David Krejci

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Should Bruins break up top line next season?

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The Boston Bruins and their fans are likely still smarting from falling one win short of a Stanley Cup victory against the St. Louis Blues, but the bottom line is that this was an impressive run. Really, it cemented the notion that Bruins management has done a lot right in finding ways to extend this group’s window of contention, where other teams would age out of elite play.

Still, there was one thing that bothered me about the Bruins: their lack of experimentation toward the end of the regular season.

Most teams don’t get the chance to tinker without big consequences

For a long time, it was clear that the Bruins would meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was also plenty of advance notice that the Bruins were unlikely to slip from the second seed.

While other NHL teams can be dinged for a lack of experimentation as well, the Bruins (and Maple Leafs) were in a rare position in this age of parity: they basically knew where they were going to land in the playoff branches, and didn’t really face much of a threat of dropping out of their position for some time.

In other words, if the Bruins wanted to try a bunch of different things – treating the rest of the regular season as a virtual hockey science lab – they wouldn’t have faced severe consequences, even if those experimentations blew up in their faces in the form of losses.

Instead, the Bruins more or less played things out.

If there was one question I would’ve wanted answered if I were in Bruce Cassidy’s shoes,* it would be: “What if we broke up the line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak?”

* – And, make no mistake about it, this would be a bad deal for the Bruins, because Cassidy is overall a very bright coach, and I’d struggle to keep a team under one Too Many Men on the Ice penalties per period.

[More: How will the Bruins look next season?]

Hitting a wall at the worst possible time

Overall, it’s fine that the Bruins leaned toward not messing with a good thing. For the most part, that trio absolutely caves in opponents with their mix of smart defensive play, blistering passing, and dangerous sniping.

Unfortunately, that group hit some serious roadblocks during the postseason, particularly as the St. Louis Blues’ defense found ways to short circuit that top line, and the Blues’ own best players feasted to a surprisingly lopsided degree. This tweet really captures how one-sided things often were during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final:

Yikes. Yikes.

While wear and tear cannot be ignored during the grind of a deep playoff run, it’s fair to ask if the Bruins didn’t have enough of a Plan B for if the top line sputtered. To some extent, you can understand why: because they basically never ran into that problem during the regular season.

Yet, lacking alternate options might have made the Bruins easier to “solve.” Consider this striking excerpt from the latest edition of Elliotte Friedman’s “31 Thoughts.”

When it came to the Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand/David Pastrnak line, one Blue said they were determined “not to be fooled by their deception.” Those three are excellent at creating havoc through the neutral zone via the different routes they take. The Blues focused on where they wanted to get to (especially Marchand’s and Pastrnak’s preferred one-timer locations) instead of how they got there.

Attached at the hip

The Bruins certainly provided the Blues and other opponents with a lot of “tape” on the top line, so to speak, as they kept them glued together during the regular season.

Via Natural Stat Trick, Patrice Bergeron played more than 729 minutes with Brad Marchand at even-strength during the regular season, while Bergeron was only away from Marchand for less than 46 minutes. David Pastrnak saw a little bit more time away from that duo, but still spent far more time with them.

It’s striking, actually, that Pastrnak spent almost as much time away from Bergeron and Marchand during the smaller sample of the playoffs (123:12 without Marchand, 134:07 without Bergeron, in 24 games) as Pastrnak spent away from them during the regular season (202 away from Marchand, 182:27 away from Bergeron), and injuries exaggerated those regular season numbers.

You could argue that Pastrnak was moved around because of desperation, rather than inspiration, during the postseason, as things weren’t clicking. So it wasn’t exactly as if those swaps were happening in ideal circumstances.

But what if the Bruins had more combinations in their back pocket?

Roads less taken

Cassidy had the luxury of finding out a little bit more about how other duos or trios might click, but he chose not to do so. Could Marchand and Bergeron really propel their own lines, and how much does Pastrnak need at least one of those guys to thrive? Might Marchand find chemistry with David Krejci, and could Bergeron really click with Jake DeBrusk? If the drop-off from spreading the wealth vs. going top-heavy was small, then the Bruins might have been able to throw different looks against the Blues, rather than playing into their hands.

So, with all of that in mind, how much should the Bruins consider breaking up the top line for 2019-20, or at least portions of 2019-20?

Interestingly, there might be a political element to consider, too: would they grumble at being broken up? In particular, it could be a tough sell to pitch that idea to Bergeron and Marchand, specifically.

