Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 21: Jeremy Swayman #1 of the Boston Bruins celebrate a victory against the Colorado Avalanche after a game at the TD Garden on February 21, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins won 5-1. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

2022 has been more than kind to Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins.

Since the calendar flipped to 2022, the Bruins sit at a strong 19-8-2 and with 40 of a possible 58 points banked away. It’s the second-best record in hockey over that stretch, with only the Avalanche (23-3-2 record, 48 points) ahead of them.

In addition to the record, the Bruins have scored the fourth-most goals (95), converted on the power play at the league’s eighth-best clip (24.7 percent), and allowed fifth-fewest shots against per game, at 28.8.

The Bruins have been quick to credit their success to both the COVID pause that allowed them to have a hard reset both physically and mentally, as well as their bevy of new additions finding their footing in a new city.

But their recent success doesn’t equate to a finished product, and the Bruins know it.

So, just what the Bruins could look to address between now and the Mar. 21 trade deadline?

  • Feb 8, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) celebrates his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins with left wing Taylor Hall (71) during the first period at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

    Second-line center

    For most, this seems to be the go-to need. That’s understandable, really. Having the one-two punch of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci for over a decade made the Bruins a constant threat for a deep postseason run, not to mention drastically changed our expectations for what a second-line center’s production should look like.

    And it’s no secret that most, if not all, champions are deep down the middle.

    In the now, the Bruins have plugged Erik Haula between Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak on Boston’s second line.

    It’s a trio that’s certainly done their part — the B’s have outshot opponents their opponents 135-117 and scored 14 goals in 242 minutes and change of five-on-five play — but is it sustainable for the stretch run?

    That’s a question that could make the difference between a first-round exit or deep run, and despite the success, it’s a completely fair question. This line has produced, but they’ve been fed offensive-zone opportunities, and David Pastrnak has been the hottest scorer in the NHL since the start of the new year. If that dries up, however, what happens to that line? Is Haula the guy you could ask to become the line’s driver? The Bruins had that hope for Taylor Hall when they started the year with Charlie Coyle in the middle of their second line, and the results were certainly a mixed bag.

    (Haula, for what it’s worth, served as the Golden Knights’ second-line center during their run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, so this isn’t a totally foreign concept to him. It’s just a matter of whether or not you believe in him successfully turning back the clock and being that guy for the Black and Gold until the wheels fall off.)

    This is also a good deadline to need some center help, with players such as the Flyers’ Claude Giroux, San Jose’s Tomas Hertl, and Vancouver’s J.T. Miller among those rumored to be available.

  • BOSTON, MA – JANUARY 18: Charlie McAvoy #73 of the Boston Bruins wears a ceremonial patch during the second period in honor of former Boston Bruins player Willie O’Ree as he has his No. 22 jersey retired prior to the game. (Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

    Another impact defenseman

    Consider this the 1A or 1B of the Bruins’ deadline wishlist. This need goes beyond the deadline, too.

    It’s been almost two years since the Bruins made the decision to move on from Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. Now, we can debate those players’ long-term fits with the Bruins both at that point in time and in the present, but it was a decision that forced the Bruins to replace about 40 minutes of left-side, top-four defense performance per night.

    The Bruins’ internal solution was Matt Grzelcyk, and their external solutions to this point have been 2021 trade deadline addition Mike Reilly and 2021 free agent signing Derek Forbort. All three have been fine, but it’s made the Bruins’ defensive mix a more matchup-dependent grouping, when what the Bruins could use more than anything else is another defenseman they can throw over the boards against any opponent without worry.

    Potential options to address that include Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm (if the Ducks and Lindholm are unable to come to terms on an extension) as well as Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun. But, expect to pay a bounty and a half.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 09: Logan Shaw #20 of the Ottawa Senators defends Craig Smith #12 of the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on November 09, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    A natural right wing

    Earlier this week, the agent for Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk made it clear that his client still wants out. That request remains in effect with DeBrusk skating with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on Boston’s top line, Pastrnak and Hall developing chemistry on line two, and Craig Smith looking like a potential game-changer on line three.

    If the Bruins are to accommodate DeBrusk’s request by the deadline and want to leave the second and third lines untouched, they’ll need another wing to slot to the right of Bergeron and Marchand. The preference for the Bruins there should be a natural right wing like Smith and Pastrnak, too.

    Now, it’s worth mentioning that the Bruins do have an in-house option with Oskar Steen down in Providence. Steen had his moments with the Big B’s this season, and has totaled two goals and six points in 19 appearances with Boston this season, but B’s coach Bruce Cassidy made a somewhat passing comment that he wasn’t sure that Steen was ready to skate in a top-line role just yet. Bringing him back into the mix would likely force the Bruins to reconfigure either their second or third line, so again, if they want to leave everything else as is, an external option is their best bet.

    The good news: Just about every player given a real chance to skate with Bergeron and Marchand has produced.

  • BOSTON, MA – DECEMBER 21: Charlie McAvoy #73 of the Boston Bruins celebrates Brandon Carlo #25 after scoring the game winning goal during a shoot out against the Winnipeg Jets at TD Garden on December 21, 2017. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Right-side defensive depth

    It was a little surprising that the Bruins decided not to address their right-side defensive depth this past offseason following Kevan Miller’s retirement, the Kraken’s selection of Jeremy Lauzon (a left shot who could and did play the right side on a somewhat regular basis), and Steven Kampfer’s move to the KHL.

    The Bruins instead went with an internal competition. That competition has since become a war of attrition. John Moore has been up and down with the big club this season due to cap concerns, Jakub Zboril suffered a season-ending knee injury back in December, and Urho Vaakanainen is dealing with what sounds like post-concussion woes. That’s left Connor Clifton as the last line of right-shot defense behind McAvoy and Carlo on the B’s depth chart.

    By now, we know that McAvoy is going to take on a ton of work and that Carlo is going to be asked to be the right side’s defensive stopper whenever the Bruins have to come up with a big stop in their own end. But the Bruins could certainly use a complementary presence on the right side of that third pairing.

    If that player could have a little Kevan Miller to his game (think a physical player with a decent skating game), that could go a long way for keeping the rest of the defense fresh and the rest of the Black and Gold skaters upright.

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