Boston Bruins: 2021-22 NHL season preview

boston bruins
Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

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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