The Boston Bruins’ 2018-19 season has been a rollercoaster, and we haven’t even made it to the All-Star break. It started with a 7-0 loss to the Washington Capitals on opening night that left those in Boston dumbfounded. They followed this up with four wins, however, immediately proving the naysayers wrong. There was one issue: the Bruins were relying heavily upon their top-line trio of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. This was quickly targeted by the opposition, and the B’s were left starving for secondary scoring.
Then, there was the goaltending debacle. Tuukka Rask struggled while Jaroslav Halak, who was originally expected to be Rask’s backup, rose to the occasion. Many claimed that Halak had successfully usurped the starting role while others remained in Rask’s corner. Regardless of who was considered to be the bona fide starter, it is undeniable that Halak kept the Bruins afloat through the first chunk of the season – especially when a variety of injuries caused panic in Boston.
After a leave of absence, Rask came storming back. Right around this time, the injury bug seemed to leave the Bruins behind and the depth finally got going. Since New Year’s Day, the Bruins have gone 6-2-1. The ups and downs have left those in Boston wondering what’s going to happen next. One night this hockey club looks like Stanley Cup contenders, and the next they look as though they will be on the outside looking in come April. In order to earn themselves the status of a true contender, the Bruins must make a trade – and they ought to do it soon.
Bruins Reality Check
After seeing a chunk of success to start the month of January, the hiccups this week paint a different picture. In their last three games, the B’s are 1-1-1. That record could easily be 1-2-0 if it wasn’t for David Krejci’s heroics in the final minute of regulation during Monday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens. The loss to the Philadelphia Flyers that followed was an ugly one while the 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday was a struggle until the Bruins caught fire in the third period.
It’s a pattern we’ve seen throughout the season. The Bruins have found themselves down in the early going far too often. They have shown the resilience to come back in some of those situations, but playing from behind isn’t a recipe for success – especially in the playoffs. Boston has also been known to get too comfortable with a lead this season. As we saw on Wednesday in Philadelphia, the Bruins gave up four unanswered goals after establishing a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of play.
They’ve kept their heads above water thus far, but playing from behind and giving up multi-goal leads isn’t going to cut it come April. The one-line-and-pray method hasn’t bred consistent success, and though the depth is finally making significant contributions, it simply won’t be enough when faced with a best-of-seven series against the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Targeting a Second-Line Winger
There’s a gaping hole on Krejci’s wing. Jake DeBrusk has been a fine addition, but he is still only 22 years of age. In his sophomore season, he has nine goals and just three helpers at even strength. While he has made additional contributions on the power play, it is clear that DeBrusk can’t be Krejci’s go-to man night after night – at least not at this point in his career.
Krejci made 16 appearances while Bergeron was out with an injury from Nov. 16 to Dec. 22. For the majority of Bergeron’s absence, Krejci found himself alongside Pastrnak and Marchand. During that time, he netted five even-strength goals and eight even-strength assists. In his other 32 appearances so far this season, he has registered two goals and 15 assists at even strength.
Joining those numbers with the product we’ve seen on the ice, it becomes clear that something is missing on Boston’s second line. It’s been talked about for the majority of the season, and even over the summer: the Bruins need a second-line winger. Krejci is a fantastic playmaker and DeBrusk is a promising young winger and both have been superb throughout the majority of the season.
However, the slew of prospects and bottom-six wingers who have rotated duties on Krejci’s wing haven’t been enough. Looking forward, they certainly won’t be enough at the end of the 82-game schedule.
Boston is currently very high on Peter Cehlarik, and rightfully so to an extent. In the two games since his call-up, the 23-year-old has potted two goals and an assist. It’s tough to determine just what the Slovakian’s ceiling is at this point, but sticking with him on the second line this season – despite how well he’s played – could be disastrous. He has proven to be a great spare tire, but spare tires only get you so far and that tire could very well pop in the playoffs.
That’s not to say that Cehlarik doesn’t have a role with the Bruins. Based on the way he has been playing, the forward could earn himself a spot in the lineup for the remainder of the season. However, this sudden spark shouldn’t be misunderstood as a permanent solution. It is more than likely that he will burn out and, at this point in his career, be best suited for bottom-six duties.
Big names like Artemi Panarin, Vladamir Tarasenko and even Ilya Kovalchuk (during the offseason) have been connected to the Bruins. However, landing a star isn’t very realistic for a Bruins team that shouldn’t be willing to give up any huge pieces. There have been trade rumors revolving around Torey Krug, Tuukka Rask and even Krejci throughout the season. Even if Don Sweeney shipped out one of those players in exchange for a star winger, that just creates another hole in the lineup that needs to be filled.
Ideally, Boston would only need to give up prospects and/or picks for what they are looking for. If this is to become a reality, the idea of snagging a 30-or-40-goal scorer must be let go. Sweeney should simply search for a winger with a solid shot, likely someone who has consistently come up with 20 to 25 goals per season in the past. This would preferably be a forward with some experience in the playoffs as well.
Lastly, if you’re spending some of your team’s future in a deal, don’t make it entirely about this season. Bring in someone who will be under contract through the 2019-20 season. The Bruins shouldn’t put themselves in a situation where they have to go out and find another winger for Krejci next season after losing one to free agency over the summer.
The Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t going to give up Panarin for a large package. Instead, they are likely looking for a high-quality piece, combined with a singular prospect or pick. On the other hand, a team looking to build for the future could be willing to part with something a little less pricey for a package involving prospects and picks. Obviously, a proven 20-goal scorer is still a valuable asset for which the Bruins will have to give up a valuable asset themselves. However, an inquiry of this nature would bring Boston more suitors and thus greater potential for a deal to get done.
It may cost the Bruins a player like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen (to name a few). However, if you’re in Sweeney’s shoes and want to win in the Bergeron era, you have to prioritize the next two or three seasons. Young players like the ones listed above won’t be in their primes until murmurs of retirement begin to surround Bergeron, Krejci and Rask.
State of the Bruins
Sweeney has done an excellent job during his tenure as general manager thus far: he has successfully avoided a rebuild and kept the Bruins in a competitive state. This has given the team’s prospects time to hone their skills while remaining a playoff team. However, being in a competitive state is not the same as being a contender. It now feels as though Boston falls short of that mark nearly 50 games into the regular season.
If the Bruins want to be a serious threat for a Stanley Cup this season and those that follow, they need to make a move for a top-six winger by the trade deadline. A one-line team does not win championships, and neither does a team that isn’t willing to give up a piece of its future for success in the present.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.