From the outside looking in, the Boston Bruins have two glaring needs. A second-line center and a defenseman, mainly a left-shot. Could the Bruins add a right-shot, say the Dallas Stars, John Klingberg? Of course, they could and if he could, general manager Don Sweeney would.
It’s likely that they might only end up addressing one of the two needs, but in the short-term, they have to figure out which is the bigger need, but in the long-term, they might be better off addressing their second-line center need. Why? Patrice Bergeron is in the final year of his current contract and the depth behind the captain right now is not very good in the long-term picture.
Who Replaces Bergeron on the Current Roster?
The Bruins were spoiled for years with David Krejci centering the second line behind Bergeron. That all changed last summer when Krejci announced that he was not returning to Boston, instead was going to continue his career in the Czech Republic. Since his departure, the front office and coach Bruce Cassidy have yet to find his replacement.
In training camp, Charlie Coyle and Jack Studnicka were supposed to engage in a battle for the spot between Taylor Hall and Craig Smith. Coyle was forced to miss most of training camp because of a nagging injury that was tied to his offseason knee surgery and Studnicka took advantage of the opportunity in front of him and played well. How well? He did everything that was asked of him, but more importantly, he looked like he was ready to fill the position, at least for the beginning of the season.
Coyle, despite playing just one preseason game, got the nod, while Studnicka was sent down to the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL). Coyle is not the playmaking center that Krejci was or is and that most likely had an effect on both Hall and Smith, who struggled with production in the first 26 games. Coyle has proven that he is a better fit as a third-line center, despite the fact that his contract that carries a $5.25 million cap hit would say otherwise.
Current State of Second Line Center Spot
Following the Bruins COVID-19 shutdown from Dec. 18 until Jan. 1, Cassidy decided that mixing and matching his lines was long overdue. Smith was bumped up to the top-line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, while David Pastrnak was dropped to the second line with Hall and Erik Haula. Coyle was sent to the third line and the returns have been positive in just about every way.
Marchand and Pastrnak have been scoring at a torrid pace, while Smith has looked like a different player, as has Hall. Haula has played well between Hall and Pastrnak, both offensively and defensively. Things are going well, but a second-line center upgrade at the deadline is one that not only fills a need now, but also in the future.
Bruins Lack of Depth at Center Concerning for the Future
If Bergeron decided to walk away following the 2021-22 season, there are not many, if any, promising replacements to fill his void. Coyle has not been able to solidify the second-line center spot, what makes anyone think he would fill the first-line spot? Haula is not the long-term answer, and neither is Tomas Nosek, Trent Frederic, or anyone else on the current roster.
Studnicka has been thought of as the center-in-waiting for the Bruins, but Boston has not shown much confidence in the 23-year-old to even give him the second-line spot out of training camp. He is having a good season with the P-Bruins, but again, the lack of confidence from the organization towards Studnicka raises some questions. There is no doubt that the talent is there to be a top-six center, but a No. 1? That remains to be seen.
Bruins Should Think Short & Long Term
Sweeney doesn’t need to do anything at this moment. However, when it is time to address needs on his roster, a second-line center and a defenseman are at the top of the list short-term, but the Boston GM needs to consider the long-term picture of a first-line center as well. There is no guarantee that Bergeron will be on the 2022-23 roster and the Bruins need to plan now for a backup plan, something it seems they failed to do with Krejci.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.