Elimination Eval: Boston Bruins

For the second year in a row, the Boston Bruins have fallen victim to the Florida Panthers early in the postseason. Last year, it happened after a wild Game 7 in the first round. This year, it took six games in Round 2. The Bruins are on the edge of that uncomfortable spot that we’re seeing the Islanders, Capitals and a couple of other teams approaching where they could be at risk of falling out of contention but not enough to be in the draft lottery conversation. Before we get there, let’s take a look at how the Bruins got here and where they could go based off of their outcome. 

The Bruins kept their tradition of breaking Toronto’s hearts alive with a heroic overtime breakaway goal from David Pastrnak in Game 7 of the first round to get to this point. They got off to the right start with a dominant win in Game 1 and bounced back after a 3-2 loss in Game 2 to threaten the series after a pair of wins. Against a Toronto Maple Leafs team without Auston Matthews, the Bruins were forced to seven where they actually went down halfway through the third but quickly got a big response from Hampus Lindholm which set up the big overtime moment.  

There’s always a debate come playoff time regarding “rest versus rust” and in this case, the Bruins proved rest to be a bit underrated. Fresh off the excitement of a Game 7 overtime win, the Bruins went down to Florida and completely dominated a well-rested Panthers squad. Despite giving up the first goal halfway through the second, Boston answered right back with goals from Morgan Geekie, Mason Lohrei and Brandon Carlo to take a 3-1 lead into the third period. Florida did not have an answer for that and gave up another pair in the third to give Boston an early lead on the series. 

Game 2 would prove to be much different and certainly gave some insight on what kind of team the Panthers are. Charlie Coyle found the back of the net first in this one which quickly woke Florida up in the second period. The Bruins gave up a goal in the first two minutes, as well as in the final minute of the period to head into the third trailing 3-1. Things quickly got ugly as the Panthers struck early again in the third and twice more as the period went on to even up the series. On top of that, 146 penalty minutes were assigned throughout the course of the final twenty minutes which included a proper fight between two of the league's top goalscorers in Matthew Tkachuk and David Pastrnak. If it wasn’t already, this series quickly became some must watch hockey. 

Game 3 would be the game changing moment in the series as it carried enough weight to impact how the rest of it would play out. Sure enough, Florida picked right back where they left off in Sunrise and were on the board eight minutes into Game 3 in Boston. Special teams would also be a difference maker as the Panthers converted on three power plays in a row to give themselves a 4-0 lead early in the third. Jakub Lauko finally broke the silence on their end and another answer from Jake DeBrusk showed life. Alas, an empty netter and a fourth power play goal for Evan Rodrigues’ second of the night capped off another six goal win for the Panthers. To make matters worse for Boston, a collision between Sam Bennett and Brad Marchand left their Captain’s status for Game 4 a question mark. 

Marchand would go on to miss the next two games of the series which did not help Boston’s case of getting back in the series at all. The Bruins knew they had to come out hungry though and sure enough, David Pastrnak fired a slap shot home on the power play to give them an early lead. Brandon Carlo answered with one himself to extend their lead to 2-0 heading into the first intermission. Anton Lundell cut that lead in half in the following period but the third would bring on some controversy. 

On another power play just a couple of minutes into the third, a brilliant effort from Lundell slapped the puck on net. Swayman made the save but as the rebound came out, Sam Bennett gave Charlie Coyle a shove which left him laying on top of Jeremy Swayman. There wasn’t anything Swayman could do there, which allowed for public enemy number one in Boston to bury the rebound, tying the game up at two. Naturally, this led to numerous debates on whether or not this should have been a goal. Technically, no one on the Panthers interfered with the goalie, it was Coyle falling on his own goalie that got in the way of him making the save. For as much as you can argue Bennett was the reason for Swayman not being able to make the save, there’s a case to be made for Coyle needing to be more aware of his placement and the play around him on the ice. 

I’m not here to tell you whether or not the goal should have counted and frankly, no one knows what the NHL actually considers to be goaltender interference. The fact of the matter was the game was now tied and the Panthers went on to win, putting the Bruins on the brink of elimination. Down 3-1 in the series, every game from that moment on was a must win and the Bruins did exactly that in Game 5 thanks to a 28 save night from Swayman who all throughout the playoffs was one of the best goalies in the league. There’s plenty for the Bruins and their fans to break down about this postseason but one thing was certainly clear and that’s Jeremy Swayman may just be the real deal. 

This brought the series back to Boston for Game 6 and after missing two games with an undisclosed injury, the Bruins would get their captain back in Brad Marchand. Once again, it was win or go home and a late first period beauty from Pavel Zacha gave the Bruins an early lead and some hope in forcing a game seven. The way this game was going, all the signs pointed to another low scoring contest. Around the midway point of the second, Anton Lundell once again came up with a big answer for Florida to tie the game 1-1 where the score would sit tight for the next 30 minutes of game play. 

After an intense third period, it was looking like the game was destined for overtime but an unlikely hero for the Panthers called game. Gustav Forsling came down on the rush and snuck a shot past Swayman to make it a 2-1 game with a minute and a half to go. With time running out, the Bruins scrambled to claw their way back but it was too late, the Panthers took care of business and the Bruins season was over. 

