For as long as we can remember the Boston Bruins have always had Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci as a 1-2 punch down the middle. With Krejci recently retiring and moving back to his native Czech Republic, it leaves a huge hole in the Bruins lineup. The solution will most likely have to be an internal one because of how little cap space the Bruins have left. Head coach Bruce Cassidy said earlier this week that he envisions Charlie Coyle starting as the Bruins 2C, with Erik Haula as the 3C, and Tomas Nosek on the fourth line. For the Bruins, their top line and their second line wingers are set in stone, leaving a hole at 2C. The rest of the lineup can shake up throughout the season because they added depth and variety during the off-season. However the question remains, how do you replace David Krejci?
Short answer, you can’t. David Krejci has been an invaluable player for the Bruins organization ever since he debuted in 2007. He amassed 215 goals and 730 points in 962 games. He ranks 7th all time in games played, 7th in assists, 8th in points, 10th in game winning goals, and of course he was a pivotal player during their Stanley Cup run in 2011. His playoff stats are phenomenal as well as he scored 42 goals and 124 points in 156 games. It was no surprise that the Bruins made the playoffs in 12 of his 15 seasons.
Outside of the “perfection line” (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak), the Bruins lacked depth, especially in their top 6. Trading for Taylor Hall at the trade deadline was a stroke of genius for a few reasons. For starters, it was the first team Taylor Hall had any playoff success with. He’s been apart of some rough teams over the years but the Bruins were definitely the perfect organization to get traded to. He fell in love with the city, the team, and organization as a whole and it showed on the ice.
Instantly he was placed on the second line with Krejci and Craig Smith and they provided the Bruins with the secondary scoring they were missing all year long. In Hall’s 16 games he recorded 14 points, Krejci recorded 21 points, and Smith had 10. With the second line clicking, the first line doing their thing, and the bottom 6 having less pressure to score; the Bruins ended the season 12-3-1 and finished 3rd place in the East Division.
It’s no secret that Krejci was the glue to that line and helped both Hall and Smith convert on their chances. It continued in the playoffs as he kept things rolling by recording 9 points in 11 playoff games before bowing out the New York Islanders. With Krejci’s contract coming to an end, it was understood that if he were to return to the NHL, it would only be in the black and gold.
The retirement was definitely sudden and still caught people off guard. The Bruins did the best they could with the limited cap space to plug the rest of their holes in the lineup. Secondary scoring has been an issue for years and even though they have decent depth pieces, they’re not really putting the puck in the back of the net. A lot of them are grit and grind type of players, which is sort of the path they went with this summer.
The Bruins lost Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jaroslav Halak signed with the Vancouver Canucks, they traded Dan Vladar to the Calgary Flames, Sean Kuraly signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Tuukka Rask remains unsigned due to an injury. The Bruins have replaced them with Derek Forbort, Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek, and Linus Ullmark, while also extending Taylor Hall.
For now the Bruins are opting with Charlie Coyle as their second line centre, with Haula and Nosek waiting in the wings. Coyle has struggled a bit since coming over to Boston as he hasn’t really had the impact they expected, especially after signing him to a 6 year 31.5 million dollar deal. He’s only recorded 59 points in 142 games with the Bruins and even in his final years with the Minnesota Wild he scored 65 points in 126 games.
He has the ability to score goals, scoring 20 in a season once and coming very close two more times, but the consistency hasn’t been there. Now that he’ll have the opportunity to play with an elite winger in Hall and a grinder in Smith, he might be able to find his game and give the Bruins a legit top 6 centre.
If Coyle doesn’t pan out, the Bruins could opt to use Erik Haula instead. He’s been moved around quite a bit since 2018-19, playing for the Vegas Golden Knights, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators. He was selected by the Golden Knights at the expansion draft and netted a career high 29 goals and 55 points in 2017-18.
He’s the perfect definition of what a top 9 centre should be. He plays a sound defensive game, wins face-offs, kills penalties, and can add some much needed tertiary scoring with 10+ goals. Before scoring 29 for Vegas, he came off back to back seasons where he scored 15 goals, so he is still very capable.
The important thing to note is that whoever gets the job is going to have the opportunity to play with Hall and Smith. Considering the options on the table, taking over as the second line centre will probably be their best and most important assignment of their careers so far. If all else fails then Tomas Nosek could get a look in the top 6 but that might be more of a last-ditch effort or if injuries ravage the lineup. The Bruins do have a few players who can switch from wing to centre like newly acquired Nick Foligno, Craig Smith, or Chris Wagner.
The remaining centres in the free agent market aren’t so great either. Even if the Bruins found a way to get some additional cap space, the pickings are slim. Some notable names include: Tyler Bozak, Joe Thornton, Casey Cizikas, Travis Zajac, or Eric Staal. Cizikas and Zajac are mysteries because of how quiet the New York Islanders have been this off-season. If available, Cizikas would be a phenomenal add for their bottom 6 but it wouldn’t really address their second line centre vacancy.
Even though Joe Thornton is 41 years old, he did manage to score 5 goals and 20 points in 41 games last year, which is 1 less goal and 4 more points than Charlie Coyle. A homecoming would be a great story but he still remains undecided on his future in the NHL.
Staal and Bozak are intriguing options because they would most likely sign cheaply and on short term deals. They could both supplant Coyle as the second line centre, giving the Bruins a very balanced top 9. However, with only 1.089 million in open cap space, the Bruins would have to move out an additional million or two to get a deal done.
With the Bruins leaving the East division and returning to the Atlantic, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still the team to beat, even after losing several pieces due to cap issues. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers will make things difficult for the Bruins but they’re still a very deep and balanced team that will contend for a top spot in the division.
If they can stay relatively healthy during the season, if the top line performs as they always do, and if Coyle can find some chemistry with Hall and Smith, I don’t foresee many issues coming up. If things do get dicey and depth comes into question, the Bruins will have to act quickly, either before or during the trade deadline to shore up their one weak-link in the lineup.
The Bruins are generally an active team at the trade deadline, so I wouldn’t put it past them to acquire someone of prominence by then. However, as of right now, Charlie Coyle has the backing of head coach Bruce Cassidy as the team’s second line centre. He has the skill and capabilities to take on that role and to succeed but he needs to find his consistency and quick. He’s never really had the opportunity to play with line mates like Taylor Hall before, so maybe this will be his reawakening and the season where he finally lives up to his contract.
If things don’t work out in the early parts of the season, Erik Haula is definitely a good option to have in your back pocket. Trying to replace David Krejci is nearly impossible, especially with their current options, but the Bruins always find a way to grit and grind their way into the playoffs and this year should be no different.