The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Boston Bruins.
Coach: Bruce Cassidy (sixth season)
Last season: 33-16-7; third place in MassMutual East Division, lost to New York Islanders in Stanley Cup Second Round
1. Make the most of this season
For the past decade, the Bruins have relied on the core group that helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2011. But that group, which once included Tuukka Rask, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara, has dwindled to forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Bergeron, who has one season remaining on an eight-year contract, said he won’t make a decision on his future until after the season, putting that much more pressure to get the job done on the Bruins, who have been eliminated in the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons.
2. Depth scoring
The Bruins know what to expect from their top line of Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Beyond that, there remains the lingering question of where else the offense will come from. Last season, Marchand led Boston with 69 points (29 goals, 40 assists), and Bergeron (23 goals, 25 assists) and Pastrnak (20 goals, 28 assists) were tied for second with 48 points each. The next leading scorer still on the team was forward Craig Smith, who scored 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 54 games.
They will have to spend some time trying to find chemistry on the other three forward lines in training camp, given the offseason signings of Erik Haula, Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek, in addition to some young players looking for more regular roles (Jack Studnicka and Trent Frederic). But wherever each player slots in, Boston can’t keep relying on the top line to provide the bulk of its production.
For the first time in a long time, the goaltending is a wild card. Instead of having Rask to anchor things, Boston will turn to rookie Jeremy Swayman and former Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark, who signed a four-year contract July 28. Swayman was outstanding in a 10-game sample at the end of last season, when he was 7-3-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. Ullmark is 50-47-13 with a 2.78 GAA, .912 save percentage and three shutouts in 117 NHL games (112 starts).
The Bruins will spend training camp auditioning replacements for center David Krejci, who opted to return to his native Czech Republic in July after 15 NHL seasons. Charlie Coyle is expected to get first crack at the second-line spot, but with general manager Don Sweeney saying the team may go with a “center by committee” approach, Studnicka, Haula, Nosek and Foligno could get a look. Boston is hoping Coyle will find chemistry with left wing Taylor Hall and improve his numbers from last season, when he scored 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 51 games, his fewest since he scored 14 points in 37 games as a rookie with the Minnesota Wild in 2012-13.
Most intriguing addition
Foligno signed a two-year contract July 28 after he scored 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 49 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs. The former Blue Jackets captain brings leadership, a net-front presence and experience on the penalty kill, and will likely slot in on the third line, though he has the versatility to move up to the second.
Biggest potential surprise
The Bruins simply don’t know what to expect when it comes to forward Jake DeBrusk, who scored 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) as a rookie in 2017-18 and 42 points (27 goals, 15 assists) the following season. However, the past two seasons he’s been trending downward, including scoring 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 41 games last season, and his effort has at times been questioned. DeBrusk could be at a breaking point with Boston, which puts him in position for a bounce-back campaign.
Ready to break through
Studnicka has been on the cusp of securing a full-time NHL role for the past few seasons, but this might be the time he sticks. He scored three points (one goal, two assists) in 20 NHL games last season, and between his growth and Boston’s need at center, the 22-year-old should get a long look in training camp.
Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk scored 20 points (five goals, 15 assists), including seven on the power play, in 37 games last season. He gets overshadowed by elite defenseman Charlie McAvoy, but Grzelcyk has been prioritized on their top power-play unit in previous seasons, bringing exposure to elite forwards Pastrnak, Marchand and Bergeron. That coveted lineup placement is enough for fantasy managers to target Grzelcyk in the late rounds of standard 12-team leagues. — Rob Reese
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — David Pastrnak
Taylor Hall — Charlie Coyle — Craig Smith
Jake DeBrusk — Erik Haula — Nick Foligno
Curtis Lazar — Tomas Nosek — Chris Wagner
Matt Grzelcyk — Charlie McAvoy
Mike Reilly — Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort — Connor Clifton