There are many reasons why a team’s offense can dry up in the playoffs.
The quality of competition obviously increases, defenses tighten up, and injuries certainly play their part in slowing down top players. However, a little hindsight shows that the Bruins’ offensive woes against the Lightning may be indicative of larger problem.
Taking a look back at these playoffs clearly paints a troubling picture. In 13 games (including the round robin), the Bruins scored 17 goals at 5 on 5 while giving up 29 to their opponents. Against Tampa Bay, the B’s only managed 7 goals 5v5 in their 6 meetings (again, including the round robin match-up), while Tampa blistered the Bruins for 16 goals.
Boston was held to almost 160+ minutes of even strength hockey without a goal. This trend of not scoring 5v5 didn’t just appear out of nowhere in the playoffs either; It was the reason the Blues were able to put such a heartbreaking loss on the team last year. The Bruins scored 139 5v5 goals during the regular season, good for 19th best among all NHL teams. They have been 19th in the NHL in scoring for the better part of the last five years.
Luckily for Boston, their defense, goaltending, and power play production often made up for this lack of scoring. It certainly helped that they allowed the fewest goals in the league at 5v5, which may have helped to mask this weakness.
So what does it all mean?
The obvious point is that there just isn’t enough scoring depth throughout Boston’s line-up.
The Bruins possess one of the best and most prolific first lines in the game (and, as a result, one of the best first power play units). However, the drop off from this line is sharp. The trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak combined for 69 of Boston’s 139 even-strength goals (or just about 50%).
Much of this has to be blamed on the lack of quality wings on the Bruins roster.
While David Krejci was regularly flanked by a productive (yet streaky) Jake DeBrusk, his right wing was a revolving door. The same can be said of Charlie Coyle’s third-line wings and the whole fourth line as well. A lack of lineup consistency, as Bruce Cassidy tried to play the “lack-of-quality-wingers-card” he was dealt, certainly hindered the development of offensive chemistry.
To address the lack of scoring on the wings, the Bruins dealt for Ondrej Kase at the deadline, hoping to fill the 2RW spot; unfortunately, he was unable to find the back of the net during the regular season or playoffs.
So what should the Bruins do?
Quite simply, the Bruins need to add dynamic wingers to provide more 5v5 offense in their line-up.
And it seems that both GM Don Sweeney and President Cam Neely have recognized the need for changes to improve their team going forward. Here’s a look at some of their comments following the Bruins exit from the playoffs this year:
“We’re looking to make some changes in our group,” said Sweeney.
“...we have to really take a hard look at where we are as an organization,” said Neely. “Can we compete for a Stanley Cup and if we can, what do we have to do to our roster to do that?”
So if the Bruins are going to make changes, where do they start?
While it may seem counterproductive in a search for more offense, the first step the Bruins will need to take is letting their top offensive defenseman walk.
There are very few defensemen who can do what Krug does on the power play, but Krug’s offensive output at 5v5 is average at best. Krug recorded 21 points this season at even strength, good for a tie for 42nd among all defensemen.
While the power play efficiency may go down a couple percentage points next year without Krug, 5v5 won’t be affected as much, and the Bruins won’t have broken the bank keeping him.
I addressed other reasons why the Bruins shouldn’t be afraid to let Krug go in this article.
Who could the Bruins target in the off-season?
Assuming Krug walks, the Bruins would have a little money to play with (though they’d likely have to give up other players in order to fit any big-money signings).
Recently, a mock trade surfaced on Twitter that had Patrik Laine going to the Bruins for a boatload of prospects and picks.
While trading the farm, so to speak, for Laine wouldn’t be a smart move, there’s a strong sense coming out of Winnipeg that Laine doesn’t want to be there and the Jets are looking to ship him out, so the price might not be as high as you’d expect. Laine has one more year left on his current contract for a manageable $6.75 million AAV, and will likely not re-sign with Winnipeg after this contract.
Yes, Laine has been criticized in the past for his effort some nights, and by the numbers, the rest of his game seems pretty one-dimensional, at best.
But there are few players out there who may be available and are as gifted at sniping as Laine. You can pretty much assume Laine is going to score 30+ goals every year for the foreseeable future if he has a good enough center.
Is this deal going to happen? Probably not. But the idea of Laine and Krejci on the 2nd line is fun to think about.
If there is one thing Mike Hoffman can do, it’s score goals.
Hoffman followed up a 36-goal campaign last year with 29 goals in 69 games for the Florida Panthers this season. Hoffman is a UFA and will likely command a raise from the $5.65 million AAV he made the last three seasons, but the increase may not be too significant.
If the Bruins could bring in the 30 year old on a reasonable term (let’s say 3-4 years), he could definitely help the 2nd or 3rd lines produce more offense. The problem here though is Hoffman will probably be looking for a longer contract, as it’s probably his last chance to cash in on a big deal.
There are a lot of experts out there, include Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who believe Max Domi has played his last game in Montreal. Even Domi himself has deleted his affiliation with the Habs on Instagram and Twitter. While Domi didn’t have his best year, with 17 goals and 44 points this season, it wasn’t from a lack of trying.
Love or hate him (and there are plenty of legitimate reasons to hate this guy), he brings a ton of effort and energy to the team each night.
Perhaps Domi’s 2018-19 season was a flash in the pan, when he recorded 28 goals and 77 points, or perhaps that’s what he’s capable of if given the right opportunity. Either way, the idea of Coyle and Domi on the 3rd line together isn’t the worst thought.
Yes, the guy who elbowed Brandon Carlo and knocked him out of the Bruins lineup with a cheap shot in early March.
While he certainly didn’t gain a lot of fans in Boston with that play, him putting the puck in the net in a Bruins uniform a few times could make fans forget pretty quickly. Dadonov, like Hoffman, is another UFA coming from Florida who could really give the Bruins an offensive shot in the arm. Scoring 28, 28, and 25 goals over the last three years, the highly skilled Russian could finally be the missing RW for David Krejci.
Dadonov was greatly underpaid in Florida, making just $4 million over the last three years.
Like Hoffman, he’ll also receive a raise in his next deal, but perhaps not enough of a raise that the Bruins couldn’t afford him.
When Don Sweeney passed on Kovalchuk last year when he could have got him for nothing and he went on to put up 6 goals (including 3 GWGs) and 7 assists in 22 games in Montreal, there were some fans who were upset the Bruins didn’t gamble on the former Rocket Richard Trophy winner.
Well ladies and gentlemen, here’s the 2nd chance (or is it the 3rd chance?) to bring Kovalchuk to Boston. A free agent now, Kovalchuk will probably sign somewhere in the off-season (likely Montreal or Washington) for a low-cost, short-term contract.
If the Bruins aren’t willing to make a risky, longer-term move for one of the names above, Kovalchuk might just be the right guy to lineup with Krejci and DeBrusk next season.
Although adding scoring should be a priority for the Bruins this off-season, it’s not the only area of concern that they need to address.
The Bruins core is moving toward (or already is in) the twilight of their careers, and while players like David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy and prospects like Jack Studnicka have bright futures in the NHL, the Bruins will also have to balance making this team competitive next year with ensuring that they also remain competitive in five years.
Adding a pure scorer for one last run at the Cup with this team could cost the Bruins dearly in years to come if the right move is not made.