Pandemic Punts: What if Boston Bruins get derailed by slow start to 2020-21?

Pandemic Punts: What if Boston Bruins get off to slow start in 2020-21?
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Different NHL teams come into the 2020-21 season with different expectations. Yet, with COVID-19 looming to throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans, PHT asks: what if each of the NHL’s 31 teams had to “punt” their 2020-21 season? Some situations are more realistic than others, but hopefully this serves as an interesting exercise. In the latest edition of Pandemic Punts, PHT looks at the 2020-21 Boston Bruins.

For previous editions of Pandemic Puntsclick here.

Bruins aren’t likely to punt/tank

Believe it or not, the Boston Bruins inspired “Pandemic Punts.”

No, that doesn’t mean that the Bruins punting/tanking is the most likely outcome for their 2020-21 NHL season. Projecting in late November — with a lot of uncertainty swirling around next season — it seems like the Bruins are in a good spot to contend once again.

That said, there are some reasons to believe that they’re unlikely to repeat as Presidents’ Trophy winners. (Can we say they finished first in the East during the regular season? By re-seeding before the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL really threw these sort of things out of whack.)

Anyway, just to reiterate: no, the Bruins aren’t likely to see their 2020-21 NHL season go up in flames.

But ponder a few reasons why things could be bumpy …

But what if a possible slow start causes damage?

At minimum, the Bruins will probably need to dig deep to avoid a slow start to 2020-21.

To start, they’ve suffered some key losses on defense. To the chagrin of Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug left for the Blues. As Bruins GM Don Sweeney’s mentioned before, Zdeno Chara‘s NHL future remains unclear. Even if Matt Grzelcyk could step up and absorb some of the losses, the Bruins figure to be weaker on the left side next season. Maybe a lot weaker.

(Infomercial voice) That’s not all, though …

Last we heard, Brad Marchand could need until mid-January to recover from offseason surgery, and David Pastrnak‘s procedure may force a recovery window to mid-February. As fantastic as Patrice Bergeron remains, Marchand and Pastrnak ranked as the Bruins’ top two forwards. If the 2020-21 NHL season began in early January, Marchand and especially Pastrnak could miss serious time.

Consider, too, that the 2020-21 NHL season is almost certain to be shorter. Even with the most optimistic estimates, it would be surprising to see the regular season hit the 60-game range. So the Bruins wouldn’t have as much runway to deal with a bumpy takeoff.

What if the Bruins stumble out of the gate? That could mean that they’d skew closer to the playoff bubble than battling the likes of the Lightning for home-ice advantage. Or it could mean struggling to make the playoffs altogether.

Perhaps a chance to reload?

Even in the event of a disastrous 2020-21 NHL season, the Bruins wouldn’t necessarily need to “blow things up.”

Instead, one could envision something closer to a mini-reboot. Think back to the Sharks and their 2013 NHL Trade Deadline “reset.”

At the time, it seemed a little bold to unload Ryane Clowe, Doug Murray, and Michal Handzus for a bucket of picks. In retrospect, it was brilliant. The Sharks still made a decent playoff push, as they didn’t blow up their core. But they sold high on depreciating assets. Sure, we didn’t know just how rapidly those assets were depreciating (goodness, the drop-off for Clowe), but maybe that’s the point?

Now, the Bruins don’t see the same bright, neon, flashing lights trumpeting the word “Sell” over several players. Still, there are some who might be worth moving on from.

  • If the Bruins are moving on from Tuukka Rask and/or Jaroslav Halak after 2020-21, maybe get something for one of them around the trade deadline? Theoretically, the Bruins might echo the Sharks in still going deep with whichever goalie they keep.
  • Apply similar logic to David Krejci. None of this is meant to disparage Krejci, Rask, or Halak. Instead, it’s just fair to wonder if a bumpy 2020-21 season might prompt the Bruins to make some tough choices.
  • What about supporting cast members carrying term? Would the Bruins move on from Charlie Coyle, or maybe depth forwards like Chris Wagner or Anders Bjork? Could the likes of Craig Smith or Jake DeBrusk move, even if it would happen months after the ink dried on new contracts?
  • On the other end of the spectrum: maybe bribe someone to absorb John Moore‘s contract?

Naturally, some of those ideas are more plausible than others. And some of those players boast no-trade clauses.

Closing thoughts

Teams like the Bruins would be wise to at least engage in such thought exercises. What if things go off the rails, or the team is in a more modest place in the standings? There’s at least a chance the Bruins might punt on their 2020-21 NHL season, or at least re-tool during the trade deadline, hoping to compete even while losing some surplus talent.

If those 2013 Sharks serve as any example, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad fate, especially long-term?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.