The goal for the Bruins remains the same every season, but the harsh reality is only one team can raise the Stanley Cup, as the other 30 teams spend the summer trying to retool in order to reach that summit.
Once again, Boston is one of those 30 teams.
The Bruins’ 2021 season came to an end Wednesday night, much earlier than they hoped and perhaps before most believed it would. The B’s looked poised to make another deep run but they were flummoxed by the New York Islanders, while injuries to key positions certainly didn’t help.
That means an earlier-than-hoped start to summer on Causeway Street, and the powers that be certainly have their work cut out for them. This has the potential to be a franchise-altering offseason for the B’s, as they look for a way to keep the championship window propped open.
Here are some of the Black and Gold storylines to expect this summer:
What happens with Tuukka Rask?
The future of arguably the best goaltender in franchise history feels like a pretty good place to start. The Rask thing is twofold, at least. First, he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent, as Wednesday marked the end of an eight-year, $56 million deal that benefited both parties. Trying to predict Rask’s market is exceptionally difficult given the nature of goaltending in today’s NHL, and more importantly, Rask’s physical and mental health. On the first part, it’s clear he labored through some sort of injury. He missed time during the regular season, and both the team and player made his condition no secret throughout the playoffs. We don’t know the specific nature of the ailment, but Rask didn’t hide from the fact that surgery is on the table this summer. Depending on what and where the surgery is, might that complicate his outlook for 2021-22? That, of course, is assuming Rask even wants to play. He’s been very forthright about his desire — or maybe lack thereof — to play forever. Maybe he’s had enough. At the very least, maybe he seeks a short-term contract and will go from there. If the latter is the case, bringing him back and pairing him with rising goaltending phenom Jeremy Swayman might be the Bruins’ preferred option for the short term.
Is David Krejci done in Boston?
Barring a last-second contract extension, the Bruins’ second-line center is about to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his splendid career. He’s a fascinating case for Boston. When he has capable linemates, he’s still a skillful player who can drive possession and put others in a position to be dangerous. There was a time there when he, Taylor Hall and Craig Smith really were clicking. It’s no surprise that as they went cold, so did the entire team. Krejci even helped elevate the game of “lesser” players, as evidenced by the lack of production when they skated with other pivots. Krejci is 35 years old and he should have plenty of suitors willing to give him something at least in the ballpark of the $7 million he made per season under his current deal. With the things Boston must do this season, and with potential second-line center fill-in Charlie Coyle making north of $5 million, the B’s might have to think long and hard about bringing back Krejci. That said, center depth has been a hallmark of the franchise for the last decade because of Patrice Bergeron … and Krejci.
Is Taylor Hall more than a rental?
Hall’s post-deadline run with the Bruins certainly was interesting. By and large, the UFA rental was very good. He scored eight goals in 16 regular-season games and looked reinvigorated by playing for an actual good team. He said all the right things, indicating he’d like to remain in Boston for the long haul. The playoffs were a mixed bag. He scored three goals in 11 games, and despite generating plenty of chances, he and his line went cold in the second round. After scoring in Game 1, Hall had just a single assist in the final four games. However, he was better than expected when it came to doing the little things. His willingness to back-check was a pleasant surprise and endeared him to Bruce Cassidy. It’s also the sort of thing, if you knew you’d get from him all the time moving forward, would make it a lot easier to commit to Hall on a long-term deal. Whether Hall returns might depend on what happens with Rask and Krejci. If Rask retires or re-signs elsewhere, and Krejci also leaves, it a) frees up a whole mess of salary cap space and b) leaves a very clear need for top-end talent, especially up front.
One area we can expect the Bruins to try to improve is the blue line. The younger defensemen showed plenty of promise this season. In the playoffs, when injuries mounted, they also proved they weren’t quite ready to shoulder the load. The challenge, though, is there were multiple issues. The Bruins struggled with being able to move pucks out of their own end, especially when faced with New York’s stifling forecheck. But the B’s defensive corps also got pushed around in front of its own net, as the Islanders took advantage of some juicy rebounds in their series win. The hope is players like Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton and Jakub Zboril continue to evolve, but adding veteran depth also should be a priority this summer.