Why Can’t Boston Bruins Forward Erik Haula Get Any Respect?

( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

By: Van Alan | Follow me on Twitter @VanAlanClark

The Boston Bruins’ second line is good. Why do Bruins fans think it’s terrible?

David Pastrnak has the most goals in the NHL since January 1st, 2022. Taylor Hall is among the league leaders in 5-on-5 points during that span. Erik Haula has 20 points in his last 29 games and has scored at a 60 point pace since Bruce Cassidy put the Bruins new second line together. Overall the second line has been an undeniable strength of the team and helped fuel the Bruins to the best record in the Eastern Conference since January. 

Despite all this, a significant and vocal cohort of Bruins fans continues to point to the “second-line” spot as a potential weakness and keep clamoring for GM Don Sweeney to go get another player up the middle. It doesn’t seem to matter how well Haula plays or how well he fits in with that line. The calls for a centerman won’t stop.

Why All The Buzz?

Bruins fans got used to having one of the very best second-line centers in the NHL, even if many of them only learned to appreciate David Krejci after he left. This seems to have warped their idea of what a second liner does. While Krejci was among the most skilled players in the NHL, you don’t necessarily need to be a superstar to have success in that spot.

In a salary cap league, you can’t have a star at every position. In fact, one could argue that having a $7 million player up the middle for years was part of why it was so hard to find a right-winger for that line.

What Does a Second-Line Center do?

Let’s start from the beginning here – what do the Bruins actually need out of a center that they plan to play between Taylor Hall and Pastrnak? Well, they need someone good in his own zone, wins a lot of faceoffs, gets rid of the puck quickly, and is fast enough to keep up with two-star wingers. I just described Erik Haula.

Haula does a lot of heavy lifting in his own zone, which is important given that a couple of unapologetically offensive players like Hall and Pastrnak can be turnover prone. He wins over 50% of his draws, ensuring that they’re usually playing with the puck instead of chasing the play. He doesn’t insist on lugging the puck through the neutral zone, a critical quality when playing with two players who absolutely want the puck on their stick. And he’s fast enough to keep up with those guys, turning 2-on-2s into odd-man rushes. He’s exactly what they need, and he’s only earning $2.75 million this year and next.

So What?

I get why people keep clamoring for a second-line center. Haula is a good player, but he’s not as good as the guy he replaced. Furthermore, there are names in the rumor mill – from Tomas Hertl to Claude Giroux to JT Miller – that would undoubtedly make the Bruins better (they would make any team better). Then, of course, there is certainly a need for the Bruins to find their first-line center of the future; Patrice Bergeron is nearing the end of his career, and the Bruins don’t have an heir apparent in the system. They may need to go outside the organization to address that, and it is possible that Don Sweeney decides his best shot at finding his Bergeron replacement is at this trade deadline.

However, as it concerns the 2021-2022 Boston Bruins, prioritizing a second-line center at the trade deadline would be a waste of resources. You have a player on a bargain contract for the next two seasons who is doing the job admirably. You have needs on defense and right-wing. And you have a finite number of assets. It would be foolish to spend valuable assets addressing a problem that only exists in the minds of the fans.

Also, there’s this – if the Bruins do get a second-line center before the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, what do they do, Haula? They can’t put him at wing on the third line. That’s Trent Frederic’s spot, and he’s finally looking like an impact NHL  player. They can’t put him at wing on the fourth line. That’s Nick Foligno’s spot, and he’s finally establishing some chemistry there with Tomas Nosek and Curtis Lazar. So what? Are they benching Haula? After he’s been one of their better players over the past two months? That makes no sense.

Conclusion

While the Bruins don’t “need” a second-line center, one thing that remains true is that you can never have enough center depth. In an ideal world, Sweeney would acquire a player with position versatility that they could put on Bergeron’s wing for now but could move to center if Haula struggles or someone gets hurt. This is why Claude Giroux would make a lot of sense for Boston. But it doesn’t make a second-line the priority. Erik Haula isn’t a superstar. But he’s giving the Bruins what they need.

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