Better Luck Next Year: Boston Bruins edition

As NHL teams are eliminated from Stanley Cup contention, theScore NHL freelance writer Katie Brown looks back at the highs and lows of their seasons, along with the biggest questions ahead of 2018-19. The 25th edition focuses on the Boston Bruins.

The Good

David Pastrnak. A part of one of the NHL’s best top lines, Pastrnak had the best season of his career, sporting highs in just about every category, with 35 goals, 45 assists, and 80 points. The Bruins signed the 22-year-old to a six-year, $40-million deal in September, locking down a player in his prime who just seems to be getting better. Pastrnak also tore it up in the playoffs, registering 20 points in 12 games.

Tuukka Rask. The Bruins’ starting goaltender got off to a rough start at the beginning of the season but won 31 of his last 40 starts, ending the campaign with his best save percentage in three years. In an effort to keep him fresh for the playoffs, he played the fewest games since becoming the Bruins' starting goalie in 2013, a move that didn’t end the way Rask and the rest of the Bruins would have liked.

The young guys. The 2017-18 Bruins were younger and even better than expected, and it looks like that trend will continue. Players like Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, and Matt Grzelcyk began to establish themselves at the NHL level and there are even more youngsters waiting in the wings. Austin Czarnik, Trent Frederic, Jakub Zboril, and Jack Studnicka could all challenge for a spot on the NHL roster come training camp in the fall.

The Bad

Marchand’s antics. Brad Marchand, at his best, is a highly effective goal-scorer and pest capable of getting under just about anyone’s skin. He led the Bruins in points in the regular season, so his decision to start licking players - Leo Komarov of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round and Ryan Callahan of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round - was puzzling. It prompted the NHL to step in. Surely he can find another way to pester his opponents, such as scoring goals, as his coach Bruce Cassidy suggested.

5-on-5 struggles. Six goals were scored at five-on-five through the first two games of the second-round series against the Lightning. During the last three contests, the Bruins were completely shut down at even strength. This was especially surprising considering Boston finished the regular season with the sixth-best offense in the league. They just didn’t have an answer for the Lightning’s strong defensive series.

Depth that didn’t deliver. Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and David Backes combined for 23 points in five games against the Lightning. Outside of that, the Bruins didn’t have much of anything else going. Only three players not on the top line (David Krejci, Rick Nash, Jake DeBrusk) recorded a point.

The Questions

Which free agents will be back? The Bruins have some big decisions looming in free agency. Rick Nash, Riley Nash, Tim Schaller, Anton Khudobin, Tommy Wingels, Brian Gionta, and Nick Holden are all set to be UFAs July 1. Rick and Riley Nash and Khudobin seem the most likely to be brought back, with Gionta the most plausible departure. Don Sweeney will have to consider the cap and, of course, future deals with players like McAvoy.

Do they re-sign Khudobin? Rask’s backup has been vocal about his desire to stay in Boston, but it’s possible he could be priced out. He made $1.2 million on his last two-year deal and could command at least $2 million on his next. Goaltending options outside the Bruins organization don’t look all that promising and none of the prospects in the pipeline look particularly viable just yet. It might be in both parties’ best interests to work something out.

Will they trade for a first-round pick at the draft? The Bruins traded their 2018 first-round pick to the Rangers for Rick Nash, but they’ve discussed trading to get back in the first round. Otherwise, they won’t have a selection until late in the second round, one of their five picks in this year’s draft.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

Better Luck Next Year: Boston Bruins edition
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