The Boston Bruins seem to have reached a crossroads.
On one hand, they are coming off of a 107-point season where they had one of the 10-best records in the league and were a Game 7 loss away from advancing in the playoffs. They were still an excellent team and a legit contender in a tough division and conference.
But they are also on the verge of some pretty significant changes with a lot of question marks heading into the offseason and start of the 2022-23 season.
They are already in the market for a new head coach after the surprising dismissal of Bruce Cassidy.
There is also the very real possibility that Patrice Bergeron could opt for retirement instead of re-signing for another year.
Adding to that uncertainty is the offseason surgeries for Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, and Mike Reilly, all of whom could miss the start of the season. Marchand and McAvoy may not be back until December. Those would be two very significant absences to start the season.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]
Then there is the gigantic elephant in the room, which is a new contract for star winger David Pastrnak. That situation, perhaps more than any other, could dictate what path the Bruins ultimately take over the next couple of seasons. Pastrnak is one of the best players in the league, is in the prime of his career, and is going to be eligible for a new contract extension this offseason as he enters the final year of his current six-year, $40 million contract. He will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after it expires.
Given his talent, production, age, and overall importance to the team it is pretty obvious the Bruins are going to try and get him signed beyond this season. Players like him do not tend to hit the open market and there would be no reason for the Bruins to not make an effort to get him signed. But making the effort and actually signing are two very different things.
Earlier this week The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa speculated that if the Bruins can not agree to a new deal with Pastrnak this offseason they may have no choice but to trade him and kickstart a full blown rebuild. With players like David Krejci and Zdeno Chara already gone, and Bergeron potentially riding off into the sunset of retirement a Pastrnak trade for future assets to replenish a barren farm system would definitely signify that start of an overhaul. You do not trade a player like that and expect to get better in the short-term.
But that is still dealing with a pretty significant hypothetical. There is still a very real possibility that Pastrnak re-signs, in which case he becomes the new franchise cornerstone (and a darn good one) that the Bruins can build around long-term. Even if the Bruins eventually hit a downturn in the next couple of years with Bergeron’s inevitable retirement, Marchand and Taylor Hall slowing down, and the depth around them still not being replenished you could always still trade a player like Pastrnak in the future. He is going to retain a lot of his value for several more years because he is still only 26 years old and not showing any signs of slowing down. You do not want to trade a player like that until you absolutely, positively have to trade them.
[Related: Bruce Cassidy eager to coach as early as 2022-23 season]
Right now in the short-term things look a little chaotic for Boston.
They do not have a head coach, two of their best players (Marchand and McAvoy) will be sidelined for at least a couple of months to start next season, Bergeron’s plans are still unknown, and they have to figure out what to do with Pastrnak.
If Bergeron returns and Pastrnak is able to be re-signed, there is enough talent here to get them through the first part of the season until McAvoy and Marchand return and remain a playoff team.
But if Bergeron returns and Pastrnak’s contract situation does not get resolved, the Bruins might have no other choice than to start tearing it down to the ground and trying to restock the cupboards long-term.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.