There is a lot of uncertainty heading into this Boston Bruins season.
Star players are recovering from injuries and Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are returning for a campaign that might be their curtain call. The salary cap situation that is, at best, frustrating and at worst paralyzing.
As a result, predicting how the Bruins’ season will go will be more complicated than usual.
So instead of trying to predict the most likely events, lets predict the more unlikely things that, maybe, just maybe, could happen this season.
The Bruins will be sellers at the deadline
Of course, it won’t happen….
With all the doom and gloom in the Boston sports world (except amongst Celtics fans), the Bruins missing the playoffs would fit right in. It’s even more of a worry with Charlie McAvoy, Brad Marchand, and Matt Grzelcyk missing the start of the season to recover from surgeries.
But it’s easier to relax when you look at their roster and remember how much cushion they still had over their nearest competitors for the final wildcard spots in 2021-22. The Bruins still have a strong top-six with David Pastrnak, Bergeron, Krejci, Taylor Hall and Jake DeBrusk, potentially filling out all but one spot.
The defense is much more vulnerable without McAvoy. Still, Hampus Lindholm is a capable number one defenseman and Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman in goal have the potential to make up for some of the team’s defensive gaps until McAvoy returns.
Now remember that the closest team to the Bruins in the wild card race last season after the Washington Capitals – who grabbed the final playoff spot seven points behind the Bruins – was the New York Islanders, 23 points back.
Yes, Atlantic Division rivals the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres are much improved on paper. Still, the closest of those three teams to the Bruins in the Division race last season, the Sabres, were 32 points behind.
The Columbus Blue Jackets could also make things interesting in the Met forcing another team from that division into the wild card race, but still, it’s unlikely, given the gap, that the Bruins will fall out of playoff contention by the trade deadline and decide to trade a major roster player
Given their already thin defense and nearly retirement-ready players centering their first two lines, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that a poorly timed injury at the beginning of the season could cripple the team.
Lindholm has missed significant time over the past three seasons. So has Brandon Carlo. An injury to either would be devastating for the Bruins.
If Bergeron or Krejci are injured, or their performances suffer dramatically, that would also spell trouble.
So, let’s say Detroit or Buffalo finally successfully rebuild, and something like what I just mentioned happens to the Bruins.
If they are 10 points out of the playoffs come the trade deadline, would Don Sweeney decide to move a piece to restock his system or seek some future salary cap relief? It could happen.
X-Factor: The status of the Pastrnak contract negotiations will be a massive decider. If the Bruins aren’t competitive and Pastrnak decides he wants out, it would be foolish of Don Sweeney not to trade him at the deadline. That would put the Bruins in the seller’s seat for sure.
Jake DeBrusk will have his first 30-goal season
Of course, it won’t happen…
At age 25, DeBrusk is what he is: a 35–45-point, middle-six forward who can fill in on the top line if needed. He’s never scored 30 goals; the closest he’s come was his second season in the league when he scored 27 goals.
After he requested a trade last season, DeBrusk played himself back into a top-six role and put himself back in the good graces of former head coach Bruce Cassidy. But a significant factor in DeBrusk’s production was Brad Marchand. Marchand assisted on seven of DeBrusk’s 25 goals, the most of DeBrusk’s teammates. Bergeron was behind Marchand, assisting on five of DeBrusk’s 25 goals.
DeBrusk’s improvement last season directly resulted from more time on the first line, so it makes sense that those two players would contribute to most of his goals. DeBrusk was in the position to score those goals because of the chemistry between he, Marchand and Bergeron. Without Marchand, that chemistry is diminished, and DeBrusk may not get as many scoring chances.
In addition, if you watch many of the goals DeBrusk scored last season, he had an astounding amount of puck luck. DeBrusk scored a few goals that looked like they had been stopped but trickled through. He scored from very sharp angles, knocking pucks out of the air and off several deflections. Even in one of his best seasons, DeBrusk doesn’t feel like he drives the Bruins’ offense; he benefits from it.
New coach Jim Montgomery – who the Bruins hired to be a more player-friendly coach – will give DeBrusk a new outlook on his place with the Bruins, increasing his offensive production.
Add that to the fact that Montgomery encourages his defensemen to participate more in the offense, which will theoretically give DeBrusk increased opportunities to capitalize on tips and rebounds and you create a situation where DeBrusk could put more puck to twine.
X-Factor: Brad Marchand’s health will be a significant factor for DeBrusk. If he returns early, Marchand could help DeBrusk add to his goal total. If Marchand suffers a setback in his recovery, DeBrusk’s 30-goal quest could be sunk.
McAvoy wins the Norris Trophy
Of course, it won’t happen
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. McAvoy is out until December, at least. This wouldn’t be so bold a prediction if that weren’t the case.
