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The Bruins need an upgrade down the middle — now and for the future

A look at some possible solutions to the Bruins’ problem at center.

NHL: OCT 21 Sharks at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Let’s just get one thing clear before we get started here: This is not an article advocating for the Bruins trading for Jack Eichel.

I repeat, this is not about Jack Eichel.

What this article is about is the need for the Bruins to make an upgrade at the center position for the sake of the 2021-22 season and beyond.

When David Krejci made his decision to return to the Czech Republic this season, the Bruins (and their fans) knew they had a very big hole to fill in their line-up. In response to this, the Bruins had two choices during the off-season: either try to fill the void left by Krejci internally or acquire a second-line center. Despite bringing two centers into the fold prior to Krejci’s departure in Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek, the Bruins decided that they would first insert Charlie Coyle between Taylor Hall and Craig Smith.

And you can’t blame Boston for this decision, really.

Coyle, who the Bruins heavily invested in the previous off-season, has shown flashes of potential in his career in Boston. Not so much last year, but much of that can be attributed to injury; his first post-season and first full season in Boston were strong performances.

The problem for Boston is the Coyle, Hall, and Smith trio (and subsequent combos since Smith’s injury) has not worked out so far.

Aside from a strong game against the Sabres (much of which can be attributed to Tomas Nosek), the second line has been ineffective early this season. This is obviously a big problem, as any team who expects to have a successful season in the NHL needs to have an offensively reliable second line.

The problem is magnified when you consider the second line consists of a wing the caliber of Taylor Hall, who is not receiving the support in the middle he needs to thrive.

Against the Panthers this week, the Bruins inserted Jack Studnicka into the role of 2C, and to his credit, he did have a strong start to the game. Unfortunately, his game (like the whole team’s) fell apart as the game went on, and Studnicka saw limited time in the 3rd period. Studnicka’s performance showed signs of improvement, but also showed signs that he’s not ready for such a big role on the team at this point in his career.

So, with all this said and the Bruins running out of options at 2C, the need to bring in bona fide second-line center has become apparent.

However, rather than bring in a proven veteran to fill a gap for a year, the Bruins’ need becomes even more desperate when you consider the future beyond this season. As previously mentioned, Krejci’s departure left a big hole in the Bruins lineup this season. There will be an even bigger hole when (and we have to acknowledge this will happen at some point) Patrice Bergeron’s career ends in the very near future, possibly even at the end of the year.

Losing your top two centers over the course of a few season would be a loss compounded by the Bruins’ poor drafting over the past decade or so, as there’s no one in their current prospect pool remotely close to becoming a number-one NHL center.

So what can the Bruins next?

There are many options for how to fill the 2C void, including trading for a veteran to fill this spot, trading for a young, talented center, and doing nothing at all this season and waiting until the off-season to bring in a player via free agency or trade.

Midway through the season, when contenders are separated from pretenders and just plain bad teams, there’s always a good number of players that can be acquired through trades. Some of these players are on expiring contracts, some teams need to re-build and can part with quality NHLers, and some players simply want out of their current situation.

Centers that could fall into these categories includ Tomas Hertl, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Strome, and even Claude Giroux if the Flyers can’t keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Bruins could also think about the future, and try to acquire a young center that will help them this year and beyond. There are certainly not as many options in this category, and the price to pry a good young center from another team could be high.

Or they could stay with their plan of “center by committee” and wait until the off-season to find a second-line center.

The UFA list for 2022 certainly has some interesting names (i.e. Evgeni Malkin, Giroux, Forsberg, Vincent Trochek, etc.) who might be available if the Bruins wanted a more short-term solution.

However, the RFA list is where the Bruins could make their mark.

Given the Bruins’ lack of center prospects in their system and the time required to turn a prospect into an NHL-ready center, this year could be a great time for Boston to ‘offer-sheet’ a young center.

The seldom used (and costly) tactic of giving an offer sheet to an RFA could be the Bruins’ best chance a solidifying their center position for the foreseeable future.

Notable RFAs in 2022 include young prospects like Jack Hughes, Kirby Dach, Josh Norris, and Martin Necas.

Though it’s early in all of their careers, all four look to be on their ways to productive NHL careers.

All four would also be very expensive for the Bruins, but perhaps it’s the price to pay for Boston to continue to be a top 10 team in the NHL for the foreseeable future.