What’s subsequent for Bruins at middle following Patrice Bergeron’s retirement?


“We all know that that is a place, organizationally, that we have to enhance upon.”

Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) celebrates his hat trick goal in the 3rd period with Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73), his 400th career goal.
Patrice Bergeron’s retirement creates a significant void up entrance for the 2023-24 Bruins. John Tlumacki/Globe Employees

The duty of changing Patrice Bergeron is simpler mentioned than performed.

Strike that. It’s a near-impossible endeavor for a Bruins roster that has relied so closely on him each on and off ice.

An architect of a Bruins tradition that attracted quite a few free brokers to TD Backyard over time, Bergeron’s phrases held weight throughout the dressing room. Boston can’t replicate his affect with out a collective effort from the following wave of expertise.

However even at 37 years previous, Bergeron nonetheless held court docket as Boston’s top-line middle and the most effective defensive ahead within the league.

Not solely will Boston miss his two-way prowess in crucial phases of video games, his spot on the highest line created a optimistic domino impact the place gamers like Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha may slot additional down the lineup.

Such a luxurious isn’t afforded to the Bruins now that Bergeron has determined to hold up his skates.

However with the Bruins seeking to stay aggressive in 2023-24 earlier than a possible spending spree subsequent summer time, what’s subsequent for Boston this upcoming season?

Listed here are a number of ideas on the post-Bergeron period, particularly in relation to the middle place:

Wanting internally 

The 2023-24 Bruins roster nonetheless has loads of strengths to fall again on.

Boston returns a stout protection anchored by Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm, with veteran Kevin Shattenkirk serving as a price add instead of Connor Clifton. The tandem of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman ought to as soon as once more be the most effective goaltending duo within the league.

The B’s nonetheless have high-end expertise on the wing in David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Jake DeBrusk and others.

However even when it was anticipated for Boston’s scoring output to take a success this season, Boston’s uncertainty on the middle place does increase questions over simply how aggressive this roster could be in 2023-24.

With Boston going through a cap crunch this offseason following its “all-in” strikes in 2022-23, Don Sweeney and the Bruins had been unable to considerably bolster their grouping down the center this summer time past worth provides like Morgan Geekie and Jesper Boqvist.

“We had some handcuffs on us, so we did what we may do,” Cam Neely mentioned on Wednesday. “We all know that that’s a place, organizationally, that we have to enhance upon.”

As of proper now, it looks like the Bruins should account for the lack of Bergeron by wanting inward at what they have already got on the roster.

The return of David Krejci would alleviate a few of Boston’s woes, giving them not less than one confirmed top-six pivot in 2023-24. However given Krejci’s feedback throughout break-up day in Might, his return appears unlikely following a final hurrah in 2022-23.

If each Bergeron and Krejci aren’t a part of the equation, Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle are due for promotions as Boston’s top-six facilities.

Zacha, 26, appeared destined for a higher function subsequent season whatever the roster reshuffle up entrance. The 6-foot-4 ahead had a breakout yr in his first season with Boston, posting 57 factors (21 targets, 36 assists) in 82 video games whereas frequently slotting in for Krejci because the Bruins’ 2C.

Slotting behind both Bergeron or Krejci would have made for a neater avenue for Zacha to imagine a top-six function. However Zacha’s gentle contact, underrated shot, and chemistry along with his fellow countryman Pastrnak provide hope that he might help drive an offensive-focused line in 2023-24.

Coyle presents a number of extra query marks by way of his viability as an on a regular basis top-six ahead. The 31-year-old ahead is greatest suited as a third-line anchor, however held his personal in opposition to the Panthers when changing Bergeron within the early phases of that first-round collection.

When Coyle is on his sport, he’s a puck-possession menace who could make area down low and decelerate opposing gamers in Boston’s personal zone. He served as Boston’s shutdown middle final season, permitting Bergeron and Krejci to earn extra O-zone reps. 

“He simply appeared like he was a monster,” Jim Montgomery mentioned of Coyle following Boston’s 4-2 victory in opposition to Florida in Recreation 3. “He was a person possessed on the market with the way in which he simply took pucks to the online.”

Nonetheless, whereas Coyle has the skillset to be a gradual, two-way pivot additional up within the lineup, he has but to show it over an prolonged stretch of video games.

Throughout the common season, a Marchand-Coyle-DeBrusk line logged 42:16 of 5v5 ice time collectively, with Boston holding the sting in shot makes an attempt (49-34), photographs on purpose (22-17) and targets scored (2-1).

Boston’s prime brass preferred what it noticed from a Coyle-Zacha 1-2 punch in the course of the playoffs, however it’s a unique ask totally to duplicate that over the course of 82 video games.

If Coyle and Zacha transfer up, there are further query marks additional down the center. Geekie and Trent Frederic may slot in at 3C, with Geekie specifically providing loads of intrigue given his manufacturing below restricted minutes with the Kraken final season.

Veteran Patrick Brown may slot in at 4C if kids like Johnny Beecher can seize a spot out of coaching camp.

Boston does have some expertise additional down within the farm system with gamers like Georgii Merkulov, Brett Harrison, and Matthew Poitras, however it’s asking an terrible lot of those gamers to earn top-six minutes out of the gate in 2023-24.

Poitras may need the very best ceiling as a top-six pivot, however he’s additionally simply 19 years previous and will stand to make use of one other season within the OHL earlier than being thought of a viable possibility for NHL reps.

As of now, it looks like Coyle and Zacha are the most effective choices that the Bruins have down the center in 2023-24.

Wanting outdoors of the group? 

After all, the Bruins nonetheless have greater than six weeks left within the offseason so as to add to their roster earlier than coaching camp begins.

May Boston nonetheless look so as to add a middle by means of a commerce?

“We’ll do no matter we will to bolster that place,” Neely mentioned when requested the same question.

There are a selection of potential pivots who may nonetheless be on the transfer this summer time, headlined by Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele and Calgary’s Elias Lindholm. Each are within the remaining years of their respective contracts.

Schiefele is coming off of a 42-goal season, and has six seasons of 25+ targets on his resume. The 30-year-old ahead is a top-six common, though his defensive sport and questions concerning the make-up of a frequently underachieving Jets dressing room do increase some questions.

Lindholm checks off loads of bins if Boston is in search of a Bergeron substitute to assist this subsequent technology of expertise. The 28-year-old Flames middle is considered one of many higher top-six forwards within the league and has surpassed the 60-point threshold in three of the final 5 seasons.

After all, there are quite a few hurdles standing in the way in which of potential trades over the following month.

Boston already solely has $5.4 million in cap area left this summer time, a lot (if not all) might be allotted to no matter contracts each Swayman and Frederic ultimately signal.

Even with only one yr left on their offers, Lindholm and Scheifele gained’t be low-cost. Boston may need to subtract key items from their roster with a purpose to facilitate a deal.

After all, Boston may attempt to open up its checkbook subsequent summer time when gamers like Lindholm, Scheifele, and others hit free company. However as is normally the case, top-six facilities are coveted belongings, and most groups do every thing they’ll to lock them up earlier than hitting the open market.

However extra fiscal flexibility within the years forward does give Boston leverage, particularly if rebuilding groups decide to maneuver contracts like Tomas Hertl’s or Clayton Keller’s in 2024 and past.

The 2023-24 Bruins can nonetheless hover within the playoff image as a wild-card membership due to their stingy protection and goaltending. Hope sits on the horizon in kids like Poitras and the potential of a significant pick-up like Lindholm in free company or by way of commerce.

However till they discover some readability down the center, the Bruins are going to face an uphill climb in relation to regaining their standing as a prime contender within the NHL.