Not to mention McAvoy’s contemporaries are trending to be some of the best defensemen to play the game. Cale Makar is the next coming of Bobby Orr. Adam Fox is dominant. Roman Josi and Victor Hedman are still going strong at age 32 and 31, respectively. Miro Heiskanen is no slouch either.
Most of these guys, except Hedman and Josi, are McAvoy’s age or younger. Makar and Fox are more offensive, which the voters seem to appreciate (the Norris winner has finished no lower than second in scoring among defensemen five out of the last six years).
McAvoy’s incremental improvements, both on the ice and in the Norris voting, show that Pro Hockey Writers Association members are steadily improving their opinions of McAvoy.
He’s gone from No. 10 in the voting to No. 5 to No. 4 over the last three seasons. Additionally, his body of work throughout his career has been strong. Norris voters aren’t above rewarding a defenseman who has put together a streak of elite seasons but never won the award as a type of “make-up call” (see Drew Doughty in 2015-16.)
While Fox and Makar will continue to be a problem for McAvoy’s Norris Trophy chances for the long haul, Hedman and Josi are nearing the end of their prime. Hedman has also gone to the Stanley Cup Final three consecutive seasons, which is a grueling experience and could mean he’s due weaker-than-normal campaign. Even fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom never went to three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals.
X-Factor: Hampus Lindholm’s health will be a vital factor in McAvoy’s game. When he arrived in Boston last season, Lindholm’s defense allowed McAvoy to be more offensive, translating to 12 points in the 10 regular-season games the two played together.
Fabian Lysell plays a full-ish season in the NHL and gets Calder Trophy votes
Of course, it won’t happen…
The Bruins rarely allow a player with no professional or even college hockey experience to jump directly to the NHL roster. Not even Pastrnak, who started his 2014-15 rookie season in Providence before the Bruins called him up in November, went directly to the NHL.
Before Pastrnak played for the Bruins, played for a European team, not a major junior team, so he could play in the AHL if he didn’t make the Bruins roster.
Lysell plays for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and will be 19 this season, meaning if he is not on the Bruins roster, he will be back with the Giants. He cannot get pro experience in the AHL this year. If the Bruins want to get him professional experience, he must make the big club.
Not to mention Don Sweeney will likely want to delay the activation of Lysell’s entry-level contract. That means Sweeney has reason not to let Lysell play more than the maximum of nine games before Lysell’s contract activates, pushing him to restricted free agency a year sooner.
If he does beat the odds and make the team for the entire season, he will need to outplay a talented crop of NHL rookies, including Owen Power, Shane Wright, Matthew Beniers and Mason McTavish.
The NHL has trended more towards skill and speed over the years. These days, smaller players who possess immense speed and skill can make it and make it young. With Brad Marchand recovering from injury, the Bruins may give Lysell a look.
Like Marchand, what he lacks in size, Lysell makes up for in speed and skill. He’s produced consistently for Sweden’s under-18 and under-20 teams over the last few years, and he’s lit up major junior to the tune of 83 points in 65 regular season and playoff games.
He’s also the only exciting prospect any draft expert is talking about within the Bruins organization. If he does crack the NHL roster this season, he’s bound to get some attention on a team in desperate need of new blood.
If he can consistently produce and remain on the team for the season, he could get some votes for rookie of the year.
X-Factor: Don Sweeney needs a win. Since he fired Bruce Cassidy and hired Jim Montgomery to get “more out of the younger players,” his drafting and development have come under increased scrutiny. If Lysell receives a chance and succeeds, he can finally give Sweeney his first draft success in a while.
Bruins trade Linus Ullmark
Of course, it won’t happen…
While it’s not an absolute given, the Bruins’ most solid position seems to be in goal.
Swayman is coming off a solid performance in his first NHL season, and Ullmark was right there with him, hugs, and all. They have the potential to be one of the better, if not one of the best goalie tandems in hockey.
If your offensive depth is a question mark, and your defense is full of players recovering from injury and injury-prone players (Lindholm and Carlo), why would you trade Ullmark? He’s under contract for the next three seasons and has a no-movement clause.
Let’s say Swayman starts the season on fire, and Ullmark has a shaky game or two. If Swayman takes the starting goalie job and forces the Bruins to relegate Ullmark to the backup role, they now have a goalie with a $5 million cap hit backing them up. This wouldn’t be a huge deal with a starter only making $925,000.
But that starter is a restricted free agent after this season, and if he plays well enough to take over the starting job for good, he will command what Ullmark is making or more. Asking for less would be ridiculous.
Throw in the fact that the organization signed former NHL backup Keith Kinkaid for $750,000, and you have a recipe for Ullmark landing on the trade block.
If you add the potential new Pastrnak contract after this season, shedding $5 million in salary via an Ullmark trade will free up more cap space and help add a draft pick or prospect to restock the farm system.
X-Factor: For this situation to play out, Kinkaid must show he can be a capable backup. That means a strong training camp and even stronger play in the AHL.