Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Nov 7, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) and right wing David Pastrnak (88) celebrate a goal by left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) during the first period against the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t look now, but we’re less than two months away from the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.

I know, I know, I know. Why think about ice when there’s still some of that sweet, sweet summer left? Or maybe you’d prefer not to think about the upcoming NHL season given the bummer summer feel of this Bruins offseason, with the cap-strapped B’s taking loss after loss following a record-breaking regular season. Those in mourning in regards to Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci after almost two decades of center-ice excellent, yeah, you are both heard and seen.

But the Bruins are going to be back on that horse and reporting for training camp before you know it.

And, boy, do they have a lineup seemingly full of question marks.

It really starts at the center position, where the Bruins are going to ask (and need) somebody to pop out of their career norm and excel in an above-personal-ceiling role for the club. They have countless options on that front, but it’s a tall task for whoever Jim Montgomery tabs. The Bruins also have their questions on the backend in terms of best optimizing and maximizing the impact of a defense that’s led by Norris contenders Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy, and there’s about a billion forwards seemingly batting for bottom-six roles on this year’s B’s squad.

  • (Click here to subscribe to the Sports Hub Underground podcast.)

    Those questions were attempted to be answered on the latest edition of the Sports Hub Underground, with both myself and Matt Dolloff offering up our projected Opening Night lineup for the Bruins.

    It was far from an exact science — and each projected lineup featured more than one player moving into a role that’d be considered ‘unfamiliar’ and ‘uncomfortable’ this time a year ago — but with this being the spot the Bruins find themselves in for 2023-24, there will almost have to be an element of dart-throwing for the B’s out of the gate.

  • Brad Marchand – Charlie Coyle – Trent Frederic

    May 8, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) reacts with center Charlie Coyle (13) after scoring during the third period in game four of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    May 8, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) reacts with center Charlie Coyle (13) after scoring during the third period in Game 4 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

    I decided to get weird with it out of the gate this season, with a line that’ll feature Brad Marchand to the left of Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic. Now is this a first line or a second line? That’s up for interpretation — some will say the line with Marchand on it is the first line while others will say the line with David Pastrnak is the real first line — but for me, it’s not a dealbreaker either way. Instead, I’m focused on the idea of basically having a juiced-up version of last year’s third line with Marchand in what was Taylor Hall’s spot.

    Coyle is the de facto Bergeron replacement as a right-shooting center who can be deployed all over the ice, so putting him with Marchand out of the gate for 2023-24 makes all the sense in the world. And as for Frederic, it’s clear that he’s not what you would consider a top-line player. He might not even be a top-six player for that matter.

    But Frederic and Coyle simply work when together.

    Together for almost 650 minutes of five-on-five play last year, the Coyle-Frederic combination outscored opponents 35-18 and out-chanced them 354-296. This while beginning less than 50 percent of their shifts in the attacking zone. Now, here’s where it gets interesting: When Coyle skated without Frederic on his wing, the Bruins held an on-ice goal edge of 16-14 and had a minus-37 differential on the scoring chance front in over 420 minutes. In essence, Frederic and Coyle should not be split up if the Bruins aim to get the most out of each player.

  • Jake DeBrusk – Pavel Zacha – David Pastrnak

    Mar 26, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) is congratulated by center Pavel Zacha (18) after his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 26, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) is congratulated by center Pavel Zacha (18) after his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at PNC Arena. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

    On line two, the big surprise is not that Pavel Zacha is moving from left wing to center. That was a mere inevitability, it felt like. The big surprise here with my lineup is that Jake DeBrusk is moving back to his natural left wing position for the Bruins after spending the last season and a half thriving as a right winger.

    But with the alternative being moving James van Riemsdyk into a top-six role or hoping that a Georgii Merkulov or Jakub Lauko bumps their way into that role, moving DeBrusk seems to be the B’s best play at replicating a bit of what that second line looked like late in the regular season with Tyler Bertuzzi at left wing. DeBrusk may not be as much of a ‘mucker’ as Bertuzzi, but he’s still able to score goals from in tight, and possesses a strong retrieval game that can keep possession in the attacking zone and generate some looks for Pastrnak.

    Another number of note as it relates to this potential combination: The Bruins scored four goals in just over 33 minutes of five-on-five action with DeBrusk and Pastrnak out there together in 2022-23.

