Another pivotal season for an aging Boston Bruins core awaits, this time under a new bench boss.
Former Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery takes over at the helm after serving as an assistant coach in St. Louis during the 2022-23 campaign. Pavel Zacha arrives from New Jersey hoping to fulfill his potential and crack Boston’s top-six come opening night.
Amid the new arrivals, many familiar faces, including David Krejci, return for another hopeful playoff run. Yet, the Bruins will have their hands full to start the season as Matt Grzelcyk (shoulder), Charlie McAvoy (shoulder) and Brad Marchand (hips) continue to heal from their respective off-season surgeries.
The Bruins reported to Warrior Ice Arena on Wednesday for off-ice testing. They’ll hit the ice for their first formal skate of the season Thursday morning. With that in mind, here are four burning training camp questions for the Original Six franchise.
Will David Pastrnak sign an extension?
Pastrnak enters the final season of his six-year deal. He’ll earn a significant raise from the $6.66 million salary he signed back in 2017.
Both Pastrnak and the Bruins expressed their desires to sign a long-term extension. But can they get a deal done before the Bruins travel to the nation’s capital for opening night on Oct. 11? Could the parties opt to wait until the season progresses? Or will the two sides kick the proverbial can down the road further until the off-season?
“I don’t think there’s a concern,” Sweeney said of the negotiations potentially stretching into the regular season. “In a perfect world, as we referenced, we try to be aggressive and to have him sign long-term as a lifelong Bruin.”
Either way, Pastrnak will earn a significant raise whenever or wherever he signs. His new deal will likely approach the eight-figure threshold. The Bruins would be wise to sign their dynamic playmaker sooner rather than later.
How will Krejci look following his stint in the Czech Republic?
A year removed from spending his first season in his native Czech Republic, the crafty playmaker will likely start the season with Pastrnak and Taylor Hall as his wingers.
Krejci and Hall developed immediate chemistry after the latter arrived in Boston during the 2021 Trade Deadline. Pastrnak and Krejci picked up right where they left off during their time together at the IIHF World Championships this past spring.
Indeed, Krejci may need a little time reacclimating himself to the grind of an 82-game NHL season. But he’ll have an excellent supporting cast to help with that transition.
A likely top line of Pavel Zacha, Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk gives Boston a formidable top-six even without Marchand. The second half of the forward core, however, may look a little different.
What will the bottom-six look like?
Montgomery hinted at Boston’s top-six outlook during his interview on the NESN/WEEI Jimmy Fund Telethon in late August. But he wouldn’t delve deep into his outlook for the third and fourth lines during his first media session with reporters at training camp.
With Charlie Coyle returning as the team’s third line center, five of Boston’s six spots on the third and fourth line appear up for grabs. Even his linemates from last season, Trent Frederic and Craig Smith, aren’t considered locks.
Both Fabian Lysell and John Beecher put forth solid impressions during the rookie showcase in Buffalo this past weekend. The pair of first-round selections find themselves in the mix to capture one of those bottom-six spots.
Jack Studnicka and Oskar Steen both inked one-year, one-way contracts in the off-season. Both haven’t met their high expectations during their time in the organization, but a new coach and a new opportunity could provide a needed boost for the duo.
Frederic, Smith, Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek endured disappointing campaigns a year ago. Smith is the likeliest to bounce back from the quartet. But the former Predator and Foligno, the longtime ex-Blue Jackets captain, could find themselves as salary cap casualties before the start of the regular season.
Chris Wagner and Marc McLaughlin round out the list of potential bottom-six candidates.
Amid some uncertainty, Montgomery expects a competitive camp with several open spots up for grabs.
“There’s ample enough time for people to make an impression,” Montgomery said. “We’re looking for the best players to make the Bruins the best [team] from Day 1.”
How will the defense adjust without McAvoy and Grzelcyk?
The Bruins struggled with blue-line offensive production following Torey Krug’s departure. They’ll have their hands full to start with their top two playmaking blue-liners in McAvoy and Grzelcyk missing at least the first month or two of the season.
On top of that, the healthy members of Boston’s back-end only have three weeks to adjust to Montgomery’s system. The rewards could prove beneficial with Montgomery’s emphasizing more offense from his blue-line.
That philosophy presents challenges out of the gate without McAvoy and Grzelcyk. Shutdown defenders like Brandon Carlo and Derek Forbort may need to showcase more puck-moving skillsets without sacrificing too much of their stay-at-home traits. A sparkplug like Connor Clifton may need to lean on transitioning the puck quickly to forwards without shying away from winning puck battles along the half walls and end boards.
Hampus Lindholm, Jakub Zboril and, if healthy, Mike Reilly will likely carry the offensive brunt from the blue-line to start the year.
The Bruins need progress out of the gate from the blue-liners. Otherwise, they may find themselves in chase mode when reinforcements arrive.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
Bruins Daily is a NHL credentialed media organization that is dedicated to being the leading provider of Boston Bruins news, analysis, and commentary, by focusing exclusively on the Boston organization. Bruins Daily provides written content, studio produced video, and on location video, all with a unique voice that fans can relate to. Complete coverage is provided through all of the latest NHL/AHL news, updates, scores, injuries, transactions and fan events.