By: Michael Rudd | Follow me on Twitter @Bosmike808.
The Bruins enter this upcoming season with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci on one-year deals. The 37 and 36-year-old centers will look to turn back the clock once more to form a formidable one-two punch down the middle. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of uncertainty moving forward. A move needs to be made with Charlie Coyle as the top center under contract and serious questions around any center prospects. Let’s look at a few options Don Sweeney and company could bring in should Bergeron and Krejci retire after this season.
Jonathan Toews is the first UFA option the Bruins could bring this upcoming July 1st. Captain Serious turns 35 this April but brings plenty of experience as a three-time Stanley Cup champion. Yes, last season was a struggle for Toews, with just 12 goals and 37 points in 71 games. However, last season was also Jonathan’s return after missing the entire 20-21 season with Long Covid symptoms. The two seasons prior, 18-19 and 19-20, Toews scored 81 points in 82 games and 60 points in 70 games, respectively.
Chicago struggled as a team last season with not much besides the Patrick Kane line going right. Toews, with his 37 points, was still 5th in team scoring. A contributing factor to the low offensive output is how much defense Toews was forced to play. Last season was the first time Toews started over 46% of his shifts in the defensive zone, starting 53.2% of his shifts in his own end. Last season also saw a career low in ice time of 17:29 per game for Toews. Less ice time and more of that time spent playing defense, and the offensive drop isn’t quite as surprising. A bounce-back season and a clear want to play meaningful games could lead Toews to Boston this coming offseason.
The next potential UFA target is Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly, like Toews, is a Cup winner and a Selke Trophy winner. O’Reilly turns 32 in February and is coming off a season where he scored 21 goals and 58 points in 78 games. In Ryan’s previous two seasons, 19-20 and 20-21, he scored 61 and 54 points in 71 and 56 games, respectively. This season’s drop in scoring pace is likely due to O’Reilly playing his fewest minutes in a Blues uniform. With big money being spent on the Blues’ next wave of talent, could O’Reilly be let go?
The Blues have $15.95 million in projected cap space next summer. The Blues also need to re-sign last season’s leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko. Having just set a career-high with 82 points in 75 games, Tarasenko will likely be looking for a raise from his current $7.5 million cap hit. Another breakout player from last season, Ivan Barbashev, is also a UFA next summer.
With 26 goals and 60 points, Ivan finally showed the offensive game that made him a 2nd round pick back in 2014. Currently counting just $2.25 million against the cap next season, another 60-point year probably sees that number double, if not triple. Even if the Blues let one of these forwards go, Jordan Binnington in net is still a huge question mark, especially with Ville Husso moving on. The Blues simply might not have the money to keep O’Reilly, and the Bruins should take full advantage.
The final center on this list is Vancouver Canuck Bo Horvat. Bo turns 28 in April and has been a staple in Vancouver’s top-six for the last seven seasons. In his previous three seasons, Horvat scored 52, 39, and 53 points in 70, 56, and 69 games, respectively. Last year to go with those 52 points in 70 games, Bo scored a career-high in goals with 31. Horvat also continues the trend of solid two-way play and faceoff proficiency, never winning less than 50.5% of his draws. Last season Horvat won 57% of his faceoffs, leading the Canucks with over 1,400 draws taken.
Vancouver would obviously like to keep its three-headed monster at center, but the cap is an issue once again. Another 30-goal season likely sees Horvat making over $7 million per season. That is already half of Vancouver’s cap space for next summer. Let’s also not forget some of the stories that came out last season before the Canucks turned their season around. There were reports about a rift in the locker room, with some players supporting JT Miller as a leader. There were also multiple reports of teams calling about the availability of Horvat last season. Could a slow start for the team jump-start these rumors again and sour the relationship before an extension can be reached?
There are a few names who could fill the top-six center void should both Bergeron and Krejci hang them up after this season. Let’s not forget the Bruins still have some talented prospects at the center position who could take significant steps this season. Is the future of the center position an issue? Yes, but maybe not as big of one as Twitter and other places would lead you to believe. Until next time stay safe out there, and let’s go, Bruins.