By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
(Welcome to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s The Weekend Wraparound — or just The Wraparound, WW, Wrap, or whatever you care to call it. I’m not big on names, but here’s what you should know about it: It’s a new weekly column that will run every Saturday in addition to our complete coverage of the Boston Bruins, with or without ice available.)
Here’s something I admittedly didn’t think I’d say this year: Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins — fresh off their first second-round postseason appearance in four years, y’know, when Milan Lucic threatened to kill everybody — can actually learn a thing or two from the Czech Republic’s usage of David Krejci and David Pastrnak at the 2018 IIHF World Championship in Denmark.
It was there that Czech national team head coach Josef Jandac decided to play the two on the same line.
The results? Krejci came through with the primary assist on all but one of Pastrnak’s four goals in the tournament. The lesson to be learned? This is a duo that Cassidy has to reunite on the Black and Gold’s second line next season.
I know what you’re saying: The mere thought that you can break up the dominant trio with Pastrnak to the right of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand is complete lunacy.
This is a line that controlled the puck better than almost every other line in hockey this past season (their possession numbers were the second best by any line with at least 500 five-on-five minutes together, a benchmark that includes 16 lines in all), and scored the 12th-most goals while surrendering the fifth-fewest. As a whole, the line totaled 99 goals and 228 points in the regular season. They also scored 16 of the B’s 41 playoff goals. Their 115 total goals on the year are just 84 fewer goals than the Buffalo Sabres scored as a team this year.
But as the B’s second-round flameout confirmed, you need more than one line going come playoff time.
Look at the last four teams standing this postseason and you’re talking about teams that regularly rotate two, maybe even three, scoring lines back-to-back-to-back. The Lightning are a perfect example of this, and the Capitals are not too far behind. They, right now, are the benchmarks for the rest of the Eastern Conference, and with the ultra-deep Penguins right behind them. This balance is a simple matchup nightmare for opponents, and something the Bruins should theoretically possess when you’re talking about a one-two center punch of Krejci and Bergeron headlining your depth chart.
When the Bruins go for a load-up first line with Pastrnak on the right side of the Bergeron-Marchand combination (creating what is absolutely the best line in hockey), however, their scoring depth suffers. Dramatically.
This is unlikely to magically get somehow better overnight or cease to be a problem, either, especially with another offseason of aging for David Backes, and likely free agent departures up and down the B’s third and fourth lines. (This is also where I’ll slide in the friendly reminder that the Bruins somehow, someway went without a five-on-five goal from a forward in the final 253 minutes and 17 seconds of their second-round series against the Lightning.)
So correcting this outside of an often-ineffective in-game switch begins on the B’s second line.
Listen, your $7.25 million per year center should be able to play with anybody and produce the same as he would with fellow stars. That was something people rightfully harped on Krejci for when he subtly complained about the Bruins moving on from proven fits Nathan Horton in 2013, Jarome Iginla in 2014, Lucic in 2015, and then Loui Eriksson in 2016.
Krejci did that this past season, too, with 17 goals and 44 points in 64 regular-season appearances without a set pair on either side of him. The 32-year-old Krejci was especially impressive with his even-strength ice-time, averaging 2.03 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five, including a 1.61 primary point per 60 mark, which was the sixth-best among all Boston skaters.
And care to know the most common right wingers next to the Krejci and Jake DeBrusk this season? Ryan Spooner, who was traded for Krejci’s second-most common right winger opposite DeBrusk, Rick Nash. For the record, I wouldn’t hold my breath on either one of those players coming back to Boston. Also among those that got at least 30 minutes of even-strength ice time on Krejci’s right: David Backes, Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, Peter Cehlarik, and Pastrnak.
In just over 80 minutes of five-on-five action with the Krejci-Pastrnak combination on the ice together, the Bruins generated 45 scoring chances, and nearly doubled up their on-ice opposition in high-danger chances, 21 to 12. The most surprising stat in all of this? They played just 80 minutes together after playing over 400 minutes together in the previous two seasons.
Pastrnak is also the B’s best option at fixing their second line, too.
Backes proved to lack the scoring touch required to pace with Krejci, and imagining the Bruins putting those two tugboats on the same line in the 2018-19 seems like a disaster waiting to happen. And though the Bruins are seemingly loaded on the wings, it’s almost entirely on their left side; Donato is a natural left wing and the Bruins would prefer to keep him there. I even think they would entertain him at center more than they would on his off-wing. Danton Heinen is another natural left wing that’s been serviceable in his quick stints on the right side. Same for Bjork. But both of those players would be left shots on the right side, which has always come with limited success for those riding on Krejci’s right.
So the answer? Pastrnak, Pastrnak, Pastrnak.
He’s a right-shot capable of playing both line rush and puck-possession styles, and he’s even hit the point where he could and should become the line’s leading force, taking some pressure on Krejci to create everything in the attacking zone.
..But what about Boston’s first line? Glad you asked.
Given the effectiveness of the three-zone blitzkrieg known as the Bergeron-Marchand duo, I wanted to look up their recent history of linemates. Over the last four years, the list of players with at least 85 minutes of five-on-five play to the right of Boston’s first line one-two punch includes Backes, Pastrnak, Brett Connolly, Reilly Smith, Lee Stempniak, Loui Eriksson, and Jimmy Hayes. First of all, what a list. I bet you forgot — or tried to, at the very least — some of those combinations. But every single one of these lines had a positive possession impact on the game (the worst was with Hayes, at 52.17 percent), and all but the Hayes and Eriksson combinations led to a positive goal differential when on the ice.
If the Bruins are to force a natural left-side threat — be it Bjork, Donato, Heinen or some other prospect ready to shine — into a top-six role, it should be with the two players capable of dragging legitimately anybody to success.
The Bergeron-Marchand pairing could play with a barrel of recycled goods and consistently make a positive impact.
And there’s nothing that says that the Bruins could not make the in-game flip to trade the barrel of recycled goods down to the second line and move Pastrnak back up to the first line if the Bruins are in need of a goal late.
But if Krejci and Pastrnak are reunited and pick up where they left off at the Worlds — giving Cassidy’s club a legitimately deep top six forward group opponents have to worry about — those dire situations will be few and far between.
Especially around this time next year.
Loose Pucks: Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs expects the NHL salary to rise up to the ‘high 70s or low 80s’ this summer. That will make a world of difference for the Bruins, currently projected to have $9.6 million in available cap space with a $75 million cap ceiling, both this summer and next. My suggestion: Don’t blow it all retaining this year’s pending free agents…Among those the Hurricanes will field calls on this summer: Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, and Jeff Skinner. I’m in on Hanifin to the absolute max given his potential as a 6-foot-3, left-shot defenseman with strong offensive senses, but Skinner would be an extremely interesting option if he came with an extension. But, the Bruins already went with a forward over a defenseman this past deadline, and look where that got them… The Rangers are apparently set to bring Boston University’s David Quinn on as their new head coach. If accurate, Quinn will become the second coach to jump from the NCAA ranks to the NHL this spring (Jim Montgomery jumped from Denver to the Dallas Stars). I would also begin to wonder if and when Providence’s Nate Leaman makes the jump. Leaman is a terrific coach whose approach fits this new NHL. Look at some of the NHL talents he’s helped develop during his run with the Friars, too, and it’s hard not to be impressed.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.