Haggerty: Bruins facing a big question about their top line this summer

Haggerty: Bruins facing a big question about their top line this summer

There were myriad questions facing the Bruins at the closure of their Stanley Cup playoff run in the second round against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Some were about the overall roster and some were about players who either did or didn’t rise to the occasion in the postseason. Still, there are deeper, fundamental issues as well after watching just how top-heavy the Bruins offense was, particularly when their even strength offense went completely dark against Tampa Bay in the second round.

It begs the question, should the Bruins keep their dominant top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak together moving forward, or bust it up in the interest of balancing the offense a little more up front?

Clearly, it’s a bit counterintuitive given that Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak were the best forward line in the NHL this season and rang up 16 goals and 53 points in 12 postseason games against Toronto and Tampa Bay after operating as a dominant two-way force in the regular season.  

In the losses, however, that top line was held to four goals, 11 points and a combined minus-23 in seven playoff games, with all the offense that they did provide coming in the Tampa Bay series. That’s too much all-or-nothing from the top players when teams need to battle tooth and nail in the playoffs and way too much nothing from everybody else in the second round.

Some of it was about injuries, ranging from Jake DeBrusk, to Rick Nash, to Riley Nash and David Backes, who were all banged up, but some of it was that something that needs to change up front. The Bruins forwards were far too easily neutralized by a big, strong and physical Tampa Bay defensive group. It's something that needs to be addressed for next season and beyond.  

Certainly, Marchand and Bergeron would stay together as a duo regardless of what happens, but it was eye-opening to watch that Bruins top line get shut down in the postseason losses and then to watch the sheer inability of anybody else among the forwards to step up. Couple that with the chemistry that Pastrnak has shown with fellow Czech David Krejci in the past, and did again when the two played together in the World Championships earlier this spring, and there’s a very compelling argument to remove Pastrnak from the top line.

The question is how deeply the Bruins are going to investigate breaking up the Black and Gold Beatles so to speak, and if that is the answer for Boston’s second line next season rather than searching outside the organization for a Rick Nash replacement.

“It’s a prolific line, it’s very difficult to stop, and the chemistry that they have created [is special]. We had three people at the World Championships come back and said ‘Boy, [David] Krejci and [David] Pastrnak played really well together’ those things filter back to the coaches,” said GM Don Sweeney. “We know that that’s an option for us. Whether or not it’s a player from the outside, whether that’s Rick Nash, or whether it’s somebody that goes up and plays, I think Bruce [Cassidy] is excited about sort of the younger forwards and the options that he has to try some of those things.

“I don’t think anything is set in stone. It’s certainly a coach’s decision, but we’ll have some conversations. We feel that our top six – I think Rick Nash from a size and puck protection standpoint -- gave us something that was maybe missing in that regard, so we’re cognizant of it. We’re just trying to field the best, most competitive team that we can. Anders Bjork started [with Marchand and Bergeron] this year, and a lot of teams have worked in sets of two, you know, to keep combinations of two together. Does that mean that Krejci and Pastrnak become a combination of two, or is it now Jake DeBrusk and Krejci become a combination of two? These are things we’re kind of going through.”

In a perfect world, the Bruins would keep their top line intact for next season and continue to ride it all the way to dominant performances against opponents who can’t stop them and can’t score against them either. Still, part of the problem is that they need to find somebody that can bring the best out of Krejci. That’s something that Rick Nash was never able to do at any point when the two were together at the end of last season.

Instead, it might have to be the explosive, 22-year-old Pastrnak who gets dropped to the second line to highlight the best of what’s still left in Krejci’s playmaking and bring balance back to the attack. Perhaps the Bruins can even tailor their forward group to whatever team they’re playing: Load up on the top line against the weaker defensive teams that simply don’t have the wherewithal to stop them and then spread things out a little bit against teams Tampa and Toronto, where balanced scoring is more of a must-have.  

The Bruins can always plug in a young player (Bjork, Danton Heinen or Ryan Donato) with Marchand and Bergeron in most scenarios. That would actually be ideal from a player development standpoint, and could bring out the best in a talented young player ready to burst on the NHL scene offensively.  

The good news is this: The Bruins have as many options up front as they have questions about the makeup of their top-six and they still have three explosive offensive forces in Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak, who each scored 30 goals last season. That’s a pretty damn good place to start and much better than most of the other NHL teams will be working with this fall when they put their forward combos together in camp.


Ever Wonder Series: Why are the Bruins' colors black and gold?

Ever Wonder Series: Why are the Bruins' colors black and gold?

Did you ever wonder why the Bruins wear black and gold? Or why the color brown featured so prominently in their team colors during the early years of the Original Six franchise?

A bit of fair warning: You might need an advanced degree in supermarket history trivia to really know the answers to these questions when quizzed at the checkout.  

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Here’s the inside scoop: wealthy Vermont native Charles Adams owned pretty high-profile things in Boston including the Suffolk Downs racetrack and the original Boston Braves franchise in Major League Baseball.

But the most important — and profitable — was actually the country’s original supermarket chain, First National, or Finast as it was known in the northeastern United States for much of the early 20th century. The company lasted into the 1990s, but its heyday was during the early part of the century when Adams was making his name as an Boston entrepreneur.

When Adams secured the rights to start Boston’s NHL franchise in 1924, naturally his initial order of business was to decide on the team’s colors. And this is where things got a little funky when it came to Adams’ quirks coming to the surface with the team uniforms.

Adams chose brown and gold sweaters to match the color scheme of his Finast stores and settled on the Old English name for a bear, Bruins. The story behind the story is that every living animal Charles Adams had and owned on his farm property — horses, cows, dogs, pigs, hens — were all his favorite color: brown.

