Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 24: Taylor Hall #71 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his goal with teammates David Pastrnak #88 and Hampus Lindholm #27 during the second period of the game against the Montreal Canadiens at Centre Bell on January 24, 2023 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

There’s strong first halves and then there’s what the Bruins have done to the NHL through the All-Star break.

Officially on their bye week following this past weekend’s festivities in Sunrise, the Bruins can kick their feet up for a little R&R atop the NHL standings with a downright silly 39-7-5 record.

The Bruins also lead the league with an absurd plus-81 goal differential, and rank first in goals for (190), goals against per game (2.12), penalty kill (85.8 percent), and five-on-five goals for percentage (63.54 percent). The Bruins also rank second in goals for per game (and their 3.73 is just .01 behind the Oilers for the league lead), and own the league’s sixth-best power play, at 25.1 percent through 51 games played.

It’s crazy to think there’s still another 31 games left, to be honest.

But with some time to sit back and look back and ahead, here’s eight thoughts on what’s been and what’s to come…

  • I was way wrong about value of coaching change

    Jan 29, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery talks to the press after the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 29, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery talks to the press after the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Let’s kick this one off with a mea culpa. I was wrong about Bruce Cassidy serving as nothing more than the fall guy for the shortcomings of Don Sweeney and Cam Neely. Big time.

    Now, I’ll still quibble with the idea that the coaching change was made purely with the intentions of getting the Bruins’ younger players integrated into the mix and that the Bruins were right about that. The Boston roster didn’t turn into a Top-20 under 20 when they switched from Cassidy to Jim Montgomery. In fact, they got older.

    But there’s been a definite energy shift around this team, and that really does start with Montgomery.

    “I feel this could be a special year,” Bruins center David Krejci said last month. “We know what we have in this room, we don’t take it for granted, and we’ll see how it goes. But I like the mentality of this team to stay in the moment, take it game-by-game. Practices have been good. Obviously, the coaching change helped a lot. We’re obviously feeling good.

    “I’m very thankful and grateful that they gave me a call in the summer to come back. Obviously there’s some expectations, but I’m just glad with the way the team is playing. The record speaks for itself.”

    One noticeable thing that I think has changed with the shift from Cassidy to Montgomery: Everything negative is kept in house (though it’s probably hard for Montgomery to publicly call out players when everyone is playing well and the team is an absolute juggernaut) and the communication between coach and player is effective and clear. I think the lack of clarity and/or the messaging was a problem for a few players last season. Too many players felt that they’d end up in the doghouse and then have no idea how to get out of the doghouse.

    On the ice, Montgomery has really embraced the idea of depth over stacking.

    David Pastrnak has been pulled away from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and even Taylor Hall for that matter. Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy are on different defensive pairings. Now, Montgomery will reunite some of these groupings when necessary, but the tweaks have made the Bruins a much deeper, much more dangerous club.

    Mix that with the tightness of this team — and with a coach who has clearly found the right notes with this locker room — and you have one hell of a combination. And a lot of deserved egg on our faces circa June 2022.

  • Are we sure this is it for Patrice Bergeron?

    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 26: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins faces off during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on January 26, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images )

    TAMPA, FLORIDA – JANUARY 26: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins faces off during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on January 26, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images )

  • I think there’s been a lot of people out there operating as if 2022-23 is truly it for Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron. Now, I understand all of the ‘last dance’ vibes around this season and how they naturally lead you towards those feelings, especially with Bergeron given the miles on his skates, but I’m truthfully not ready to go there just yet.

    The obvious first point that goes against the idea that this is it: Bergeron is still way too good. No, really, the man is somehow getting better as he inches closer to 38 years old.

    But it also feels like Bergeron himself has pushed back on this narrative if you’ve been paying attention close enough. Sitting down with Elliotte Friedman earlier this season, Bergeron suggested that he would know when it’s time to go. That time, again, does not seem to be right now. And Bergeron’s rationale for going year-to-year with the Bruins could be about the salary cap as much as it’s about his own well being, health, and his family situation.

