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What do the Bruins do now?

July 27, 2023, 11:01 AM ET [168 Comments]
John Gove
Boston Bruins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Let's begin today's blog by congratulating Patrice Bergeron on his retirement and iconic career with the Boston Bruins. Not only is he a top-five all-time Bruin and likely first-ballot Hall of Famer, but a case could be made to change the Frank J. Selke Trophy to the Patrice Bergeron Trophy.

I want to avoid discussing whether or not Bergeron made the correct decision or why he could not have decided to retire earlier in the offseason. Did I think that he was going to return for one more year? Yes, I did. Do I think he still had more in the tank to produce at a first-line center level? Yes, I do. Do I still respect his decision and wish him all the best? I absolutely do, and I will leave it at that.

Although we could spend weeks honoring Bergeron and his contributions to the Bruins, one cannot ignore the on-ice consequences his retirement created. For the first time in a long while, Boston lacks a top-line center, leaving a glaring hole in its forward depth chart.

With Bergeron's departure, Boston's top two lines are projected to be centered by Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle. All due respect to Zacha and Coyle, but neither player is a true top-line center, forcing them to play beyond their capabilities this season. Considering his age, Zacha could potentially transform into a first-line center, but it is more likely he remains a quality second-line player. Coyle, on the other hand, tops out as a second-line center, and that is even a stretch. Could he play the role if needed? Yes; however, he is best slotted on the third line.

Understanding that Zacha and Coyle are not long-term options to be Boston's one-two punch down the middle, the most significant question surrounding the Bruins for the rest of this offseason is what they will do to address 1C. Of course, two valid options exist, trade for a top-line center or wait to address the problem during the 2024 offseason when Boston has more cap space.

Let's tackle both options...

If the Bruins are to explore the trade route, they will have options. At the top of the list sits Flames center Elias Lindholm. Likely on his way out of Calgary when his contract expires, Lindholm would slot in perfectly on Boston's first line, serving as a respectable replacement for Bergeron. His $4.85 million cap hit this season would require Boston to move some money out, but that amount is certainly doable for a player of Lindholm's caliber. Still, an agreed-upon contract extension would have to be a part of the deal before Boston swung a trade. After Lindholm, Mark Scheifele looks like the next best option available. At 30, the Bruins may hesitate to commit to a longer-term deal like they would Lindholm, but it is hard to argue against the 42 goals he scored last season. After Lindholm and Scheifele, players such as Logan Couture, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Christian Dvorak exist as options. However, I'd argue that neither of them is an ideal fit.

The issue with Boston looking to trade for a top-line center is they lack the assets to do so. Although the Bruins would need to send roster players in any trade, teams are likely also searching for future pieces in the form of prospects and draft capital. Unfortunately, Boston's prospect pool is bleak, and the draft pick bank is pretty empty. I'm sure Boston could assemble a package to bring in Lindholm, Scheifele, or another center, but at what cost? Can the Bruins afford to part with more prospects or draft capital? One would argue they must be stocking that cupboard, not depleting it more.

That leads us to option two, standing pat with Zacha and Coyle down the middle for now. Let's begin by saying this is not ideal for a team looking to contend for a cup this season. However, can anyone confidently claim the Bruins are a contender this upcoming season? As stated countless times, Boston is likely considering this season a brief transition period. With a lot more money to play with next summer, the Bruins can re-up the roster and look to open another contention window in 2024-24. Considering this, it may be in the Bruins' best interest to see if Zacha can hold his own as a 1C this season and then look to address the issue long-term next summer. This way, Boston does not need to part ways with more future assets, potentially placing them in a scenario to acquire more at the trade deadline.

Boston's need to replace Bergeron at the top of the center depth chart will likely remain a topic of conversation for a while. Although we always prefer an immediate solution, it may be in the franchise's best interest to wait this one out a bit and make sure the best long-term decision is made.
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