(Photo credit: Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)

By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter! @zcarlone21

The Bruins roster as a whole throughout the majority of the regular season and the playoffs was top-heavy, meaning the top lines and pairs were star-studded and reliable. At the same time, the depth further down in the lineup was in their places with concerns of inconsistency. After a disappointment and under-achieving end to the 2020-21 campaign, general manager Don Sweeney and the rest of the Bruins should be exploring any options to improving this roster for a final run to the Stanley Cup starting next season.

Prior to the NHL Trade Deadline last season, the Bruins got most of their production on the scoreboard from their first line, arguably the best line in the NHL made up of Brad Marchand, captain Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Following a trade for former Buffalo Sabres forward Taylor Hall prior to the deadline, the Bruins second line was a legitimate threat, too, as Hall slotted next to David Krejci and first-year Bruin Craig Smith. The inconsistency in the bottom six didn’t go away, however, and the droughts really showed in the playoffs.

There’s a lot of questions surrounding the futures of some players currently on the Bruins, and most of them remain in the Bruins bottom-six. Of those that are noteworthy include 24-year-old Jake DeBrusk, who is a subject in trade rumors leading up to the NHL Expansion Draft. Nick Ritchie is an RFA this offseason, as is oft-injured Ondrej Kase. Center Sean Kuraly is a UFA heading into the offseason. The only two players who most likely have a lineup spot secured on the Bruins next season in the bottom-six are Charlie Coyle, who is entering the second year of a massive six-year contract, and Trent Frederic, who just signed a two-year extension with the Bruins on June 25th.

Depending on whether or not Sweeney takes a conservative approach to keeping this team similar or deciding to blow up the bottom-six forward group altogether, the Bruins should look no further than free agency to fill those needs. The best options for the Bruins in free agency, if they indeed come back with a different group, are power forwards and two-way forwards who can definitely support the top-six better than the group they have now.

Barclay Goodrow/Blake Coleman

These two’s agents are definitely going to be on speed dial for all 32 teams in the league once free agency opens on July 28th. Goodrow and Coleman were both a part of the 2020 Tampa Bay Lightning squad that won the Stanley Cup in the Edmonton bubble during the pandemic, and now they are on the verge of repeating as Stanley Cup Champions, holding a 3-0 series lead on the Montreal Canadiens in the final. The playoff experience both have gotten from winning back-to-back with the Tampa Bay Lightning should be viewed with the utmost value.

Their playing styles each equivocally match the Bruins needs in the bottom-six, especially if somebody like DeBrusk or Ritchie doesn’t return. Goodrow wrapped up the 2020-21 campaign with six goals and 20 points in the regular season, but the 28-year-old has really come alive during the playoffs. Playing on a line with Coleman and Yanni Gourde, Goodrow has secured five points in 16 games and has elevated the play of his linemates by giving them open space to make high-quality plays.

Coleman is the sexier of the two options and will most likely be a hot commodity come the start of free agency. After potting an impressive 14 goals and 31 points during the 2020-21 regular season, the 29-year-old also has ten points in 21 playoff games this postseason. His versatility from playing center or wing makes him a fit on any team looking for depth, and he’d be a perfect fill-in to replace somebody on the Bruins third line. Due to his great play in the Lightning’s bottom-six over the past season and change, Coleman will most likely be looking for a deal in the $4-6 million AAV range.

Joel Armia

Sticking with players with the luxury of playoff experience, the 6’3″ right-handed forward was a part of the Montreal Canadiens Cinderella-run to the Cup this postseason, and he’s played in a shockingly big role. In 19 postseason games, Armia has posted five goals and eight points after hauling in 14 points during the regular season. The two-way forward can kill penalties and log deep minutes in a bottom-six role on the right-wing for the Bruins, where I think their needs are most-glaring. His next deal should be anywhere in the $1-3 million AAV range.

Nick Foligno

If he does make it to the open free agency window on July 28th, Foligno’s leadership won’t be ignored. The 33-year-old winger was dealt from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. The former Blue Jackets captain finished the 2020-21 season with seven goals and 20 points. However, he is often viewed by teammates as a tremendous leader, and if DeBrusk or Ritchie don’t return, he’d be a great piece to add for the Bruins for a final run to the Stanley Cup next season.

Nick Bonino

If the Bruins decide to let Sean Kuraly walk in free agency or even decide to play Charlie Coyle on the wing, Bonino would be a stable addition. The 33-year-old center completed his first season with the Minnesota Wild, collecting ten goals and 26 points during the regular season. The Connecticut-native would be close to home and would provide the Bruins with another great option on the penalty kill, either their third or fourth line and possibly their second power-play unit.

Jordan Martinook/Brock McGinn

Martinook and McGinn were both a part of the Carolina Hurricanes over the last few years, but with the team having a ton of pending free agents to look at, including former Bruins blue-liner Dougie Hamilton, these two might be on the outs. Martinook finished the 2020-21 season with four goals and 13 points, while McGinn finished with eight goals and 13 points. Whether or not the Bruins shake things up in the bottom-six, these two would be fighting for a roster spot, most likely on the fourth line. Both would help the Bruins penalty-kill and strengthen their depth on the left-wing.

The Bruins bottom-six forward group, as it stands today, isn’t strong enough to defeat any Stanley Cup contender in a seven-game series. If the team decides to take another run at the Stanley Cup next season as they are expected to, acquiring players with experience and consistency playing in a bottom-six role prior should be the biggest factors the Bruins look at as they search for players to fill those roles on their own team. It’s in the hands of Don Sweeney and Cam Neely to determine what steps need to be taken to further strengthen the Bruins core, and the hope is for plenty of action from the Bruins front office in the next several weeks.