With the acquisition of winger Lee Stempniak at yesterday’s Trade Deadline, along with the shuffling up and down I-95 between Providence and Boston, the Bruins have a few new options among their forwards. The 3rd-best scoring team in the NHL has added some firepower to an already talented group, and these recent moves could make them a match-up problem amongst their peers in the East.
There was no official morning skate Tuesday morning, but speculation points to Stempniak being placed on the right side of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, replacing Brett Connolly on the Bruins' top line. Connolly, 8 goals and 23 points, has been a major disappointment this year, despite largely skating with one of the most productive duos in the NHL. Now a year into his career with Boston, Brett has just 25 points in 65 games, and hasn’t lived up to the two 2nd-rounders that were sent to Tampa as a return.
Stempniak, 33, is on pace to have his highest goal total since 2009-10. His 1.65 Points/60 this year is pretty much in line with his career—down from 1.84 last year, but up from 1.30 the year prior, showing not much decline. His 16 goals puts him at 4th on the team, ahead of David Krejci, Matt Beleskey, and Ryan Spooner. While the price may have been a little high, Stempniak could turn into a solid piece for the Bruins’ playoff push.
But one of the main benefits from the Stempniak acquisition is the process of Trickle-Down Hockeynomics. With Stempniak landing a spot in the Top 6—along with Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, and Eriksson—the bottom six becomes solidified, and vastly improves.
The 3rd line is a toss-up on the right wing, but Matt Beleskey and Ryan Spooner have certainly shown some chemistry over the last few weeks. With Connolly entering the equation, the Bruins are able to shuffle in either him, or forward Jimmy Hayes on the right side. Spooner, who is 2nd on the team in assists, is on pace for around 55 points in his first full year with the club, and whoever is planted on his right side will certainly benefit from his playmaking. Whether Hayes or Connolly, the move will allow the 3rd line to gel going into the playoffs.
The 4th line is also being revamped. An understated move yesterday was the assignment of Max Talbot, Joonas Kemppainen, and Zac Rinaldo to Providence. Tyler Randell and Providence College alum Noel Acciari have since been recalled as a result. Acciari looks to be playing in his first career NHL game tonight, centering the 4th line. The former PC Captain has been a solid two-way player for the P-Bruins this year, with 7 goals, 12 assists, and a +8 rating.
The move allows for Landon Ferraro to play his natural position on the wing—presumably right side—with likely Jimmy Hayes filling in on the left. This puts a 20-goal scorer on the bottom line for the Bruins, and improves their two-way play at the same time. With Rinaldo in the minors, and Acciari bringing a physical element to his game, the bottom six suddenly has the ability to score and defend much better than it did 48 hours ago. The fact is, the middling group of Hayes, Ferraro, Connolly, etc. are light years better than the previous group of Talbot, Kemppainen, and Rinaldo. Hell, Randell has shown more promise than any of the others in his limited time here—although ideally, he's on the 9th floor until the Bruins staff wants some fisticuffs.
Even when the Merlot Line of 2011-2013 was heralded as a gritty, forechecking, defensively responsible line, they were never dangerous with the puck on their sticks. With grinders like Connolly, Beleskey, Hayes, Acciari and Ferraro playing in a bottom six role, the Bruins now have a potential threat to score. Connolly grinding along the boards with Krejci or Bergeron makes less sense with their philosophy—quick passes, patient cycling, clean looks. But Connolly on a line with Beleskey or Hayes, where the gameplan is dump & chase, digging out pucks along the wall, and crashing the net, benefits everyone.
Brett Connolly won’t suddenly score 5 goals in 5 games. The bottom six won’t produce two goals a game and become unstoppable. But the Bruins have been relying on the likes of Joonas Kemppainen, Max Talbot, Zac Rinaldo, and Tyler Randell for the last 61 games to anchor their fourth line, and take up 25% of their forward group.
With just a trade and call-up, the Bruins' bottom six has no place to go but up. And they take their first step at doing so today.