So there was little doubt that the color brown was going to factor into the B’s color scheme just as it did in everything about his supermarket chain.

The team's colors remained that way for the first 10 years of the franchise until 1934 when they shifted to the striking black and gold that’s been synonymous with the Original Six franchise for almost 90 years. Apparently, Weston Adams, the son of Charles Adams and the next owner of the Bruins in the Adams family hockey business, was not nearly as enamored with the color brown, and the Bruins have been in black and gold ever since.

So now when you see those brown and gold throwback sweaters at a Winter Classic or at an old-time hockey event, you’ll know exactly why the Bruins started off with those colors.

And you can all be thankful that eventually they switched out the brown for the much cooler black color scheme choice that’s become an integral part of the Big Bad Bruins tradition for as long as they have been throwing fists and doling out bone-rattling body checks.

2020 NHL Playoffs: Ranking Bruins' potential first-round opponents

2020 NHL Playoffs: Ranking Bruins' potential first-round opponents

While the Bruins play a round robin against the other three best teams in the East to determine seeding, the Nos. 5-12 teams will be playing to see who makes it to the actual first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The teams and matchups are: 

  • Penguins (5) vs. Canadiens (12)
  • Hurricanes (6) vs. Rangers (11)
  • Islanders (7) vs. Panthers (10)
  • Maple Leafs (8) vs. Blue Jackets (9)

Given that we don't know whether the Bruins will be the No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed, it's possible they could play any of these teams in the first round. 

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Are any of them actually scary for the Bruins? Yes, even though none of them should be favored to actually beat Boston. Here's how I'd rank them, in descending order of difficulty: 

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)

3.20 G/G (10th), 2.84 GA/G (12th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-2-0

I'm not crying for the Penguins having to be here. They could have avoided this by not losing eight of their last 11 games.

Anyway, this is a tried-and-true group that added Jason Zucker and Patrick Marleau (among others; Connor Sheary was also brought back) at the trade deadline. Pittsburgh was clearly going for it this year, only to be run out of a top spot by the surging Flyers.

The Bruins blowing it in the round robin and getting Pittsburgh in the first round would be a worst-case scenario, even though my money would still be on Boston. 

2. New York Islanders (7)

2.78 G/G (22nd), 2.79 GA/G (9th)

2019 record vs. Bruins: 1-1-1

I'm going Islanders ahead of the Hurricanes because I have more faith in them reaching the field of eight based on their play-in matchup.

Scoring has been an issue for the Islanders all season, but after adding JG Pageau at the trade deadline, they're very strong down the middle (Matthew Barzal, Brock Nelson), which we've seen has been crucial for teams making playoff runs. 

3. Carolina Hurricanes (6)

3.19 G/G (11th), 2.84 GA/G (11th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 0-1-0

Yes, this team looked like a bunch of children in the Eastern Conference Final last year because they... weren't good enough to play in the Eastern Conference Final.

But the Hurricanes, who were fourth in the East in goal differential (better than the Penguins and Capitals), have momentum on their side. They were big players at the trade deadline, adding Vincent Trocheck up front and Sami Vatanen and Brady Skei on the back end, plus — and don't laugh here — Dougie Hamilton was pushing for the Norris before he got hurt this season.

He'll be healthy, making the Hurricanes a decent contender as long as they can get past a Rangers team that swept them in the regular season. 

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (8)

3.39 G/G (3rd), 3.17 GA/G (26th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-2-0

Same old story. They can score a bunch and can't defend a lick. Mike Babcock's gone now, which they feel is a good thing, but this isn't the NFL.

You can't just have a great offense and nothing else. Even with the fits they've given the Bruins, I'll always have a hard time taking them seriously. 

5. New York Rangers (11)

3.33 G/G (5th), 3.14 GA/G (23rd)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 0-2-1

Offensive dynamo (and recent Bruins postseason nemesis) Artemi Panarin racked up 95 points in 69 games in the regular season. Mika Zibanejad was scoring like an absolute mad man (11 goals in six games!) prior to the shutdown.

Factor in that the Rangers opted to re-sign Chris Kreider rather than trade him at the deadline and you've got an offensively formidable group, but boy does that blue line stink.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)

2.57 G/G (28th), 2.61 GA/G (3rd)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-0-0

Was it really Bobrovsky that had everyone all horny last year, or was it Torts and that defense? There sure is a case to be made for the latter, because Columbus was third in the league in goals against despite having people whose names I always have to look up (Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins) in net.

That second-round matchup was a toughie last year, but that team had Panarin. This one does not and it sucks offensively.

7. Florida Panthers (10)

3.30 G/G (6th), 3.25 GA/G (28th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-1-1

They have star power up front and played the Bruins close in the regular season (two of three meetings went to OT). Yet when they were on the bubble at the trade deadline, they shipped one-time 30-goal scorer Vincent Trocheck (who has either been hurt or underwhelming the last three seasons) to Carolina.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been a nightmare of a signing, posting a .900 save percentage after signing a seven-year deal with a $10 million AAV. He's 31!   

8. Montreal Canadiens (12)

2.93 G/G (19th), 3.10 GA/G (19th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-3-0

The uniform scares you, sure, but nothing else should. They sold at the deadline, lost 10 of their final 14 games and boast one of the most unspectacular rosters you'll ever see in a "playoff" game.

Also, the Bruins' margin of victory in their four matchups was 11 goals. The Habs have no business playing in this, which is why they probably won't be there long.