Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 30: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins waves to fans before exiting the ice after Florida Panthers defeat the Bruins 4-3 in overtime of Game Seven of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

There are plenty of adjectives to describe the 2022-23 Boston Bruins season, especially the way it ended. Some clean, some explicit. But the best word I can come up with for you today is anticlimactic.

You can’t take away from the Bruins’ historic regular season, because it did happen and did have us glued to our screens from start to finish. But to end with such a grinding halt, so incredibly early in the playoffs, was to rob this epic run of one last burst of excitement. Even if the B’s ended up losing in a later round to a better team, the journey would have built some kind of story, some kind of memory.

That’s why the 2019 loss to the St. Louis Blues may ultimately leave more of a mark over time, because they were as close as they could be to the Cup without touching it. This loss to the Florida Panthers wasn’t enough of an investment in time, energy, and emotions for it to leave as much of a mark.

But it will linger like a nagging soreness. It may be harder to fully accept. But we’re still examining it in the aftermath here at the Sports Hub, because it’s worth investigating for a while.

There’s plenty to take away from the Bruins’ loss to the Panthers, the 2022-23 season overall, and the future of the organization. Here are the big end-of-season thoughts on my mind at the moment…

  • They came up short at center

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 30: Sam Bennett #9 of the Florida Panthers skates against Charlie Coyle #13 of the Boston Bruins during the second period in Game Seven of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    The biggest personnel problem on a Bruins team that seemingly had none of those: they depended too much on centers in their late-30s.

    GM Don Sweeney built a hell of a roster around Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. But by the end of the 2022-23 campaign, the two veterans, both 37 years old, limped into the playoffs as they worked through injuries, and ultimately got outplayed in their matchups on the ice.

    It’s now the unfortunate reality that a 37-year-old Bergeron, who’s now year-to-year on whether he plays at all, can’t be the best center in a playoff series.

    In the case of the Panthers, it turned out to be Sam Bennett who took over the series down the middle. His line described as “dominant” in the series by Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery, Bennett and star winger Matthew Tkachuk can lay claim to the MVPs of the seven games among all forwards.

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  • This isn’t a brand-new thing, either. Bergeron got outplayed by Ryan O’Reilly in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, too. It’s becoming too common of a problem that players the caliber of Bennett are taking over series. Bennett has rounded into a good player who’s built for the playoffs, but nobody predicted he’d be better than anyone on the Bruins in the series.

    This is not to take away from Charlie Coyle, who was the team’s best centerman over the course of the series. Montgomery also could have realized to pull Bergeron from matchups that were hurting him (more on that below). But it all goes back to the hard truth that the B’s needed Bergeron and Krejci back too much because of a lack of internal development at the position.

    Whether Bergeron and/or Krejci keep playing or not, a major addition is needed here, if only for the next era.

    Key players didn’t elevate enough

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 30: David Pastrnak #88, Garnet Hathaway #21, and Charlie McAvoy #73 of the Boston Bruins react after Florida Panthers defeat the Bruins 4-3 in overtime of Game Seven of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    The Bergeron/Krejci thing is more of an unfortunate reality than a shock or a disappointment. But what is really going to sting about this loss to the Panthers is that Florida got more out of its younger, ascending stars than Boston did.

    David Pastrnak perhaps deserves a pass for this, because he came alive and broke through with three goals in the final two games of the series, including the go-ahead goal in the third period of Game 7. When you come through in that particular moment, it’s hard to ask for a lot more from your star scorer.

    But Pastrnak also took six games to really make a major impact on the series, which can’t go ignored. Then there’s Charlie McAvoy, whose series was at best described as up-and-down and might have saved his worst performance for Game 7. Pavel Zacha wasn’t bad, but underwhelming (zero goals on 15 shots, six assists, 48.4 percent on faceoffs). Hampus Lindholm was simply a mess for much of the series.

