Cam Neely

Are Bruins just one top-six power forward away from greatness?

Are Bruins just one top-six power forward away from greatness?

A little more than a year ago the Bruins fell in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in part because their forwards couldn’t fight through the big, strong Tampa Bay defensemen corps in a five-game playoff series.

The Perfection Line was held in check in 5-on-5 play and the Bruins forwards really didn’t do much of anything offensively after the opening game of the series.

This postseason, the B’s obviously pushed a lot further into the Stanley Cup playoffs while making it all the way to the Cup Final. Some of that was by the circumstance of the way the postseason played out with the early exits of many of the top seeds, of course, but some of it was also Boston’s ability to play different styles against Toronto, Columbus and Carolina.

Still, the Bruins again sealed their fate when their forwards couldn’t do enough 5-on-5 against a St. Louis Blues team that featured a massive, committed D-corps that didn’t let the B’s anywhere near the front of the net. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were banged up while combining for exactly zero even-strength goals in the series and David Pastrnak was battling a crisis of confidence that saw him finish with a team-worst minus-7 in the series.

Similarly, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk and whoever was manning the right wing for the B’s second line didn’t do much damage either against the Blues back-enders.

The Bruins had great depth all-around among their forwards this postseason and that helped them make it to the final round of the postseason. Again, it seemed as if the Bruins were short in the size and strength department among their top-six forwards when it came to net-front presence and getting to some of the rebounds left around the net by rookie goalie Jordan Binnington.

“It’s really a blend of your hockey club. We played sort of four different teams throughout the playoffs, and we matched up pretty well in all of them," Bruins GM Don Sweeney said this week at his end-of-the-season press conference. "When you come down to the margins that you have of losing a Game 7, I don’t know whether or not you necessarily say now did we score enough 5v5? No, but everybody would say that throughout our lineup, if we had just chipped in. To St. Louis’ credit, it wasn’t just the defensemen that were doing that. They make it hard on you, the same way that Tampa did.

“We had more depth this year to be able to withstand some of those things and take the matchups in other places in the lineup that I think helped our hockey club, and it showed. That’s why I think we went further. We gave ourselves a chance to win right until the very end. If you’re telling me there’s a perfect player to solve some of those, what every team would be looking for, yeah. Yeah, I’ll put that guy right in there, but sometimes you just have to allow other players to get better in their own right. We have players that will hopefully continue to do that.”

There may not be a perfect player out there for the Bruins unless they start putting more of a premium on drafting the next great, young power forward. Chris Kreider is an intriguing name that brings size, scoring and a little bit of nasty to the table.  He's coming off 28 goals and 52 points for the Rangers this past season.

Former fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi is 6-foot-4, 211 pounds and wants out of Edmonton so badly he’s willing to play in Europe this season if the Oilers don’t move him. Forwards James Neal and Michael Frolik will be mentioned in trade talks around July 1 and hard-hitting, nasty winger Michael Ferland, a free agent, might be exactly what the Bruins are looking for.

Maybe it will be Charlie Coyle bumping up to the right wing on one of the top two lines, or perhaps a younger, big-bodied Peter Cehlarik or Trent Frederic can bring some of that power forward game internally.

“Does Charlie Coyle move up in the right side? Again, putting Charlie in a consistent spot is I think when he plays his best hockey,” wondered Sweeney aloud. “He referenced that when he was in Minnesota, a production role. He could slide up and play right wing if another player emerged from within.

“I could go through the guys. Trent Frederic would be the obvious [third-line center candidate] if he inserts himself, Sean [Kuraly] plays up, maybe you move Charlie to the right. For right now, I think the balance of our group, what Coyle presents is mismatch is at times for other teams gives us balance.”

Still, it was apparent this postseason as it was last postseason that the Bruins are in need of a power forward winger among their top-six forwards. The Perfection Line is just a little too much undersized when push comes to shove and spent too much time on the perimeter against the Blues.

What the Bruins could really use is a time machine to send 35-year-old David Backes back 10 years to the player he was in his prime with the Blues. That isn’t going to happen, so they need to go out and find the next best thing, whatever that may be.

Part of the problem seems to be that the Bruins aren’t identifying this as the biggest issue facing their forwards. Sure, Bruins President Cam Neely said they want to get another top-six forward, but it sounds as if he simply wants a player that’s going to shoot the puck with an itchy trigger finger.

“I mean, if they can skate,” said Neely with a smile when asked if the B’s top-six needs a little more size and snarl. “You have to be able to skate nowadays, as you know in this game. I thought that we could’ve put more pucks on the net to give their defensemen a turn, and look to where the pucks are as opposed to trying to beat guys one-on-one.

“I felt we should’ve shot the puck a little more to try to create, whether it’s rebound opportunities or at least get them scrambling around a little bit. Give [the Blues] credit. They played well. They kept us on the outside, but I felt like we passed on too many opportunities to put pucks on the net and then see what we could’ve done from there.”