    To avoid melting your brain with the minutiae of the salary cap and over-35 contracts, Bergeron going year-to-year on low-money contracts stuffed with bonus incentives allows the Bruins to ice the best roster. Ask Bergeron and he will tell you straight-up that he’s only playing for another Stanley Cup and that he’s not playing anywhere else.

    Now, if the Bruins end this magical run with a Stanley Cup championship, is it possible that Bergeron decides to go out on top? I’d have to think so. I mean, it’d only be natural. But there’s been a little too much definitive ‘this is it’ when it comes to No. 37, and I’m not quite sure that I agree with that as it stands right now.

  • Stop looking for attention: Linus Ullmark should be the Vezina favorite

    SUNRISE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 04: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins poses for a portrait prior to the 2023 NHL All-Star Game at FLA Live Arena on February 04, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    SUNRISE, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 04: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins poses for a portrait prior to the 2023 NHL All-Star Game at FLA Live Arena on February 04, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • Listen, who am I to crap on anybody else’s work? I’ve had some straight-up terrible opinions over the years. You might even find one in here if you look hard enough (SIKE). But there’s a good number of people out there — and especially those in the media and behind paywalls — overthinking the Vezina Trophy this year. And I gotta admit, it feels like there’s an element of ‘LOOK AT ME’ with that.

    Let’s just keep it simple: If a goalie leads the league in wins, save percentage, and goals against average, he’s the Vezina favorite. Let’s not mix in your formulas and your equations. In this particular instance, I don’t need them. A goalie version of a Triple Crown? Vezina. Vezina. Vezina. I don’t want to hear anything to the contrary.

    What Linus Ullmark is doing this year has been just plain sick. If he can keep it up, he should absolutely take home the 2023 Vezina Trophy.

  • Fireworks or sparklers? Let’s see Don Sweeney’s trade deadline approach

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 26: General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins speaks during Media Day ahead of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 26, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MAY 26: General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins speaks during Media Day ahead of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 26, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • Bruins general manager Don Sweeney does not want to tip his hand as it relates to the 2023 trade deadline.

    History tells us that Sweeney will do something (he has during every deadline on the job), but whether that’s some sparklers (depth) or fireworks (a big-time hockey trade) is anybody’s guess.

    The Bruins have been linked to some of the market’s top defensemen. There’s Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun, the Blue Jackests’ Vladislav Gavrikov, and Vancouver’s Luke Schenn. The prices on those three players varies greatly, with Chychrun being an obvious ‘king’s ransom’ type of talent to acquire given his talent level, as well as his highly-affordable contract that’d come with term remaining.

    There’s also slated to be a great number of forwards available this deadline, ranging from the experienced-and-gritty (Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and the Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly) to the high-end scoring threats such as the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, San Jose’s Timo Meier, and Vladimir Tarasenko out of St. Louis. And who could forget your usual versatile depth pieces that are often the pieces that more often than not end up being the weapons that put the eventual Cup champion over the top?

    An awful lot of paths for Sweeney and the Bruins to explore.

    “I think we have a good hockey team,” Sweeney said back in mid-January. “I think we’re deep, but we’re probably going to have to continue to add and supplement. We’ve been blending in some of the players that have played particularly well down in Providence and earned an opportunity, so we’re going to continue to evaluate that if the opportunity presents itself. We’ll have to see going forward. It’ll take some creativity for clubs like our own that have some cap challenges, but chances are that most of the teams that are hopefully going to get an opportunity to play in the playoffs generally have cap challenges, and we’re no different. We’re going to try to do our best to put the best team we possibly can.”

    The sense I’ve gotten is that the Bruins are very reluctant to mess too, too much with their locker room chemistry. Another way of reading that is that they’d like to add the most they can without subtracting anything you would consider major from their NHL roster. It’s why I don’t think the Bruins’ pursuit of Bo Horvat ever got serious enough for the team to outbid the Islanders.

