bruins fans know how impressive McAvoy has been over the past couple of seasons, with his game taking a step or two forward each season.
In his second year as The Guy on the Bruins’ blue line, if McAvoy takes another step forward, there’s won’t be much further to go.
It’s worth noting that McAvoy is playing the final year of his contract, one that carries an AAV of $4.9 million.
Given how he’s trending, his next one will at least double that amount.
It might be a big hit to the Bruins in the wallet, but it’ll be an even bigger boost on the ice.
How will the new guys fit?
As mentioned above, the B’s went on quite the shopping spree when free agency opened, bringing in Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek (along with Ullmark).
This influx of bottom-six forwards will undoubtedly lead to a complete overhaul of the bottom of the Bruins’ lineup (plus the departure of Sean Kuraly).
On paper, these new faces should make the Bruins’ third and fourth lines better; in practice, who knows?
Predictions for next season
Guaranteed to be wrong, but let’s throw some out there!
- The Bruins will finish second in the Atlantic Division.
- The Bruins will lose in the second round of the playoffs.
- Charlie McAvoy will finish third in Norris voting.
A new way to follow this season
As part of the league’s new partnerships with Turner and ESPN, a whole bunch of games will be airing on ESPN+ this season, among other places.
ESPN+ will air more than 1,000 games in total, along with 75 games airing exclusively on the streaming service.
Particularly for fans living outside the Boston market, it’s a great way to get your Bruins fix.