After another second round exit, where do the Bruins go from here?

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.

David Krejci is a free agent, too, and so are trade deadline acquisitions Taylor Hall and Mike Reilly.

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.”

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:

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.

That’s not exaggerating; Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, Frank Vatrano, the list goes on. Jake DeBrusk is likely to join that list after an abysmal campaign.

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.

Urho Vaakanainen spent another year developing. At some point, they’re going to need to figure out what they have in him. And then there’s John Moore, still under contract.

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.

The window

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.

Sean Kuraly is a free agent, too, and it never felt like he blossomed the way they hoped for. Chris Wagner is under contract; Nick Ritchie is their one potential Seattle-bound forward.

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.

Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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    Former Bruins coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games.

    The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

    Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

    In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

    They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

    Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

    Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

    Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

    “Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

    Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

    “This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

    The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

    “This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

    Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

    Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

    Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

    “We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

    Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

    TRIBUTE

    The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

    The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

    “It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

    FOR THE RECORD

    Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

    EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

    The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

    UP NEXT

    Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers.

    Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche.

    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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    Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”