Boston Bruins: 2021-22 NHL season preview

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The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Boston Bruins.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 33-16-7 (3rd, East Division)
• Postseason: Reached Second Round, lost in six games to Islanders
• Offensive leader: Brad Marchand (29 goals, 69 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Derek Forbort, Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek, Troy Grosenick, Stevan Fogarty, Linus Ullmark
• Free Agent Subtractions: Kevan Miller (retired), Dan Vladar (traded to Flames), Sean Kuraly (signed with Blue Jackets), Steven Kampfer (signed in KHL), Nick Ritchie (signed with Maple Leafs), David Krejčí (signed in Czech Extraliga), Jaroslav Halak (signed with Canucks), Jarred Tinordi (signed with Rangers), Greg McKegg (signed with Rangers), Ondrej Kase (signed with Maple Leafs).

Biggest Question Facing the Bruins

• What’s going on in net?

Hip surgery will keep Tuukka Rask out until at least December. The veteran netminder remains unsigned but has said he only wants to play in Boston. As GM Don Sweeney waits for him to heal up before offering a contract, it’ll be Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark between the pipes.

Ullmark signed a four-year deal in July after posting a .937 5-on-5 save percentage in 20 appearances last season in Buffalo. Swayman put up a .951 but that was only in 10 games. The Bruins have 19 games in October and November before a busy 13-game December. They’ll need good performances before Rask is ready, and even once he returns, having depth in that position will help during a busy stretch before the end of the calendar year.

What’s the salary cap situation?

Rask saying he would be a “cheap goalie” and he’s not about chasing money at this point in his career was music to Sweeney’s ears. The fact that the 34-year-old goalie only wants to play in Boston will allow the Bruins GM to fit him under their salary cap on a very inexpensive deal.

Cap Friendly currently has the Bruins with a little more than $1 million in cap space. Even after a little roster maneuvering they’ll remain tight to the ceiling barring a cap clearing move.

Questions about their future cap situation will continue into next season and beyond with Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, and Patrice Bergeron among those entering contract years. 

jeremy swayman
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Breakout Candidate

• Jeremy Swayman

The 22-year-old Alaska native was given a brief run in the final month of the regular season and showed promise. He helped the Bruins win seven of his 10 starts and posted two shutouts along the way. His .951 5-on-5 save percentage was third-best among all goaltenders with at least 250 minutes played during that stretch.

It was an encouraging performance given Rask’s age and health and the unknown future the Bruins were facing entering the summer. Ullmark was brought in as a veteran presence, but Swayman will have every right to battle for the No. 1 job. There are no guarantees about Rask’s health when he’s ready to sign and return in December. A strong showing by Swayman could give the Boston brass a lot to think about as the season progresses.

Best-Case Scenario

Going back to the old divisional alignment will help the Bruins’ playoff chances. Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Florida will be in the fight, and we don’t know exactly what to expect from Montreal. Buffalo is Buffalo, and Ottawa and Detroit should be improved, but not enough to challenge for the postseason. The team’s core is aging out and has lost key pieces in each of the last two seasons (Zdeno Chara, Krejčí). We don’t know what Bergeron’s future holds, and the window is closing fast.

Worst-Case Scenario

Ullmark and Swayman can’t handle the job, and Rask returns but is not the same after hip surgeries. A slow start and finding themselves in a hole after the first two months is not ideal. There are no guarantees if Rask returns, so taking as many points as they can in the early part of the season will be key. A lack of scoring depth could come back to bite them big time if the likes of Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Taylor Hall, and Brad Marchand hit offensive skids.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.