Expanding Marchand’s even-strength minutes from 2015-16 to 2018-19 with Natural Stat Trick, the results are pretty comical. Marchand spent 2,461 minutes and 40 seconds with Bergeron during that time period, and just 368:46 without Bergeron. That’s the hockey equivalent of a common law marriage.

If there’s no argument for breaking up the veterans, then maybe continued experimentation with Pastrnak is in order. Theoretically, Bergeron and Marchand could carry a lesser linemate, as that’s the general pattern around the NHL, as teams just don’t often enjoy the option to load up with their three best forwards and still have some talent left over not to get bombarded when their other three lines are on the ice.

Consistency vs. versatility

Again, the Bruins have done an impressive job finding other players, and this post is mainly asking the question regarding whether they can get even better, or at least more versatile.

This interesting piece by Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald discusses David Krejci wanting a more stable partner on the right wing to go with Jake DeBrusk on the Bruins’ mostly effective, but occasionally hot-and-cold second line.

To be fair, Krejci wants stability, where I would argue that the Bruins should try a number of different looks:

“We did touch on that a little bit, but that’s not really something I can control,” Krejci said. “We have lots of good players here who can play on that side, so I’m not worried about that. We have lots of players. But what I would like to have is consistency of the lines so you create some chemistry. You always go through some ups and downs. Everyone does. But if you stay together as a line, in your difficult time of the year, the two other guys can lift you up, or the other way around.”

Conroy brings up some options as right-handed shooters, from Pastrnak to interesting young forward Karson Kuhlman. I’d also throw Charlie Coyle‘s name in the hat, as while he’s mostly served as third-line center for the Bruins, Coyle also played at RW at times during his Wild years.

The thing is, coaches do what Krejci doesn’t like, and get the line blender going for reasons. During an 82-game season, you’re going to experience streaks, but also injuries. You also must battle stagnancy and predictability.

But, really, finding different looks comes down to the playoff contests after the 82-game season.

***

Would the Bruins have won it all if they could have kept the Blues a bit more off balance? Maybe, maybe not. You could also argue that staying the course helped the Bruins get as far as they did, in the first place.

Either way, these are the questions the Bruins should grapple with, and experiments they should undergo more often than they did in 2018-19. Chances are, their cap situation won’t allow them to add much and will probably force them to lose a nice asset like Marcus Johansson, so it’s about getting the most out of what they already have.

Cassidy & Co. deserve credit for getting a whole lot out of this group, already, yet maybe there are a few more answers that simply haven’t been explored, or explored enough to truly know?

LOOKING BACK, AND AHEAD, FOR BRUINS

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stanley Cup photos inside Bruins’ dressing room serve as inspiration

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ST. LOUIS — As he spoke, Charlie Coyle’s eyes darted around the Boston Bruins’ dressing room inside Enterprise Center. There on the walls in the team’s dressing room were photos of Zdeno Chara, Bobby Orr, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask celebrating their Stanley Cup championships.

For Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, the team’s equipment staff wanted to make it a home away from home and use some of the wall space to inspire.

“Just little reminders,” said Coyle, “what it could be like, what’s here for us at stake and the great opportunity in front of us. You always catch yourself looking around and just kind of taking it in. It’s a good touch.”

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said that he did not want to hide what could happen after four wins against the St. Louis Blues in this final series. Five current players were on that 2011 Cup winning team. They know the joy of winning. They also know, along with Torey Krug, what heartbreak in the Cup Final feels like after those 17 seconds in Game 6 back in 2013.

“This is what’s at stake, why we’re blocking shots, missing games,” said Cassidy. “This is why you’re taking a hit to make a play. This is what it’s all about. This is, I’d say the start of your legacy, and this helps build your legacy. We’ve talked about that. We don’t want to ram it down their throats, but it needs to be out there. We’re grateful to be playing. We certainly earned our way, and this is the prize at the end of the line. So, I think it’s good motivation.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

This isn’t the first time the Bruins have used this method to inspire. The equipment staff did something similar during the 2011 Cup Final games in Vancouver using photos of the great 1970s teams featuring Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Derek Sanderson and others. It’s no surprise that the leadership on that team eight years ago — Chara and Bergeron — wanted to bring it back for the start of this series, making sure the photos traveled with the team to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4.

The photos are there to hammer home those famous words from former NHL head coach Fred Shero, who told his Cup winning Philadelphia Flyers team before Game 6 of the 1974 Cup Final: “Win together today and we walk together forever.”

