The 2021-22 NHL season is over for the Bruins after a disappointing finish in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Boston dropped Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes and now face an offseason full of questions.
Let’s dive right in.
What does Patrice Bergeron do?
This is the biggest question for the B’s. Bergeron is an unrestricted free agent and is unsure if he wants to continue playing hockey or hang up the skates. The good news for the Bruins, though, is that the long-time center has zero plans to play anywhere else (including the Montreal Canadiens) other than Boston.
It’s hard to imagine a B’s team without its captain, especially considering Bergeron, even at age 36, continued to play at an elite level and turned in yet another incredible season that earned him his 11th consecutive Selke Trophy nomination.
“He’s still a No. 1 centerman in this league,” head coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters at his end of the season availability, per the Bruins. “We saw it throughout this year, up for the Selke – and in my estimation should win it, no disrespect to the other nominees. But I think he’s had another great year. We’ll see how that turns out.
” … When he’s ready to have a conversation, I’m sure he’ll reach out to who he needs to. But right now, I think he needs the time to decompress. That’s a big decision and he needs to take all the time he needs.”
If Bergeron does indeed call it quits, then the Black and Gold will have many more questions and a huge void to fill.
“That would be a conversation we’d have to have upstairs, because you’re going to need to fill it,” Cassidy said. “The first place you’ll look is, do we have anybody internally that’s ready to move up to the No. 1 spot? Secondly, is there anyone in Providence that can fill in if someone else is moving up? So those are questions we’d have to look at. So no, I haven’t really got that far along with it.”
If Bergeron leaves, is a rebuild imminent?
The Bruins have been able to avoid a complete rebuild, but will that change if Bergeron indeed retires?
“I’ve been looking at that for a while now. As your core players and your better players start to age out, you do have to look at that. There’s no question,” B’s president Cam Neely said Thursday at his year-end media availability. “But we do have some good young players in this lineup that hopefully continue to grow and hopefully we continue to add to that. But it is something you think about. In 2019, we lose in seven in the finals. In 2020, we’re leading the league and then the world falls apart.
“We’ve got to be better. We needed to be better last playoffs. I thought this year, I honestly felt really good that we were going to get by Carolina in Game 7. I really did. I knew it was going to be tough five-on-five. But like I said, we didn’t draw any penalties to give us a chance for our better players to produce on the power play. Those are things we have to look at to improve upon.”
Charlie Coyle was called to take the spot but couldn’t find a groove before getting slotted back onto the third line. Coyle thrived as the third line center and found sturdy chemistry with Craig Smith and Trent Frederic.
Erik Haula played fine on the second line, but is he really a true second-line center? Probably not.
Naturally, questions about Krejci arose. The longtime Bruins center departed Boston prior to the start of the 2021-22 season for his native Czech Republic, where he enjoyed success overseas. General manager Don Sweeney revealed he hasn’t spoken to Krejci “recently,” but left the door open should the 36-year-old want to return.
What does Jack Studnicka’s future look like?
Studnicka looked like a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season after he bulked up and made quite the impression in training camp. But he found himself a victim of depth and spent most of the year in Providence.
He’s been touted as one of the B’s top prospects for a while, and it’s probably time to see what the Bruins have in Studnicka. Does that mean he’ll get a shot at the second-line center position or even the first-line center should Bergeron retire? At some point, they’ll need to see where he belongs with this club.
Will the Bruins trade Jake DeBrusk?
DeBrusk’s trade request became public in November but he remained with the Bruins for the remainder of the 2021-22 season, even signing a two-year extension at the NHL trade deadline. The forward found success on the top line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand after Cassidy bumped David Pastrnak to the second line, and finished the regular season with 25 goals.
DeBrusk revealed he hasn’t thought too much about his future, and Sweeney said Wednesday he doesn’t think too much has changed in regards to the request.
“I don’t think things have changed, other than he?s happier. Because his life improved an awful lot. And he deserves a lot of credit for that. He went out and did perform,” Sweeney said during his year-end media availability. “Maybe it’s a clearer headspace that he defined. Not really thinking about things. Now he might take some time to re-evaluate and realize that I peeked over the neighbor’s yard and the grass is not necessarily greener. My lawn is looking pretty damn good too. Players have their own right. We know — I’ve said all along, I think I know what Jake DeBrusk is capable of. Everybody would like to hold all of our guys to that standard and to his credit, he went out and performed and played well.”
Will Bruce Cassidy return as head coach?
Neely on Thursday revealed the team has plans to extend Sweeney in the near future, but wouldn’t commit to Cassidy returning as the bench boss.
“I think we have to look at making some changes as far as how we play and the way we do some of the things. I think Bruce is a fantastic coach,” Neely said at his year-end availability. “I mean, he’s brought a lot of success to this organization. I like him as a coach. So, we’ll see where it goes. But I do think we need to make some changes. And I think Bruce, a couple of days ago, he alluded to that. So, we’ll see where that goes with that.”
Cassidy has brought the Bruins success since he took over for Claude Julien in 2016. He has yet to win a Stanley Cup, falling just short in Game 7 in 2019.