Bruins

How Bruce Cassidy could shake up lines to give struggling Bruins a jolt

How Bruce Cassidy could shake up lines to give struggling Bruins a jolt

Hard times have arrived for the Bruins, at least temporarily.

Boston has lost two regulation games in a row for the first time all season and three games in a row for just the second time all season while falling into complacency with a massive 11-point lead in the Atlantic Division over the next closest team in Florida.

Since dropping eight goals against the Canadiens in an embarrassing blowout win at the Bell Centre a couple of weeks ago, the offense has also slowed down for the Bruins with 16 goals scored over the last seven games. Some of it was about Patrice Bergeron being out of the lineup with a lower body injury, but some of it might also be the team literally crying out for some changes among the forward group combinations.

Now with Bergeron back after scoring a goal against the Senators on Monday night, Bruce Cassidy can actually fool around with his tried and true combinations.

With that in mind, here’s a modest proposal for some line combinations that might just work for the Black and Gold with it feeling like things have gotten a little stale over the last week as ennui seems to have struck with a Bruins team not getting pushed by anybody right now:

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Anders Bjork

This is perhaps Boston’s best chance to mix and match their forward lines while looking to get some diversity in their scoring attack during 5-on-5 play. Bjork brings the same kind of skating speed and youthful exuberance that David Pastrnak already brings to this line, and it seems that now Bjork understands the doggedness and two-way responsibilities he’ll need to pay attention to in order to stay at the NHL level.

Best of all, playing with Marchand and Bergeron could give Bjork more scoring opportunities and really boost his confidence to turn into the goal-scoring source he was projected to be when he first signed with the Bruins. The trick would be switching Bjork from left wing to his off-wing on the right side where he’s had challenges in the past, but it seems like he’s better-equipped to deal with it now that he’s healthy and a couple of years into his NHL career.

Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-David Pastrnak

There are Bruins fans everywhere clamoring for Krejci and Pastrnak to play together given their natural, Czech-born chemistry and some of the success that they have had in the past. Sliding Pastrnak down to the B’s second line would really make each of Boston’s top two lines formidable in their own right, and make them much more difficult to defend while not being quite as top-heavy as they are with the Perfection Line.

The one concern in the past has been that Pastrnak doesn’t score at quite the same rate when he’s away from Bergeron and Marchand, and that DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak can probably be exploited a bit defensively. That’s part of the reason Danton Heinen is with them right now given his attention to detail playing a strong two-way game. But Krejci and Pastrnak can be fun to watch and could bring some pizzazz to the second line.

Danton Heinen-Charlie Coyle-David Backes 

This would be a return to the third-line glory years of a couple of seasons ago when Heinen and Backes were the two wings and Riley Nash was the center who seemed to bring the best out of them. This line certainly wouldn’t be the fastest given that Coyle is the best skater of the three, but it would be offensively viable with all three forwards capable of scoring 15-plus goals in a season.

Also, the massive size of both 6-foot-3, 220-pound Coyle and 6-foot-3, 215-pound Backes would give the Bruins' third line a heavy, thumping style of play that could wear down other teams while playing the puck possession game. They wouldn’t be all that dynamic, but it could be a really effective third line if the top two forward lines are based on speed and skill.

Chris Wagner-Sean Kuraly-Brett Ritchie

Certainly an argument could be made for Joakim Nordstrom to be here and really he’s done nothing to get taken out of the lineup. But this humble hockey writer’s opinion is that the fourth line isn’t playing with the same jam and physicality as consistently as they did last season, and that is a big-time need on this Bruins team this season.

So this combo could be a big, heavy and punishing group capable of both playing against other teams' top lines and bringing energy, thump, or whatever is needed for a group that is going through the motions right now. A lot of it comes down to Ritchie, though, who needs to play to his size and strength more often if it’s all going to work. Otherwise the Bruins might as well just go with Nordstrom and utilize Ritchie as their extra forward until the light bulb goes off for him.

Bonus line combo: Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Charlie Coyle

This isn’t likely to be a line combo you’ll see much unless injuries hit, but shifting the big, strong Coyle to the wing and bringing his power forward game to the top line could be a great match.

Certainly Coyle might not be the shoot-first presence that one is usually looking for at the right wing spot alongside Bergeron and Marchand, but the one consistent way to frustrate that line is for a big defensive corps to wear them down physically while pushing them away from the net. It’s what the Tampa defense did successfully in the playoffs a couple of years ago and it’s what St. Louis was able to do against them in the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Coyle would make it a lot more difficult to push around the other two parts of the Perfection Line, and that could be a successful look against bigger D-men personnel. It would require Par Lindholm to be inserted into the lineup (and Backes or Ritchie scratched) as the third-line center, but that’s entirely doable based on Boston’s forward depth.

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NHL trade targets: Top-6 forwards for Bruins to pursue at deadline

NHL trade targets: Top-6 forwards for Bruins to pursue at deadline

The Bruins sit at the break in the NHL regular season in first place in the Atlantic Division and are a virtual lock for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There is plenty for the Black and Gold to be proud of as David Pastrnak leads in the NHL in goal-scoring and the Perfection Line, power play and goaltending have been undeniable strengths for the team all season.

But there are also some needs on this team with the trade deadline roughly a month away, and the Bruins are expected to be active over the next month looking to improve a team that ultimately fell short in last season’s playoffs and will need some new blood on a roster that’s played a lot of hockey over the last 18 months.

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The biggest need for the Bruins remains a top-6 right wing capable of scoring goals, finishing off plays and being enough of an offensive weapon that the Bruins don’t become a one-dimensional offense in the playoffs too reliant on Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak when the going gets tough.

