What a special year for the Boston Bruins. From beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in 7 games, to blasting the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes out of the water, to eventually losing in the Stanley Cup, it was a truly memorable year. I wish I would be writing a happier article, but so it goes.
That being said, the most concise way to completely review a season is with an extensive grading review. So here we go...
General Manager Don Sweeney: A-
Sweeney was heavily criticized at the trade deadline for almost not acquiring a second line winger to play on the right side of David Krejci. Sweeney swung a last minute deal for Marcus Johansson of the New Jersey Devils, giving away this year’s second rounder. In addition to the Johansson deal, Sweeney also acquired center Charlie Coyle from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for winger Ryan Donato. Both these moves I thought that, although they didn’t really pan out in the regular season, their playoff runs were remarkable, and, without those two guys, I believe we would not have been even close to where we were come game 7. Sweeney then ultimately made a great case for himself, and was nominated for and won “general manager of the year”. I expect a rather busy offseason, with multiple key RFA’s and the unrestricted free agency of rental Johansson.
Head Coach Bruce Cassidy: A
Cassidy had another great season for the Bruins. His in-game adjustments proved invaluable for the Bruins, as multiple times during the regular season and throughout the playoffs, the Bruins dealt with injuries galore, especially on defense, and his poise and strategy helped the Bruins get through the injury bug. Cassidy was not nominated for the Jack Adams award with so many teams going from bad to good (New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues), but he should’ve been. Ultimately, another strong season from Cassidy was another reason why the Bruins got as far as they did
Winger Noel Acciari: A
Acciari had a great season on the checking line for the Bruins. His gritty presence on the bottom line for the Bruins was incredibly important, and really gave the Bruins defensive and offensive toughness. Acciari also had 14 points during the season and 4 points during the playoffs, so his offensive production was pretty good for a fourth liner. The Rhode Island native is an unrestricted free agent following the season, and he will probably command a seven figure contract wherever he goes due to his defensive prowess and tough game. I do expect him to be back in a Bruins uniform next year.
Winger David Backes: D
Backes had an awful year for his standards. The longtime St. Louis Blues forward had only 20 points during the regular season, and 5 points during the playoffs, sometimes being a healthy scratch during both. For someone who signed a 5 year, 30 million dollar deal only 3 years ago, Backes has been a black spot on the record of GM Don Sweeney. Look for the Bruins to attempt to trade him, or even eat the money entirely, as Backes, outside of his physical presence, which is the reason why I didn’t give him an F, is basically dead weight offensively. I think he will probably be in a Bruins uniform next year, unless Sweeney pulls off a miracle and manages to ship him to a rebuilding team searching for a veteran presence.
Center Patrice Bergeron: A
Bergeron had an outstanding year for the Boston Bruins. Already a four time Frank Selke trophy winner, Bergeron had an outstanding defensive season yet again, despite missing 17 games with a shoulder injury, earning a plus minus of 23, and a telling statistic during the playoffs that, during the first two series, Bergeron and his teammates only allowed 4 goals against John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Auston Matthews, Boone Jenner, and Matt Duchene. Offensively, Bergeron had his best season ever, scoring 32 goals and amassing 47 assists for a total of 79 points, despite missing 17 games with that shoulder injury. Bergeron is a key part of Boston’s offensive and defensive strategy, and he was excellent in both regards again this year.
Defenseman Brandon Carlo: A+
Carlo had an outstanding year. The defenseman played very well all year, showing a lot of growth on both sides of the ice, between better puck control and passing and an improved shot, Carlo scored 10 points during the regular season and 4 during the playoffs. However, Carlo’s true progress showed on the defensive side of the puck. Carlo was hurt late in both of his prior seasons, being unable to play in the playoffs both years. He was a cog for the Bruins blue line all year, and finally achieved his potential as a top 2 defensive defenseman, especially when Chara was unable to play. The 6’5” blueliner is a restricted free agent and was given a qualifying offer, and will probably seek a contract worth upwards of 5 million annually. I still expect the Bruins to retain his services as he is an important piece of the Bruins’ plan.
Winger Peter Cehlarik: C-
Cehlarik was a paradoxical player this year. His first game in a Bruins uniform this year resulted in a two goal performance against the Philadelphia Flyers. Yet, Cehlarik still managed to find himself in Bruce Cassidy’s doghouse frequently due to poor decision making and bad defensive play. Cehlarik is still an NHL ready offensive player, and showed it with 6 points in 20 games albeit spending time in the doghouse in 10 games of his 20, getting under 13 minutes of ice time. The Slovakian is a restricted free agent, and, similar to Austin Czarnik, will probably look to move on from the Bruins organization, but has been offered a qualifying offer.
