As I write this, I was supposed to be covering the Bruins’ drive to the playoffs.
Maybe David Pastrnak would have been pushing closer to 60 goals by now. Maybe Tuukka Rask would have bolstered his credentials for a second career Vezina Trophy. Or maybe newcomer Ondrej Kase would have cashed a couple silken feeds from David Krejci, showing that chemistry we were waiting to see.
Instead, the NHL season remains frozen in time.
While we wait for a thaw, let’s audit the Bruins’ on-ice product. Here is a look at what worked this year, what didn’t, what’s coming, and what this season meant (means?) in the grand scheme of things:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
▪ Pastrnak reached superstar status, and was on pace for a career-high 56 goals and 111 points, both most among right wings.
▪ Brad Marchand was making a run at a second straight 100-point year; he needed 13 points in 12 games. He upped his playmaking game, too (59 assists).
▪ Patrice Bergeron, with another Selke-quality campaign, remained the defensive glue holding them together. He also shrugged off groin trouble to put up 56 points in 61 games.
▪ It’s the best line in hockey. No more “arguably.” There is no other choice. Bergeron ($6.875 million salary-cap hit), Pastrnak ($6.67 million), and Marchand ($6.125 million) also are three of the biggest bargains in the league.
▪ Krejci held down the second line, spending at least 10 minutes of ice time with 14 different wingers. At 33, he remains a quality No. 2 center, but his runway is shortening.
▪ Charlie Coyle looks like Krejci’s future replacement. The Weymouth product signed a six-year contract extension in November (cap hit: $5.25 million, $2 million less than Krejci). His current job description is strong, puck-protecting third-line center.
▪ Reliable center Par Lindholm was a nice find as a cheap 13th forward ($850,000). Karson Kuhlman and Anton Blidh served as second-half energy boosts.
WHAT WENT WRONG
▪ The bottom nine forwards went through lulls, leaving the Bruins too reliant on their elite top line and power play. They also were pushed around a bit too often, particularly by potential playoff opponents Washington and Tampa Bay.
▪ Danton Heinen was traded to Anaheim after failing to build on his promising rookie year of 2017-18. New addition Nick Ritchie, an upgrade in the size department (6 feet 2 inches, 234 pounds), was finding his legs when the league paused.
▪ General manager Don Sweeney got out from under David Backes’s $6 million cap hit, but had to sacrifice a first-round pick and defense prospect Axel Andersson to do it. Ex-Duck Kase, part of the return in the Backes deal, had yet to score a goal as a Bruin (one assist in six games).
▪ Anders Bjork (9-10—19 in 58 games) was scratched several times and streaky Jake DeBrusk (19-16—35 in 65 games) fell off his 27-goal pace of last year. Kuhlman (broken leg) missed two months. All will be restricted free agents.
▪ In part because of injuries, the fourth line (Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner) didn’t recapture its buzzsaw game from last year, making the loss of Noel Acciari (20 goals for Florida) a painful one.
▪ Low-risk offseason signing Brett Ritchie (one year, $1 million) wasn’t a factor. He was waived Jan. 15, about a month before brother Nick arrived.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
▪ The Bruins were a suffocating defensive club, attacking opponents in layers and thwarting rushes with hard work and smart sticks.
▪ At five-on-five, they allowed the fewest goals in the league (105), and the second-fewest expected goals (109.4), scoring chances (1,313), and high-danger shot attempts (486).
▪ Signing bridge deals after missing the first few days of training camp, Charlie McAvoy ($4.9 million) and Brandon Carlo ($2.85 million) blossomed in their roles: McAvoy as a defensive rock and transporter of pucks on the No. 1 pair with Zdeno Chara, and Carlo as a shutdown No. 2 next to Torey Krug.
▪ Krug (9-40—49) remains an elite power-play quarterback and offense-driver on the second pair.
▪ Rookie Jeremy Lauzon played hard-edged minutes on the third pair.
WHAT WENT WRONG
▪ Sweeney didn’t reach a long-term extension with Krug, who could walk this summer.
▪ McAvoy wasn’t able to find the net until February (though his game was otherwise stellar).
▪ The clock is ticking for Chara, 43.
▪ Matt Grzelcyk was scratched at the nadir of an extended funk. He’ll be an RFA this summer.
▪ Injury woes: John Moore (shoulder) debuted in December. Connor Clifton (upper body) missed nine weeks. Almost no sign of Kevan Miller (knee).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
▪ A lot. The Bruins were stingy defenders, but their netminders bailed them out of poor stretches and made timely saves all year.