Certainly, that sounds like an indictment of Marchand and Pastrnak passing up clean looks to shoot in the Stanley Cup Final. It also wasn’t a ringing endorsement of a search mission for the next great power forward, but there’s no getting around it as the element that’s feels missing when you look at the strengths and weaknesses among the B's top six.

A dynamic big body that can get to the front of the net, bang home loose pucks and win battles against big boy D-men was sorely lacking against the Blues. 

It feels funny to have to make the case to a former player such as Neely that the Bruins are one top-six power forward away from greatness, but here we are with the Black and Gold after falling a little short in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

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Bruins won't break up 2011 core: 'They've got some good hockey left'

Bruins won't break up 2011 core: 'They've got some good hockey left'

If you are one of the futurist Bruins fans looking for the Bruins to get younger after falling short during this spring’s Stanley Cup Final, then you may be disappointed by the words from B’s management this week. If you are a fan of familiar faces on the Bruins roster and the past glory of the Black and Gold, then it was a little more encouraging.

While admitting that things are “winding down” for the Bruins core group that won the Cup eight years ago in 2011, Bruins President Cam Neely said he still believes that Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask are capable of winning another Stanley Cup before riding off into the Boston sunset.

“When we hired Don [General Manager Don Sweeney] that was certainly a conversation about how to do we take this core that won in ‘11 and give them another opportunity to win while they’re still somewhat in their prime. We still look at it that way,” said Neely. “We know, you know, our players are now one year older, and we’re another year removed from winning in ’11.

“So we certainly have recognized what we have coming, what we need to have coming, and who – you know, we’re talking pretty big shoes to fill. We’re certainly aware of that, and we recognize that. We still think they’ve got some good hockey left in them, but we certainly know that it’s winding down, so to speak.”

The “sunset” day may be coming a little sooner for some than others with 42-year-old Chara showing some signs of age this season while also showing he’s the ultimate warrior while playing through a fractured jaw in the Stanley Cup Final. Both Bergeron and Krejci will be 34 years old at some point next season, and even Marchand and Rask are on the wrong side of 30 years old at this point in their NHL careers.

It’s at the point in some of their careers where the status quo is going to be unreasonable to assume where injuries and lowered production could be a fact of life. More will be expected out of the younger generation of Bruins players, and workload management becomes a real issue for guys like Bergeron, Krejci and Chara in the twilight of their NHL careers.

It’s also unlikely that the pathway to the Stanley Cup Final is ever going to open up as wide as it did for the Bruins last season when all four top divisional seeds lost in the first round of the playoffs, and Tampa Bay, Washington and Pittsburgh all were out early in the postseason.

Still, the Bruins are clearly a playoff team in the Eastern Conference and it’s a tough sell to bust up an aging, proven nucleus that made it all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Final before falling woefully short against a group of first-timers in the St. Louis Blues. It all amounts to a difficult decision for guys like Neely and Sweeney this summer, but it sounds like their minds are already made up that the Bruins are going to push forward with the remaining core members of the 2011 Cup team intact.

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Cam Neely suggests Bruins could target top-six forward in 'immediate future'

Cam Neely suggests Bruins could target top-six forward in 'immediate future'

Cam Neely is well aware of the Bruins' reality: After dropping Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to the St. Louis Blues, Boston's talented veteran core has just one championship on its résumé.

"We didn't win the last game, so we weren't good enough," the Bruins president said during a press conference Tuesday at TD Garden. " ... We can certainly try to enjoy the year even though it's difficult when you don't win that last game. Especially Game 7 to win it all; it's heartbreaking, really."

So, can the B's get back to the Cup Final to give Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask -- all of whom are north of 30 -- another crack at a championship after losing in 2013 and 2019? That's Neely's goal, although he knows the window is closing.

"When we hired (general manager) Don (Sweeney), that was certainly a conversation about, 'How do we take this core that won in 2011 and give them another opportunity to win while they're still somewhat in their prime?' And we still look at it that way.

"We know our players are now one year older, and we're another year removed from winning in '11. ... We still think that they've got some good hockey left in them, but we certainly know it's winding down, so to speak."

In laying out the Bruins' wish list for the 2019 offseason, Neely suggested a top forward to bolster Boston's core is a top priority.

"I know it’s been talked about at length about another top-six forward, so we’ll see where that ends up," Neely said. "We’re obviously going to need to have some strong centermen coming through the system, as we talked about with where Krejci and Bergeron are." 

Outside those needs, though, Neely seemed confident in a deep group that came within 60 minutes of a Stanley Cup title.

"Our back end, I’m pretty comfortable obviously with [Brandon] Carlo, [Charlie] McAvoy. [Matt] Grzelcyk played really well for us this year. Torey [Krug] had a strong year. You know, obviously Zdeno’s another year older, but we’ve got a couple good, young lefthanded prospects coming. And I think our bottom six was pretty strong this year.

"So, if we can strengthen in the immediate future our top six, you know, that’s something we’d like to try and do. We've talked about that for a couple years now."

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