For the second year in a row, the Bruins exit the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Second Round.
For the second year in a row, the question persists; is the window closing?
Well, that depends which window. It’s already a different team than the 2011 Stanley Cup champions and 2013 Stanley Cup appearance and even the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Zdeno Chara is gone, they didn’t keep Torey Krug, other pieces have fallen away.
This offseason, though, might define just how much wider the window is, whichever one you consider. Tuukka Rask is a free agent, and as he revealed on Friday afternoon, won’t be able to play until January.
So, again; what direction do the Bruins take this time?
The Tuukka Rask situation
Rask was clearly not all the way healthy against the Islanders, and on Friday’s breakup day he said he was playing through a torn hip labrum. He’ll have offseason surgery and won’t be back ready to play until January at the earliest.
The good news for them is, Jeremy Swayman is their goalie of the future and looked competent in his first few NHL games. Now, is that enough for them to just not sign Rask? He’s a free agent, but he also reiterated on Friday he’s not going to play anywhere else.
Between that and the surgery, one would think there’s a team-friendly contract possibility to bring Rask back, see how Swayman does in the first half of the season and go from there.
“Start the recovery process and then we’ll see what the future holds after that,” Rask said Friday. “Hopefully the recovery goes well and I’ll be ready to play hockey at some point next year…. Mentally, I’m up for (playing next year). The physical aspect, hopefully everything goes well, then we’ll probably be looking at a January or February return to hockey. That’s kind of the plan and hopefully it works out.”
The Bruins, though, have shown a reluctance to give their young players a short leash, at least early on. They let Zdeno Chara walk only for Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril to struggle. Do they repeat the same approach? Or bring in another veteran backup, or just let Swayman play all the time and hope for the best?
They have options, and keeping Rask for cheap would seem to be the smart one, but who’s to say.
To Hall or not to Hall
Taylor Hall wants to stay in Boston. He’s said it about 8,000 times, and he wanted to even before he went to Buffalo.
If that means he takes a discount or not, though, who knows. Perhaps it has to do with David Krejci and if he stays or not. The two, along with Craig Smith, had strong chemistry with one of the best Bruins second lines in years in the latter part of this season.
On Friday, though, Krejci sounded like a guy preparing to move on. He used some past tense, and seemed somber. Not to be an emotions-reader or anything, but it didn’t sound like someone expected to return.
“My next deal’s not going to be based on money,” said Krejci. “I just can’t see myself playing for a different team. We’ll see what happens, I guess. I don’t even know.”
Since being drafted 63rd overall in the 2004 draft, David Krejci has spent all of his 15 seasons with the Bruins & has made an estimated career earnings of $70,079,387. He is a pending UFA and is free to sign with any club this summer if he isn't extendedhttps://t.co/Qn1FCOLUcW pic.twitter.com/XMYgXZTyPs
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) June 10, 2021
It’s a golden chance for the Bruins to keep some good players on friendly deals and they may not get it again. Both Krejci and Hall want to stay; it sure seems like they have to consider making that happen and extend that window a bit longer while they can.
“I don’t even know what my value is, at this point,” said Hall. “I feel like I had two different seasons. … I’ve been fortunate to make some good money. … You want to find a home for the next few years here.”
According to Cap Friendly, the Bruins have about $27M in space this offseason. They can do what they want here.
The young guys, whomever they are
The Bruins track record with “the young guys” isn’t excellent. Since 2015, their first round draft class is as follows:
Here are all the Bruins first-round picks made under Don Sweeney:
– Jakub Zboril (‘15)
– Jake DeBrusk (‘15)
– Zach Senyshyn (‘15)
– Charlie McAvoy (‘16)
– Trent Frederic (‘16)
– Urho Vaakanainen (‘17)
– Johnny Beecher (‘19)
— Evan Marinofsky (@EvanMarinofsky) June 10, 2021
Aside from Charlie McAvoy dropping to them at No. 15, that’s not great. Of the young guys they do have, there’s, um, something to be desired. If the Lauzon project continues or not remains to be seen with Seattle expansion and all that. Zboril didn’t look like an NHL player for much of the season.
Then what? Karson Kuhlman isn’t really a “young guy” anymore. Neither is Trent Frederic, who did carve out a role for part of the season. The Jack Studnicka project was suddenly abandoned during the season, much like so many other young forwards who haven’t gotten ample opportunity at the NHL level.
Studnicka is still just 22 and perhaps this is the year they finally stick with him. Who knows. They’re running out of young guys to experiment with, though.
Perhaps, the defense
Here’s the big question. Most likely, Seattle will take a defender in expansion. They’ll protect McAvoy and Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk. Perhaps they lose Lauzon or Connor Clifton, who has continued to show flashes, sometimes.
Kevan Miller finished the year injured, again. At some point, they’re going to have to move on.
So there’s puzzle pieces and they’re going to lose at least one of them. Especially if Rask doesn’t return, and even if he does and is out as long as expected, they’re going to need more from the blue line.
McAvoy had a near-Norris Trophy like season. Carlo’s departure in the Second Round due to injury showed his value. Any hit to their depth, and, well, we saw what that looks like.
Reilly could return; he said on Friday he believed both sides would be interested. He provided some solid puck moving ability and help on offense while being good enough defensively to be in the top four.
We’re back to the window and which window it is and how open or closed it is. As for now, they still have one of the best top lines in the game with Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. If they keep Krejci and Hall, that’s an excellent second unit too.
They probably need more from Charlie Coyle leading the third line than 16 points in the regular season. If they do bring DeBrusk back, they need a heck of a lot more there.
Ritchie (RFA) on Seattle possibility: "Obviously I want to play for the Bruins. We'll see what the future holds."
— Matt Porter (@mattyports) June 11, 2021
There’s a lot of questions, and no matter what they do, Rask’s at least early-season absence will create questions. This offseason will be telling as far as how open the Bruins brass in Don Sweeney and Cam Neely think the window really is.