The Bruins will enter the 2023-24 season without Patrice Bergeron for the first time since the 2002-03 campaign. David Krejci is gone, too, with the pair of pivots retiring this summer.
This upcoming campaign will mark the fourth without longtime captain and defenseman Zdeno Chara. That’s three players all with at least 1,000 games of NHL experience gone over the last handful of seasons.
And while there’s still a chunk of that core intact and remaining in Boston, this obviously is a season of transition and change. Things will look different, but the Black and Gold hopes that in its centennial season, there won’t be much of a dropoff in success. It’s hard to believe another record-setting regular season is on tap, but the Bruins still have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot.
These are the questions they need to answer before we can know for sure that this team is still a squad that can compete for the Stanley Cup.
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How does the team handle the Bergeron and Krejci void?
It’s impossible to fully replace the production and intangibles the duo of longtime centers brought to the ice and dressing room. From a production standpoint, a dropoff feels inevitable. Bergeron walked away after scoring 27 goals and adding 31 assists en route to a sixth Selke Trophy win. Krejci was the team’s best playmaker. That those two play a premium position makes it even more difficult to replace. Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha will do their best. Both are great second- and third-line center options though neither has really proved they can consistently man the top-six responsibilities they’ll be tasked with this season. The more likely scenario is the Bruins will need to focus even more on keeping the puck out of their own net to help offset the presumed dip in offensive production.
In the room, the Bruins lose one of the NHL’s best leaders in Bergeron. However, the team believes in new captain, Brad Marchand, and there are still plenty of veterans like Milan Lucic, Charlie McAvoy, Kevin Shattenkirk and the aforementioned duo of Coyle and Zacha to help make up that leadership group. That so many players will feel empowered to lead is a testament to Bergeron and Chara and the legacies they left.
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Does the goalie split look any different this season?
Obviously, the Bruins found something that worked last season by largely splitting time between goalies Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. That Ullmark was able to win the Vezina Trophy despite making fewer appearances than 17 other goalies is a testament to his dominance. There’s probably a direct correlation between the two, as Swayman rotating in allowed Ullmark to stay fresh and sharp. It makes sense to run it back from that regard, and only seven teams devote more cap space to the position than Boston, so they’re obviously both going to play. The real question is going to come when the playoffs get here. There’s not a long list of teams that have made deep Cup runs with a goalie rotation, but it’s also hard to ask one guy to play every second after spending the season in said rotation. It can make for some awkward situations. Perhaps that inspires some change.
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Is there any young blood ready to make an impact?
Much has been made about the relative lack of depth in the Bruins’ system. That’s bound to catch up with a team after going all-in at deadlines and trading away high draft capital. That’s not to say there isn’t young talent, though. Fabian Lysell is the best prospect, at least up front, and with the offseason departures, there’s certainly room for him to make a push, especially with a good camp. Mason Lohrei is another name to remember. It’s probably still a little early for him to make a major impact, but he could make it an interesting conversation by taking a big step in his progression. The ceiling might not be quite as high for players like Matthew Poitras or John Beecher, but they offer potentially valuable depth and energy if they put things together ahead of schedule.
Can David Pastrnak do it again?
Pastrnak certainly got a good start in justifying his new deal last season. Only Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl had more points a season ago, and Pastrnak tied Tampa Bay superstar Nikia Kucherov in production. That’s kind of where Pastrnak needs to be moving forward now. If he’s not that — one of the four or five best offensive players on the planet — it’s hard to envision a similar amount of success for the team now that two of its most prolific offensive players are retired. The Bruins need Pastrnak to prove he can be that force even without Bergeron and/or Krejci feeding him. If he still is that player now and for the near future, the Bruins will be OK.
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