By: Kevin O’Keefe | Follow Me On Twitter @Kevin_OKeefe89
When it comes to the Bruins top-six, for years, Boston fans have been privileged in witnessing one of the best top-lines in all of hockey. Some would argue the best. One question that’s been floated around consistently throughout those years is should the Bruins break up this line and “spread the wealth”?
We have seen this song and dance before; Cassidy drops Pastrnak to the Krejci line; Pastrnak’s production suffers; Then, he ultimately ends up back on the first line. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve seen enough of this experiment to understand it wasn’t very fruitful.
A Failed Experiment, And A Glimmer Of Hope
This year, amid a Slump for David Pastrnak, head coach Bruce Cassidy decided to try and break them up once again. The results were the best they have been to date. In this stretch, Pastrnak posted 5 points in 6 games played while lining up next to center David Krejci and winger Nick Ritchie. The game that stood out the most during this sample size was on April 3rd against the Pittsburg Penguins.
Pastrnak had a 2-goal game while also adding an assist. This was the first time we were able to see Pastrnak post a multi- goal-game since the outdoor contest against the Philadelphia Flyers, where he posted a hat trick in the beautiful scene of Lake Tahoe. This gave many Bruins fans hope that Pastrnak and Krejci may have finally found their groove together.
On the other side of the coin. You have Craig Smith. Smith was bumped up to the top line to play alongside dynamic-duo Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. This move had Smith on the best run of production during the season. Posting 8 points in 6 games played, the Bruins winger gelled perfectly with the defensive-minded duo; that has been one of the toughest pairs to play against in the NHL for many years.
This wasn’t very shocking to those who have watched Smith play before his time with the Bruins. Smith was a consistent 20-goal scorer for the Nashville Predators while mostly playing on the team’s 3rd line. Giving him an elite center and arguably the best left winger in the league…. that is the type of situation that can elevate a player of Smiths’ skill set to new levels.
While Smith flourished in his new role, Pastrnak would fail to match the magic of that April 3rd game. He only added 2 more assists in 5 games alongside his fellow Czech native, David Krejci. It’s hard to analyze if it was a chemistry issue or if it was a product of Pastrnaks up and down season when it came to the stat sheet. Regardless of the reason, Bruce Cassidy needed to get the best out of Pastrnak If they planned on having a deep playoff run.
Those results had the best chance of success where he was most familiar, on the “perfection line.” What if there was a way to get the best out of Pastrnak without him being on that line? Allowing Cassidy to have the depth scoring he’s been yearning for during his tenure with the Bruins. That answer presented itself at the 2021 trade deadline.
An Infusion Of New Blood
Following the Bruins worst loss of the season to the Washington Capitals, Boston’s general manager Don Sweeney made a flurry of moves to change the dynamic of this team moving forward. Most notably, that came in the form of addressing the Bruins top-six woes. Taylor Hall was now a Bruin. A move many didn’t see Sweeney making but would end up being his best deadline pick up to date. While Hall flourished with new line-mates, David Krejci and Craig Smith, they would ultimately fail to produce when it mattered most in the second round of the playoffs, against the New York Islanders.
You could argue this isn’t a cause for concern, as many players were shut down for the most part by this well-coached team. Between injuries and bad matchups, most of the line-up didn’t have an answer for the hard-hitting Islanders. There aren’t many who would argue with Cassidy if he decided to run back the same top-six next season. The newly formed Krejci line had plenty of success in the small sample size following the trade deadline.
The top-line also has the chemistry, and results are hard to match throughout the league. The idea of messing with that would seem ludicrous to most Bruins fans, but that still leaves some wondering if there may be an alternative to this top-six unit? One that could possibly give you two lines even harder for opposing coaches to match up against.
The Dismantling Of The “Perfection Line”
In what could be a very bold move, one that would be met with a tremendous amount of skepticism but could also be extremely rewarding….is finally dismantling the “perfection line.” When saying “dismantle,” in no way does this mean trade away pieces of that line? Instead, go back to how it was before the trade deadline. The success of the trio involving Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Craig Smith is hard to overlook.
This would give the team a line that could not only score but also wear teams opposing top-lines down with a hard-nosed two-way game. At this point in both Bergeron and Marchand’s careers, they have built so much chemistry together that they alone could carry the offense if needed.
Smith would benefit from this in many ways. Brad Marchand is not only a gifted goal scorer, but he’s also a very dynamic playmaker and a shoot-first winger who can get to the front of the net like Craig Smith, is exactly the type of player you need to finish off those plays. Patrice Bergeron is one of the most complete players in the entire league, also has many tools to help provide opportunities for Smith to capitalize on. Being a consistent 20-goal scorer for most of his career, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to see Smith reach a career-high 30-goal season.
What about Pastrnak? This means putting him back with Krejci, where there hasn’t been enough success to warrant such a move. While that may be true, you’re now adding him to a line with a lot more firepower. Instead of Nick Ritchie or Jake Debrusk, Taylor Hall is now the other winger flanked on Krejci’s left. Taylor Hall, David Krejci, and David Pastrnak could easily be a first-line on a lot of teams. If this is your “second line,” that could put the fear into a lot of coaches across the league.
Taylor hall excels with his speed, breaking through the neutral zone for clean offensive zone entries to create chances off the rush. David Pastrnak is a winger who flourishes in situations with players who have this ability and would benefit greatly from it. We have seen Pastrnak finish off many of Marchand’s plays off the rush; it would be no different with the speedy Hall. Pastrnak also has playmaking abilities he has showcased on the top line. The idea of Pastrnak and Hall setting each other up every night is one to be excited about.
David Krejci already has plenty of chemistry built with Hall; it’s quite possible that Hall may be the missing link to help build that chemistry between his two line-mates. The way Krejci can slow down the game and draw players out of position could open plenty of opportunities for the two-star wingers to capitalize on. Also, if Krejci is on the fence about re-signing with Boston this off-season, selling him on the idea of having two elite wingers could push him to sign for at least one more year.
There is still a chance that Krejci may not re-sign for personal reasons. If that does indeed turn out to be the case, you could possibly be looking at Charlie Coyle as the new second-line center. Many say that Hall and Krejci are a package deal. What if you could sell Hall on playing with Pastrnak? This could entice Hall to stay with the team and could also give Coyle the tools to live up to his 5-million-dollar contract and become an impactful second-line center.
If the newly formed top-six doesn’t pan out, you could always go back to the original format, which includes the perfection line. Cassidy needs other options. Going back to half of the offense being produced by a single line is no longer an option. The Success of the new second line has added more scoring depth, which can’t be denied, but the Islanders series felt more like the Bruins of old, which lead to their untimely exit.
They have tried to win a cup with this “perfection line” for years. This top-six could indeed give the Bruins and their fans the balanced scoring in their top units on a consistent basis, night in and night out. In all likelihood, the top-line will start next season intact. Unless the scoring depth proves to be an issue, this new-look top-six will most likely be nothing more than an option.