We’re less than a week away from the start of the new NHL season, and Boston Bruins fans are feeling uncertain about the long road ahead.
To put it simply, the championship window is closing for the Bruins and many aren’t convinced that they’re built to go the distance this year. The Bruins have made the playoffs for six consecutive seasons in a competitive Atlantic Division but have found mixed success in their playoff runs. They have made the Cup Finals only one time in that span, in 2019, where they lost in dramatic fashion to the St. Louis Blues. At the helm for the Bruins for this stretch of years was Bruce Cassidy, who was fired this past offseason, which was a move that took many by surprise.
Cassidy’s replacement on the bench for the new campaign is Jim Montgomery. A University of Maine alumnus and member of the Black Bears’ national champion ice hockey team in 1993, Montgomery’s number 19 is one of three retired numbers here at UMaine. Montgomery is an experienced and popular head coach with New England roots but many Bruins fans feel as though replacing Cassidy to begin with was the wrong approach. They see Cassidy as a scapegoat for the front office’s failure to put together a deep and durable team.
Depth has been the biggest issue for the Bruins in recent years, especially when it comes to deep playoff runs. Boston has arguably the best top line in the NHL with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak but lacks consistent and reliable talent beyond the second line. Defensively, young star Charlie McAvoy leads the way but also does not have many backup options. The Bruins don’t possess the physical durability, emotional tenacity and fighting spirit to persist through long playoff runs, and many fans feel a change of head coach does not address that issue.
Fortunately for Boston, goaltending has not been a major issue in the wake of Tuukka Rask’s retirement. Former Black Bear Jeremy Swayman split time with free agent acquisition Linus Ullmark during last year’s campaign, playing to a nearly identical stat line. In 41 games each, Ullmark had a save percentage of .917 to Swayman’s .914. The two netminders also seem to have formed a good bond, which is a good sign in a locker room in desperate need of identity and camaraderie.
Independent of the coaching change, the Bruins long-term depth woes and the fact that their top goal-scorers are aging out of their primes, Boston will start the new season with an early handicap. Marchand and McAvoy will not see the rink until December with injuries. Also, top-four defenseman Matt Grzelcyk will be sidelined until November. All three of these players are integral to Boston’s performance, most notably their penalty kill. Boston’s PK was No. 9 in the NHL last season so these new injuries will likely put some added pressure on Swayman and Ullmark, who are still young and inexperienced.
However, not all is doom and gloom at TD Garden. The silver lining of early-season injuries is that the Bruins will be able to give some new prospects a shot before the starters recover, and the team’s veterans will be good resources for young stars to consult. Plus, with a new coach at the controls the Bruins might finally be able to find the elusive missing piece which has kept them from Lord Stanley’s hardware. Montgomery may be a controversial signing, but oftentimes all it takes is a change in leadership to turn everyone’s attitudes around.