David Pastrnak joined the Bruins two seasons after the team’s run to the Cup Final in 2013. This is the furthest he’s been in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and when he sees those photos he wants to be in the next set.

“You can see those guys having memories like that for life,” he said. “It’s definitely something you want to be part of. It’s what you work for your whole life. A picture like this is what you remember the most.”

The Bruins have made plenty of memories during their playoff run this spring. Two more wins and they’ll be able to be part of the next batch of dressing room inspirational photos.

“It reminds us of how close we are to reaching our goal,” said Coyle. “I like it.”

Game 4 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Monday (stream here).

MORE BLUES-BRUINS GAME 3:
Bruins blast Blues, take 2-1 lead in Stanley Cup Final
Blues special teams continue to be sour note 
Berube keeping the faith in Binnington after rough Game 3

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stanley Cup Final: Blues, Bruins built without luxury of top pick

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The St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins have a lot of people to thank for reaching the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, and both organizations can probably start with their scouting and player development staffs.

When looking at the construction of both rosters they share a common trait in how they were built.

That trait is that neither team has a player on their roster that they selected with one of the first three picks in the NHL draft. Not a single one. The highest pick that either team used on a player was the Blues’ selection of defender Alex Pietrangelo with the No. 4 overall pick all the way back in 2008.

Their next highest selection after him: 14th overall.

It is worth pointing out that the Blues did have the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 (13 years ago!), which they used to select defender Erik Johnson. But Johnson was traded after just three seasons with the team for a package of players that included Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart. Neither player from that trade remains on the roster today. If you wanted to follow the trade tree from there, Shattenkirk was eventually traded to the Capitals two years ago as a pending free agent for a collection of assets that included a first-round pick. The Blues then used that pick as part of a larger trade for Brayden Schenn.

But that is really digging deep and they had to give up a lot of other assets to get Schenn.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Bruins, meanwhile, do not have a single player anywhere on their roster that was selected higher than 14th in any draft.

They did select Tyler Seguin No. 2 overall in 2010 (after acquiring that pick as part of the Phil Kessel trade with Toronto Maple Leafs) but he was traded after the 2012-13 season and they literally have nothing remaining in their entire organization to show for that trade. Today, it is as if that trade never even happened.

This is all pretty unheard of in recent NHL history as each of the past 10 Stanley Cup winners has had at least one top-three pick (a pick that they used on the player) playing on their roster.

The most recent one that did not have such a player was the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings.

Here is a quick look at every Stanley Cup winner dating back to the 1994-95 season and how many of them had at least one top-three selection on their roster.

Not only do almost all of them have a top-three pick, those players were among the best, most important, and most valuable players on their rosters.

Couple of things worth noting on the teams that had “none.”

  • The 2006-07 Ducks did not have a top-three pick of their own, but they did eventually acquire the Hall of Fame defense pairing of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, both of whom were top-three picks.
  • The 1997-98, 1998-99, and 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings also had no top-three selections of their own (Steve Yzerman at No. 4 overall was their highest pick) but did have Brendan Shanahan who had previously been a No. 2 overall pick by the New Jersey Devils.

So even though those teams didn’t have the luxury of making such a pick themselves, they still had top-three pick talents on their roster. If the Blues end up winning this series they would fall into this category as they have defender Jay Bouwmeester (No. 3 overall pick by the Florida Panthers in 2002) on their roster.

The only teams during that stretch that won the Stanley Cup without having a single player that was ever selected that high were the aforementioned Red Wings team in 2008, as well as the 1995-96 and 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche teams.

There is a reason why bad teams, and especially fans of bad teams, want to finish near the bottom of the standings and desperately hope for some luck in the draft lottery. You need superstar players to win, and the best and easiest way to get a superstar player is to get them at the top of the draft. That is where you get the true franchise-changing players, and that is especially valuable in the salary cap era where you get them under team control for so many years and so cheaply and below market value in the first few years of their career.

It was a little easier to win without those high picks in the pre-cap era because teams could, in theory, do what Detroit and Colorado did and acquire pretty much anyone they wanted as long as they wanted to spend the money. It is a little tougher to assemble that much talent today from outside your organization.

