By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
For the second year in a row, the Bruins have been racked by injuries to key players across their lineup. And, once again, it seems as if they have been able to dodge several bullets – although it would be difficult to match the unexpected growth spurt they saw from unproven players like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, and Matt Grzelcyk from a season ago – as they have managed to stay in the playoff hunt after missing both Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron for the better part of the last month or so.
While highly touted youngsters like Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson have yet to prove that they have found their sea legs at the NHL level – as the Bruins brass had clearly hoped they would when attempts to add secondary scoring this summer never materialized – it has given a depth guy like Colby Cave a chance to get a look with the big club.
Cave – who only family and friends believed he would make an impact in Boston, rather than Providence, sometime this season when camp opened in September – potted his first NHL goal in a 4-0 win over the Canadiens in Montreal on Monday night.
However, as much as the 23-year-old has helped to staunch the bleeding for the beat up Black and Gold during this stretch – B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy had him on the ice during the 4 on 4 in the final minute to seal the shutout against the Habs on their home ice – the revival of David Krejci has meant even more as Cassidy tries to guide his kids through the rough patch they have faced without the team’s top two players.
Sliding into the Bruins top line between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak has brought the 32-year-old pivots point production up considerably – his third-period goal extended his scoring streak to seven games (four goals and six assists) – which is as expected for the former first line center.
With Bergeron’s return just seemingly days away, it is likely that Krejci will continue to have Pastrnak playing by his side, in an attempt to give the B’s the scoring depth they have lacked going back to last spring’s second-round playoff loss to the Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
Should this be effective – Cassidy has tried this before over his nearly two-year stint as Boston’s bench boss, yet has always eventually reunited Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak – it could be something that could help general manager Don Sweeney in a couple of ways.
First, it would give Cassidy two legitimate scoring lines – something he has seldom had since taking over for Claude Julien in February of 2017 – heading towards the trade deadline, and it might also renew the offseason market for the soon to be 33-year-old Krejci next summer.
Barring a massive implosion – or a blockbuster deal that is simply too good to refuse – it would make no sense for Sweeney to consider dealing Krejci this season. However, if the B’s big boss sees some of his kids experience a growth spurt at center this season, it could be a coup for him to move on from the two years and $15 million salary cap hit remaining on the overpriced deal he inherited from his predecessor Peter “Payday” Chiarelli nearly four years ago next summer.
Of course, there would be many things that would have to take place between now and then, the biggest of which is Krejci’s level of play, that has been anything but reliable in recent years. That being said, if Sweeney was able to rid himself of 80% of the declining center’s cap hit going forward, it would make the impending contract extension that Charlie McAvoy – which some have speculated could be as much as $7.5 million annually for as many as eight years – much easier to manage going forward.
Granted, there is a long way to go until Sweeney will have to make the decision on either player come July 1st, but the more options he has at that time can only help him resurrect the Bruins into Stanley Cup contenders.