The Boston Bruins were primarily a top-heavy team throughout the regular season, but that changed during the playoffs. Brad Marchand is still the leading scorer, but it has been a much more balanced attack compared to what fans are used to seeing. All four lines have been contributing, which makes the loss of Chris Wagner much more important than just losing a fourth line player.
As we get closer to Game 1, it seems the Bruins will be without Wagner in the Stanley Cup Final, their first appearance since 2013.
While it is unfortunate to see any player go down with an injury, especially in the playoffs, the Bruins dealt with a nearly identical situation during their 2013 Stanley Cup run. That season it was Gregory Campbell who was injured blocking a shot against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Campbell put his body on the line and broke his leg in the process, but managed to finish the rest of his shift on the penalty kill, instantly becoming a fan favourite in Boston.
Wagner’s Breakout Season
Fans in Boston have always had a soft spot for their fourth line players, most notably the ‘Merlot Line‘ of Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Campbell. Since all of these players have moved on from the organization, it took some time for the Bruins to find their replacements.
When Wagner signed with the Bruins as a free agent, it was seen as a low-risk, high-reward type of signing. He had spent the previous season split between the Anaheim Ducks and New York Islanders, and prior to that had bounced up and down between the NHL and AHL.
While much of the talk on July 1 was centered around a homecoming between John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Wagner had his own homecoming when he signed with the Bruins. Not only did he get to play for the team he grew up cheering for, but he also had the best season of his career.
In 76 regular season games, Wagner set career-highs with 12 goals and 19 points. He followed that up with two goals through 12 playoff games before leaving Game 3 against the Carolina Hurricanes with what appeared to be an arm injury after blocking a shot. It was an unfortunate way for the best season of his career to come to an end.
Bruins Have Depth and Flexibility
Luckily for the Bruins, they have enough depth to replace most of Wagner’s production with another player they are very comfortable with. Noel Acciari took Wagner’s spot in the lineup for Game 4 against the Hurricanes, and will likely remain in that spot moving forward.
Acciari has also had an impact in the Bruins’ playoff run, recording two points in 12 games. He brings the same amount of physicality to the lineup, making him a perfect replacement for Wagner. The injury also means that Joakim Nordstrom will become a full-time member of the Bruins’ lineup for the Stanley Cup Final.
Some combination of Wagner, Acciari, Nordstrom and Sean Kuraly has made up the fourth line so far, but head coach Bruce Cassidy still has options with how he chooses to build his lines even without Wagner. Kuraly has played well for the Bruins since returning from injury, while David Backes can play just about anywhere in the lineup.
The Bruins are also in a position where they can rely more on their third line, with trade deadline additions Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle both playing well throughout the playoffs. Danton Heinen is also a player who could be moved throughout the lineup and has fit in alongside whoever he is on the ice with.
With the Bruins’ most important series about to begin, they will have to move on without Wagner. Instead of worrying about who will fill his spot in the lineup, the Bruins are using their injured teammate as a bit of extra motivation as they hope to end this season by hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Covering the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Graduated from Brock University’s Sport Management program in 2018. Also writes for Bench Life Sports.