The Bruins are an especially interesting case because, again, the only top-15 picks on their roster are Charlie McAvoy (No. 14 overall in 2016) and Jake DeBrusk (No. 14 overall in 2015). Some of their best players were selected far later than you would expect franchise players to be drafted. Patrice Bergeron was a second-round pick in 2003. David Krejci was a second-round pick in 2004. Brad Marchand was a third-round pick in 2006. David Pastrnak was picked No. 25 overall in 2014. They also do not have a single player on their roster that was selected higher than 14th by any other team. They simply have zero top picks on their roster.

This probably is not a model that is going to be easily duplicated by anyone else, because not every team is going to be fortunate enough to find that many draft steals in such a short period of time. But the Bruins (and Blues) have made it work and found a way to take a slightly different path to the Stanley Cup Final.

Blues-Bruins Game 2 is Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET from TD Garden on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE BRUINS-BLUES GAME 2:
• 
Robert Thomas sidelined for Blues
• 
Three keys for Game 2 of Stanley Cup Final 
• 
Blues expect to be a lot better
• Unflappable Binnington won’t be affected by Stanley Cup spotlight

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Looking at David Krejci’s postseason brilliance

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When the Boston Bruins open the 2019 Stanley Cup Final on Monday night (8 p.m. ET NBC; Live Stream) they will be playing in their third championship series in the past 10 seasons (tied for the most during that stretch with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks) and going for their second title with this current core of players.

This is shaping up to be one of the most successful eras in the history of the Bruins franchise and the quartet of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, and David Krejci has played a significant role in that success.

Out of that group the former three get the bulk of the attention, and for very different reasons.

Bergeron is the rock. He is the centerpiece of everything the Bruins do and has been as good of a two-way player as there is in the NHL for more than a decade now.

Chara is one of the greats from his era on the blue line, and along with Bergeron, helped make the Bruins one of the fiercest defensive teams in the league throughout the primes of their career.

As for Marchand … well … he is notable just because he is Brad Marchand. Everything he does is notable. A dominant offensive player, a pest, an agitator, and at the end of the day a player that every general manager in the NHL would love to have on their team, especially at his bargain of a cost against the salary cap.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The member of that group that tends to get overlooked the most is Krejci, but do not sleep on his production and the impact he has made on the Bruins over the years.

Especially in the playoffs.

While he has always been an excellent player in Boston he has never really been one that will put up huge numbers or finish near the top of the league in any category during the regular season. He is an outstanding second-line center that is going to be a 20-goal, 60-point player. At the start of every season you know exactly what he is going to give you, and he almost never lets you down.

You should also know by now that he is going to continue that production, and often times increase it, come playoff time. This season has been no exception.

Entering the series against the St. Louis Blues Krejci’s 14 points are third on the team (behind only Marchand and David Pastrnak) and continues what has been an outstanding career of postseason performances.

Just take a look at what he has done throughout his career in the playoffs.

  • Since the start of the 2010-11 playoffs, the year the Bruins won the Stanley Cup by defeating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games, there are only five players (Sidney Crosby, Logan Couture, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, and Alex Ovechkin) in the NHL that have recorded more points than Krejci’s 80 during that stretch.
  • He has reached that level of production while getting almost no boost from the power play, where he has managed just 16 points during that stretch. It is almost entirely even-strength production. His 64 even-strength points since 2010-11 are second only to Crosby’s 67 points, with Krejci having played in four fewer games entering this series.
  • He is one of only 20 players in NHL history to have led the postseason in scoring (2010-11 and 2012-13) in scoring in a single postseason. Out of those 20, he is one of just 11 to do it since 1967 (when the league doubled in size from six teams to 12 teams).
  • His 101 postseason points for his career are the third most in Bruins history, trailing only Ray Bourque and Phil Esposito. John Buyck and Rick Middleton are the only other players in Bruins history to top the 100-point mark (both with exactly 100), while Bergeron will join that group with one more point in these playoffs.
  • This postseason alone he has been held without a point in just four games, and only two of the previous 15 games. He enters the series on a six-game point streak.

Whether the Bruins end up winning this series or not, Krejci has been a significant part of the team’s success both this season and in previous seasons. Outside of one dismal postseason performance in 2013-14 when he recorded just four assists in 12 games, he has been one of the most consistent and productive playoff performers in the league and one of the best in the history of the Bruins franchise.

If you are looking at things in terms of just raw numbers his overall postseason performance is pretty close to his overall regular season performance, which makes sense — he gets a lot of points because he is good, no matter when the games are being played. He averages around 60 points 82 games in the regular season, and his postseason average is around 67 points per 82 games. It is an increase, but not a huge one. Still, any increase in playoff scoring from regular season scoring is an impressive accomplishment because goals are tougher to come by in the playoffs, especially when you are not getting a huge boost from the power play. He has also had multiple postseasons where he has been one of the top scorers in the league, including this one where he enters the Stanley Cup Final in the top-10 across the league.

