The Bruins enter the 2022-23 NHL season in the unique position of clearly wanting to run it back for at least one more season while also changing things on the fly.
That means there’s no shortage of questions surrounding the Black and Gold as they get set for the season opener.
Before Boston opens the new campaign Wednesday night in Washington, D.C., here are some of the burning questions facing the team as they enter a pivotal season.
What difference will Jim Montgomery make?
On the whole, the Bruins are trying to keep their championship window open as long as possible. In order to do so, the B’s need to infuse some young talent to pair with an aging core. Apparently, the Bruins felt Bruce Cassidy could no longer handle that balancing act, particularly the latter part. Boston cut bait with Cassidy, one of the most successful coaches in franchise history, and replaced him with Montgomery. The 53-year-old has a tremendous reputation as a coach, and he has impressed at his various stops. Off-ice problems doomed what looked like a successful run in the making with Dallas. He deserves a second chance, and the Bruins were willing to give it to him, in large part because of his reputation for relating to younger players. There’s a belief that he is a “players’ coach,” a notion he rejects. However, if the roster had tuned out Cassidy and if Montgomery can get through to the younger players who have yet to make a significant NHL impact, he’ll be a home-run hire.
Can they survive the first few months?
Complicating Montgomery’s maiden voyage in the Hub is a brutal injury situation. At this point — with no disrespect to Patrice Bergeron — Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy are Boston’s best players. The hope is Marchand can return by Thanksgiving as he recovers from surgery on both hips. McAvoy is looking at a similar timeline for his shoulder injury. And adding to that difficulty is the absence of Matt Grzelcyk, too. The defenseman likely will miss the first month or so of the season, but the good news is he won’t start on long-term injured reserve, per general manager Don Sweeney. No skater logged more ice time than McAvoy last season. No forward averaged more time per game than Marchand, who led the team in points. Grzelcyk is a top-four D-man. The aggregate of that loss can’t be overstated. If Boston can tread water early and still be in the playoff picture at Thanksgiving (and no one suffers setbacks), it will be in really good shape. But if the loss of that trio somehow is even worse than expected, that will be a difficult hole from which to escape.
What does David Krejci have left?
Krejci is back from a gap year in Europe, where he stayed sharp dominating at home in the Czech Republic. The Bruins were able to convince him to sign a team-friendly deal, and he immediately becomes one of the team’s most important players. Not only does he give the Bruins some of the top-six depth they have missed in recent seasons, but he can also help ease the aforementioned injury issue on, say, the power play. He’ll center one of the more fascinating lines in hockey with countrymen Pavel Zacha and David Pastrnak on his left and right, respectively. Presumably, Taylor Hall will move down to that line upon Marchand’s return, potentially giving the Bruins a dynamic top-six. All of that is under the assumption, however, Krejci looks like the player he was before leaving North America.
Do they have enough on the back end?
That the decision to put Mike Reilly on waivers Sunday came as a bit of a surprise speaks to the blue-line uncertainty. Reilly has given himself a clean bill of health after offseason surgery and looked good in the preseason. His contract and handedness, however, pointed to borrowed time in Boston. But if he goes unclaimed, he’ll likely crack the opening night roster. Again, this thing is very much in flux, especially with the injury uncertainty. Anton Stralman, signed on a PTO contract, is also hanging around. This is all under the backdrop of the McAvoy injury situation, too, so things will certainly look different sooner rather than later. One certainty, however, is that Hampus Lindholm is gearing up for his first full season in the Spoked-B. He’ll likely start the season next to Brandon Carlo, and that duo has to play above its head to really solidify the back end. And it’s also a bounce-back season for Jakub Zboril. If he hits the ground running — he is getting a lot of buzz from Montgomery, specifically — he can go a long way in helping to stem the tide back there.
Will the kids make an impact?
The long-term determinant for Montgomery’s success as Bruins coach is how he’s able to bring along the younger players in the system. Much has been made about Boston’s misses in the draft. If Montgomery can help salvage some of that and unlock the potential of the younger players, then those picks won’t look as bad. Because the Bruins already have the next core seemingly in place with players like McAvoy, Lindholm, Marchand (for a while, at least) and Pastrnak assuming they sign him to an extension, they don’t need these younger players to take on important roles. They just need to complement the group. The hard truth to this point, though, is that just hasn’t happened. Players like Jack Studnicka, Jakub Lauko or Curtis Hall have yet to make notable NHL contributions. And someone like Trent Frederic, drafted in the same class as McAvoy, remains an enigma. Getting legitimate help from those players and the A.J. Greer or Marc McLaughlin types will make the puzzle a lot easier to solve. And if Montgomery can build and foster a system that leads to success for players like Fabian Lysell or Johnny Beecher, the future will start looking a lot brighter on Causeway.