    Meanwhile, Tkachuk, Bennett, defenseman Brandon Montour, and winger Carter Verhaeghe elevated when the moments called for it. If the Bruins want to go on an actual deep playoff run, let alone win it all, they are going to need their rising stars and key prime-age players to be the ones to take control of series.

    There’s time for McAvoy (25 years old) and Pastrnak (26) to reach that next level more consistently, but we’re still waiting for that to happen.

  • The dam broke on the goaltenders

    Apr 8, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) reacts with goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) after defeating the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Montgomery rode Linus Ullmark for a little too long in the series against Florida, and it cost him. It was a frustrating end to an otherworldly season by Ullmark, who should easily win the Vezina Trophy. But the reality is Ullmark was the real difference between the Bruins being a historic regular-season team and just a very good one.

    With simply good, solid goaltending, the Bruins slide back a lot closer to the pack. With bad goaltending, they could lose to anyone in the playoffs.

    Once the goaltending dried up for the Bruins, they no longer had enough to make up for their mistakes, injuries, and inconsistency. Ullmark did mask that at times in the regular season. They shouldn’t rely on that to continue throughout the playoffs.

  • Montgomery hurt them in the end


    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Montgomery’s numerous mistakes were covered thoroughly in the newest episode of the Sports Hub Underground podcast (listen above). Ty Anderson puts the majority of the blame for the loss on Montgomery, more than all the players combined.

    I tend to lean the other way. But there’s no question that Montgomery ended up making too many missteps for the Bruins to overcome the push from the Panthers.

    It was an odd mix of pushing the wrong buttons and avoiding the wrong ones. He needlessly mixed up his forward lines in Game 5 when Patrice Bergeron returned, and didn’t adjust his matchups at home nearly enough. And he should have made a tough decision on his goaltender sooner than he did, which isn’t totally revisionist history because Ullmark was a game-time decision as soon as Game 3.

    Montgomery has as much to learn from this loss as anyone.

  • Do they need new DNA?

    Feb 25, 2023; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Boston Bruins forward Garnet Hathaway (21) and defenseman Hampus Lindholm (27) and defenseman Brandon Carlo (25) talk between play during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    After yet another playoff letdown, it’s time to wonder (if it wasn’t already) whether the Bruins have the right mix, in terms of overall makeup, to do what it takes to win in the playoffs. Perhaps it’ll be as simple as turning the page from the Bergeron era, or Bergeron going the Zdeno Chara route and accepting more of a bottom-six, specialist role, rather than the driving force, at what would be age 38.

    But the real question for me likes on the back end. Lindholm still hasn’t shown the level of intensity or consistency to excel at playoff time. Brandon Carlo, while technically the Bruins’ best, most consistent defenseman in the series, is still a guy who doesn’t play to his 6-foot-5 frame and got beaten for the puck on the play that ended their season.

    Further, Derek Forbort became less of a factor as the series went along and may not be able to keep up with the pace. Matt Grzelcyk can keep up with the pace, but he will never have the size to withstand bigger, skilled forecheckers on an every-night basis, and doesn’t score enough to make up for that.

    So, if the Bruins are going to make a major shake-up on their roster in terms of their DNA, their identity, it would happen on defense. They at least have some forwards who elevated and feel built for the playoffs (Brad Marchand, Taylor Hall, Coyle).

    There wasn’t much to brag about on the blue line. There might never be if there isn’t a big change, short of McAvoy simply taking his game to another level.

  • Maybe they’re better off NOT perfect

    Apr 21, 2023; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery talks to center Jakub Lauko (94) during the third period against the Florida Panthers in game three of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at FLA Live Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

    Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

    The Presidents’ Trophy “curse” is alive and well, if you believe in it. But even if you don’t, it’s impossible not to admit that the sheer regular season dominance, and the weight of history, wasn’t worth the burden.

    You may be thinking, “Yeah, but what can you do?” Not much, really. If your team has the best record, and especially if they have a record-breaking regular season, hold your breath. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Ultimately, the Bruins may have been better off being in more of a spot like the Panthers, who had to play playoff-style hockey down the stretch just to get in, and went into the series against the B’s with nothing to lose.

