Feb 4, 2020; Boston, MA; Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrates with his teammates after scoring against the Vancouver Canucks during an NHL game at the TD Garden. (Credit: Brian Fluharty)
The 2021 version of the Boston Bruins… “meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” as Roger Daltrey croons for The Who in “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Will fans be fooled again by the most recent iteration of Boston Bruins hockey? The team made few roster moves to look any different from season’s past, but the moves made should bolster what’s already in place.
The most notable roster move during the COVID-19 off-season is the departure of long-time captain Zdeno Chara (Free Agent signing with Washington). This is an addition by subtraction move. The Bruins finally cut the cord with the ageless wonder from Slovakia. The 43-year-old defenseman cast a long shadow both on and off the ice. While his presence in the locker room was still immense, his play on the ice wasn’t.
The Captain’s “C” will now be stitched onto the jersey of center Patrice Bergeron. The veteran, in his 17th season with Boston, has been considered by Chara as a “co-captain” for some time now. It’s an obvious move, and long overdue.
Bergeron turned 35 in July and like the core of the team is on the back nine of a stellar career. Center David Krejci will turn 35 in April, goaltender Tuukka Rask is 34 in March, and winger Brad Marchand will be 33 in May. Can they continue their run of dominence at these ages?
The team is heading in a younger direction and hopeful that the treasure trove of young talent is ready to emerge onto the NHL scene during the shortened 56 game season. The Bruins boast David Pastrnak (48 goals in 70 games last year), Charlie McAvoy, and Jake DeBrusk as their younger core. Each has been improving with every year of NHL action. The plan is for players like forwards Jack Studnicka, Anders Bjork, and Trent Frederic to develop into proven NHL talent up front. While the defense looks to Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jakub Zboril to up their game with increased ice-time. This meshing of old and new combined with the impactful role players on the roster should set the team up for success this year.
Charlie Coyle centers a third line of Nick Ritchie and Craig Smith. Ritchie, a late season aquisition in 2019-20, is starting the year fresh while free agent signing Smith has been making himself at home during training camp. Andrej Kase, another late season addition last year, is expected to click with countryman Krejci on the second line with DeBrusk.
Fourth-line energy guys Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner should continue to provide their customery spark with either Bjork or Frederic manning the wing.
The Bruins open the season against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, January 14 at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. Pastrnak is out after off-season surgery and Studnicka is riding wing on the first line with Bergeron and Marchand. Marchand is also coming off of surgery and has been managed by the team during training camp but appears healthy.
After a few years of rehabilitation defenseman Kevan Miller is back on the blueline. The 6′-2″ Californian is expected to provide the muscle that has been needed on the back end. The defensive corp is a mix of shorter puck moving defensemen paired with stout defenders. The team should be solid defensively on the back-end with the departures of Chara and Torey Krug (Free Agency to St. Louis). Connor Clifton, John Moore, and Urho Vaakanainen are opening the season on the taxi squad.
In goal the Bruins start with the veteran tandem of Rask and Jaroslav Halak manning the crease. There’s no denying that it’s been a relatively successful partnership. Rask is a solid, A-List netminder that unfortunately faces questions of mental toughness. His regualer season play is top-notch. The questions arise in the post-season but that is for later down the road, if at all. Halak, the 35-year-old Slovakian, has been consistent in spelling Rask over the last two seasons with the Bruins. With the right management this duo should continue to perform.
Waiting in the wings is Dan Vladar, the AHL Providence Bruins goalie has made just one apperence in the NHL (3 goals on 15 shots during 28:42 of action against eventual Champion Tampa Bay). The team is optimistically high on the 6′-5″ Czech. Also in the mix somewhere is Jeremy Swayman, the 2020 NCAA (East) First Team All-American and Hockey East Player of the Year, has high expectations from the fandom. Time will tell on the 22-year-old from Anchorage, AK.
Head Coach Bruce Cassidy and his staff look to continue to steer the club in the right direction. Bench assistants Joe Sacco, Jay Pandolfo, Kevin Dean and goalie coach Bob Essena have done an exceptional job in keeping the team prepared, focused, and in a position to compete since coming together as a group.
The NHL East (aka the Mass Mutual Division) consists of the Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitols. The top four teams in the division will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It will be a long and grueling battle but the Bruins should finish among the top four in the division.