Bruins now face challenging offseason with few easy answers


Brad Marchand said after the Bruins’ season-ending loss to the Islanders Wednesday night that the team “expected a longer run.” Given how they played after the trade deadline and how they took care of business against the Capitals in the first round, they had good reason to feel that way.

Instead, the Bruins are left to pick up the pieces after getting knocked out in the second round for a second straight year, this time by the Islanders.

It’s easy to play the what-if game. What if Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller hadn’t gotten hurt on defense? What if Tuukka Rask was 100% instead of battling through a nagging injury? What if Bruce Cassidy had started Jeremy Swayman these last couple games instead of Rask?

We’ll never know those answers. What we do know is that the Bruins fell short of their ultimate goal, and that the more important questions to answer are those that now face them this offseason.

We know they have a 33-year-old superstar in Brad Marchand. We know 35-year-old Patrice Bergeron is still playing at a high level. We know 23-year-old Charlie McAvoy is a true No. 1, Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman. And we know 25-year-old David Pastrnak is one of the most talented wingers and goal-scorers in the NHL.

After that, the Bruins’ roster is full of question marks. The trade deadline acquisition of Taylor Hall finally gave the Bruins a legitimate second line once he teamed up with David Krejci and Craig Smith, but now two-thirds of that line is set to hit unrestricted free agency.

Like Bergeron, Krejci is 35. He showed in both the regular season and postseason that he is still capable of being a very good No. 2 center if he’s flanked by true top-six wingers. He’s clearly still a better option in that role than anyone else the Bruins have.

There may have been some hope at one point that either Charlie Coyle or Jack Studnicka would be able to take over, but Coyle struggled as a No. 3 center this year and Studnicka had something of a lost season in which he couldn’t stick in the NHL and then battled injuries in the AHL.

Hall went quiet against the Islanders for sure, registering just two points in six games. Re-signing the 29-year-old won’t be cheap. Not re-signing him would put the Bruins right back in the same position of desperately searching for secondary scoring.

They can’t count on any internal options after getting next to nothing offensively from their bottom six forwards in the playoffs, especially against the Islanders. One point apiece from Coyle, Nick Ritchie and Karson Kuhlman was literally it in the second round.

The days of thinking Jake DeBrusk was a second-line wing of the present or future are gone, maybe for good. After a terrible season that featured numerous healthy scratches, including in Game 5 against New York, the question now is whether DeBrusk has any future at all with Boston.

The Bruins will also lose either a depth forward or depth defenseman to the Seattle Kraken in the July expansion draft.

Speaking of defense, the Bruins’ plan to move on from Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug and turn things over to their youth ultimately didn’t work. While not re-signing either player was justifiable independent of other moves, the plan relied on young defensemen being ready to take on bigger roles, and at least one of them being ready to be a top-four defenseman.

They weren’t. None of Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril or Urho Vaakanainen were ready to handle a top-four role. At their best, Lauzon and Zboril were fine in a third-pairing role. At their worst, they struggled even in that spot. Vaakanainen still has a ways to go.

Lauzon and Zboril are 24. Vaakanainen is 22. These aren’t 19-year-old kids. It’s fair to wonder if any of them will ever be the top-four, left-shot difference-maker the Bruins have been searching for.

It’s the same problem they have up front, and one they’ve had for years. Other than McAvoy and Pastrnak, there has been a serious lack of high-end young players who should have been part of the next wave that would help lift the aging core back to championship level. That has made them too reliant on their veterans and has forced Don Sweeney to compensate by always having to look to the trade and free-agent markets to fill those holes rather than doing so with cheaper internal options.

Years of poor drafting will do that. Watching Mathew Barzal rip the Bruins to shreds this series -- six years after they passed on him with three straight first-round picks in order to draft Zboril, DeBrusk and nowhere-to-be-found Zach Senyshyn -- really drove home once and for all just how disastrous that 2015 first round was.

Sweeney traded for Mike Reilly in-season to try to fill that void on the left side of the defense. Getting him for just a third-round pick was a great trade in and of itself, but Reilly wound up having to be the left-shot D who played the most minutes this postseason.

He’s also an unrestricted free agent