The Boston Bruins do not have many holes on their roster this season, but there is one significant question mark that might have to be addressed if they are going to make another serious run at a Stanley Cup this season.
Just what exactly are they going to do to replace David Krejci in the middle of their second line?
For the past 15 years Krejci has been a staple in the Bruins’ lineup and one of the most valuable (and underrated) players on the roster. Smart, skilled, productive, and a rock-solid all-around player that has been a vital cog on a team that has made three Stanley Cup Finals and won one of them, while also being one of the most productive postseason performers in franchise history.
Instead of re-signing with the Bruins this offseason Krejci instead opted to return home to the Czech Republic (where he is dominating so far).
That leaves the Bruins with a question mark on the second line between wingers Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, and could cause havoc with their depth. The one Achilles heel for the Bruins over the past couple of years has been their secondary scoring depth beyond the top line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand. While that line has dominated the NHL, the team has struggled to outscore their opponents when that trio is sitting on the bench.
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Krejci has been a rock centering their second line, but he has not always had talented wingers around him to help make that line a truly dominant scoring line that would strike fear into opponents. With the additions of Hall and Smith over the past year, they finally had that.
Following the acquisition of Hall, that trio absolutely dominated the stretch run of the regular season outscoring teams by a 13-1 margin during 5-on-5 play and controlling the pace of the game by every objective possession metric. It was, quite frankly, one of the best lines in the league after it was assembled. The prospect of it over a full season would have made the Bruins a very formidable contender. And to be fair, they still almost certainly are a formidable contender. Just one that has a significant question mark to open the season.
The hilarious thing about the situation in, depending on your sense of humor I guess, is that after about 10 years of not always surrounding him with consistent wingers, the Bruins finally found two that could fully complement him and his skill and it just so happens to come at a time when Krejci is ready to move on. They went from having the center and no wingers to having the wingers and no center.
So what are the options?
Internally, Charlie Coyle figures to get first crack at that spot and is the most logical choice. While his production dipped a little during the 2020-21 season, he still has the ability to score enough to make an impact in that spot and he did play well alongside Smith in their time together last season. So there is at least a little bit of chemistry there. Still, they are going to need Coyle to be better than he was a year ago to help fill that void left by Krejci.
Erik Haula is another veteran option after joining the team this offseason on a two-year, $4.75 million contract. While he has not fully duplicated his breakout performance in Vegas during the 2017-18 season (injuries played a role in that regression) he has at least bounced back to being a 15-goal per 82 games player. He still might be better suited for third-line duty than being relied on for a second-line role.
The wild card option might be Jack Studnicka, one of the Bruins’ top prospects. He has almost no NHL track record to speak of at this point, but has produced at the AHL level and played some of his best hockey with the Bruins when he was moved back to his natural position of center. He is the most unknown of the options at this point, but he might have the highest upside for that spot given his age and potential.
The remaining option, of course, is a trade. But that creates another set of problems given the salary cap (they are short on space and still have the Tuukka Rask situation looming) and a thin farm system to deal from.
Having two outstanding wingers like Hall and Smith to help carry that line should help soften the blow of losing Krejci, but finding a center that can complement them and help drive that line is going to be a necessity for the Bruins to be the team they are capable of being. The best case scenario is that Coyle or Studnicka emerge as that player.