  • James van Riemsdyk – Morgan Geekie – Jakub Lauko

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 30: Morgan Geekie #67 of the Seattle Kraken warms up in an Adidas Reverse Retro jersey before the game against the Edmonton Oilers at Climate Pledge Arena on December 30, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – DECEMBER 30: Morgan Geekie #67 of the Kraken warms up before the game against the Edmonton Oilers at Climate Pledge Arena on December 30, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    If Coyle and/or Frederic move up the lineup, the Bruins are going to need a new three-zone capable third line to emerge, and the third line admittedly seems like the most logical landing spot for free-agent additions James van Riemsdyk and Morgan Geekie.

    The ‘JVR’ signing was a shrewd move for the Bruins in the sense that if he’s utilized properly, he would be a power-play specialist who can bounce-back after bottoming out on the power-play scoring front last season.

    And boy did it ever bottom out on him, with the 6-foot-3 wing on the board for just two power-play goals, and in over 130 minutes of power-play time on ice. It was a seven-goal dropoff from his 2021-22 mark, and with just nine forwards scoring fewer power-play goals with at least 130 minutes of man-advantage action. But the analytics indicated that van Riemsdyk was victimized by some plain rotten luck around the night, and the B’s hope it trends the other way, as these things often do year-to-year. 

    Geekie, meanwhile, will have to find his footing in a more versatile role after thriving as a bottom-six scorer for the Kraken in 2022-23. The Bruins are already expecting to ’round out’ his game with a more even distribution of usage, with Geekie expected to log some more defensive-zone action with the Bruins than he did in Seattle.

    Lauko, meanwhile, feels deserving of a greater role in 2023-24 after thriving as a penalty-drawing, speedy wing.

  • Milan Lucic – Marc McLaughlin – A.J. Greer

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 28: Milan Lucic #17 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Seattle Kraken during the first period at Climate Pledge Arena on December 28, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Milan Lucic of the Calgary Flames skates against the Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena on Dec. 28, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    One of the few locks on this roster, at least to me, is that it’ll be Milan Lucic on the left side of Boston’s fourth line. Lucic himself admitted that he knows he’s coming to the Bruins in a reduced role and that he expects to give the team 10-to-12 good minutes of hockey every night. That’s a fourth-line role most nights.

    And as a sucker for a good story, I’d like to see A.J. Greer at right wing. Greer, who fought and clawed his way into a role with the Bruins during last year’s training camp, grew up idolizing Lucic and has cited Lucic as his favorite player on multiple occasions. Putting these two bruisers on the wings could give the Bruins a fourth line that simply annoys the opposition.

    Especially if Billerica native Marc McLaughlin can bring his skating legs to the middle of that line.

  • Matt Grzelcyk – Charlie McAvoy

    Dec 9, 2022; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (48) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) against the Arizona Coyotes at Mullett Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 9, 2022; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (48) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) against the Arizona Coyotes at Mullett Arena. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

    Maybe you’re of the belief that Matt Grzelcyk is not a top-pairing defenseman on a Stanley Cup-winning team. There’s enough data out there to indicate that you’re onto something, and I’d argue that even Jim Montgomery doesn’t believe that he is based on the way he utilized Grzelcyk in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    But here’s one thing that’s not up for debate: The Bruins going to a Grzelcyk-McAvoy pairing in the regular season works and has worked for years. And it should probably be their go-to defensive pairing out of the gate this season.

    Together for over 1,362 minutes of five-on-five action over the last three years, Grzelcyk-McAvoy have posted on-ice edges in shots (846-530), scoring chances (711-525), and goals (86-32). I mean, these numbers are simply staggering. Arguably the best in the league in terms of their offensive impact.

    Whether or not it works in the postseason is a different discussion, and not one you should be having when simply building what is an Opening Night lineup. In the now, and with the Bruins short on alternatives, this is their move that’s guaranteed to bring results without frontloading their defense in terms of its talent deployment.

  • Hampus Lindholm – Brandon Carlo

    Jan 26, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo (25) and defenseman Hampus Lindholm (27) talk against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 26, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo (25) and defenseman Hampus Lindholm (27) talk against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period at Amalie Arena. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

    Another familiar pairing, the Bruins should stick with last year’s second pairing look that featured Hampus Lindholm to the left of Brandon Carlo. With Lindholm at 6-foot-4 and Carlo at 6-foot-5, this is a duo that covers a lot of range with their reaches, and has its obvious pace-pusher (Lindholm) and its stay-at-home type (Carlo). I thought this pairing was really strong at points in Boston’s first-round series with Florida (they made Aleksander Barkov disappear at one point) and you shouldn’t let the broken foot sour you on what was an otherwise excellent, Norris-caliber season from Lindholm. This is a fantastic second-pairing option for any team, but especially for a Bruins team that’s likely going to have win some uglier affairs in 2023-24.