Captain, Defenseman Zdeno Chara: B-
Chara finally started to show signs of aging this season. The 42-year-old defenseman had 14 points (5 goals) on the season, and was injured at various points during the year, but still managed to be a contributing defenseman on a high caliber team (plus minus of 22, good for 23rd in the NHL. Ultimately, Chara had another successful season, but his age is starting to show, and next year might be a struggle for him. Chara also played through a broken jaw sustained in game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, playing the rest of the season despite being unable to speak for game 5. Chara should have wide respect throughout the league and its fandom for his grit, toughness, and wisdom, and is already beloved in Boston. Chara is signed for next year with the hope that they can finally seal the deal, something that they haven’t been able to do in 9 years.
Defenseman Connor Clifton: A
Clifton, dubbed the moniker “Cliffy Hockey”, came out of nowhere to replace the oft-injured Kevan Miller and did his job very well. A solid, but small blueliner at 5’11”, Clifton played great defense all season, playing 19 games during the regular season and 18 during the playoffs. The Quinnipiac product came to the Bruins organization via college free agency, despite being drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 4th round of the 2013 draft. The native New Jerseyan will be under contract in the Bruins organization next year, and he is likely to get a top 6 defenseman role, potentially at the expense of John Moore.
Center Charlie Coyle: B
Coyle, acquired before the trade deadline for offensive phenom Ryan Donato, proved to be a mixed bag during the regular season, raising questions over Don Sweeney’s decision making. However, Coyle’s playoff performance was nothing short of legendary, as he put up 16 points in 24 games, scoring 3 goals less than he did in an 81 game regular season. The main storyline with Charlie Coyle is his Boston roots, growing up in Weymouth and attending Boston University. Coyle has grown to be loved by all Bruins fans, and is under contract for the 2019-2020 season. I think Coyle has finally figured his game out, and will have a 50 point plus season next year for the Bruins before hitting unrestricted free agency in 2020.
Winger Jake DeBrusk: B-
DeBrusk was another player who was incredibly inconsistent. While spectacular at points during the regular season, eventually scoring 27 goals while adding 15 assists for the Bruins, DeBrusk was largely invisible for the Bruins during the playoffs, only scoring 11 points, and only 2 during the 7 game Toronto series. DeBrusk also found himself in the doghouse sometimes during the season after being unable to score, and his defensive game is not the best, so when he doesn’t score, he is sometimes useless. However, DeBrusk is a very important piece to the success of the Bruins and will be very important to the Bruins’ success next season.
Center Trent Frederic: D
Brought up by Don Sweeney in a pre-Coyle attempt to shore up the third line, Frederic failed spectacularly, not tallying a point in 15 NHL games. Frederic’s only exciting moment came in his NHL debut, where he pounded Jets winger Brandon Tanev to the delight of Jack Edwards after a scrum on net. Frederic is best served spending some time in the AHL, where he can improve his offensive game. Expect to see him at some point next year, as he is a first round draft pick out of the University of Wisconsin, but he should start the year in Providence unless he shows out in the preseason.
Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk: B+
Grzelcyk had another great year for the Bruins. After signing a 2 year extension last summer, Grzelcyk is under contract for next year. Grzelcyk added 18 points during the regular season, but missed 16 games with various injuries. However, Grzelcyk was a large offensive presence during the playoffs, scoring 8 points in 20 games, and even added 2 goals in the 7-2 shellacking of the Carolina Hurricanes in game 2 of that series. After being boarded by Oskar Sundqvist in game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Grzelcyk was unable to return with a concussion until game 7. However, his defensive acumen was hindered in both playoffs he’s played to date, accumulating a minus 5 over the course of 2 years. However, Grzelcyk is going to be a key blueliner for the Bruins next year before the Charlestown native hits free agency.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak: A
Halak had a solid year as a backup to Tuukka Rask. Signed away from the New York Islanders by Sweeney after a long tenure as a starter there, Halak proved to be a capable backup early on in the season, with a lot of calls for him to replace Tuukka Rask as the starter. Solid all year, Halak gave Tuukka Rask well needed rest, which benefited him come playoff time. Halak went 22-11-4 with a 2.34 goals against average, good for 7th in the NHL and a .922 save percentage, good for 9th in the NHL. A top 10 goaltender as a backup is a great thing to have, and Halak is still a capable starter for the majority of NHL teams. Having him to give Rask a rest whenever needed is a blessing, and he is under contract for one more year.
