Bruins

Bruins roster reset: Updated lines, pairings after offseason moves

Bruins

The Boston Bruins didn't sit back in NHL free agency.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney aggressively added players via the free agent market, bolstering his roster's depth at forward, on the blue line and in net. 

Let's take an updated look at the Bruins' lines, pairings and goalie tandem after the team's flurry of free agent signings and departures.

FORWARDS

Brad Marchand--Patrice Bergeron--David Pastrnak

Taylor Hall--Charlie Coyle--Craig Smith

Jake DeBrusk--Erik Haula--Nick Foligno

Tomas Nosek--Jack Studnicka--Curtis Lazar

The first line is obvious. It's arguably the best in the league and regularly dominates in all three zones. Marchand is the best two-way left winger in hockey and has scored above a point-per-game rate in five consecutive seasons. Bergeron is the best two-way player in the sport. Pastrnak is an elite offensive player who could finally hit the 50-goal milestone if he plays a full regular season.

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The second line center spot will be the most interesting position on the team all season. David Krejci's departure creates a problem that won't easily be solved, primarily because the B's don't have any great internal options.

Coyle is the best player for the job, but he's coming off a down 2020-21 campaign and offseason surgery. He's more reliable defensively than Studnicka, a better two-way player than Haula and a stronger offensive player than Foligno. Therefore, Coyle seems like a good bet to get the first crack at replacing Krejci.

 

Jake DeBrusk is among the Bruins' most tradeable players with a $3.675 million salary cap hit on an expiring contract. He averaged 20 goals per game over his first three seasons, but with the B's adding three left-shooting forwards (Haula, Nosek, Foligno) in the offseason, moving DeBrusk in a package that brings Boston a top-six center or top-four defenseman should be seriously considered. 

The fourth line could go in several different directions. Chris Wagner spent a lot of time as fourth-line right wing last season. That said, considering the free agent addition of Tomas Nosek and the need to find more ice time for young players such as Frederic and Studnicka, how will Wagner factor into the lineup? And there's also Karson Kuhlman, whose speed and physicality was effective at times over the last couple seasons.

Studnicka needs to play. He is one of the team's top three prospects and has top-six potential. He failed to earn a regular NHL role last season, scoring three points (two goals, one assist) in 20 games with Boston. The fourth line isn't an ideal spot for him, but he needs minutes against NHL competition to fully develop and the Bruins have to get more offense from the fourth line. Frederic was re-signed earlier this offseason and has value, but Studnicka is a much more promising talent, especially offensively. 

If the Bruins traded DeBrusk, Studnicka could move up to third line right wing with Haula at left wing and Foligno at center. Frederic would slot in at fourth-line center in that scenario. That's probably the ideal situation for the third and fourth lines.

Overall, head coach Bruce Cassidy has a lot of options given the abundance of forwards Boston added in free agency. It might not be a bad idea to take the first few weeks of the regular season to try different combinations and see what works.

Defense

Matt Grzelcyk--Charlie McAvoy

Mike Reilly--Brandon Carlo

Derek Forbort--Connor Clifton

No real surprises here.

Grzelcyk and McAvoy are an elite pairing. McAvoy is arguably a top three or five defenseman in the league and should be a Norris Trophy contender for many years to come. 

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Reilly is not the best option as a left-sided top-four defenseman, but he proved to be a good fit last season when paired with Carlo after the trade deadline. Carlo is a shutdown defenseman and likely Boston's top penalty killer on the blue line. Reilly compliments Carlo's skill set as a more offensive player. He is very good at getting shots from the point through traffic and on net. He's also a very good skater and a quality playmaker.

Forbort should make a smooth transition into Jeremy Lauzon's role as a shutdown, penalty killing defenseman on the third pairing. The 29-year-old veteran plays a hard, physical style and ranked fifth in the league in blocked shots last season. He also played 20-plus minutes per game for the Jets, often against top-six competition. He probably won't have to take on so many difficult defensive assignments in Boston.

 

The Bruins got a fortunate break when the Seattle Kraken took Lauzon instead of Clifton in the expansion draft. Clifton's speed and physicality should be a nice fit alongside Forbort. His defense against Capitals star Alex Ovechkin in the first round of the 2021 playoffs was pretty encouraging, too.

Goaltenders

Linus Ullmark

Jeremy Swayman

Ullmark was an excellent signing for the Bruins. He posted a .917 save percentage and a 9-6-3 record on an awful Sabres team that won just 15 games last season. His .937 5-on-5 save percentage was the sixth-best in the league. 

The Bruins did not give Ullmark backup money. He's getting paid $20 million over four years. He's the likely starter to open next season. And that's OK, too. Some Bruins fans might be disappointed if Swayman begins 2021-22 as the backup. But the 21-year-old netminder has just 10 games of NHL experience. Yes, he played very well as a rookie last season, but the Bruins would be unwise to throw him into the fire as the No. 1 goalie with so little experience. Ullmark's presence allows the B's to develop Swayman at an ideal pace. 

The Bruins enjoyed the luxury of having two very good goalies over the last several seasons, and that isn't likely to change with Ullmark and Swayman as the top tandem.