Solving the Boston Bruins second line starts with the center spot

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 6: David Backes
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 6: David Backes /

The bombardment of injuries has finally forced the Boston Bruins to make a long overdue shift at center, even if only at practice.

Many Boston Bruins fans were ecstatic with the news that David Backes signed with the team in the summer of 2016. The former captain of the St. Louis Blues plays the exact game that Bs fans want to see from their team. Backes is a hard-charging physical presence that bears down on opposing defenses with a relentless forecheck and pursuit around the net.

Backes also brought ten years of experience playing in the highly competitive Central Division. He captained the Blues for five seasons and they became regular contenders for the Western Conference title under his watch. Perfect for Beantown. Or so we thought.

After potting over 20 goals and 45 points or more in his last five full seasons with the Blues, he saw his production dip to 17 goals and 38 points in 74 games with the Bruins. In his short time in Boston, he has battled injuries and inconsistency. This was widely viewed as a disappointment after he signed a five year $30 million contract.

Bust potential?

A large portion of Bruins nation began to consider the signing a bust.  Instead of filling the vast void left on the second unit after the departure of Milan Lucic, many are questioning if Backes is over the hill at 32 years old.

Fair question. But don’t give up on David Backes yet. He spent the prior ten seasons in the NHL playing for a different team, but more importantly, at a different position. After spending his career at center, the Bruins moved him to wing and expected the same production as his previous seasons.

These expectations are largely unfair to a veteran who is a natural center. The center and wing positions are immensely different, unlike switching from left to right defense. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This is why Bruce Cassidy’s adjustment at practice the last two days is worth more than mentioning.

Backes still has plenty left in the tank and can add a much needed compete level to the second line center spot. Let’s hope he gets the chance to bring the bash between the young wingers in game action.

Krejci’s status

Boston Bruins
BOSTON, MA – OCTOBER 19: David Krejci /

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David Krejci was a last minute scratch on Saturday after being knocked out of last Thursday’s game with an upper body injury. The injury was reported to be back spasms. Krejci was originally listed as day-to-day, which seems to be his status more often than not. Apparently the severity of his injury increased as it looks like he will be out for tomorrow’s game and has been downgraded to week-to-week.

The rotating doors for Krejci’s wingers has been well covered over the past two seasons. Maybe the problem is deeper than the perimeter positions? Krejci had a respectable 54 points last season with 23 goals. Too often, however, the Bruins can’t find scoring support beyond Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak that isn’t there.

When Krejci was deemed out last game, Cassidy tried to insert some grind in the second unit’s game by dropping Tim Schaller as the anchor between Jake Debrusk and David Pastrnak. Schaller is an underrated player and held his own playing top 6 time. However, Cassidy should get serious and utilize Backes as the second center to really add some jam to PD sandwich.

Then what happens to Krejci? Well, Krejci is a fine pivot man who should be able to get a solid return in a trade. Yes, I said it, Krejci could, and maybe should, be traded. Krejci is the biggest cap hit on the Bruins at $7.25 million a season. This is more than Patrice Bergeron at $6.875 and Zdeno Chara at $4 million.

Bruins management was unwilling to pay their forward of the future, David Pastrnak, more than Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron this summer, but they are willing to keep Krejci on the books at a higher cap hit than all of them? That simply makes no sense. There is no comparison between #37 and #46.

Krejci is a talented puck distributor, but he has grown comfortable in the shade of Bergeron’s long shadow. As of late, he seems completely content on the half wall tossing sauce into the center of the ice. Occasionally he’ll pump off a few strides on a rush for good measure.

Though his production is decent, he is frequently on the shelf with unusual injuries and unremarkable without dominating wingers to carry him – see aforementioned rotating door of wingers and reported “back spasms”. This could make trading him, especially with his cap hit, an issue.

The future

The Bruins are trying to embrace the youth movement and incorporate young players in their lineup. The kids have been mostly impressive despite the team’s record of 3-3-1. The future is bright for the Bs, but the kids will eventually need to be paid.

Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo will see their entry level contracts expire after next season, and they will require big paydays at the rate they are progressing, especially McAvoy. Jake Debrusk and Anders Bjork still have a long way to go in their development, but will need contracts following the 2019-20 season, if Boston wants to retain them at that point.

Needless to say, the Bruins will be pressed for cap space in the near future with Krejci locked in until after the 2020-21 season. If the Bruins can find a way to trade Krejci for prospects or picks, they will be in a better position to sign their young talent and solidify a promising future.

Backes may just be another band aid to temporarily cover the wound on the second line, but his contract is set to expire the same time as Krejci’s and is a reduced cap hit of $6 million. His track record proves he can hold down the fort while the Bruins wait on the development of two players.

Ryan Spooner

Ryan Spooner signed a one year contract prior to this season to prove what he is worth after not meeting expectations in his career thus far. Spooner has shown glimpses of being a solid setup man, but has been plagued with inconsistency throughout his young career.

Prior to his injury this season, he seemed to be playing with more purpose and physicality after adding some strength this summer. If Spooner can find consistency when he returns, he may be able to earn an increased role on the team. Perhaps he could also receive a multi-year contract out of it.

Next: The rookie trio in Boston: How are they doing?

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson

Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson has 5 points in 6 games with Providence this season and all the upside in the world. JFK has drawn comparisons to Bergeron, who he models his game after. Bruins fans would love nothing more than to see the second coming of Saint Patrice. These expectations may be a bit unfair for someone with one NHL game under their belt.

Nevertheless, JFK has a high ceiling and he could and should push for a 3rd or 2nd center duty in the very near future. His entry-level contract is set to expire after 2019-20 season (same as McAvoy and Carlo), because he signed and played one game before the end of last season. All the more reason that big moves will need to be made soon to pave the way for the future.