The coroner is in. Let us pay respects to the fallen Boston Bruins.
The skinny: It hasn’t been a fun few years for the Bruins. Two years ago, Boston fans had to witness the Blues claim their revenge almost 50 years later and win their first-ever Stanley Cup on their home ice. In the playoff bubble last year, the Bruins fell in convincing fashion to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning. This year, however, was supposed to be different for Boston, who was dedicated to making good on their current window.
Taylor Hall was a big-ticket trade acquisition that clicked almost immediately. Curtis Lazar provided penalty-killing ability and sandpaper to the bottom six. Mike Reilly provided defensive depth and offensive ability from the back end. These three additions in the trade deadline were supposed to push the Bruins over the top, and they did for at least a little while. Unfortunately, it did little to assist them against a well-oiled machine in the New York Islanders. So what caused the Bruins to enter hibernation this time around? There’s a few aspects to point to…
Bottom six: The good news for the Bruins is that they weren’t just a one-line team this postseason. The perfection line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak worked their magic with 11 goals in the six games. The second line of Hall, David Krejci, and Craig Smith also pitched in with eleven points, and defenseman Charlie McAvoy was also helpful at driving the offense with seven points. After that, however? Nothing of note. The only Bruin outside of the players mentioned to score a goal was Charlie Coyle. The Bruins only managed three points from their bottom six forward group, whereas the Islanders landed 18 (eight of those being goals). Even more infuriating was the fact that top prospects like Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka didn’t even see a game in these playoffs, especially when coach Bruce Cassidy had every reason to shake up the lines. It’s been a common thread for the Bruins to be let down by their scoring depth in recent years, and it happened again this time around.
Defensive depth: This has been a sticking point all year with the Bruins. They lost Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug in the offseason, and injuries to the defensive corps played a key part in the Bruins acquiring Reilly at the deadline. The injury bug reared its ugly head again in this series, with Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller missing half the series. Connor Clifton made sense, considering he played a role in the Bruins’ run to the Cup Final two years ago. A baffling lineup decision, however, was playing a mid-season waiver claim in Jarred Tinordi over former first-round picks Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen. Tinordi was outproduced by both players in the regular season, but he would end up seeing four games of postseason action while the prospects got nothing. It was a roster decision that didn’t add up in this series, and it will be unknown whether Zboril or Vaakanainen over Tinordi would push the Bruins over the top.
Tuukka Rask: I know there are Bruins fans that would volunteer to drive Rask to the airport if he signs elsewhere in free agency, and that’s simply not right. Rask had an overall solid regular season with a .913 save percentage and 2.28 GAA. In the first round against Washington, he was lights out with a .941 save percentage and 1.81 GAA. This round, however, was a different story. Rask had a .897 save percentage and 2.98 GAA in this series, laboring in the series at points. Eventually, it was revealed that Rask played through a torn labrum that would require surgery, explaining the struggles a bit. While Rask’s detractors will punish him for staying around, the blame for that decision should fall on Cassidy. If Cassidy knew his star goaltender was dealing with a serious injury, why not go with rookie Jeremy Swayman with the season on the line? It’s another roster decision that came back to bite the Bruins in the end.
The crystal ball: The window is closing for the Bruins, and they have to know it. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are 35 and 32, respectively. Nine of the regular Bruins players at the end of the season were 28 or older. They’ve been starting to get contributions from younger players, but they’ll need to prepare for a moment when those players will have to step up and produce in higher roles. The only issue is that the Bruins still see themselves as Cup contenders; the Taylor Hall trade to Boston does not happen if they thought otherwise. It could be a problem keeping that up this offseason, however.
Key players like Rask, Krejci, Hall, and Reilly, as well as depth pieces like Miller, Sean Kuraly, and Jaroslav Halak are all unrestricted free agents. Carlo, Nick Ritchie, and Ondrej Kase are also restricted free agents. They do have $30 million in cap space, but that can get eaten up quickly with extensions or a trade for a major asset like Jack Eichel. Jake DeBrusk is someone who could end up being dangled in a trade for somebody, but he is coming off of a rough season that has likely damaged his trade value. It’s unclear what the Bruins will do this offseason, but it could expose some desperation within the organization as the Cup window closes.