Bruins Need to Address Center Depth at the Trade Deadline

It was only one game, but it was enough to show Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney that a center is needed by Monday’s 3 o’clock trade deadline. Captain and first-line center Patrice Bergeron missed Wednesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on the road as he returned to Boston dealing with a re-emergence of an arm injury that is at risk for infection. He will miss at least Friday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets as well.

The Bruins did not hold a morning skate on Wednesday, which is common when a team is on the second night of a back-to-back after they beat the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime Tuesday night, and coach Bruce Cassidy broke the Bergeron news just hours prior to the game against the Wild. Already lacking depth at center when David Krejci left last July as a free agent to continue his career in his home country of the Czech Republic, Sweeney did not fill the hole that is the second-line center in the off-season.

Bergeron Injury Raises Flags

How tough is the center depth right now for Cassidy? Tomas Nosek, who has spent the season as a bottom-six forward, mainly on the fourth-line, was bumped up to the top-line between Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk. Nosek was actually good on faceoffs against the Wild, winning 12 of his 16 attempts. The trouble was not so much 5-on-5 as it was on the power play.

Tomas Nosek, Boston Bruins
Tomas Nosek, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Bruins finished with two power play’s in the game and even got a Marchand goal in the second period on the man-advantage that tied the game 2-2. However, it was the combination of Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula losing all six faceoffs while the Black and Gold had offensive zone faceoffs during their attempts that was the concern. For a team that relies on the success of their power play, that needed to be better. Losing the faceoff, especially on the first power play attempt, allowed Minnesota to clear pucks easier and did not allow the Bruins set up their first unit as much as they would have liked.

After Nosek, Haula went 6-for-14, Coyle was a dismal 5-for-20 and Curtis Lazar, centering the fourth line in place of Nosek went 5-for-11. Playing in the top-six is nothing new for Nosek as the veteran has done it before,  most recently with the Vegas Golden Knights. He is the short-term fix, but in the bigger picture, he is not the answer.

“It’s too bad, the timing for this particular setback for him,” said Cassidy of Bergeron’s injury. “But I guess if there’s gonna be a time to get a break for a guy his age, now is not a bad time to sort of get the legs rested up for the home stretch. We’ll take it as a positive assuming it’s nothing that will stretch out for very long.”

Related: Bruins Sweeney Needs to Come Away a Winner at the Trade Deadline

Bad timing? Maybe not with the trade deadline four days away. Bad timing would be it happening after the trade deadline as this gives Sweeney a chance to address the need.

Sweeney Needs to Gauge Center Market

One of the top sought-after centers on the trade market, Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks came off the board Wednesday night when he agreed to an eight-year contract to remain with his current team. With Hertl off the board, that cuts down on the options for not only Sweeney, but the rest of the league by Monday afternoon.

Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers, Andrew Copp of the Jets, Max Domi of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dylan Strome of the Blackhawks, and J.T. Miller of the Vancouver Canucks are options that could be available in a trade. Miller would require a haul going back to the Canucks, but with Vancouver’s recent surge in the standings to near a Western Conference wild card spot, a team would have to blow them away to pry Miller from Western Canada.

Andrew Copp Winnipeg Jets
Andrew Copp, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The red flags should have been detected earlier on Wednesday when Jack Studnicka was called up from the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) to Boston. He was in Charlotte, North Carolina where the P-Bruins are scheduled to play the Charlotte Checkers Thursday night. He did not make it in time to Minnesota for the game Wednesday night, which allowed Anton Blidh to return to the lineup with Lazar moving to the middle on the fourth-line.

With Bergeron out and despite the injury not expected to be long-term, any injury for a player that carries as much importance to a team as the first-line center does is a cause for concern. Right now, the Bruins lack depth up the middle and they might be able to get by a few games without it affecting them, but in the bigger picture of the playoffs and even next season, it is something that Sweeney needs to address by Monday. Right now, they have a roster full of bottom-six centers.

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