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What to do about Boston’s “middle six” forwards

Boston currently runs an unimpressive second line, a straight up crappy third line, and one player hanging in the balance could decide both’s future. What can be done?

Boston Bruins v Ottawa Senators - Game One

Ryan Spooner was excluded from the Boston Bruins lineup on Sunday night, and that might not entirely be his fault.

The third line he currently occupies as it’s center/winger-out-of-desperation is an opened sewer vein of a line that, regardless of who Bruce Cassidy threw on it to stop the bleeding, still manages to be one of the least impactful or actively detrimental lines Boston can put on the ice at any one point. Even Claude Julien in his final half year had difficulty making the line look regularly decent. After a certain point in the most desperate game of the season, they just straight up stopped taking shifts altogether, Cassidy preferring to mix and match players in the vain hope something would work.

Of course, they were half the problem.

David Krejci was out and the second line was screwed from the minute he was placed on “day-to-day” status. Any concerns you might’ve had about Drew Stafford or David Backes or Frank Vatrano were exacerbated tenfold as they scrambled to put any center that could fill the void, and could find nobody. Even with Krejci, it became clear that the line had been increasingly sliding into a one note group of power play specialists whose contracts at best you could say were generous, and at worst not being lived up to in the slightest and a tumor on the team’s cap hit. It certainly didn’t help that it combined two of the most frustrating players on the team in one convenient place, at least in my opinion.

it’s unlikely that Boston can continue on with a middle six that, by all accounts, did not perform as expected for Boston this year, for a multitude of reasons:

  • David Backes is not the kind of player David Krejci can rely on to bang home rebounds, which was previously a big part of his offensive output
  • 2nd line Left wing was a revolving cast nobody was really willing to say they found an adequate replacement for. The closest they might’ve gotten was Peter Cehlarik, even if he played 11 games.
  • Spooner, an offensive center with some defensive deficiencies, was asked to carry two of the worst neutral zone and defensive players on the team for 11-14 minutes a night and surprise surprise, he couldn’t do it.
  • Hell, the mutable nature of the third line being impossible to keep together as a unit because Boston had too many redundant, ineffective players (Beleskey, Hayes, etc.) swapping in to be ineffective and redundant.
  • Losing Krejci apparently meant the former St. Louis Blues star center David Backes wasn’t interested in playing the position anymore?

Whatever the case, be it choice of who does what in relief or what have you has Boston in a bit of a pickle. And in theory they do have options.

One of course, is doing nothing, but that’s just being back at square one all over again. So now what could they do?

Get fully younger?

They certainly have the talent these days to suggest it as an option.

Jake DeBrusk has emerged as a scoring threat in Providence, Zach Senyshyn remains prolific in the OHL and will likely make his way to training camp and given the shaky winger depth could easily contend for a spot, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson remains a potent option, Danton Heinen, looks to be a strong contender for a good upcoming season given his play in Providence, and a good choice for a forward in a pinch, We all have seen the impressive forchecking power Kuraly brings, there are still plenty of mix and match lines you could create just using these recently signed and recently improving players.

And speaking of youth, there’s one particular player in the prime of his youth that happens to be a crux in this matter.

Keep Spooner? Trade him?

There’s arguments for both sides.

As previously stated, maybe not giving him two of the worst defensive players on the team not named Ryan Spooner for stretches is probably not an effective use of his talents. He is a proven power play weapon that has on occasion really proven worth the relatively inexpensive investment (comparitively speaking of course). With the right wingers? There’s reason to believe he could be a powerful offensive threat. On top of that, for good or for ill, Spooner is a point of contention for a lot of fans that remember a time when three centers with skill and speed that started most every game was a mere pipe dream because of what the third line was used for and whatever [INTANGIBLE HERE] you’d like to use to describe the Merlot line. There are fans who desperately want this guy to succeed and prove his worth. And hey, a good number of the above listed players are wingers who’ve proven quite beneficial. There’s no reason to believe with the right talent around him he could be just as impactful as a David Krejci.

On the other hand, Spooner has also proven to be just as big of a problem for his own defensive end as anyone else on his line...which given whose ahead of him in the lineup isn’t exactly saying much, but his problems were only made worse by consistently having to drag players who will never score again or will never give reason to believe they’d be even interested in a 5on5 point. Spooner could probably worm his way onto a roster such as Dallas or Los Angeles’ due to their desperate need of scoring, and give some much needed cap relief. The Bruins can then fill in the center spot by taking a chance on players like Kuraly, JFK, or Heinen and letting the glut of winger talent coming into the system fill in the blanks from there.

Mitigate the damage:

You’re going to see the words “Has” “Does” “Not” “Up” “Contract” and “Live” in some variation a lot over the next couple of weeks as we begin our offseason coverage. Just get used to that. Right now, run under the assumption that the Bruins will keep every player on their roster until expansion draft day. That means the second line is in dire need of a dedicated Left winger since they cannot move either of the other two contracts that will be sitting there until at least 2019 (or later).

Whatever the case, upgrades must be made within the offseason and they cannot just sit there and assume everything will be “fine”. The middle six has plenty of options, and plenty of talent already there, it does fall on Don Sweeney and Coach Cassidy to ensure that the 2017-2018 roster is actually using the full extent of what these gentlemen have cultivated in the minors, junior, and the work already done in the big club. They just have to implement the talent as best they can.