Winger Danton Heinen: C
Heinen had a very tough year. After scoring 16 goals and 47 points in his rookie season, Heinen’s goal scoring and assists dropped this past year. He started to pick it up right around the point where David Pastrnak got injured and Bruce Cassidy moved him up to the first line, but sometimes found himself out of the lineup for a “breather” or poor performance. The British Columbia native is a restricted free agent this year, and this is the toughest prediction (outside of Johansson) that I can make. I think Heinen will stay, signing a 2-3 year deal around 3 million, but Sweeney could also opt to move on from him, deciding to replace him with a prospect like Jack Studnicka, Oskar Steen, or Zach Senyshyn.
Winger Marcus Johansson: C+
Johansson, when he played, was a substantial part of the Bruins’ offensive attack after being acquired minutes before the deadline from the New Jersey Devils. The Swede only played in 4 games before being injured after a Micheal Ferland hit in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes, and eventually played 6 more, only scoring 3 points in the 10 games he was able to play. However, a different Marcus Johansson showed up in the playoffs. He scored 11 points in 22 playoff games he played in and was especially good during the Carolina series, scoring 4 points in the first two games against them and five points in six games against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Johansson’s regular season performance set him back a grade, but his playoff showing was a major reason why the Bruins made it to where they did. Johansson praised the Bruins fans after his first game with the team, and I would certainly not be surprised to see him resign a multi-year deal with the team. He proved to be a good fit on the ice and the locker room.
Defenseman Steven Kampfer: B
Kampfer was a solid acquisition just before the season started, when Sweeney got him from the Rangers for defenseman Adam McQuaid. Originally drafted by the Boston Bruins, Kampfer has had his best seasons here for teams that either won or almost won the Stanley Cup. A pretty good depth defenseman, Kampfer came in when needed and did great jobs in the regular and postseason. Kampfer added 6 points during the regular season and 1 goal during the playoffs, in game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes (in place of suspended Charlie McAvoy). I thought Kampfer met or exceeded every expectation for him when he came into the lineup when most defensemen were injured, despite posting a -6. Kampfer is a restricted free agent after the season, and will generally come cheap for whoever signs him.
UPDATE: Kampfer has resigned a 2 year extension to remain with the Boston Bruins at an AAV of 800,000 dollars.
Center David Krejci: A+
Krejci had a resurgent season for the Boston Bruins. His 73 points (20 goals, 53 assists) was the most he scored since the 2008-2009 season. Krejci played in every game except 1 and was a display of durability for the Bruins. During the playoffs, Krejci had 16 points in 24 games, but disappeared for long extents of time at some points. For instance, Krejci did not have a point until Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Krejci was widely regarded as a poor signing, and is currently one of the highest paid players on the Bruins with a 6 year extension at a 7.25 AAV (average annual value) that runs through the 2020-2021 season. Expect Krejci to be an important part of the team next year as well.
Defenseman Torey Krug: A
Torey Krug had a spectacular season for the Bruins. Krug’s offensive impact largely outweighs his defensive impact, as the defenseman put up an unspectacular -2 during the regular season. This statistic led reporter Joe Haggerty to openly question his necessity late in the season. Krug scored 53 points during the regular season with a whopping 47 assists in just 64 games. Krug led all defensemen in points per game during the regular season. Widely known as a playoff performer, Krug added 18 points in 24 games during the postseason. Unfortunately, Krug’s status for next season is in question as the Bruins attempt to alter their roster. His production may have to be replaced, as his name has come up in trade rumors frequently over the course of the last year. Ultimately I believe Sweeney will recognize his production is not replaceable and whatever defensive shortcomings he brings are a risk worth taking.
Winger Karson Kuhlman: A
Kuhlman, similar to Connor Clifton, almost came out of nowhere. Although only playing in 11 games during the regular season, Kuhlman scored 5 points (3 goals). An undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota at Duluth, Kuhlman turned some heads with his blazing speed and surprisingly good shot. Kuhlman played in 8 games during the playoffs and added 3 points along with a snipe of a goal in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals that put the game away. Kuhlman will look to continue this production next year, where I believe he will start. Kuhlman was a good fit on Krejci’s right wing, but he may be best served in the bottom 6.
