The Bruins are in first place in the Atlantic Division with an eight-point lead and they are one of the best teams in the NHL based on their 70-point total through the first 51 games of the season. Still, it's also just as clear after watching them coast for the past six weeks that they are also in need of some improvements.
They have had a season-long need for a top-six winger who can score and it's obvious to anybody watching them that they could also use a bottom-six forward capable of hitting, dropping the gloves and bringing a little of the intimidation game back to the Black and Gold.
Maybe the latter will end up being Trent Frederic down the stretch, but the Bruins definitely need another winger who can put the puck in the net.
So, given all of that and given the total lack of reaction to Tuukka Rask getting trucked in Columbus recently, there is predictably a lot of thoughts from Bruins fans in this week's Hagg Bag mailbag. As always these are real questions from real readers using the #HaggBag hashtag to my Twitter account, real messages and comments on my NBCS Facebook fan page and real emails sent to my @JHaggerty@nbcuni.com email account. Now on to the bag:
How many moves are the bruins away from getting to the finals again?
JH: I put them at two moves. I actually think they have enough on defense if Charlie McAvoy simply plays up to his potential and pulls his game together in the second half. Any move on defense would be for depth or perhaps more if they also decided to move a John Moore at the deadline to get out from under his long-term contract.
I believe they need a top-six winger capable of scoring goals and making the David Krejci line a real threat again. In some ways, Jake DeBrusk seems to have regressed since last spring's run to the Stanley Cup Final and doesn't play with many dimensions beyond trying to score goals with little physicality or attention to his game away from the puck. So, an impact player is needed on that line that can finish off plays, bring more of a rounded professional game to the table and make opponents pay if they shower too much attention on the Perfection Line.
As for the other item the Bruins need at the trade deadline, it's a fourth-line winger willing to bang bodies, stand up for his teammates and bring a little fear factor back to the roster. If Ryan Reaves were available I would say him, but instead, perhaps Kyle Clifford would do the job as well. It's painfully obvious to most people that the Bruins get pushed around by the big, strong teams. Those are the teams actually still winning Cups these days, i.e. the Blues and the Capitals. If the Bruins don't get those two things, then they won't beat Tampa Bay or Washington should they face them in the playoffs.
That's the other issue with the Stanley Cup Final. The biggest impediment to Boston returning is that the Capitals and Lightning aren't likely to be first-round casualties again this season, and that's going to make it a much tougher road unless a lot changes.
The truth hurts. You're spot on. And I'm starting to wonder about Butch. A bit too unemotional, I'm starting to think?
I'm disgusted. Getting a tough guy is more important than that winger for David Krejci.
The loss of Kevan Miller is looming like a ghost (Hamlet) over these Bruins. I said last spring to anyone that would listen to me that his absence would have lasting consequences. In the Final, I said it will make the difference between winning and losing.
What a nightmare.
JH: Yeah. The absence of Miller's presence in the lineup is a big one now and it was a massive one in the Cup Final against St. Louis. At this point, they really need to assume they can't depend on him coming back and need to go out and acquire some toughness, some snarl and a good, old-fashion butt-kicker.
I have heard people (fans, not actual hockey sources around the league) say that Cassidy is part of their problem and has been preventing the tougher players on his roster from actually playing big, strong and tough as Bruins fans have come to expect. I haven't seen or heard this is the case and I see it as more a function of their roster and the kind of players they are acquiring.
Still, if Cassidy was telling Brett Ritchie not to defend his teammates, not to drop the gloves when liberties were being taken and not to actually play to some of his strengths, then I don't think he's the right guy to be coaching the Bruins. As I said, I don't think that is the case. But time will tell when the Bruins start getting pushed around as they inevitably will as the games get more important over the second half of the season.
Love your stance on toughness and traditional Bruins Hockey. My question to you is this, Chara, McQuaid, Miller, Thornton, Lucic, what fun it was to watch that team win or lose... is it time to bring #17 back to Boston?
thanks for taking a stand on toughness Joe,
JH: Is it time to bring Milan Lucic back to Boston? Not unless the Flames were willing to trade him straight up for David Backes. Even then, I'm not so sure the Bruins would be willing to do it and take on the extra year that Lucic is signed for beyond next season. I wouldn't hate it because of what Lucic represented as a Bruins player and the willingness he would have to stand up for his teammates while emboldening them to play tougher and stronger.
He's no longer a guy who's going to score 30 goals or flirt with being an All-Star as he was in his best seasons in Boston. But he could be a menace as a third- or fourth-liner brought on board to hit, to protect his teammates and occasionally pump a goal into the net at a higher rate than say, Joakim Nordstrom or Chris Wagner.
If I were Bruins GM, I would want to bring an element that Lucic provides back to Boston notwithstanding the salary cap implications. Maybe if the Flames were willing to eat some of the money in that last year of his contract as well?
