Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Oct 3, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) and left wing Milan Lucic (17) skate over to congratulate left wing James van Riemsdyk (21) after scoring a goal during the first period against the Washington Capitals at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

I fear that many of you are doing it again.

We’ve been here before. We’ve done this already. Yes, I’m talking to you, 2022 Mazz with the “Ty Anderson is on crack for thinking the Bruins can win the division.” We’ve already been through this, and yet, here we are, doing it all over again.

We’re sleeping on the Boston Bruins once again.


Meet the Bruins’ Opening Night roster

5 questions about the Bruins entering 2023-24

AUDIO: Don Sweeney talks 2023-24 on The Hockey Show

Listen, there’s no way of sugarcoating this offseason. It sucked. But everybody involved knew it was going to suck. Patrice Bergeron is gone. David Krejci is gone. Deadline additions such as Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov went to two teams standing in your way (Bertuzzi to the Leafs and Orlov to the Hurricanes), and even Connor Clifton left for Buffalo. Such is life when your ‘all in’ moves, while perfectly executed in theory and in pursuit of the end goal, blow up in your face with a round one loss and completely blow up your cap situation for the following season.

And though the Bruins will skate with over $4 million in bonus overage penalties and ice a roster devoid of a legitimate, No. 1 center, are we really suckering ourselves into thinking this team will be downright bad?

  • “We’re not sleeping in here, I can tell you that,” Bruins center Charlie Coyle told me in a sitdown. “I don’t know what the buzz is. I don’t pay too close attention to that stuff. I could probably tell you what I think people are saying, but it doesn’t really matter.

    “We know what we got in here. We have a really good team.”

    A common misstep (at least in my opinion) is assuming that the Bruins’ lack of center depth means that they have a lack of overall forward depth. But when it comes to the wings, the Bruins are looking as loaded as ever.

    Up top, the Bruins are going to ask Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk to drive a line, likely with Coyle in the middle, that’ll play in all situations for the club. Marchand is fully healthy and looks as fiery as ever after having a delayed start to his 2022-23 season due to double-hip surgery during the 2022 offseason.

    DeBrusk, meanwhile, is coming off a career-high in goals and points, and has become a noticeably more complete player. The Bruins outright admit that they’ve learned to feed off DeBrusk’s confidence and his swagger, and there’s no reason to think his swagger should go out the window. It feels like those ‘mental’ issues that DeBrusk dealt with during the lockdown era and the days leading up to his long-rescinded trade request are a thing of the past, and that the last remaining B’s draft pick from the 2015 first round is taking flight.

    The Bruins have outscored opponents 41-19 over the last two seasons with DeBrusk and Marchand out there together at five-on-five play, and while Bergeron had an obvious hand in that, it’s also worth noting that the Bruins outscored opponents 10-5 in 162 minutes with Marchand and DeBrusk out there without Bergeron.

    Coyle seems to be the first man up when it comes to replacing Bergeron (and Coyle himself well tell you that he’s ‘replacing’ Bergeron in role only), and the Bruins are asking Coyle to do that after what was his most complete season as a Bruin, with 16 goals and 45 points in 82 games. ‘Complete’ is the keyword there, too, as the Bruins utilized Coyle in more of a checking and defensive role. Coyle posted a career-high 52.6 percent mark at the dot, and was Boston’s top penalty-killing forward. Coyle’s the penalty-killing success came as a result of him realizing that he wasn’t going to be playing on the power play for the B’s and that he had to truly focus in on his defensive-zone game to make those shorthanded minutes count.

    But there’s gonna be no shortage of minutes for Coyle, and fellow top-six center Pavel Zacha, with both players being tabbed as the first top-six center look in the post-Bergeron and Krejci era of B’s hockey.

    “I’m not going to Bergeron and [Zacha]’s not going to be Krejci. We’re our own players and we want to be the best versions of ourselves and be better,” Coyle said. “You go home every summer and you want to be a better player next year. That’s what I want to do. And yeah, it’s a great job opportunity open and I want to take advantage of that. But I want to stay great defensively and work on my game there and build it from that up and chip in offensively more. I’m sure my minutes will go up and I want to take advantage of that.

