Let’s start off by saying there is unquestionably a fanciful element to attempting an Opening Night Boston Bruins roster projection when the NHL hasn’t even zeroed in on a start date for the 2020-21 NHL regular season. It’s actually more likely to be the 2021 NHL regular season because, at this point, the league isn’t really counting on starting before January or February due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
And nobody knows what the hockey season will look like even when it does roll out.
There may even still be a move or two up Don Sweeney’s sleeve with a few notable names on the available free agent list, but we’re going to run the forward and defense combinations with the current group most likely to start training camp at this point.
With roughly $7 million in cap space and both Jake DeBrusk and Zdeno Chara still unsigned, there simply isn’t salary cap room for anything dynamic from the Black and Gold. That might change if they could move a salary or two, but good luck doing that with 31 NHL general managers facing years of flat salary caps.
Instead, the Bruins are simply looking for depth or to fill specific needs at the NHL level while trying to do it in a fiscal landscape where nobody else wants to take on salary.
“We continue to look for depth opportunities or players that were in trade conversations [where] we may have a hole to fill. I really don’t know. I wouldn’t say we have anything imminent to put forth. We snagged Greg McKegg from a depth standpoint and [to] create internal completion as well. As I’ve mentioned before, we have several players that are knocking on the door that we’d like them to see them continue to push, both in our forward group and on our back end.
A little bit of a growth opportunity [there]. We still have to figure out how the season plays out, but we’re comfortable at some point in time we’re going to be up and running. Our guys will be ready to go. We felt all along that we were going to need some internal growth. As far as the cap space, I think we’re in a very comfortable position to finalize the RFA guys we have to and to look for other opportunities that we may be able to pursue otherwise.”
With the words of Sweeney sounding like there’s not much else to be done, here’s a very early roster projection for the Boston Bruins:
Extra: Par Lindholm
Injured: David Pastrnak
Summary: Clearly this group could use the offensive firepower that a guy like Mike Hoffman could bring with 30-goal scoring ability, and doesn’t figure to fare any better offensively against the Tampa Bay Lightning should they meet them in the playoffs. Anders Bjork has some comfort level stepping into the David Pastrnak spot alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but the Bruins are going to be hurting for goal-scoring for a while if the season begins in January rather than February. For fairness’ sake, the Bruins do need more time to evaluate exactly what they have in trade acquisitions Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie, so one would expect that both of them would find a place in the top-9 to begin next season.
The one shining hope is that Trent Frederic can push through and create a role for himself on the fourth line as the hard-hitting, physical tough guy that the Bruins needed among their bottom-6 for a couple of seasons now. Frederic kicked butt at the AHL level before the season was put on pause with eight fights and a slew of penalty minutes, so perhaps he can be the home-grown tough guy with some skill that Boston has been dying for at the NHL level.
One thing is for sure: Jake DeBrusk and Ondrej Kase are going to need to start finishing off a lot more plays if they are consistently slotted on either side of David Krejci. The B’s need that line to generate more production, and that will even more important A) with Pastrnak out and B) if the Boston Bruins power play struggles through growing pains without Torey Krug quarterbacking things from the point. The good news is that the pairing of Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith on the third line should provide more secondary scoring pop against deeper defensive opponents.
Extra: John Moore, Kevan Miller
Summary: Boy, Matt Grzelcyk better be ready. Unless there is some kind of masterful deal in Don Sweeney’s back pocket burning a hole right now, the Boston Bruins are banking on Grzelcyk being able to play big, meaningful minutes, staying healthy and pumping up much more offense. Perhaps he can develop that over time with reps on the top power play unit, but he’s going to need to be impactful right out of the gate. That’s just never been his game, this humble hockey writer’s opinion. He’s more of a steady, heady player that avoids mistakes and always makes the smart play. Perhaps they’re banking on McAvoy to bring the razzle dazzle. My take on the Bruins signing Kevan Miller back at the open of free agency: They needed a big, physical thumper on ‘D’ to keep other teams honest because Zdeno Chara just might not be coming back. I fully expect this to be a young group of defensemen to start with Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Connor Clifton all getting long looks at the NHL level, and Urho Vaakanainen ready to step up and potentially play if any of those players falter in training camp. Vaakanainen has the ability to play big minutes and potentially be a top pairing defenseman based on his ability level, but I just haven’t seen that from him over the last year plus in the B’s organization.
The Bruins could be better defensively with this group, but I fail to see where they are going to replace the 50 points that exited with Krug signing in St. Louis. Bruce Cassidy intends to take a much more hands on approach with the defensemen group next season, and they are certainly going to need to be coached up.
There were questions about whether McAvoy was fully ready take on the mantle of No. 1 defenseman at 22 years old, but he’s got no choice in the matter if this is how the Black and Gold start next season.
Summary: It remains to be seen if any fences will need mending after Tuukka Rask exited the Toronto bubble in the middle of the playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, but this duo should be primed and ready for another dominant season. If both goaltenders are fully committed mentally and physically, the goaltending will win them a lot of games and make certain they are still amongst the top three in the Atlantic Division when the season is over. Rask and Halak won the Jennings Trophy with the NHL’s best goals against average and Rask finished second in the Vezina Trophy voting. So at the very least, the goalies will keep the bottom from every really falling out with the Black and Gold even if they struggle at the start of the season while missing some key bodies to injury (Pastrnak) and to roster turnover (Krug, Chara). What will be interesting to watch is whether or not there will be any movement from the Boston Bruins toward signing Rask to an extension. Expect the Bruins to see whether Rask can get through the whole season without any hiccups before committing anything to him beyond this year, though it’s just as clear they have no succession plan in place.