Boston Bruins 2020-21 NHL season preview

Boston Bruins Preview
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The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Boston Bruins.

Boston Bruins 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 44-14-12 (100 points); First place in Atlantic Division; First Place in Eastern Conference

Leading Scorers: David Pastrnak (48 goals and 95 points)

The Bruins were the best team in the NHL during the 2019-20 regular season and spent most of it running away with the Presidents’ Trophy. When the season was paused they had 100 points in the standings (six more than the next closest team while also having a game in hand) and were on pace for 118 over a full season. They seemed to have everything going in their favor and primed for a second consecutive run to the Stanley Cup Final.

But when the postseason bubble began they lost all three Round-Robin games, went from the No. 1 seed to the No. 4 seed, and ended up losing in the Second Round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Following the season, the Bruins watched two long-term core pieces of their defense leave via free agency when Torey Krug joined the St. Louis Blues and Zdeno Chara signed with the Washington Capitals.

They improved their forward depth with the free agent signing of Craig Smith.

Additions

Craig Smith (free agency)

Subtractions

Torey Krug (free agency), Zdeno Chara (free agency), Joakim Nordstrom (free agency)

Boston Bruins Tuukka Rask
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3 Most Interesting Boston Bruins

Tuukka Rask. With all due respect to the battle of Alberta, Toronto-Montreal, or Pittsburgh-Philadelphia, the most intense rivalry in the NHL remains the city of Boston vs. Tuukka Rask. No matter what he does, no matter how many games he wins, no matter how well he plays, he always seems to find himself under a brutally intense microscope where everything is somehow his fault. His decision to opt-out of the bubble early in the First Round (due to a family emergency) drew some criticism (unfairly) and again resulted in scrutiny.

He is back for the 2020-21 season to reclaim his starting spot where he should still be one of the league’s top goalies.

Rask was outstanding during the 2019-20 season, finishing with a 26-8-4 record with a .929 save percentage that made him the runner-up to Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Vezina Trophy. He and Jaroslav Halak give the Bruins an elite goaltending tandem. Given the unsettled defense situation this season, they are going to need it.

[MORE: 2021 NHL schedule notes: Stats, oddities, fuel for nasty rivalries]

• David Pastrnak. Pastrnak has become one of the league’s elite offensive players and ended up sharing the goal-scoring crown with Alex Ovechkin this past season (48 goals). That made him the first Bruin to lead the league in goals since the late 1970s. He has scored at least 34 goals in each of the past four seasons, and over the past two has taken his production to an entirely new level. His 86 goals in 136 games over the past two seasons comes out to a 52-goal pace per 82 games.

The big question now is when the Bruins will actually have him this season. He will not be available for the start of the season after undergoing hip surgery in September. Coach Bruce Cassidy said on Tuesday that Pastrnak is a little ahead of his original timetable of a mid-February return. If he can come back after say 10 or 12 games would he still be able to make a run at the goal crown? Or at least be in the top-five? Would not bet against him.

[Related: Bruins endless right wing carousel stops on Ondrej Kase]

Charlie McAvoyWith Krug and Chara gone and no one coming in from outside the organization to replace them, there is going to be even more responsibility on McAvoy to lead the defense. When healthy, he is a No. 1 defender that can contribute in all three zones. But that “when healthy” part is a big qualifier. Over his first three full seasons in the league he has missed a nearly a quarter of the Bruins’ regular season games. That is mostly bad luck, given how thin even a healthy Bruins defense looks on paper this season McAvoy is the one player they can not afford to lose.

Best-Case Scenario

When they get a healthy Pastrnak and Brad Marchand back in the lineup this is going to be a very deep group of forwards, especially after the offseason signing of Craig Smith from the Nashville Predators. That, combined with what is one of the best goalie duos in the league, is going to make the Bruins a tough opponent every single night. Are they going to be a Presidents’ Trophy team again? That is going to be a challenge given the state of the defense and the fact they are playing in what should be the toughest division in hockey. But this is still a top Stanley Cup contender.

Worst-Case Scenario

The worst case for the Bruins would be injuries. Marchand and Pastrnak never get to 100 percent. McAvoy gets hurt and leaves the defense even more thin. Maybe Rask and Halak start to decline. All of those things happening in a tough division with some of the best teams in the league could make things a little more interesting than they otherwise would have been. It is hard to imagine this team missing the playoffs, but they could find themselves in a tougher fight than expected if some of these things go against them.

Pointsbet – Boston BruinsStanley Cup odds

Pointsbet Stanley Cup odds: Bruins +1300 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.