By: Joe Todd | Follow me on Twitter @heyjoetodd
It is not a matter of if, but when Jake DeBrusk is traded. As it stands, the third line is currently situated with DeBrusk on the left, Coyle down the middle, and Steen on the right. This line has been inconsistent at best, with Steen being a healthy scratch on two separate occasions. With Sweeney all but confirming that DeBrusk will be moved, that leaves Coyle as the man stranded alone on that third line island. However, heading into the trade deadline, it is the players in-house that can change that line’s look.
Not quite the Czech center the Bruins needed to sign
Tomas Nosek was acquired with the fourth line center position in mind but with versatility at hand. Signed July 2021 to a two-year, 3.5 million dollar contract, Nosek came off a career-high season in points with Vegas, where he scored eight goals and ten assists for 18 points in 38 games. This season in as many games, he has three goals and seven assists for only ten points.
The dip in production could be a result of the wingers he has spent the most time playing with. According to moneypuck.com, the line of Blidh-Nosek-Lazar has played over 100 minutes together, the most of any line featuring Nosek, and have allowed eight goals against while only scoring three, for an expected goals rate of 27.3%.
The fourth line is currently worst on the team and fourth-worst in the league with over 100 minutes played per moneypuck as of February 11th)
Nosek needs better linemates
It seems to be that the only time Nosek can produce is when he gets a chance to play higher in the lineup. His last four points have been primary assists on goals from Carlo, Marchand, Pastrnak, and Hall, with his last goal assisted by Steen and McAvoy. Cassidy has been quick to fill in Nosek at center whenever Bergeron, Haula, or Coyle have been out, but Cassidy has not spent a lot of time putting Nosek on the wing.
In the small sample size of 80 minutes played on the left wing this year, Nosek and his various linemates have scored two goals and allowed zero against. With the bottom six constantly under scrutiny, perhaps it is time for a shakeup.
Playing Nosek on the left wing gives Coyle a defensively responsible forechecker with excellent playmaking ability. The two could excel with a cycle game in the offensive zone, and Nosek has the skill to find Coyle in the soft spots on the ice. The only thing needed is a right-winger with a shooter’s mentality, and the Bruins do not need to look very hard to find one.
Break up the top line (again)
Currently, Marchand-Bergeron-Smith is the best line in the NHL in terms of expected goals, with a rate of 70% in over 175 minutes played. However, in terms of actual goals, the trio has been on for six goals for and six against, which means they have high-quality chances but are not burying their opportunities as frequently as they should. This could be due to Smith’s shooting percentage of 6.7%, his lowest since 2012-2013. Injuries have certainly derailed Smith’s season, but perhaps playing against lesser competition is the boost he needs to start scoring again. Worst case scenario? Nosek – Coyle – Smith becomes a forechecking nightmare but cannot pot their chances.
Rest of the lineup?
So what happens to the rest of the lineup? The great thing about the duo of Marchand and Bergeron is that just about any right-winger will play well with them. Danton Heinen, Brett Connolly, David Backes, Reilly Smith, and even Lee Stempniak have all had success on that top line. Recognizing this, Cassidy has already started to experiment with Steen on that top line in order to shift Smith down to play with Coyle. Don Sweeney does not have to break the bank to improve at right-wing.
The second line would remain Hall – Haula – Pastrnak, given their improved play. Hall and Pastrnak seem to be the next dynamic duo, and Haula has the speed to keep up while playing defensively responsible. Whether you want to see Sweeney acquire another 2C is a debate for another article, but I am happy with Haula, especially considering the cost to acquire options like Giroux, Hertl, or whatever flavor of the month Bruins fans have.
With Nosek – Coyle – Smith being my proposed third line, that leaves the fourth line in disarray. I have already wrote about the options Bruins have with Trent Frederic, but I believe having him at center (his natural position) is the best option whether you want to keep or trade him. With Nick Foligno signed for two years to bring toughness, grit, and leadership, this move would allow him to play his natural left-wing position, a position he spent most of his time in as captain of the Blue Jackets. Pair them with the right-shot Lazar, and you have a gritty fourth line with toughness and willingness to fight that some Bruins fans believe this team needs.
Marchand – Bergeron – Steen/Trade Acquisition
Hall – Haula – Pastrnak
Nosek – Coyle – Smith
Foligno – Frederic – Lazar
Does moving Nosek to the left, Smith to line three, and Frederic to center make this a cup contending forward group? No. Sweeney will still need to add a right-winger, at least. But, this provides a budget-friendly option that does not give up valuable future pieces for their inevitable rebuild.