Sunday, July 14, 2024

Can 2023-24 Bruins bounce back following Stanley Cup playoffs disappointment, Patrice Bergeron’s retirement?

The Boston Bruins‘ 2022-23 season was one for the ages — until it wasn’t. The best regular season in NHL history was followed by a first-round playoff exit and some significant roster turnover in the offseason, so what can we expect from the Bruins as they try to bounce back in 2023-24?

After racking up more wins (65) and points (135) than any team in the 106-year history of the NHL, the Bruins had the Florida Panthers in a 3-1 hole in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Then, the Panthers stormed back as the Bruins battled injury issues, and Boston lost Game 7 in devastating fashion.

The Bruins were on the wrong end of a stunning upset, a fairly common fate for past Presidents’ Trophy winners. Since the 2004-05 lockout, five teams have suffered first-round exits since capturing the league’s best record in the regular season.

The good news for Boston is three of the last six Presidents’ Trophy teams — prior to last season’s Bruins — have bounced back to win the Stanley Cup the year after suffering playoff disappointments.

  • The 2016-17 Washington Capitals dropped their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second postseason. In the 2018 playoffs, the Capitals exorcized their flightless demons and went on to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
  • The 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning were the best team in the regular season, and not only did they lose in the first round, but they were swept at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. That prompted what might be the saddest tweet in the history of social media, but the Bolts rebounded the next season and won their first of back-to-back Stanley Cups.
  • The 2020-21 Colorado Avalanche won 39 of their 56 regular-season games and were rewarded with the Presidents’ Trophy. That spring, they were defeated in the second round by the Vegas Golden Knights, but better days were ahead. One year later, Colorado steamrolled its competition to a Stanley Cup victory in 2022.

While that should provide some level of optimism for the Bruins and their fans, a glaring difference exists between those teams and the squad set to take the ice in Boston next month. The Capitals, Lightning and Avalanche didn’t have to endure losing the heart and soul of their franchise from one season to the next.

Patrice Bergeron, a staple of the Bruins’ lineup for nearly 20 years and their captain for the last three, retired this offseason. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much his elite play on the ice and leadership off it will be missed, but it could be rather significant. Even at the age of 37, Bergeron tallied 27 goals and 58 points while winning his sixth Selke Trophy.

Bergeron was the biggest loss of the offseason for the Bruins, but the roster turnover didn’t stop there. It was a busy summer in Boston, and the list of notable subtractions and additions is long.

For those keeping count at home, that is 82 goals and 134 assists out the door, with 42 goals and 82 assists incoming. On top of that, it’s fair to wonder how much aging veterans like Shattenkirk, Lucic and van Riemsdyk still have to offer. All of those players are at least 34 years old and coming off disappointing seasons.

Boston will be worse on paper this season, and thanks to Bergeron and Krejci hitting a combined $4.5 million in bonuses last year, it won’t have much cap space to work with throughout the upcoming season.

Looking at the rest of the Atlantic Division, Boston might meet more resistance than it has the last few years. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Lightning and Panthers already provide stiff competition. However, the real wild card will be whether one or more of the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators can take another step toward playoff contention. The road to the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs will not be smooth.

That said, I’m not ready to throw dirt on the Bruins’ head just yet.

For starters, the Bruins still have David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand at the top of the lineup. The former is coming off a 61-goal season, and the latter will be able to uphold the locker room culture as the next team captain.

Plenty of teams in this league would love to have that one-two punch in their forward group. Those two, along with another skilled winger in Jake DeBrusk, should be able to elevate an underwhelming group of centers that consists of Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha.

While it’s easy to see the offense taking a noticeable step back, Boston should still excel at keeping the puck out of its own net. Led by Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm, the Bruins are skilled and deep on the blue line. Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo are both back, and perhaps Shattenkirk can rebound after playing on a talent-deficient Anaheim Ducks team the last three years.

In between the pipes, 2023 Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman are the best tandem in the NHL. There is a reason both goaltenders landed inside the top 10 of our positional rankings. Ullmark and Swayman alone will give the Bruins a chance to beat whoever they play on a nightly basis.

The Bruins might have to win some low-scoring games this season, and they are built to do just that, even when you factor in Bergeron’s retirement.

Maybe they won’t bludgeon opponents every time they hit the ice, and maybe they won’t have the Presidents’ Trophy locked up by St. Patrick’s Day, but the Bruins should still be a formidable presence in the East.

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