When all is said and done, only one team can win the Stanley Cup, and 31 other teams are left in various levels of disappointment at the way their season ended. Oftentimes, even if a team misses the playoffs, there are reasons to be hopeful, and the team and fans can acknowledge the steps forward that were taken in that season.
That is not necessarily the case for the Boston Bruins when looking back at the 2021-22 season. Sure, there are always positives. Jeremy Swayman solidified himself as the goalie of the future and took great steps forward. Patrice Bergeron put together another great season that earned him a Selke Trophy finalist spot for the 11th year in a row, and he really should win it for the fifth time this season. Jake DeBrusk had a big-time resurgence as well.
But looking at this season on a whole, it’s hard to argue that the Bruins didn’t take a step backward. They’ve failed to capitalize on the closing championship window of their core and didn’t make it out of the first round. Credit to the Carolina Hurricanes, they are a terrific team, and the fact that the Bruins managed to get to Game 7 is a positive, I suppose.
There will be plenty of time to dissect this past season and address what the Bruins need to do this summer to be more competitive in the 2022-23 season. But until then, here are my three initial takeaways from the 2021-22 season.
The Core of the Future Is Here
We’ll start with the bad news first. The Bruins are in desperate need of some changes. As the saying goes, madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The roster has definitely seen some changes over the past five years, but it has essentially been just swapping a few players out every year, nothing major. And when you look at the past five years, it’s a lot of second-round exits, this year’s first-round exit, and one trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019. The year they went to the Final, though, they arguably had an “easy” path (it’s the NHL, nothing is ever entirely easy) after upsets knocked out the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals in the first round.
Now for the good news: the core of the future is already on the team. David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm, and Swayman are a pretty good core moving forward. All of them, save for Lindholm, are 26 or younger. They could stack up against any other young core in the league.
All four of them made major impacts on the 2021-22 season. Pastrnak had a year that can only be referred to as resilient. McAvoy continues to demonstrate elite talent on defense while growing his offensive game. Lindholm was only here for a short time, but he’s already made his mark on the league. In his first full season, Swayman demonstrated confidence between the pipes and maturity when he was sent down to Providence during Tuukka Rask’s brief return before he officially retired.
Like I said, on the whole, 2021-22 was a fairly disappointing season and a waste of the final years of Bergeron and Brad Marchand. But there is hope for the future. Now, they need to figure out how to build a championship team, which brings us to my next takeaway.
Bruins’ Aging Veterans Are Not the Solution
Bruins’ general manager Don Sweeney was certainly active last offseason. With the large amount of cap space he got after Rask and David Krejci’s over $7 million salaries came off of the books, he maybe had too much money on his hands. He signed Taylor Hall to a decent four-year deal and then brought in veteran free agents Derek Forbort, Erik Haula, Nick Foligno, and Tomas Nosek.
There were some bright moments from this group in 2021-22, namely from Haula and Forbort, but as a whole, the signings proved to be a bit of a disappointment. That isn’t necessarily on the players, however, but more on Sweeney. None of these players properly addressed the holes on the Bruins’ roster, namely the second-line center spot that was left vacant after Krejci returned to Europe.
Haula eventually took hold of the spot and did well on the second line with Pastrnak and Hall in the second half of the season, but it was too little too late. The Bruins had already dug themselves into a hole in the standings in the East, and despite some great stretches in 2022, they finished in the first wild-card position, giving them the incredibly tough matchup against the Hurricanes. In addition, as great as Haula was in the second half of the regular season, he struggled in the postseason, finishing with only three points in seven games and a minus-four.
The reality is that signing aging veterans was not going to be the solution to getting the Bruins over the hump. The right player in the right role can make a huge difference between just a playoff team and an actual contender, and veterans can fill in those roles (look at the Tampa Bay Lightning). But Sweeney was bringing in guys to play roles on the roster that they weren’t fit for, and honestly, it’s a reflection on the team’s poor ability to draft and develop guys in-house to take on those bigger roles.
Management Has Failed Bruins Veterans
Five years ago, it was clear that the window to win with the previous core of Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Rask, and Zdeno Chara was closing. While all five had won the Stanley Cup back in 2011 and came close in 2013, like all hockey players, they were hungry for another shot, and the fans wanted it for those guys as well.
In the past five years, management has failed to build a contender around them, and now only Bergeron and Marchand remain, and who even knows for how much longer. This team had a championship-level core in place for years and could not truly build enough depth around them. And if the 2021-22 season showed us anything, it’s that this team is not yet prepared for life beyond them.
Related: Bruins 2021-22 Regular Season Awards
Between injuries, suspension, and COVID, there were several stretches where the Bruins were without Marchand, Bergeron, or both, and the results were pretty dismal. This team has completely been on their shoulders for years, and this season just showed how unprepared they are for afterward.
While there is a great group of players in place to be the core of the future, as mentioned above, they are not yet ready to carry the team in the same way that Marchand and Bergeron do, and current management has given no reason to believe that they can provide enough depth to a core to create a real contender.
The state of the Bruins should not solely rest on the shoulders of 36-year-old Bergeron and 34-year-old Marchand. Team management has failed to provide them with an adequate supporting cast.
Many Decisions Lie Ahead
With the 2021-22 season done for the Bruins, there are many questions that need answering during the offseason. The most pressing issue, of course, is the state of Sweeney’s contract, which is up. A decision needs to be made and fast, as the NHL Entry Level Draft is approaching, and we all know how well the last draft turned out when the team made a GM change a month prior. Based on President Cam Neely’s recent press conference, though, it seems like they plan on re-signing Sweeney. This has naturally not been met with a ton of excitement from fans.
There is also the question of Bergeron’s future. His contract is up, and he has yet to decide if he will continue to play or retire. The good part, at least, is he wouldn’t play anywhere but Boston if he doesn’t retire.
There are also questions about Marchand’s health and potential offseason surgery. His 80 points in 70 games this season were the most on the team, and if he potentially misses time next season, it would leave a huge hole.
If you take away anything from this season, it’s that the Bruins need a change, to the roster, to management, to anything to get them out of this rut. Making the playoffs for the past five seasons is great, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful because there are so many fans who’d be salivating at the chance for their team to just make the playoffs. But this limbo of being just good enough to make it but not good enough to truly contend is wasting away the years of their star players.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. Currently, I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting at Boston University. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.