I can tell you one thing. The Bruins fans would love it and B's management should be considering it for that reason if no other ones.
what should the Bruins do and what will they do?
--David M (@dmen1230)
JH: They should trade for a top-six winger who can score and they should bring a tough fourth-line type in as well.
Maybe that's somebody from the outside, Kyle Clifford? Or maybe it's their own player in Trent Frederic who's been hitting, fighting and playing a solid center for the Providence Bruins this season.
What will they do? I expect they will end up going the bargain route with the top-six winger and get Tyler Toffoli or Jason Zucker and they won't do anything to upgrade their fourth line because they don't seem to value toughness and physicality in today's NHL.
I think that has been a fatal flaw of this management group from the beginning and it continues to be an issue that's going to plague them in a playoff format where it's more of an old-school game. If they didn't see that in last June's Cup Final, then I'm not sure they were watching the same playoff series that I was.
I don't think [Chris Kreider] is a good target, not that he wouldn't add value in this year's playoffs. He's looking like a pure rental for the Bruins with their cap situation and his next contract is going to look like Milan Lucic's or David Bakes' in a few years' time
--Mitchell Joseph Matthews (via NBCS Facebook fan page)
JH: Kreider is a speedy skater and a big body. He's a scorer that mixes it up a little bit physically, but he's an entirely different type of player than Lucic or Backes. His skating was part of the reason he was a first-round pick and both Lucic and Backes were not. I don't think his game will fade in the way that those bigger-bodied players have in their late 20's and early 30's.
I also don't think the Bruins couldn't necessarily afford to sign him either. They'll be in the final year of Backes next season and could buy him out of his contract to create some space. They may be vacating Torey Krug's money if they don't re-sign him as well.
I wouldn't even rule out them trading DeBrusk if he doesn't continue to add dimension and grit to his goal-scoring. He's in line for a big raise this summer as a restricted free agent and the Bruins need to make the calculation that he's going to be worth that kind of money once he gets it headed into next season.
The bottom line with all this: I think Kreider is a great fit for the Bruins now, and I think he could be a potential long term fit for them as well beyond being just a strict rental player.
Here's my brief comment on what the B's needs are after ASG break. A tough stay-at-home defensive defenseman! Candidate A: Josh Manson from Anaheim. Young, tough and still has term. Bruins have guys that can put puck in the net. They need a bigger, tougher guy to keep puck out of their net and that can rattle opponents! Enough of small, mobile defense...B's have enough in [Torey] Krug, [Matt] Grzelcyk, & [Connor] Clifton!
And while they are at it, keep Lauzon up with big club!
JH: I usually like your analysis, Ron, but I just don't see that as a vital need. It might be nice to have another one to replace a player in Miller, who seemingly isn't going to be able to get on the ice anymore, but they have Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo as big, tough stay-at-home guys and they have another one in training in Jeremy Lauzon.
In my opinion, those are the kinds of D-men that you develop on your own rather than spend vital assets to bring in from the outside. There are no shortage of physical stay-at-home defenseman available, so there's not really a need to go out shopping for one.
I also don't think that's really one of the vital needs on this team given that Chara and Carlo still play 20-plus minutes a game, so you're not really going to need a third-pair defenseman who's going to play more than 12-15 minutes a night. Why bother dealing for a D-men that you're not even really going to use all that much?
It's amazing how time flies. It wasn't too long ago that the Bruins seemingly had too many of these types with Adam McQuaid and Miller on the Bruins roster.
I like Charlie Coyle, he's a good player and I'm glad he's going to be a Bruins moving forward. However, can the Coyle right-wing experiment please end? If you're going to be a top-6 winger you have to be able to score goals and he does not score well enough to be a winger. His game is a better fit at center, so they need to keep him there and find that top-six winger outside the organization.
JH: I agree. Coyle is better off being a third-line center and as a possible, eventual second-line center replacement for Krejci once his contract is up.
Even then that might be a stretch given his offensive limitations, and the organizational hope is that Jack Studnicka can develop into a top-six center in the next couple of seasons. Still, this season it could be that trading for a third-line center such as Jean-Gabriel Pageau is the best option and that might force the Bruins to use Coyle as a top-six right wing for the rest of this season out of necessity.
If that does happen, I'd look very closely at putting Coyle with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand where his goal-scoring might be missed as much. In that scenario, slotting David Pastrnak with David Krejci could really balance out the scoring and make the Bruins much more difficult to stop when it comes to the bigger, stronger and deeper defenses they'll meet in the playoffs.
But long-term I think it's pretty obvious Coyle will never be a 25-30 goal scorer in the regular season regardless of his role, but his big, fast style of play is much more effective in the postseason than the regular season. So that's something to take into account as well after watching him perform at an elevated level last spring.