    “We want to play hockey more and contribute more. And so I think playing a few more minutes, you want to take ownership of that and be the best player you can. So yeah, I love the opportunity. I’m excited for it. I know Pavs is too. But it’s not just us. We’re not just trying to replace guys and be those guys. We’re being our own players. Pav brings a little something different than Krejci, and with Bergy, I do the same.

    “We’re just trying to be the best versions of ourselves, be better, and be forces out there.”

  • Oct 5, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Boston Bruins center Charlie Coyle (13) celebrates his goal with left wing Brad Marchand (63) against the New York Rangers during the second at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 5, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Boston Bruins center Charlie Coyle (13) celebrates his goal with left wing Brad Marchand (63) against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. (Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Beyond Coyle and Zacha, the Bruins have received a boost and a half from strong preseason pushes from prospect Matt Poitras and 2019 first-round pick Johnny Beecher.

    Internally, there are players in the room who have bought into the hype of Poitras. Teammates have lauded Poitras’ compete, along with his willingness to battle for any and every puck. It’s something that those inside the locker room view as a skill that makes Poitras ‘a little beyond his years’ and while the hope for the Bruins is that Poitras can continue to do it in the regular season, the fact that he has qualities that you truly can’t teach is why they believe that this is more than just a hot preseason run.

    Beecher, meanwhile, is jumping to the NHL as a result of his lefty stick and the ability to use his size and speed combo to be a downright relentless player somewhere in Boston’s bottom six. If Beecher can stick, the Bruins will not have to worry about a fourth line that labors every single shift in their own end. This was one of the sneaky-big worries the team had with losing Tomas Nosek, whose smarts and speed were a valuable weapon for Boston both at five-on-five play and when the Bruins found themselves on the kill.

  • Sep 29, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) scores a power play goal during the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 29, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) scores a power play goal during the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

  • But for a team like the Bruins, with their known strengths on the wings, there’s not a talent greater than right winger and 2023 Hart Trophy finalist David Pastrnak.

    On the board with a ridiculous 61 goals last year, Pastrnak is the driving force of the Boston offense.

    What should make you feel good about that is that Pastrnak has graduated to this level where he makes scoring goals in the National Hockey League look entirely too easy. It doesn’t matter who he plays with. He elevated Erik Haula and Taylor Hall in 2021-22, and he did the same for Zacha and Krejci last season.

    This year, he’s going to be asked to help get James van Riemsdyk back on track after the veteran wing’s game bottomed out in 2022-23 with the Flyers. It may seem like a tall task, but JVR’s analytics indicated that this was a player who generated a ton but found themselves snakebitten by some downright rotten luck.

    A fix for the some rotten luck? Pastrnak, Pastrnak, and Pastrnak. The data is there.

    But also: Putting JVR on this power play may be just what he needs. JVR still has a solid net-front touch, and if the Boston power play was enough to earn Nick Ritchie a career-high 15 goals (five of which on the power play) back during his first and only full season with the club, it’s not farfetched to think that JVR can challenge for 20 goals riding with Pastrnak at five-on-five and on the man advantage.

    Trent Frederic is also coming off a career-high 17 goals last year, Morgan Geekie posted a career-high 28 points with Seattle last year, and Danton “As Many Five-on-Five Goals As Tyler Bertuzzi (and in fewer minutes) Over the Last Two Seasons” is still kicking around on a pro tryout.

    Scoring should not be an issue for this club.

  • Mar 26, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) (right) talks with his new defensive partner defenseman Hampus Lindholm (27) before a face-off against the New York Islanders during the second period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 26, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) (right) talks with his new defensive partner defenseman Hampus Lindholm (27) before a faceoff at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

  • But the DNA of this team is going to be its defense and goaltending.

    A calling card of their success last season, the Bruins will once again go with a defensive look that puts Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm on separate pairings. That essentially allows the Bruins to have at least one Norris-quality defenseman on the ice for about 45 minutes of a 60-minute game. That greatly reduces the Black and Gold’s grey area when it comes to their faith in the execution of that night’s gameplan.

    What makes this complexion so interesting is that it allows the Bruins to go with that supercharged offensive pairing of Grzelcyk-McAvoy in the attacking zone, and lean on the Lindholm-Carlo pairing for heavier, D-zone usage. Both pairings were absolutely fantastic in this respect a year ago. There’s no change there.