For what it’s worth, it’s quite impressive the Bruins were able to pull off the season they did when you simply look at the roster they had to work with. This is a team that came off a record breaking season, losing one of the most underrated centers to ever play the game AND a guy you could argue the Selke Trophy should be renamed after. Going from a one-two of Bergeron, Krejci to Zacha, Coyle/Geekie is a huge drop yet the Bruins kept themselves among the top teams in the East. With that in mind, I’m not sure you can really consider this season a failure for Boston. While there’s no doubt they would have preferred to go further in the postseason, if you were to tell everyone at the beginning of the year they’d go six games in the second round, most interested parties would take that. 

So where does that leave the big bad Bruins now? Well every year I say this is going to be the year this team falls off and they never do so I’m not going to count them out heading into next season. There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered and surely among their highest priorities will be an upgrade at the center ice position. I’ve been a huge Pavel Zacha guy since his draft year but he’s not a guy you can look at as an answer for your number one center. While that’s certainly atop their list, the biggest question for this team moving forward will be regarding their best friend goalie duo and potentially trading Linus Ullmark who will be entering the final year of his contract. 

Before we get too deep into the armchair GM trade proposals, let’s take a look at who Boston might be losing this summer. Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Patrick Maroon, James van Riemsdyk, Matt Grzelcyk, Derek Forbort, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jayson Megna are their pending UFA’s. As far as RFA’s go, they have Jesper Boqvist and Jeremy Swayman. Assuming Boqvist stays, this is what they’re looking like heading into the off-season:

Marchand - Zacha - Pastrnak 

? - Geekie - Frederic

Boqvist - Coyle - Brazeau 

Lauko - Beecher - Brown

Lohrei - McAvoy

Lindholm - Carlo

? - Peeke


If you really think about it, they aren’t losing much. DeBrusk and Grzelcyk are among the bigger names but a change of scenery will likely benefit both of them. DeBrusk has been in and out of trade rumors for years and just never really seemed to fit the typical Boston Bruins standard. His exit interviews indicated interest in staying but I’m not sure how much interest management will have in those negotiations. I would go ahead and say Danton Heinen might be one of the toughest losses to the open market but could be an option to re-up if both parties are open to it. He’s always been an underrated player and could continue to thrive in the right role in Boston. 

Pat Maroon seemed to be the most eager pending UFA when the conversation of a potential return came up. The idea of him sticking around on a one year deal as a veteran mentor to some of Boston’s younger guys makes good sense and his style of play is extremely on brand for Boston. Outside of that, I’d expect Shattenkrik, Forbort, JVR and Megna to all walk as well. 

Don Sweeney and the Bruins are projected to have just under $21 million in cap space heading into free agency. Jeremy Swayman could take up a large portion of that but the remaining budget will surely focus on another top-six forward and a left-handed defenseman. The Bruins still have plenty of middle of the pack forwards currently slotted up and down their roster. Therefore, if they’re looking to prolong any potential retooling, their off-season moves should target higher end names that can comfortably slot somewhere on their first or second line. 

As far as finding a top line center goes, that may be a route best explored via trade, perhaps involving Linus Ullmark. After the postseason Jeremy Swayman had, I’m not sure how you can continue to run a tandem like that moving forward. Sure, Ullmark and Swayman have a great relationship and the league is shifting towards more of a tandem goalie rotation; But can you really justify dedicating over $10 million of your cap hit towards goaltending? There are other options you can find for a much lower price that can still get you 10-15 wins a season. Not to mention so many other teams are looking for goaltending; It’s by far a sellers market with that position and the Bruins should use that to their advantage. 

Next season will prove to hold major implications for the future of this team. Similar to Carolina, the Bruins don’t have a ton of pieces tied down after next season and one of the biggest names in addition to Ullmark is Brad Marchand. I wouldn’t consider this a hot take by any means but it’s incredibly difficult to imagine Marchand ever pulling on a sweater that isn’t black and gold. The Bruins’ captain just turned 36, he could have a couple more years in him but he’s certainly rounding the 15th hole on the back nine. There’s likely going to come a time where he starts to fall deeper in the depth charts making top-six talent all the more of a priority this off-season. 

One thing to consider on top of all of this is the Bruins really don’t have many upcoming draft picks or any exciting prospects. They have Fabian Lysell and the list doesn’t really do much for anyone past him. Under this regime, it’s become a habit to spend at the trade deadline and perhaps we’ve seen the last of that given how bleak the future of this team looks outside of some of their younger stars in McAvoy, Pastrnak and Swayman who are all already in their mid-twenties/prime. 

That being said, while free agent typically isn’t how you want to build your team, it may be Boston’s only hope in remaining a contender through these next couple of seasons. They’re going to reach a point where they have to start drafting and may even need to start selling but there’s enough still there to keep them fighting in the meantime. They’ll have money to make some noise this summer but outside of Elias Lindholm (who they’ve had interest in in the past) or a Tyler Bertuzzi reunion, there might not be many names worth the price tags. Regardless of how Sweeney and the Bruins approach things, it’s bound to be an interesting summer in Boston.