    There’s a reason the all-time best regular-season teams in EVERY major sports league didn’t win it all. Not just the 2023 Bruins, but the 2007 New England Patriots, the 2016 Golden State Warriors, and the 2001 Seattle Mariners. Most years, you’re better off being imperfect going into it than being perfect until you’re not.

    Maybe it’ll do some good for the Bruins to take their lumps in the regular season and go into next year’s playoffs with a chip on their shoulder. And you can be certain of this: they WILL be back.

  • The Swayman era?

    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)

    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Ullmark gave it his all this past season, and we can finally stop bickering about his contract. But perhaps the way Ullmark broke down physically at the end was a sign that he won’t be able to handle the workload that comes in the playoffs.

    Some may say the answer is to platoon the goalies, which may have been the right approach against the Panthers, in hindsight. But the truth is no one does it, and realistically, the Bruins still won’t do it in 2024. Still, they need a workhorse who can stay healthy. The younger Jeremy Swayman may be their best bet for that.

    Either way, the B’s should consider a workload tilted more toward the expected playoff starter. Perhaps they will be better prepared for the grind of the postseason when it arrives.

  • Pavel Zacha remains quite a find

    Apr 17, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins center Pavel Zacha (18) passes the puck against the Florida Panthers during the first period of game one of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    While Zacha may have left you wanting more from him in the Panthers series, there’s no question that Sweeney made a great move to bring him in for Erik Haula. It’s a win-win. Haula, who didn’t seem like a good culture fit in Boston, is playing well for the Devils in the playoffs, and Zacha is locked in as a top-six forward for the Bruins at a great price ($4.75 million).

    We’ll see whether he settles in as a center or left wing, but Zacha, who scored a career-best 21 goals and 57 points, is still just entering his prime at age 26. His shot, vision, and creativity with the puck are standout traits. As long as he’s on a line with Pastrnak, he should be an effective point-producer in Boston.

    Zacha made a big difference this past season and should help ease the transition into the next era.

  • Tyler Bertuzzi belongs here

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 26: Tyler Bertuzzi #59 of the Boston Bruins collides with Josh Mahura #28 of the Florida Panthers during the first period in Game Five of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 26, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Of the Bruins’ trade deadline acquisitions, Tyler Bertuzzi makes the most sense to keep around long-term. That would take sacrifices elsewhere on the roster. But Bertuzzi’s combination of offensive playmaking and grit will make him a good top-six wing and a GREAT third-line wing wherever he lands.

    Bertuzzi isn’t without his warts. He had some of the worst defensive-zone giveaways of the series and he needs to clean up that area of his game. But there have been few additions in recent years who feel like a better fit for Boston.

    Sweeney gave up a first-round pick for him. He should do what it takes to re-sign him, too.

  • The window isn’t closed

    Mar 30, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) reacts with defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) after scoring a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during overtime at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    As I declared earlier: the Bruins WILL!!! be back in the playoffs in 2024. Maybe they’re merely in the 2-4 range in the Atlantic, or a Wild Card team. But if they run it back with who they have under contract for 2023-24, here’s the meat of the roster:


    David Pastrnak
    Brad Marchand
    Jake DeBrusk
    Charlie Coyle
    Taylor Hall
    Pavel Zacha
    A.J. Greer


    Charlie McAvoy
    Hampus Lindholm
    Brandon Carlo
    Matt Grzelcyk
    Derek Forbort
    Jakub Zboril


    Linus Ullmark

    Additionally, Swayman and Trent Frederic are restricted free agents. Even if a piece or two is peeled off for cap purposes, that’s a playoff-caliber team. Cup-caliber? Maybe not on paper, but maybe they have the right mix and the right mindset going into the 2024 playoffs, and they surprise people.

    It would be a big surprise at this point, because it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever have a greater opportunity to win it all than the one they just squandered.

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    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.

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