He may not be the biggest star on the Boston lineup, and he may not always get a lot of attention for what he does, but on the list of most significant players in Bruins history Krejci ranks up there with any of them given what he has done on the biggest stage.

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
• Who has the better forwards?
• Who has the better defensemen?
• Who has the better goaltending?
• Who has the better special teams?

• X-factors
• PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
Roundtable: Secondary scoring, underrated players
• How the Blues were built
• How the Bruins were built
• Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins have evolved into one of NHL’s best under Cassidy

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On Feb. 4, 2017, the Boston Bruins were an organization that seemed to be stuck in mediocrity. They had narrowly missed the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, had won just 26 of their first 55 games that year, and were preparing to fire Claude Julien, a Stanley Cup winning coach and one of the most successful coaches the team had ever had.

While there were some signs that the 2016-17 team had performed better than its overall record under Julien (they were a good possession team but were getting sunk by sub-par goaltending) the team had just seemed to hit a wall where there was no way forward. It was not a particularly deep roster, the defense was full of question marks, and it just had the look of an organization that was teetering on the edge of needing a rebuild.

It was at that point that Bruce Cassidy took over behind the bench for his first head coaching opportunity in the NHL since a mostly disappointing one-and-a-half year run with the Washington Capitals more than a decade earlier. All the Bruins have done since then is evolve into one of the NHL’s most dominant teams under Cassidy and enter Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday just one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It has been a pretty sensational run under Cassidy’s watch.

Since he was hired the Bruins are second in the NHL in points percentage (.670), goal-differential (plus-130), Corsi percentage (53.2 percent) and scoring chance percentage (53.4), and 10th in high-danger scoring chance percentage (52.2). They have made the playoffs every year he has been behind the bench and gone increasingly further each time. They are now just five wins away from a championship.

Obviously there is a lot of talent on this Boston team, especially at the top of the lineup where they have a collection of some the game’s best players, including the trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.

That will help any coach.

But what is perhaps most impressive about the Bruins’ success over the past two seasons is how many games Cassidy has been without some of those key players, and how often his team has just kept on winning.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season the group of Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, and Brandon Carlo has combined to miss 203 man-games. That is an average of more than 20 games *per player* over the two-year stretch.

That is not only a lot of games to miss due to injury (or, in some cases, suspension), it is a lot of games for pretty much all of the team’s best players. That does not even take into account the time starting goalie Tuukka Rask missed earlier this season.

The quick response to that sustained success, obviously, is “depth,” and how a lot of credit should be given to the front office for constructing a deep roster that can overcome that many significant injuries.

After all, McAvoy has been a game-changer on defense, Pastrnak has blossomed into a star, and while the Bruins may not have maximized the return on their three consecutive first-round picks in 2015 (they passed on Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor, just to name a few) they still have had a nice collection of young forwards emerge through the system, especially Jake DeBrusk.

While all of that is certainly true to a point, this is also a team whose depth was probably its biggest weakness and question mark until about two months ago.

Everyone knew their top line was the best in the NHL. Everyone knew their defense with McAvoy blossoming into a star and Krug producing the way he did was starting to turn around. But they were still a remarkably top-heavy team that did not get much in the way of offense outside of their top five or six players. And they spent a lot of time over the past two years, in the league’s toughest division at the top, and still managed to win a ton of hockey games.

[MORE: Bruins head to Stanley Cup Final after sweeping Hurricanes]

Maybe the depth was better than it was originally given credit for, and maybe the goaltending duo of Rask and Jaroslav Halak has helped to mask some flaws. But you also can not ignore the job Cassidy has done behind the bench and the success the team has had since he took over. In the two-and-a-half years prior to him (including during that very season) the Bruins’ points percentage was only 18th in the NHL, and while their possession and scoring chance numbers were still good, they were not as downright dominant as they have been under Cassidy.

It doesn’t matter who he has had in the lineup, who he has been without, or what run of injuries have been thrown his way his team has just simply gotten results. Even more important than the results is the way they are getting the results. They control the puck, they get the better of the scoring chances, and they just simply play like a championship level team.

It is a far jump from where they were just a little more than two years ago, and the turnaround started the day they made the switch behind the bench.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.