Who do you think from the original trilogy is likely to make an appearance in Mando season 2? #Haggsbag
JH: My best guesses: Boba Fett comes back from the dead after bumped burped up by the Sarlacc Pit. Or maybe Lando Calrissian somehow shows up? My most interesting conspiracy theory for the next season of The Mandalorian? That the shards of the Empire are searching for Baby Yoda in order to revive the Emperor through some kind of dark Force magic, and they need a Force-strong being in order to make it happen. That's why they are so desperate for Baby Yoda and in that way it would play into the Rise of Skywalker and the greater Star Wars galaxy. That would be a dark way to end it, though, if Mando ends up losing Baby Yoda and he becomes some kind of sacrificial lamb to the Dark Side. Talk about a bummer of an ending. Either way, Baby Yoda has captured my heart.
Love your Bruins coverage. A few thoughts/observations:
1. Top 6. It looks like Bjork is the best internal option right now- he has proved he belongs on the team. Coyle is perfect in the 3rd line center role. I agree with you on your assessment of DeBrusk being a 3rd line talent- at least at this point in his career. If the B's could get at least one more top-6 player, (2 would be better, but have to be realistic) how nice would a DeBrusk/Coyle/Bjork 3rd line look?
2. How to get that top 6 forward(s)? I thought trading Krug could get it done, but with McAvoy's offensive game not developing, Krug seems pretty vital in keeping. Every contender needs a defenseman who can put up at least 40-60 points and nobody is ready to do that yet in his absence.
3. Krejci. I was thinking about 2-3 years ago perhaps he may not be a #2 center anymore as he is getting older, but changed that view altogether after he was on fire playing on the 1st line when Bergeron was hurt last year. He looked like the old Krejci and proved what he can still do with a consistent set of top-6 wingers to work with. Plus, he gets very little pp time- if the 1st pp unit is going to play 1:30/45 of the pp, then find a way to get Krejci on that 1st unit. He is too talented an offensive player to get only 15 seconds on the pp. Bergeron deserves every accolade he receives and more, but I often think Krejci gets overlooked for how good of a two-way player he is.
The cup final proved one scoring line and a great power play won't get it done. I know you have touched on this in the past- would love to hear your current thoughts on these topics.
JH: I agree with you on all of this, Jim. Anders Bjork has proven that he belongs in the NHL and I think his offensive upside will only go up as long as he consistently plays hard on the puck. The worry is that he follows the same path of DeBrusk and Danton Heinen and develops a casual philosophy toward battling for the puck and playing with hard-nosed tenacity.
But right now I think a third line of DeBrusk-Coyle-Bjork would be a great way to go with the big-bodied Coyle surrounded by a couple of speedy wingers capable of finishing off plays. I think there is still more to Bjork's offensive game than what we've seen.
I also agree that they need to keep Torey Krug. The Bruins needed to see McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk or Urho Vaakanainen really step up this season if they were going to be able to survive life without Krug going forward, and they have seen none of that. They have no viable offensive replacement for Krug and McAvoy even seems to have regressed offensively and that should be a real concern.
As far as Krejci goes, one of the biggest pet peeves I have with this Bruins team is that the top power-play unit stays out on the ice way, way too long. They soak up 90 plus seconds before getting off the ice and leave virtually no time for the second unit to set things up in the offensive zone, never mind actually get a scoring chance.
If I were the Bruins coaching staff, I would start telling their star players to get off the ice after a minute if they haven't scored.
When that doesn't happen the second PP gets zero reps on the ice and the fatiguing first unit leaves themselves wide open for shorthanded goals allowed to their opponent. It's an issue and that doesn't even count not getting Krejci's playmaking instincts out on the ice for some PP time.
We need scoring and toughness and not the same player. We should make more than one deal... IF they're serious and would pursue Kreider after the season, I'd jump on that trade. Give ‘em Heinen with any deal we make. I want to like him but he's turning into another Jimmy Marshmallow Hayes. Is he even playing?? Haggs??
--Jeff Andrea Hellner (via NBCS Facebook fan page)
JH: I don't think teams want Danton Heinen, and they certainly don't want him in rental trades for guys like Chris Kreider. I don't see the similarity to Jimmy Hayes. Very different players. Heinen is on pace for 11 goals and 34 points this season, though, and those numbers just aren't impressive at all given that he doesn't bring a ton to the table otherwise. But I agree the Bruins need scoring and toughness. In a perfect world, they could get both and deal for Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Clifford in a big deal with the LA Kings, but that feels like a bigger deal than Don Sweeney wants to pull off over the next month.
I'm sorry but Brad Marchand is 6th in points in the @NHL and isnt an All Star?!?!??!!? Someone help me understand this...
JH: Brad Marchand didn't want to be an All-Star, so he isn't an All-Star. It's really that simple. He said he had bumps and bruises he needed to heal up over the 10-day break and he didn't want to go to St. Louis. Patrice Bergeron didn't want to be voted in either. Bruins fans should view that as a good thing because it allows their stars to get some much-needed rest ahead of the 31-game sprint to the playoffs. It's that simple.