Center Sean Kuraly: A
Kuraly had a great season for the Bruins. After getting hurt late in the season on a blocked shot, Kuraly was forced to miss the first few games of the Toronto series. Kuraly anchored and centered the impressive fourth line, usually alongside Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari, or Chris Wagner. The Ohio native was impressive again in the playoffs, where he put up 10 points in 20 games, missing the first four games of the Toronto series, where his impact was noticeable the second he stepped back on the ice. Offensively, Kuraly scored a solid 21 points, adding 8 goals to the mix during the regular season. Kuraly is under contract for the next two seasons, and looks to anchor the dependable fourth line next year.
Winger Brad Marchand: A
Marchand was incredible this year. Finally able to shed his reputation, Marchand went unsuspended for the first time since the shortened 2013-2014 season. His offensive production rose rapidly in lieu of this, and became the first Bruin to score 100 points in a season since Joe Thornton did it in 2002-2003. He scored 36 goals, the third most in a single season of his career, and added 64 assists, which is 13 more than any other single season total. Marchand was also incredible in the playoffs, scoring 23 points in 24 games. The winger is signed through the 2025 season at a reasonable 6.125 million AAV. Marchand will look to continue to be the Bruins’ star next year and for the years to come.
Defenseman Charlie McAvoy: A-
McAvoy was very impressive this year. Although he had some injury problems early in the year, he was able to get past that to play 54 games and play in all but one (suspension) postseason games. McAvoy was an offensive force, especially when he drove the net, and ended up leading all Bruins defensemen in goals, with 8, and was second in points with 28 (only behind Torey Krug). He also proved to be a reliable offensive presence during the playoffs as well, adding 8 points in 23 games. Defensively, McAvoy had his warts, but is generally a solid blueline presence. He sometimes struggles with turnovers, turning the puck over 54 times, one for every game he played in. However, McAvoy has immense potential on the offensive and defensive side of the ice, and can develop into an Erik Karlsson-level defenseman. McAvoy is a restricted free agent, and will probably seek a long term contract worth 7-9 million in AAV. I believe he will also stay with the Bruins, as they are likely to match any offer sheet that McAvoy happens to sign in order to keep the blueliner.
Defenseman Kevan Miller: C-
Miller had a bad year. When he was able to play, he was as solid as usual, exerting a physical presence in the blueline that was sorely missed when he got hurt. Miller did not provide a lot of offense, only adding 7 points and no goals in the 39 games he played, but was a defensive stud, amassing a plus 8 despite his offensive shortcomings. His grade is so low because of his injury problems, and missing over half of the games in a season, and not playing in the playoffs, translates to a disappointing season for Miller. The Bruins will be forced to reevaluate Miller’s future with the team, and he is currently under contract through next year at a reasonable 2.5 million. Given his defensive prowess, he should be relatively easy to move should Don Sweeney opt to do that. I would like for Miller to stay as I believe he is a better enforcing defenseman than Chara is simply due to his younger age, but his injury prone season should raise red flags.
Defenseman John Moore: C
John Moore had a complex season. After being signed away from the New Jersey Devils on a 5 year contract, and even with the vast injuries sustained to the Bruins’ D corps, Moore sometimes found himself being a healthy scratch. Additionally, he also was injured for spells of the season, eventually losing his spot in the lineup in favor of Connor Clifton for the playoffs. Moore, signed through 2023 at a cap hit of 2.75 million, could prove to be a liability for Don Sweeney. However, Moore did play well in the 61 games he played. Moore was pretty good offensively, scoring 13 points and 4 goals. Moore did not put up any points in 10 playoff games after the injuries to Matt Grzelcyk and various Cassidy lineup changes.
Winger Joakim Nordstrom: B
Nordstrom was a solid signing by Don Sweeney. Signed away from Carolina on a 2 year deal, the bottom 6 forward had a lackluster offensive season, scoring 12 points in 70 games and drawing the ire of Bruins fans. However, Nordstrom turned around the frustration during the playoffs, playing alongside Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari/Chris Wagner. A defensive-minded forward, Nordstrom played his way to a plus 2 during the playoffs, and even added 8 points in only 23 games, which certainly changed my opinion of him. Nordstrom is under contract for next season, and I expect him to play a similar role.
