By acquiring Charlie Coyle at the trade deadline last season, Don Sweeney did more than bolster his lineup for a playoff run: he solved what had been arguably the longest-running problem with the Bruins’ roster. Depending on what side of that argument you sit on, you might take issue with the title of the post. Throwing “arguably” would have made it too long, but you get the point, right?
For about 5 years, the Bruins have had two main problems on offense: no third-line center and no second-line right wing. By getting Coyle in the mix, the Bruins (probably) solved the former; the latter remains their biggest weakness. This isn’t meant as a knock on Karson Kuhlman, of course. He seems likely to be the “next man up” at 2RW, at least to start the season, and he performed admirably at times last season.
You could also argue that David Pastrnak will spend some time at 2RW this year, as Bruce Cassidy confirmed today. Still, that’s essentially just moving the argument around, so we’ll ignore that for now. On paper, the Bruins are a pretty solid team. They have arguably the best first line in the league. They have a good second line, a steady third line, and a fourth line that is in the mix every night. Their defense is stout. Their goaltending tandem is among the league’s best.
What’s not to like?
In all likelihood, the Bruins’ Achilles heel this season will likely be the same as it was in the Stanley Cup Final: finding other ways to score.
The Bruins didn’t lose to St. Louis because they lacked toughness or physicality. They lost because the Blues played solid team defense and got a lucky break or two for their goalie. With the first line neutralized at times, the others couldn’t reliably pick up the slack. The same thing happened at times in the first round against Toronto: If the first line ever went quiet, things looked dicey.
It’s absurd to say that the Bruins are a one-line team, but it’s not a stretch to say they’re heavily reliant on that one line and on their power play. If you wanted to make the title of this post slightly simpler, you could just say “Bruins’ biggest weakness remains secondary scoring” as it’s probably silly to place all the weight on David Krejci’s shoulders. They would be a much worse team if one player was the be-all and end-all of the depth.
But Krejci did his fair share last season, putting up career numbers. He did it with a revolving door on his right side, which makes his numbers all the more impressive. Imagine what he might have done with a reliable right wing?
The truth is that the Bruins have been set at 1RW for years. But for the same number of years, they’ve been in temporary or long-term states of flux at 2RW. Not since Jarome Iginla has David Krejci had a true scorer consistently on his right (no, I don’t really count 20 games of Rick Nash).
To be fair, Krejci needs to make it work. He’s being paid to produce, and needs to produce with the players given to him. But for the Bruins, they enter this season playing the same dangerous game they played last season: throw out the first line and hope for the best.
The difference this year, however, is that the Bruins have a bit more to fall back on with the addition of Coyle. I expect Coyle to regress a bit from the Coyle we saw in the playoffs, but he should still be the Bruins’ best 3C in recent memory. If that’s the case, the B’s should be able to ice a consistently decent third line for the first time in recent memory. Also, the Bruins have some options should Kuhlman falter. Anders Bjork could return to the NHL and get another shot with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, bumping Pastrnak down. Peter Cehlarik could get another shot with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. Jack Studnicka or Trent Frederic could get a call-up onto that third line, moving Coyle up and to wing. The possibilities are endless!
There’s no such thing as a completely flawless lineup. Every team has holes somewhere, and the Bruins are no exception. Still, by acquiring Coyle, the Bruins filled one of those holes. Let’s hope they can fill that second one by committee.
Is the 2RW concern overblown? Do the Bruins have larger looming issues? Have your say in the comments!