    That’s a fine line to walk, as Sweeney will tell you.

    “My job is to put the best team on the ice year to year, balance it, live in the moment for what this group wants to try and accomplish,” Sweeney said. “Like I said, process-driven group, and we’ll address things as they come, and I’ll do the best job I possibly can for the organization.”

    What I want to know: With so much uncertainty beyond this year, what is and what is not on the table?

  • Trent Frederic’s development has been a game changer for the Bruins

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 14: Trent Frederic #11 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden on January 14, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 14: Trent Frederic #11 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden on January 14, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

  • It’s taken longer than they would have hoped, but the Bruins are finally reaping the rewards of their patience with 2016 first-round pick Trent Frederic.

    In action for 48 games this season, Frederic has already set new career-highs in goals (10), points (19), game-winning goals (four), and blocks (26). The 24-year-old has also established a strong grip on his third-line gig, and has really only been ‘demoted’ when lineup issues (an injury elsewhere) have called for it.

    “[Frederic]’s game has really grown,” Montgomery said back in November. “He might be the most improved player since training camp to where he is now. He’s playing a lot faster with and without the puck, he’s hanging on to more pucks. I think he’s creating more offense and he’s also very responsible in our own end.”

    With Frederic looking more than capable in his current role, the Bruins’ need for help on the wings isn’t as dire as it’s typically been in previous seasons, and the Bruins have to like how Frederic has been able to walk the line between agitating physical presence and productive hockey player this season.

    There’s also something to be said for how Frederic’s ability to mesh with Charlie Coyle and Taylor Hall on Boston’s third line has allowed the other three lines to remain balanced. Everybody seems perfectly slotted into place right now, and Frederic’s success has been a huge part of that.

  • Obstacles are who we thought they’d be

    RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 14: Connor Clifton #75 of the Boston Bruins skates with the puck ahead of Martin Necas #88 of the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period in Game Seven of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena on May 14, 2022 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

    RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 14: Connor Clifton #75 of the Boston Bruins skates with the puck ahead of Martin Necas #88 of the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

  • A little beyond the halfway mark of the season, I gotta tell ‘ya, it’s hard to imagine the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs not running through one of (if not both) Boston and Carolina in the third round of the postseason.

    I mean, these two teams just seem like the absolute class of the conference, and I think their home-ice dominance has played out as you would expect in their two regular-season head-to-heads to date. In Boston, the Bruins dug themselves into an early hole on Black Friday, but they stormed back and dominated the puck on the way to an overtime victory, while the ‘Canes used their relentless speed and puck-hounding to compound the Bruins’ mistakes in a pre-break showdown at Raleigh’s PNC Arena a little more than a week ago.

    Carolina is a major, major player this year, and the season-ending injury to Max Pacioretty has given them a whole bunch of money to add at the deadline. (To be honest, Bruins fans should be downright thankful that Bo Horvat did not land with the ‘Canes, because that would’ve been something.)

    But before the Bruins can meet Carolina in the third round, they’ll have to advance out of an Atlantic bracket that will feature both the Maple Leafs and Lightning. When it comes to Toronto, I see the pieces that will make them a difficult out for anybody, but man oh man do I not trust the Matt Murray-Ilya Samsonov tandem in a seven-game series. I just can’t. It’s too leaky. In Tampa, meanwhile, I do think the Bruins have ‘figured’ them out, but it’s the opposite of the Toronto effect, where any series that has Andrei Vasilevskiy in the Tampa Bay crease feels like a winnable series for the Lightning, especially given his undeniable clutch factor.

    These were the teams you had circled in October as the Black and Gold’s biggest threats. Now let’s see what moves they all make and then reassess from there. Because I’d be absolutely shocked if any of them stand pat.

