The NHL’s “Return to Play” announcement yesterday brings us all one step closer to hockey returning this summer.
Sure, there are a lot of big issues that have to be ironed out, but the release of the plan has lit a fire in hockey fans that has been dormant since play was suspended in March.
With this news, we can almost get back to talking about real hockey matters as well. Let’s start with everyone’s favorite topic: line combinations!
There’s no question what the top line looks like, and the top 4 defensemen are likely going to remain the same. However, the rest of the lineup is a big question mark.
The Second Line
It would be very easy to pencil-in David Krejci centering Jake DeBrusk and Ondrej Kase on the second line, but recent games prior to the break might suggest otherwise.
However, with this new 2nd line producing 0 goals, it would surprise no one if DeBrusk is back on Krejci’s wing when the season returns.
You also have to wonder: if Kase doesn’t find his game early, how long until he’s moved up with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, or down with Coyle and 3rd-Liner X (more on that below).
The Third/Fourth Lines
Really, the only thing you can bet on with the bottom six is that Charlie Coyle will be centering the Bruins’ third line. Everything else is up in the air.
The last game against the Flyers saw Coyle skating with DeBrusk and mostly Sean Kuraly, while the 4th line featured Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom, and Par Lindholm. That game also saw Anders Bjork and Anton Blidh sitting in the press box as healthy scratches and Karson Kuhlman assigned to Providence.
Coyle has seen more wings this season than a fat guy on 10-cent wing night, and the bottom 6 still hasn’t been figured out. If the Bruins are going to make it deep into the playoffs, it will need to be solidified as soon as possible.
To make things even more interesting, with the AHL season being cancelled, there is also the possibility that the Bruins could choose to bring up some fresh blood from the P-Bruins.
There have been many who have been pining to see Jack Studnicka or Trent Frederic in the spoked-B again this season, and the fact that they’re now fully available will probably only increase the interest in bringing them up for the playoffs.
There’s certainly no question that the Bruins will continue to roll Zdeno Chara / Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug / Brandon Carlo as their top 4 when the season resumes, but who’s the last pairing?
Or maybe a better question is, who’s playing with Matt Grzelcyk?
The Bruins are not without options. Jeremy Lauzon has been a bright spot for the B’s this year, but is he ready for playoff hockey? John Moore has been so-so when healthy, but he has the most playoff experience of all the 6th dman choices.
Or maybe its time for the return of Connor Clifton? He certainly earned Bruce Cassidy’s trust last year during the playoffs.
Finally, there’s also Steven Kampfer, who filled in admirably in last year’s post-season when called upon.
While not having your final pairing locked up going into the playoffs isn’t ideal, having 4 NHL caliber defensemen available to play if called upon, is a luxury most teams wish they had.
There is so much that still has to happen before the NHL returns (if it returns) this year.
While it’s fun to wonder what the Bruins’ lines will look like in a 24-team playoff, you really gotta hope the league knows what it’s doing so it doesn’t endanger the health of its players or employees unnecessarily.
We all want hockey back, but only if its in the best interests of everyone involved.
Nothing would be worse than the playoffs starting, and then someone getting sick, and the playoffs getting cancelled.
The NHL needs to take their time and get this right, then we can worry about the Bruins’ lineup.