2. How will the defense cope without Chara and Krug?
It was very much the end of an era for the Boston Bruins in more ways than one this offseason after franchise icon and Captain Zdeno Chara was allowed to walk after 14 outstanding years, while tough-as-nails defenseman Torey Krug also departed to sign a big-ticket deal with the St. Louis Blues in Free Agency.
As a result, Bruins fans will be watching a new-look defense in 2020-21 and you can’t blame them if they have some trepidation heading in because, quite frankly, there is more than a few question marks hovering over this group.
For starters, both Chara and Krug leave a massive void when it comes to their elite play but also their experience, leadership and toughness, intangibles that aren’t easily replaced.
Boston GM Don Sweeney tried to engineer a trade for Arizona Coyotes Captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson but that never came off, so a lot of the workload and burden will fall on the shoulders of Charlie McAvoy, who is still only 23-years-old.
McAvoy has been considered a star in the making for quite some time now and, after equalling his career-high in points with 32 (5 G, 27 A) in 67 games in 2019-20, the right-shot defenseman will be expected to take that next giant leap in 2020-21.
Brandon Carlo is developing nicely into a premier shutdown defenseman in the NHL, while Matt Grzelcyk will be leaned on to help replace the 50 points Krug consistently put up, alongside McAvoy, and the pair will also no doubt eat monster minutes and play in all situations now both Chara and Krug are gone.
Plus, McAvoy ranked third on the Bruins in hits with 131 in 2019-20, while he led all B’s with 131 blocked shots and he plays with some snarl, so he will be able to play tough and become a high-end top-pairing blueliner who can do everything, and do it well, for this team.
The rest of the backend is then a bit of a crapshoot, however, with Connor Clifton and veteran Kevan Miller, who hasn’t played in the NHL in 21 months due to injury, almost locks to be on the Opening Night roster, with John Moore and then a young group featuring the likes of Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen and Jeremy Lauzon all battling it out for the remaining spots on that blueline.
It is almost certain that two of Lauzon, Zboril and Vaakanainen will be handed elevated roles in 2020-21, and time will tell if they are equipped to handle a big step up in minutes and responsibility for a Bruins team that will still expect to be one of the top dogs in an incredibly stacked East Division.
Both Lauzon and Vaakanainen boast high upsides and have the skills needed to stick in the NHL, but will they be ready to be thrown straight into the fire in 2020-21 and take the roster spots vacated by Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug?
It is going to be a bit of a newfangled and a mishmash of a blueline for the Boston Bruins in 2020-21, so it is a good job that they can still rely on an elite goalie tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, who will both need to be prepared to see their workload increase in a shortened 56-game schedule.