Winger David Pastrnak: A-
Pastrnak had a spectacular start, leading the entire league in goal scoring for the first couple months of the year. Although he eventually ended with 38 goals, slowing down considerably, the Czech winger sustained a freak injury after a team event. He took a stumble and tore a ligament in his thumb, missing 16 games. He seemed a little slow getting back, but scored 7 goals in 10 games after returning from the injury. Early on in the playoffs, he started off very slow. Frequent turnovers and stickhandling errors plagued him and the team early in the Toronto series, and he drew criticisms for the errors. Pastrnak scored 9 goals and 10 assists in 24 games in the playoffs, but disappeared for stretches, which ultimately led to the Bruins downfall to the St. Louis Blues. This fact really showed how important Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak are to the success of the Bruins. Pastrnak is under a lengthy contract extension on another bargain for the Bruins, and will continue to be a major piece of the puzzle in Boston.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask: A
Rask did not begin without questioning, as his slow start raised questions of split starts, demotion, or trade. His first performance against the Washington Capitals on their banner raising night was nothing short of horrendous as the Bruins lost that one 7-0. Rask even had to take a leave of absence early in the season, but after that, his run was spectacular. Rask did not lose 3 consecutive games at any point in the season, had an incredible postseason run, and a solid regular season. During the regular season, Tuukka continued his top 10-15 statistics with a 27-13-5 record (13th), .912 save percentage (25th), and 2.48 goals against average (11th). However, Tuukka turned it up a notch in the postseason to the tune of a 15-9 record (2nd), save percentage of .934 (2nd), and goals against average of 2.02 (2nd). Without Tuukka Rask, we would not have been in position to win the Stanley Cup Finals. Blaming him for anything is searching for a scapegoat, when in reality, the team lost it. Rask will be the starting goaltender for years to come in Boston, and, despite his “inability” to win the big game, he won 15 big games this postseason.
Winger Chris Wagner: A+
The Walpole born winger and offseason signing away from the New York Islanders had a breakout season. Wagner scored twice as many goals as he’d ever scored, played in the most games he’d ever played in, and was a solid offensive and defensive presence in the bottom six. His physical play proved to be influential for the Bruins and their successful fourth line, as he accumulated 247 hits, good for 11th in the league. Wagner was injured in a shot block suffered in Game 3 of the Carolina Hurricanes series, and was forced to miss the remainder of the series. Wagner was a breakout player for the Bruins this year, and he is under contract for the upcoming year, where he will look to continue his offensive and defensive production.
End of Season Awards:
MVP: Brad Marchand
Best Defenseman: Brandon Carlo
Rookie of the Year: Connor Clifton
Most Improved Player: Brandon Carlo
New Player of the Year: Jaroslav Halak, Chris Wagner
Breakout Player of the Year: Chris Wagner
The Bruins will look to retain the majority of their free agents. Forwards Marcus Johansson and Noel Acciari are unrestricted, and unrestricted free agent defenseman Steven Kampfer has already resigned with the Bruins for another 2 years. Restricted free agents include Defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo and forwards Danton Heinen and Peter Cehlarik, and all 4 have been tendered qualifying offers. The two most important decisions are the ones that do not involve free agencies. Torey Krug and David Backes are both highly paid Bruins, and Don Sweeney might be looking to move on from both. Backes has 2 more years on his contract, at a clip of 6 million, which is just under the AAV's of marquee Bruins players Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. I expect Boston to attempt to move on from his contract. Torey Krug is a different story. Sweeney has repeatedly stated that he will not be inclined to move on from Krug unless he is overwhelmed by an offer. I believe that this is the case, albeit Krug's contract is up next year. The Bruins will generally not be players for the higher priced free agents like Artemi Panarin, Joe Pavelski, and Matt Duchene, and may choose to look in the bargain bin and trade market. Boston has been repeatedly linked to disgruntled top pick Jesse Puljujarvi.
Overall, Boston and Bruins fans expect to contend. The Bruins may not need to add any pieces, but definitely need to retain some. They will probably look to the lower levels of free agency, choosing to pursue a Ryan Dzingel or Micheal Ferland (who they were linked to at the trade deadline before swinging a deal for Marcus Johansson). Either way, the Bruins need to upgrade their options at right wing. If they are able to do so, look for the Bruins to contend for a Stanley Cup title again.
Photo Credits: Gerry Broome, AP