    The Bruins are also confident in the know-how of a battle-tested veteran like Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt Grzelcyk is coming off what was the best year of his career (and with tremendous success both with and without McAvoy to his right), and top prospect Mason Lohrei is lingering in Providence as the defense’s true X-factor.

    And behind them? No biggie, just the best goaltending tandem in hockey with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark and ‘backup’ Jeremy Swayman. Boston’s plan is to once again balance these guys’ starts out at a near 50-50 split, and the true secret sauce for the Bruins has been that they’ve never gone through a stretch in the regular season where both Ullmark and Swayman were ‘down’ at the same time. When one’s been colder, the other has been white-hot. That matters over the course of an 82-game grind.

    And building from the net out has never been a bad philosophy for a team that hopes to contend.

    “I think a lot of times with winning teams, you build it from the back,” Lindholm said. “You got to have the guys that can put the puck in the net, too, but I think that’s how you build a winning team. And I think we have a lot of strength back there. And the more we can utilize those and take advantage of, the better we’ll be.”

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 06: Jeremy Swayman #1 of the Boston Bruins and Linus Ullmark #35 celebrate after the Bruins defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime at TD Garden on April 06, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 06: Jeremy Swayman #1 of the Boston Bruins and Linus Ullmark #35 celebrate after the Bruins defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime at TD Garden on April 06, 2023. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

  • There’s also something to be said for the natural regression from a year ago and how even that shouldn’t be enough to torpedo this team. The Bruins could record 16 fewer wins than they did a year ago, and they’d still finish with over 100 points. To put that kind of drop into perspective, that’s a fifth of the season. If they lose 20 percent more of their games this year, they’ll still be fine and in the mix in their division.

    Their division is another reason why I’m still high on ’em, too. Tampa Bay is thinner for what feels like the third year in a row, and they’re without Andrei Vasilevskiy for the next two months due to back surgery. The Panthers, meanwhile, needed a horse on the backend, and they got projects, signing Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mike Reilly. The Panthers are also beginning the year without defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour due to their injury recoveries, and Radko Gudas and Marc Staal both left as free agents. And sure, you can sell me on the promise of the Sabres, Senators, and Red Wings, but we’ve been here before, and I’m officially in “I need to see it” mode because I use it to write off the Bruins.

    But why I really love this team this year? I think they’re going to be absolute menaces.

    Watching practices and camp sessions, I saw a noticeably more physical B’s club. These guys weren’t putting each other through walls, but they weren’t afraid of battling, they weren’t afraid of crosschecking one another, and they weren’t afraid of fighting for every inch of ice. Against their own teammates.

    “We practice hard and physically because it makes the games easier,” one Bruin told me. “If you are only getting crosschecked in games, those are the guys that cry to referees and complain.”

    It felt like last year was a true ‘bottom’ for this club in the sense that they got smoked by a team that simply challenged their will and their ability or willingness to play a barfight kind of game.

    But with Marchand as the captain, there’s a sense that the team will follow his lead.

    Jim Montgomery has been open about the need for the Bruins to be more physical. Montgomery’s belief is that they’re going to have the puck less than they did in 2023-24, and that they need to be tougher in the ‘hard areas’ of the ice and in front of their own net and the opposition’s net to be a better team in 2023-24.

    But the Piss & Vinegar Bruins will clearly extend beyond that, and with a push led by No. 63.

    “His drive, his work ethic, and coming in and being in the gym 24/7, going to practice and going all out there and really pushing us, that’s a great leader and he’s showing the way with his work ethic and his compete,” one Bruin told me. “He’s relentless and that’s how he is. He was already top notch in that area, but you can really, really notice it. Like he’s making a point to be that way all the time and it’s awesome.

    “And that’s only going to make us play that way.”

    And why the Bruins will remain a team nobody likes seeing on their schedule.

Sign me up for the 98.5 The Sports Hub email newsletter!

Get the latest Boston sports news and analysis, plus exclusive on-demand content and special giveaways from Boston's Home for Sports, 98.5 The Sports Hub.

By clicking "Subscribe" I agree to the website's terms of Service and Privacy Policy. I understand I can unsubscribe at any time.