One of the struggles the Boston Bruins will address in Training Camp is who will fill holes in the lineup left by the departure of Jerome Iginla, Shawn Thornton and if he holds out, Reilly Smith. An additional problem may be that to fill these holes, other roster players might have to be moved for cost or to make room next year for players that will earn raises. Players that will require new contracts next year include Carl Soderberg, Greg Campbell, Dan Paille and Jordan Caron. All of these players will be looked at as players who are traded or let go at the end of this season. Other players to be looked at include Chris Kelly, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic as their salaries could make room for other cheaper players next season or if traded bring back value in return for their movement. One things for sure, I wouldn't want to be Peter Chiarelli this year, that's a lot to chew on and decide on in a timely manner if it comes to trades.
Before we look at the depth, let's review a few things. When we signed Iginla as a free agent last year, we replaced an often injured Nathan Horton and for the most part it was a good move with Iginla's transparent insertion on the Krejci line and contribution of 30 goals. The bonus payout of $3 million hurt us coming into this season though. Even if we move Eriksson up into his wing spot, I think it's reasonable to expect a goal scoring drop off on that line. The addition last year of Smith in my opinion was a surprise and gave us almost exactly the trade off value on that line of what Tyler Seguin contributed on that line the previous season and probably similar numbers to what he would have achieved had he remained a Bruin, save for the cost savings of his contract which was a big plus. Lets remember that Smith as a surprise has only had the one season to demonstrate he can score 20+ goals and as he had a slow start and a late slump last year, he may be hard pressed to repeat those numbers this year. A one year bridge contract in the neighborhood of $1.5 million to prove he can do it again seems to make sense to me if I were Chiarelli. I don't feel replacing Thornton for his on ice scoring will be that much of a challenge. But his locker room and bench leadership and pugilistic skills will be hard to replace. However his line mates Paille and Campbell will have to prove that their performances last year were dips in expectation because of injuries Campbell returned from and Paille encountered during last season. If they remain on the team and are kept going into new contracts next season, I would only expect them to generate modest increases in salary perhaps as much as $800 thousand between them. They may find themselves playing with or mentoring their replacements this year. Marchand needs to play with controlled passion and production right from the start of opening night if he wants to remain on this team. If he's on the team come playoff time, he needs to find a way to be a regular contributor to the offense or his days may become numbered in Boston. While I'd like to have the reassurance of Chris Kelly's leadership and penalty kill skills on this team, his $3 million salary cap hit makes his contributions to this team a cost that perhaps is too high. I think if he is truly recovered from his back surgery his trade value may be high with teams looking for a second or third line center on a younger team needing leadership.
With these thoughts in mind we look to Providence to see who can step up into voids left by departures of players from last season. Yesterdays signing of Matt Fraser to a two way contract for one year seems to signal for me that he has a real chance to make this team. I think if Coach Julien can see his way to keep Eriksson and Soderberg together, that Fraser on the left side would enhance and not change the growing concern that this line was becoming towards the end of last season and in the playoffs for other teams. In the event that Reilly Smith holds out, I could see Fraser as his replacement on Bergerons line. If that should come to pass for Fraser with Bergeron, in the event that Torey Krug signed and Smith did not, I might have Krug fill in on the left side of Soderberg and Eriksson. Should they both hold out, I would move Eriksson up to the first line and Fraser on the second line, therefore the Bruins may have to keep Kelly and make room for someone such as Matt Lindblad or Justin Florek on the right side of the third line. The Bruins could also move up Paille and Campbell to be Soderberg's wingers and create a whole new fourth line from assets in Providence.
Whom is deserving of looks from Providence? Well we know Ryan Spooner has the necessary skill and speed to play in this league, but we saw last year after 10 games his endurance started to falter. His size is a factor and at best to find a spot on this team, he would have to vie with Campbell for the fourth line center position. His true value now that David Krejci has been re-signed, may be as a trade chip in a package with Kelly to another team. At best I see him on the team as a role playing 13th forward. If Paille and Campbell were moved up and a new fourth line was created, I see Alexander Khokhlachev as the new center. His speed, energy and playmaking would allow him opportunities against third and fourth lines and third tier defense pairings. Pairing him with big inexpensive wingers like Justin Florek and Matt Lindblad would and should set the tone for bumps, sporadic scoring and high energy. In the event that a fourth line be anchored with Paille and Campbell, I would certainly like to see what his speed and energy looked like with Krejci and Lucic. If he had chemistry with Krejci and Lucic and Smith re-signs; I would let him have at least a 15 game try out and have Fraser anchor the third line with Soderberg and Eriksson. If as I expect Paille and Campbell remain on the fourth line I would look to Florek, then Lindblad as a possible new line mate because of their size and speed.
One player on the Bruins roster that I haven't really mentioned is Jordan Caron. Frankly, he's had every chance and remains a player that can't seem to find chemistry with the other players on this team. He can grind and bump, but doesn't have enough speed or hockey IQ on this team. I think he's just one of those players that might need a clean slate in another organization to see if he has life as an NHL professional. On the Bruins, he's excess to needs and extra baggage, something the Bruins just don't have the room or need of. Players like Spooner, Khokhlachev, Lindblad, Fraser, Florek and even David Pastrnak have moved past him in the value and depth chart. Caron in the lock out shortened season of 2012-13 was available to Providence in the AHL and although he missed a third of the season with a left knee injury, he wasn't tearing it up or contributing very much at that level.
The wild card for the season maybe a dark horse in my opinion. David Pastrnak impressed everyone except me in the Bruins rookie camp. Let me re-state that; I was impressed with his speed, skill and shot. I wasn't impressed with his endurance, size or attempts to make every rush a dazzle play. He needs work and strength and I would be concerned that his development might be slowed down if he made the team and then got his clock cleaned early on. But, I'm not one of the Bruins talented apprisers of talent. If they think he's got that extra something special, then they should give him his shot and wouldn't it be wonderful if that shot was on the right side of Krejci and Lucic and he responded by being a true goal scorer. It sure would solve a lot of roster and cost problems for the Bruins in the next two years.
I plan to start looking at other teams across the league after this post. My blood flow is quickening, feeling the MADNESS grow!
Until Next Time!