It's been a rough offseason for the Boston Bruins, to say the least.
Several of the team's best players, including leading scorer Brad Marchand (hip) and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy (shoulder), had offseason surgery and will miss the start of the 2022-23 NHL season. The Bruins also made the questionable decision to fire head coach Bruce Cassidy and made public their intention to give general manager Don Sweeney a new contract.
Bruins fans badly wanted some good news, and Patrice Bergeron has delivered.
Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette reported Thursday night that Bergeron has decided to return, likely on a one-year deal. Bergeron's most recent contract was about to expire and, at 36 years old and having just finished his 18th season with the B's, retirement was a possibility.
But he's not calling it a career just yet.
So, what must the Bruins prioritize now that Bergeron is back in the fold? Let's look at the top three roster-related issues (so, excluding head coach) for Sweeney to address.
Re-sign David Pastrnak
Pastrnak is one of the best offensive players in the league and an elite goal scorer. These players are so difficult to draft and develop, so unless Pastrnak doesn't want to stay in Boston long term, the Bruins must do everything possible to bring him back. Even if the Bruins have to go into the $10-plus million per season range, it's worth it to keep a superstar winger in his prime.
Pastrnak has led the Bruins in goals scored four of the last five years. Only five players have scored more goals than his 108 over the last three seasons.
- Auston Matthews, TOR: 148 goals in 195 games
- Leon Draisaitl, EDM: 129 goals in 207 games
- Alex Ovechkin, WSH: 122 goals in 190 games
- Connor McDavid, EDM: 111 goals in 200 games
- Kyle Connor, WPG: 111 goals in 206 games
- David Pastrnak, BOS: 108 goals in 190 games
Pastrnak is the only Bruins player to score 40-plus goals in a season since Glen Murray did it in 2002-03. The 26-year-old forward has hit the 40-goal mark twice, both in 72 games or less.
The Bruins can officially sign a new deal with Pastrnak when the new league year begins July 13. Getting an eight-year deal done with Pastrnak early in the offseason would be a massive win for Boston as the team plans its short and long term future.
Find another top-six center
Erik Haula did a nice job in the No. 2 center role during the second half of the season, and his line with David Pastrnak and Taylor Hall was crucial in the Bruins' turnaround that resulted in them having the third-best record in the league after Jan. 1.
But with all due respect to Haula, he's not a legit No. 2 center.
So, what options do the Bruins have to add another top-six pivot?
There aren't any options internally, either on the NHL roster, the Providence Bruins' roster or the prospect pool. Boston's inability to draft and develop at center is a real concern.
This means that free agency and the trade market are the best avenues to find this player. The list of top-six center free agents isn't a long one. Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux could hit the market, but they're 35 and 34 years old, respectively. The top UFA center still in his prime is Nazem Kadri, who's made a tremendous impact on the Colorado Avalanche this season.
What about options on the trade market? Maybe the Bruins could pry Mark Scheifele out of Winnipeg. J.T. Miller has one more year left on his contract with the Vancouver Canucks. The Bruins reportedly had interest in Miller before the trade deadline. Trying to acquire Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Islanders wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
The bottom line is the Bruins cannot go into next season with Haula as the No. 2 center and expect the playoff outcome to be any different. If they truly want to contend in 2022-23, another top-six center must be acquired.
Trade a left defenseman for scoring help
The Bruins have too many left-sided defensemen on their roster:
- Hampus Lindholm
- Matt Grzelcyk
- Mike Reilly
- Derek Forbort
- Jack Ahcan
- Jakub Zboril
The Bruins led the league in shots against and scoring chances against during 5-on-5 action during the 2021-22 regular season. They also ranked fourth in goals against. This team defends at a high level, and we should see that again next season with most of the team coming back.
While it's very important to have defensive depth, especially in the playoffs, the Bruins should still use some of their depth on the left side of the blue line to try and get more scoring depth up front. Boston ranked 15th in goals scored last season. They also play in a division that includes the No. 1 (Panthers), No. 2 (Leafs) and No. 7 (Lightning) highest-scoring teams in the league.
The Bruins don't have many quality prospects and already have traded away a bunch of draft picks. Their war chest of trade assets isn't very appealing. The left side of their blue line is one area where they can subtract and not feel any immense roster pain. That said, Grzelcyk and Reilly recently had offseason surgeries and will be sidelined five and three months, respectively. So, trading those players really isn't an option until later in the year.