  • Sweeney’s on-the-fly replenishment has flown under radar

    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 26: Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins looks to pass during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on January 26, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images )

    TAMPA, FLORIDA – JANUARY 26: Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins looks to pass during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on January 26, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images )

  • I’m going to just say it: I think there’s a good number of fans out there who will never forgive Bruins general manager Don Sweeney for the 2015 NHL Draft, and for some early free-agent misses (Matt Beleskey and David Backes come to mind). I think some people cling on to these things so hard that they’re knuckles turn white and they outright refuse to acknowledge any positive strides made since then.

    But what Sweeney has done in his last four years or so is kinda insane when you think about it.

    In 2019, after realizing that the revolving door at third-line center was not working, Sweeney made a move for Charlie Coyle. The Weymouth, Mass. native has since emerged as a valuable middle-six option, and has added a strong two-way element to his game in 2022-23. In 2021, Sweeney traded for Taylor Hall (and gave up just Anders Bjork and a second-round pick) at the deadline, and added Linus Ullmark in free agency.

    And 2022 came with Sweeney’s masterpiece, as he acquired and immediately extended Hampus Lindholm from the Ducks ahead of the trade deadline. He kept that heater rolling in the offseason with a one-for-one swap that flipped Erik Haula into Pavel Zacha. The 25-year-old Zacha has thrived in Boston, and recently signed an extension that’s set to keep him in Boston for another four years beginning next season.

    That’s five core-ish pieces in a stretch of about three years. And the total cost? Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, Urho Vaakanainen, John Moore, Erik Haula, one first-round pick, three second-round picks, a fourth-round pick, and a $20 million free-agent contract for Ullmark. Sheesh. Talk about heat.

    The context of those moves is key, too. The Ullmark signing came amid Tuukka Rask uncertainty (the hip turned out to be toast) and with the Bruins knowing that a Swayman-Vladar tandem was too young. Lindholm’s addition came when the Bruins realized their post-Krug and Chara plans were lacking on high-end potential, and the Hall addition was one that took so much pressure off of Boston’s big-two on the wings.

    You’re not supposed to be able to restock like this in such key positions and in such a short window (and at such affordable prices), but Sweeney and the Bruins have done that.

  • Taking an early look at potential first-round opponents

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 02: Nick Foligno #17 of the Boston Bruins and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shake hands after playing in the 2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park on January 02, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 02: Nick Foligno #17 of the Boston Bruins and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shake hands after playing in the 2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

  • This sounds insane, I know, but it’s not a guarantee that the Bruins finish with the top seed in the Eastern Conference. As it stands now, the Metropolitan-leading Hurricanes are just seven points behind the Bruins.

    That means that the Bruins are basically one slump and a Carolina hot week away from making it a race.

    But let’s say the Bruins do continue to stack up the victories at the rate they have through the first 51 games of the season, who would be on deck in round one?

    As it stands right now, that’d mean a first-round date with the Penguins. The Penguins do have teams on their heels — the Sabres are point behind Pittsburgh and the Isles are two points behind the Pens, but Pittsburgh has a games in hand advantage over both — and there’s always the possibility that someone (the Capitals or Rangers, namely) slides backwards and into the wild card picture.

    Is there a preference within that group? Pittsburgh and Buffalo seem like the best options out of that group, but there’s some serious star-power on both rosters, especially with Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin taking gigantic steps for the Sabres this season. The Sabres have also been one of the league’s best road teams, and would truly be playing with house money in a series against the Bruins. And with Pittsburgh, there’s always the threat of Sidney Crosby being Stanley Cup Sidney Crosby.

    One team that I might want nothing to do with in a seven-game series off the jump? The Islanders. With Bo Horvat now in the mix, the Isles have a center group that features Horvat, J.G. Pageau, Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, and Casey Cizikas. That’s a deep group. The Islanders also have a Vezina-worthy netminder with Ilya Sorokin in their cage. That’s a recipe for a tough, tough out should it work for Lou’s squad.

    At the same time, I think there’s something to be said for a team that gets a tough challenge in the first round, and it often being the start of a special run. You never want to be the team that didn’t get punched in the mouth until it was too late to fully absorb and recover.

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