The Boston Bruins have had issues finding depth scoring from their offense for years. This season, with the hectic schedule and many injuries, the issue has been highlighted. Through 41 games, the Bruins have a 23-12-6 record, for 52 points, and sit in fourth place, eight points behind the first-place Washington Capitals, with the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers bearing down on them for the final playoff spot. Heading into the Trade Deadline, it was clear they needed to add offense to solidify their tentative hold on a playoff spot.
The deal came in late Sunday night. The Bruins acquired forwards Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Anders Bjork and a 2021 second-round pick. It’s easy to see who won the trade; Boston received a former first-overall pick in Hall, even if he’s struggled recently, and a hard-hitting fourth-liner in Lazar for a pick and a player who spent a lot of this season as a healthy scratch.
A lot of great coverage has already been given to the acquisition of Hall and his potential to add life to the Bruins’ second line. Even if he isn’t the one scoring, he can help generate offense which could be the difference-maker heading into the playoffs.
But, don’t underestimate the importance of Lazar. Adding him to the fourth line could make them a threat again and cause trouble for opponents in the final stretch of the season.
Fourth Line Struggles in 2021
At the beginning of the season, I argued that the Bruins’ needed the fourth line to be part of the winning formula. While a good fourth line won’t necessarily be the deciding factor in who wins the Stanley Cup, a physical energy line can be the difference in a league where the level of talent on the top teams is so similar.
In 2018-19, when the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Final, the line of Chris Wagner, Sean Kuraly, and Noel Acciari played an important role. In the regular season and in the playoffs, they were matched up against the opposition’s top talent and found ways to shut them down on most nights.
Wagner reached career-highs that season with 12 goals, all at even strength, and 19 points in 76 games. He was also a plus-3, with an 8.9 shooting percentage, 21 giveaways, and 247 hits. In 31 games this season, he has two goals and five points; he’s a minus-10 and only has a 5.3% shooting percentage.
In the 2018-19 season, Kuraly had eight goals and 21 points in 71 games. He was a plus-6 and three of his eight goals were game-winners. In 33 games in 2020-21, he has two goals and four points and is a minus-12.
They have both missed time this season. Wagner has been a healthy scratch, and Kuraly spent an extended period on the Covid protocol list after testing positive in March. Not having them to shut down the opposition’s top lines has put more pressure on the other three lines, and all four lines have struggled at times this season.
For the Bruins to be successful, a good fourth line is essential. Kuraly and Wagner have not at the top of their game, and neither Bjork nor Trent Frederic has clicked with them, so a new presence a deadline need, even if it wasn’t as pressing as a second-line winger or another defenseman.
Lazar’s Path to the Bruins
Lazar was a first-round pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2013, selected 17th overall, but hasn’t lived up to expectations. He had a great junior career and was phenomenal in big games and tournaments. He scored 12 goals in six games for Team British Columbia during the 2011 Canada Winter Games and captained Canada’s gold-medal winning 2015 World Juniors team.
However, he has struggled to produce in the NHL and has earned the reputation as a good defensive, bottom-six forward. He made his debut for the Senators in the 2014-15 season and scored six goals and 15 points in 67 games. He increased that to 20 points in the 2015-16 season and then saw his production dramatically fall the following season when he scored one assist in 33 games and was sent down to the AHL for a stint before being traded to the Calgary Flames.
Lazar signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Buffalo Sabres in 2019. In 38 games, he had five goals and 10 points. In 33 games this season, he had five goals, ranked fifth on the team and which is also tied for sixth with Charlie Coyle on the Bruins.
Playing With a Spark
In his first two games with the Bruins, Lazar has made his presence known with his skill and aggression, and Kuraly and Wagner have quickly been boosted by him. He is creating opportunities for the fourth line, playing at center, which has pushed Kuraly to the wing, and so far, in the small sample size, the combination is working.
According to the underlying numbers, he plays a similar game to Bjork, which could be concerning later on as we know head coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t appreciate Bjork’s game. Or, this could be a perfect change-of-scenery trade and Lazar continue to build chemistry with his linemates play as he has so far.
This season, the Bruins have looked slow and anemic. But, in Tuesday’s game against the Sabres and yesterday’s game against the New York Islanders, the team actually played with a spark. It was the first time in nearly a month when it actually felt like the team could make a push for the Cup, and when Lazar was on the ice, it made the fourth line noticeable. They generated opportunities and caused problems for the opposition. The energy line finally looked like it had come to play.
It’s too early to know if Hall, Lazar, and defenseman Mike Reilly will make enough of a difference to push the Bruins over the hump and propel them into the playoffs. But, there isn’t a lot to be angry about with the team’s Trade Deadline deals. They managed to hold onto their first-round pick and still added talent that addressed their needs. At the moment, I would call this a win for GM Don Sweeney.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.