There won’t be any shortage of candidates for the Bruins at the deadline and really, truly it will come down to A) their desperation level to fortify their offensive attack B) the development of their young players over the next month and C) how much they are willing to give up in assets — either in a big way like with Rick Nash a couple of years ago or smaller, more reasonable moves like Drew Stafford or Marcus Johansson-level trades that actually ended up working out pretty well in the short term.

There are no shortage of trade options expected to be available at the trade deadline, so let’s go through a few of the skilled top-6 forwards that will be available (All salary information via Cap Friendly):

Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
2019-20 stats: 
48 GP, 17 G, 15 A, 117 SOG
Contract: $4.625 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2019-20, modified no-trade clause

The price may have just gone up even more with Chris Kreider getting selected as an All-Star this weekend, and it’s well-deserved given his ability to parlay skating speed and a 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame into an average of 25 goals and 50 points each season. He’s fast, he’s big and he will play on the nasty side from time to time, bringing a lot of different elements that the Bruins could use in their top-6 right now.

Kreider is Boston’s top choice at the trade deadline and will be a player that the Bruins could potentially pay a high price for as they did with Rick Nash a few years ago. Given his background as a Massachusetts native and a college hockey player, one would also expect they’d be planning to keep Kreider beyond this season if they traded for him.

Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings
2019-20 stats: 
49 GP, 12 G, 15 A, 126 SOG
Contract: $4.6 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2019-20

The 27-year-old Toffoli is a natural right wing, has a Stanley Cup title on his résumé and is on pace for 20 goals and 45 points this season for a Kings team that doesn’t have much in the way of offense at all. Toffoli has surpassed 30 goals and 50 points once in his career, but is more along the lines of a player capable of the numbers he’s putting up this season.

It certainly looks like the 6-foot, 200-pounder has lost some of his game as the Kings have edged away from competitor status, and perhaps a return to a legit Cup hopeful like the Bruins would return some of the bounce to his game. He won’t cost nearly as much as Kreider, and remains a secondary option for the Bruins should they miss out on their top targets. That being said, there will be shortage of suitors for a player like Toffoli as well.

Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils
2019-20 stats: 
44 GP, 16 G, 15 A, 103 SOG
Contract: $4.65 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21, modified no-trade clause

The 28-year-old winger has really blossomed with New Jersey and has been good for at least 20 goals and 50 points in each season with the Devils while providing a deadly option on the power play. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder would bring a shooter and finishing presence to Boston’s second power play unit and is exactly the kind of player who could finish off a lot of the David Krejci set-ups that aren’t currently turning into goals.

Palmieri would undoubtedly cost the Bruins a first-round pick and a significant prospect given that he’s signed through next season and isn’t a straight “rental” player. But once again Palmieri would be a player who would likely fit into Boston’s long-term plan.

On the downside, Palmieri isn’t the ideal solution at just 5-foot-11, 185 pounds and is more of the same of what they already have, and wouldn’t necessarily give the Bruins somebody to battle with the big defensemen corps that have successfully bottled them up in the playoffs.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Montreal Canadiens
2019-20 stats: 
25 GP, 7 G, 10 A, 57 SOG
Contract: $700,000 salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21

Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the Bruins passed on Kovalchuk when they could have signed him to a two-way, $700,000 contract, but instead traded away perfectly good assets to Montreal for his services at the trade deadline?

It would be the second time Don Sweeney would do something like that after he similarly passed on Lee Stempniak as a tryout option in training camp and then traded draft picks to Carolina in exchange for him at the trade deadline five years ago. The 36-year-old has four goals and eight points in eight games since going to Montreal and now has seven goals and 17 points in 25 games this season.

It wouldn’t be a big cost for the Bruins to acquire him, and he’s another goal-scoring talent who could be dynamic with David Krejci, and a potent finisher who could make Boston’s second PP unit a lot more dangerous.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators
2019-20 stats: 
46 GP, 19 G, 12 A, 103 SOG
Contract: $3.1 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21

The Bruins could go a different route and trade for a third-line center that would allow them to push Charlie Coyle over to the wing for the rest of this season, and for a playoff run. Coyle would certainly bring the size, strength and offensive ability that the Bruins need for a top-6 wing, and J.G. Pageau is the kind of scrappy two-way center who would bring speed, tenacity and some underrated offense to the table along with penalty killing and face-off ability.

The 27-year-old is on pace for 33 goals and 54 points this season and already has three shorthanded goals in 46 games this season. Considering he’s already matched his season-high in goals and is just 12 points away from his career-high in that category too, it might be the right season to buy in on JGP as a rental before he hits free agency.

NHL Power Rankings: Who's leading the way at the All-Star break?

NHL Power Rankings: Who's leading the way at the All-Star break?

With the NHL All-Star break upon us, it’s time to focus on this weekend’s festivities in St. Louis where there will be a new skills challenge format, a great collection of the NHL’s best and a celebration of a pretty great NHL city that finally captured the Cup last season.

All of the NHL All-Star action will be on NBCSN and NBC, starting Friday with the skills challenge where David Pastrnak will undoubtedly look to defend his shot accuracy title, and the NHL’s hardest shot will again be a big draw even if Zdeno Chara won’t be there to wow the crowd.

For the fifth year in a row, there will be a 3-on-3 tournament on Saturday that will count as the All-Star Game, and there will be 19 new faces to All-Star Weekend with perennial stars like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Artemi Panarin, Tuukka Rask and Vladimir Tarasenko missing due to injuries, or a desire to get some rest over the break. 

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According to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, there will even be a part of the skills challenge where players are firing pucks from the stands and the concourse down onto targets on the ice for extra points.

So it should be a ton of fun this weekend in St. Louis with a lot of fresh blood and enthusiasm.

Click here for the midseason NHL Power Rankings.