There have been plenty of questions surrounding the Boston Bruins as the offseason gets underway. Much of the coverage of the team has been negative, bordering on sky-is-falling levels of panic. I’ll concede, with some of these questions, that level of panic may be warranted. Today, however, I propose the opposite outlook, what would the Bruins’ offseason look like if everything went right?
Patrice Bergeron Returns
The top priority is to get the most important signing out of the way. The Bruins’ captain returns valiantly to Boston with his record-setting fifth Selke award, a testimony to his two-way dominance. Coming off a season of utter domination, even by Bergeron’s lofty standards, the Bruins have their first-line center back in the fold, and he will automatically steady fans’ unease with the team.
Given his track record, it is safe to assume Bergeron’s cap hit in this setting would not be exorbitant. Yes, he will be making more than the league minimum, but at no point has he sought to break the bank for the Bruins. This trend will be key as the roster will need help around the 37-year-old center, help that can be brought in with some of the money saved on a Bergeron deal.
Get Key Players Healthy
After the Bruins’ playoff run ended at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, it came out that Brad Marchand would require surgery either this offseason or next offseason. After some debate, he elected for the surgery this offseason. Following a hip arthroscopy and labral repair of both hips (ouch), he has a listed recovery of six months. This timeline would set his return to after the start of the regular season.
After that news broke, (and as this article was about to be submitted), news came out that Charlie McAvoy would also be missing the start of the season following shoulder surgery. His recovery, like Marchand’s, will spill over into the regular season, that much is known. Now, for the sake of this optimistic piece, the hope is that each player’s recovery can land on the shorter end of the scale. When a November or December return is offered, fingers will be crossed to see that November date rather than a December option. Assuming both players can return to their proper form on this abbreviated schedule, they could provide a needed jolt to a roster that may be hanging on to weather the storm at that point.
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Another positive that could come from their recovery, besides a healthy Marchand and McAvoy, is future-facing. Playing 82 games before entering the most difficult phase of a season and the hunt for the Stanley Cup is taxing on the body. These players will be able to limit their action to closer to 60 or 65 games, a measure that could prove beneficial in the playoffs when going against players who suited up for the full 82 games.
A Veteran is Traded for Draft Picks/Cap Relief
As previously mentioned, the Bruins’ cap space is less than ideal. If the team can find two or three veteran contracts to move for greater financial flexibility, management would be wise to do so. This trade would ideally see mid-range draft picks return to Boston to restock a depleting prospect pool. A first-round pick is likely too steep of an asking price for any of the Bruins’ trade pieces, but a second or third-round pick is certainly attainable, especially for the sake of this exercise in positivity.
These draft picks would help the future while the cap relief would help the present. This cap room would allow for both signings listed above, along with the flexibility to seek mid-season adjustments as management sees fit. Whether it is an option to replace an unexpected injury, or depth considerations as weaknesses present themselves, freeing themselves of a few of these contracts would benefit the organization.
So, who gets moved then? There are plenty of options to pick from, among the forward group or the defensive corps. The likeliest names to focus on are Craig Smith, Erik Haula, Nick Foligno, Tomas Nosek, and Mike Reilly.
There are varying trade markets for each player, but a combination of these names will almost certainly not be on the Opening Day roster either through trade or buy-out.
David Krejci Returns
The Bruins’ former second-line center had returned to his native Czechia prior to last season to be closer to family. In case there was any doubt, he has not lost his touch, posting 46 points in 51 games and representing his country at the Olympics and the IIHF World Championship. His linemate at the World Championship was his former Bruins teammate, David Pastrnak. The chemistry was undeniable between the two, allowing Bruins fans to dream of pairing the Czechia natives on a new-look second line in 2022-23.
Following Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy’s decision to split up Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak in late December 2021, Pastrnak slid to the second line with Taylor Hall on the opposite wing and Erik Haula in the middle. Haula’s playoff disappearance cemented what some had feared, that he was not the second-line center the Bruins needed. Krejci always seemed to lack the level of wingers that Haula was gifted last season. Should he return, sliding in between Hall and Pastrnak would be a luxury he had not been offered during his tenure in Boston.
Given Marchand’s injury, the lines may be jumbled to start the season. It would not be a shock to see Pastrnak on Bergeron’s wing with Jake Debrusk (assuming he rescinds his trade request and stays a Bruin) on the opposite side. There may be some early hurdles to clear for Krejci, but once Marchand returns, the two-line attack Boston fans and management have dreamed of could be primed to storm the league.
Jack Studnicka Finds His Game
Having just covered the aging options to move, let’s pivot to the next wave of younger players who could fill in for them. Jack Studnicka has been a top prospect for the Bruins for years, as he has dominated the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Providence Bruins but has never fully stuck in Boston. Following Krejci’s departure, there was hope Studnicka would become the heir apparent and slot into the second line. He never made that jump and eventually found himself back in Providence for most of the season.
That is all in the past, as this is the year Studnicka will arrive. Under the tutelage of Bergeron and Krejci, Studnicka can learn from two of the era’s best down the middle. He also would have the luxury of learning while not being tasked with minutes as a pivot. The Bruins’ center depth should be strong enough that he can play on a wing while gaining confidence and earning the coaching staff’s trust. Studnicka would be able to fill in down the middle and possibly earn the trust to move to center throughout the season, but he would not be forced to, as it could be earned.
Let the Good Times Roll
That all paints a much rosier picture than the doom and gloom that has been following the team the last few weeks. Having said that, I’m not naive enough to think all these items will happen. I also am not pessimistic to think none of these will happen. What could swing the offseason is how many of these come to fruition. If only one or two happen, the Bruins may be limping into the 2022-23 season. If three or four items off the list occur, the team will be able to remain competitive, even with a different look than 2021-22.
Vince Reilly covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Vince graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelors in History and Political Science and earned a Masters in Sports Administration from Belmont University. He has worked in the Predators Front Office on Analytics and Operations, with Major League Baseball in Replay, and now with Tufts University as a Director of Hockey Analytics. Vince can always be found with a coffee in hand and he promises his sarcastic tone will always shine through his work.
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