▪ Rask was sharp from start to pause, and may have had his finest season since he won the Vezina in 2014. His numbers were spectacular.
▪ Rask, who turned 33 in March, led the NHL in goals-against average (2.12) and was second in save percentage (.929). Among regulars, he had the highest save percentage on high-danger chances (.876) at five-on-five. He also topped the NHL in goals saved above average (22.51).
▪ Jaroslav Halak pulled his weight in one of the league’s best tandems, ranking sixth in GAA (2.39) and 12th in save percentage (.919).
WHAT WENT WRONG
▪ Not much. The major questions center on the ages and contract status of the varsity keepers. Rask, a full-timer here for 11 seasons, recently told the Globe that he is considering retirement after his eight-year contract expires in June 2021. Halak is a free agent when this season ends. He will be 35 in May.
▪ If the Bruins let Halak walk, they could turn to 22-year-old Dan Vladar, whose second AHL season was stellar; his GAA (1.79) and save percentage (.936) were best in the league. Pending free agent Max Lagace made the most of his one-year deal (5 shutouts, 22 wins, both second-best in the AHL). One of those two is likely to be the backup in Boston, unless Sweeney explores the open market.
Prospects in brief
▪ Center depth was a focus of recent drafts, and at least one pivot appears NHL-ready.
In his first pro season, 21-year-old Jack Studnicka led Providence in scoring (23-26—49 in 60 games) and was third among AHL rookies. His seven shorthanded goals led the AHL by three. The sooner he can show he’s ready to take a top-six role, the better the Bruins will feel about life after Bergeron and Krejci. He will get a long look in camp.
Trent Frederic, 22, may not rise above varsity third-line duty, given the questions that persist about his potential for production (65 points in 127 AHL games). He’s big (6-2, 213) and mean, and led the AHL in penalty minutes (148, with eight fighting majors).
John Beecher, 18, has elite speed for his size (6-3, 210), but the 2019 first-round pick is still developing his offensive game at Michigan (16 points in 31 games as a freshman).
▪ Enthusiastic winger Jakub Lauko, 19, had a quiet pro debut because of a December MCL injury. Lauko, known for his speed, played in 22 games.
▪ Urho Vaakanainen’s offense (5-9—14 in 59 games) didn’t explode as a second-year pro, but the 21-year-old is developing as a minute-eating, top-four defender. Jakub Zboril took a step forward.
▪ If Vladar is promoted, Hockey East Player of the Year Jeremy Swayman could take over the Providence net. Swayman turned pro after dominating at Maine, and like any goalie, he will need time to adjust to pro-level shooters. Kyle Keyser, limited to seven games with a concussion, didn’t have much of a pro debut.
2010-11: 103 points, 7th overall (1st Northeast Division), won Stanley Cup over Vancouver
2011-12: 102, 7th (1st NE), lost 1st round to Washington
2012-13: 62 (48 games), 5th (2nd NE), lost Stanley Cup Final to Chicago
2013-14: 117, 1st (1st Atlantic Division), lost 2nd round to Montreal
2014-15: 96, 17th (5th ATL), DNQ
2015-16: 93, 16th (4th ATL), DNQ
2016-17: 95, 13th (3rd ATL), lost 1st round to Ottawa
2017-18: 112, 4th (2nd ATL), lost 2nd round to Tampa Bay
2018-19: 107, T2nd (2nd ATL), lost Stanley Cup Final to St. Louis
2019-20: 100 (70 games), 1st (1st ATL), season paused
▪ No NHL team has a better average regular-season finish over the last three years than the Bruins: first overall (this year), tied for second (last year), and fourth (two years ago). The Lightning have matched that, going third, first, and third.
▪ Over the last five years, Boston has the fourth-best average finish, behind Washington, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay. Stretch it out 10 years, and the Bruins rank third, behind the Penguins and Capitals.
▪ This year’s team returned almost everyone who last season traveled from a preseason trip to China to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. There was no apparent fatigue from that draining season.
▪ From Oct. 15, around the 10th game of the season, to the March 12 pause, the Bruins ranked fifth or higher in points percentage. In that stretch, they spent all of 15 calendar days lower than third place. They were first overall from Feb. 5 onward.
▪ The 10,000-foot view: The Bruins were quite possibly the best team in the league this year, certainly one of the best of the last three years, and on a short list of the best teams of the last decade.
Let’s hope we haven’t seen the last of this veteran group, which was primed for another long playoff run.