The Boston Bruins can expect to field some familiar faces heading into the new season. With room for 13 forwards on four lines, lets talk about who we expect to return. When talking about Bruins forwards around town, I find myself often talking about tandems and which players work together and have chemistry, also why it works for them. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, three tandems have been joined at the hip and every new season, brings questions on who will fit with them. This year three of the tandems have openings and one has an opening hoping to sign a new contract.
Every year since the winning the Cup, questions have surrounded who will play the right side with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. In 2011 and 2012, the question was will Nathan Horton return to the wing. In 2013 it was can Jerome Iginla fit on the wing. This year it's where do we find a wing. First things first, Krejci and Lucic work because you have a classic play maker in Krejci and a power forward in Lucic. The idea when Horton was on the wing, was to add another power forward and to some degree this was often successful. The problem with power forwards though is they tend to be streaky, piling up hits one game and scoring in others. As we often saw, sometimes Horton and Lucic would be hot at the same time and cold at the same time. Accounting for great highs and depressing lows. The main problem as I saw it, was none of the three was a leader, they were more cohorts. Comes Inginla into the fold and now you have more consistency and a leader amongst the three. What was lost was speed because of Iginla's game. Iginla also added the element of a finisher on the line and overall I felt they were much more effective over the course of the season, but come the playoffs, they seemed stuck in neutral. I think this had much more to do with Krejci. I think he just ran out of gas at the end of March and never recovered. He certainly wasn't the playoff performer he had been in past years. Comes a new year and an open wing, I'd be looking for a potential finisher with faster speed. There's been a lot of talk about Loui Eriksson moving up and he is the best right side finisher on the team. But if you move up Eriksson, you kill the tandem of Carl Soderberg with Eriksson and creating another third line rebuild after finding chemistry there last year. I'm thinking now a fresh face. Matt Fraser comes to mind, but he's still an un-signed RFA. Reilly Smith also comes to mind, but he also is un-signed RFA and last year he seemed to fit with Bergeron and Marchand. Maybe they can sign Kevin Hayes as a free agent out of Boston College, he may be a good fit, but more in the mold of Horton. There is another option and that is create a new first line with the tandem of Soderberg and Eriksson with Lucic. If it's the Bruins plan to keep Chris Kelly, he might well fit with Krejci as a left wing and add a rookie such as Fraser if signed to two veterans. Kelly has proved to be a finisher in the past and for the most part has suffered injuries and lacked veteran line mates over the last two seasons. With both Krejci and Kelly facing UFA next season, rebuilding a third line with Ryan Spooner and Alex Khokhlachev with Fraser for 2015 may be the answer. Anyway, food for thought.
The second tandem worth discussing is Bergeron and Marchand. I for one was not nearly as upset as many fans and pundits in the Boston area after the playoffs with this line. While Marchand may not have contributed goals and missed some big open nets, the lines primary job was to shut down Montreal's top line of Plekanec, Vanek and Pacioretty. This they did effectively as the line scored it's goals on the power play. Should the Bruins fail to sign Reilly Smith and do sign Matt Fraser, I think Fraser fits with them better than other options. Last years experiment with Eriksson never worked for me as there is no chemistry on the ice between Eriksson and Marchand and Bergeron has to make plays to one but not the other. The Chemistry between Bergeron and Marchand is the primary reason I'd hold on to Marchand. To move him would require a big shift in where all the forwards play. I think Smith re-signs eventually and hopefully soon, so right now leave it alone.
The third line since 2011 has gone through annual changes and been least effective of all of the Bruins lines. Finally we re-tool it and find a tandem with chemistry. Soderberg and Eriksson had played together as teens in Sweden and it seemed a natural fit and pairing once they were wedded together. I think it should get another long look and possibly get more ice time with Lucic on the left wing. It just seemed to be the line that Detroit and Montreal had the most troubles containing shift to shift, but they weren't out there for 20 minutes a game as Krejci's line was. I also have to admit that Kelly, if around to start the new season had as much chemistry with them as any other forward before he got injured and having his face-off skills there to back up Soderberg is a big plus. If not Kelly, perhaps Lindblad, Spooner or Khokhlachev might catch a look-see. Fraser played well with them, but I see him as a right winger right now and he's un-signed.
The fourth line tandem of Greg Campbell and Daniel Paille has been together since 2009. They have a special energy together when they're both healthy. I think of them as in the top 5 or 6 as penalty killer duos in the NHL, right behind Bergeron and Marchand as the 1 or 2 top pairing. I loved Shawn Thornton as their right wing, but have to say that young legs and more speed might be just what the doctor ordered here. I think Justin Florek has the right size, grit and offensive upside to make the fourth line again a growing concern for Bruins opponents.
The Bruins have 2 un-signed forwards for 3-4 spots on the roster. If they re-sign Smith and Fraser both, the competition in camp may become intense. Jordan Caron was re-signed, but I can't imagine him even getting the 13th forward spot moving forward. He's had his chances and frankly, the last two years there are prospects in the system that deserve the chance to prove that they should be on this team. Despite all the hype, I don't believe David Pastrnak has any chance at making this team coming out of camp. I keep seeing his physical stats reporting him at 6"0" and 170 lbs. I've seen him in person and I have a hard time believing he's 5'10" myself. More importantly, I haven't heard a Bruins source say he's that tall. He is fast and slick, but physical contact at the AHL and NHL level will humble him quickly and may harm him and his development. Smith will be on this team when he signs, after that I believe Fraser, Florek and Spooner have the inside tracks. Others that should get a hard look include Khokhlachev, Knight and Lindblad. Should Kevin Hayes find his way to our training camp, I'd put him in the inside track group, possibly ahead of Fraser and Spooner.
A short report card follows:
David Krejci an A for the season falling to a C- in the playoffs.
Milan Lucic an A- for the season and a C+ in the playoffs.
Jerome Iginla a B+ for the season and a B- in the playoffs.
Patrice Bergeron an A+ for the season and an A- for the playoffs
Brad Marchand a B+ for the season and a C for the playoffs
Reilly Smith a B for the season and a B+ for the playoffs
Chris Kelly a C for the season and it's time to move him and his Cap Hit on.
Carl Soderberg a B for the season and an A- for the playoffs
Loui Eriksson a C for the season and a B for the playoffs.
Daniel Paille a C for the season and playoffs
Greg Campbell a C+ for the season and a C for the playoffs
Shawn Thornton a C for the season and a C- for the playoffs.
Jordan Caron an F for the season and a taxi ride out of town
Ryan Spooner a C/INC for the season
Justin Florek a B/INC
Matt Fraser a B/INC
Until Next Time!