  • Derek Forbort – Kevin Shattenkirk

    ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 21:  Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the Anaheim Ducks in the third period at Honda Center on March 21, 2023 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 21: Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the Anaheim Ducks in the third period at Honda Center on March 21, 2023 in Anaheim, California. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    A third-pairing defenseman making $3 million is, in theory, too rich for the blood of a cap-crunched team like the Bruins. But Derek Forbort’s willingness to do the dirty work and put his body in harm’s way is something that brings legitimate value to the club, and why I think he’s a borderline lock to make this team and avoid getting Mike Reilly’d down to the minors despite his price tag. A go-to penalty-killing defenseman since he came to town in 2021, Forbort does a lot of the work that the Bruins would prefer to keep some of their upper-echelon away from if they can help it.

    (Again, look at it this way: If someone is going to break their finger or get hobbled for five weeks because of a blocked shot like Forbort did last year, the Bruins would prefer that it’s Forbort over a McAvoy or a Lindholm. And Forbort is willing to absorb that pain. There is something to be said for that when it comes to his value and it’s trickle-up effect.)

    Shattenkirk, meanwhile, takes on the role of ‘Connor Clifton’ in this lineup as Boston’s right-side, third-pairing defenseman. A veteran of 891 NHL games since 2010-11, Shatenkirk is coming off a 2022-23 season that featured four goals and 27 points, along with 79 hits and 115 blocked shots, in 75 games for the Ducks.

  • Linus Ullmark – Jeremy Swayman

    Apr 8, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) reacts with goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) after defeating the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Apr 8, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) reacts with goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) after defeating the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

    The Bruins are not trading a goalie. It’s instead going to be the backbone of their success in 2023-24. This was always the most likely scenario for the club, and became locked in when the trade market failed to materialize into anything real for the club. (No, the Bruins should not ditch the Vezina winner for ‘cap relief’ and nothing more because that Vezina winner is worth more wins to them than any of the other players they would’ve spent his $5 million on.)

  • Healthy scratches

    NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 05: Jesper Boqvist #70 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the St. Louis Blues  at the Prudential Center on January 05, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. The Blues defeated the Devils 5-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images )

    NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – JANUARY 05: Jesper Boqvist #70 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the St. Louis Blues at the Prudential Center on January 05, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images )

    With the Bruins almost guaranteed to have to go with a two-scratch look due to cap constraints, I think they’re almost going to have to prioritize positional versatility with their 13th forward, which is why I’m giving the nod to Jesper Boqvist. A forward capable of playing all three forward positions, the left-shooting Boqvist is coming to Boston after a 2022-23 that featured 10 goals and 21 points in 70 games for the Devils.

    In this scenario, Boqvist earns a nod over veteran journeyman Patrick Brown, but a big reason why I have that being the case is McLaughlin emerging as Boston’s fourth-line center. Both Brown and McLaughlin are right-shooting centers, and the B’s may have a need for a lefty pivot. Boqvist, while not an established faceoff option (not even close, actually!), has experience taking draws at this level and gives the club just another option in the toolbox.

  • Sep 24, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Jakub Zboril (67) against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. (Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports)

    Sep 24, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Jakub Zboril (67) against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. (Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports)

    And on the backend, Jakub Zboril appears in line to be Boston’s defensive healthy scratch.

    Now, Zboril will have plenty of competition for this role — Ian Mitchell and Reilly Walsh are two notable names on that front — but Zboril’s experience playing both the left and right side at the NHL level should help his case.

    That is unless the Bruins look at Zboril’s $1.137 million cap hit a a bit much for that role, and decide that waiving him down to Providence is worth the gamble for say a cheaper option because it would just barely allow them to go with a three-scratch roster complexion. (I’d have them at just over $4,000 in cap space if they were to do that depending on the third scratch called up in Zboril’s place.)

Sign me up for the 98.5 The Sports Hub email newsletter!

Get the latest Boston sports news and analysis, plus exclusive on-demand content and special giveaways from Boston's Home for Sports, 98.5 The Sports Hub.

*
*
By clicking "Subscribe" I agree to the website's terms of Service and Privacy Policy. I understand I can unsubscribe at any time.