The Bruins are 5-1, and it’s early in the season. So complaining may seem unreasonable this early, but seeing the Bruins sit at 21st in the league in goals-per-game is a bit of a concern. With the Bruins’ second line (DeBrusk-Krejci-Kuhlman) amassing a total of 0 goals and 2 assists for only 2 points, it has become apparent they’re spinning their tires in the mud and moving nowhere. Mind you, DeBrusk’s assist came from a powerplay tally and Krejci’s coming from a short shift with the top line wingers. After it’s all said and done, the second line has scored and produced absolutely nothing while on the ice together.
Last season, Jake DeBrusk finished with 27 goals and only 15 assists, while Krejci finished with 20 goals and 53 assists. Bring in a lightning fast, two-way winger like Karson Kuhlman and you’ve got yourself a pretty good line, yeah? Apparently not – at least to start the season. Again, they haven’t generated any points through 6 games together. It seems pretty clear dating back to last season that this trio is mediocre – at least for the time being. So what’s the solution? Well, there are typically four ways to fix a problem like this – or at least try.
1. Give It Time
It’s an easy, and even sometimes effective method to make things work. For starters, the more you play with each other, the more chemistry you develop. Chemistry can be an instant development, but more times than not, it isn’t an overnight process. Additionally, every line, including the top line, goes through their slumps. Six games is not actually a long time, although 0 goals is where the concern comes in play.
It’s possible this method works, but I’d say it’s a long shot, and here’s why; David Krejci is an east-to-west player and Karson Kuhlman is a north-to-south player. Meaning David Krejci likes to slow the play down and dictate the pace at which the play moves by moving from board-to board. At the same time, as we have seen, Karson Kuhlman is insanely fast. He moves up and down the ice very quickly and burns defenders several times most games. So while Krejci is trying to slow the play down, Karson Kuhlman is trying to push the pace. Their contradictory styles are going to be hard to mesh, and I doubt we see that happen.
2. Shuffle The Lines
Before I go any further, I want to shoot down the idea of putting Pastrnak on the second line. The top line is what makes the Bruins dangerous, regardless of secondary scoring. So no, even though I have argued for it before, I do not think it makes sense to split up the top line.
However, Karson Kuhlman could easily slide down to the third line with Heinen and Coyle and make it work. We saw a Heinen-Coyle-Johansson line scorch teams in the playoffs last season, in large part to their transition game and relentless forecheck. Both those boxes get checked off with Kuhlman, as he pushes the pace in the neutral zone and forechecks like a maniac.
That leaves the Bruins with Ritchie, Lindholm, and Backes to fill the second line void. With David Backes showing his abilities in the late rounds of the 2019 Cup run and display his offseason training in the pre season, I think he should at least get a shot on the second-line wing. With his skating improved and new hungry mentality, Backes, a veteran east-west forward, could bounce back this season on Krejci’s right wing. Worst case scenario, the Bruins second line generates the same amount of offense they were before the lines got shuffled. It can only go up from here.
3. Providence Call-Up
If time and line shuffles bring no success, it could be time for the Bruins to look to Providence to possibly fix this second line. Anders Bjork has shown an absurd amount of progress to kick off the AHL season, scoring 3 goals and 2 assists for a total of 5 points in only 4 games. He leads the team in points, and has showcased his puck control and increased hockey awareness in all three zones of the ice. Bjork is a versatile player, as he can push the pace of the play while also remaining patient to slow the game down. He has also quickly become a smart player in all three zones and has started winning the walls while he’s at it.
If Kuhlman slides down to the third line to replace Ritchie, Bjork could finally find his game on Krejci’s right wing this season now that he is healthy. Again, it can only go up from here with the second line, so worst case scenario with trying Bjork is the possibility of their tires still spinning in the mud. Some other possibilities, although not as great an option as Bjork, include Jack Studnicka, Zach Senyshyn, Oscar Steen, or Peter Cehlarik.
4. External Addition
It’s a solution a lot of Bruins fans have begged for, and I honestly can understand why. With a deep pool of prospects, a plethora of NHL capable defenders, and all their draft picks, the Bruins have the assets to go out and acquire a solid 2nd-line winger. Although this option could likely be the most effective, it’s a tough route to go considering the Bruins cap situation. I mean, $0 in cap space is quite literally nothing to work with.
With that kind of cap “space”, the Bruins would either have to figure out a way to dump David Backes’ contract, or move one of Miller/Moore AND get a team to retain a big chunk of the returning player’s salary just to make them fit. Sweeney has vocalized his desire to keep the team in tact and even hold on to the amount of depth at the defensive position, and for good reason. The 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs ended in 6 games for the Bruins because half of their defenders were from the minors due to injury, and their Cup run last season was kept alive due to their depth when Miller and Moore got hurt. I doubt Sweeney wants to move away from that defensive depth, and he has mentioned he doesn’t want to get rid of assets just to move a bad contract – at least not right now.
Ultimately, this approach would likely be a last ditch effort if options 1-3 don’t pan out, but names like Chris Kreider (NYR), Tyler Toffoli (LAK), Jason Zucker (MIN) would probably highlight any list of targets Sweeney could have in mind. However, with $0 left on the salary cap and Sweeney reluctant to move assets or tinker with his defensive depth, it’s doubtful Sweeney tries to solve the 2nd line woes via trade.