Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Sweeney confirms what we already knew: Bruins need help ‘up front’

Matt Kalman
November 28, 2018 - 8:25 am

Help may be on the way for the injury-depleted Bruins.

“Up front, certainly,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Monday in response to a question about whether he’s looking for help.

Ironically the injuries have nothing to do with Sweeney’s shopping list. Even before the parade of defensemen made its way to the sidelines and then Patrice Bergeron suffered a rib injury the Bruins were in need of help up front.

Yesterday I reviewed for you the list of players the Bruins let leave as unrestricted free agents (and one trade they made) during the offseason. So far it seems like Sweeney made the right decision on all of them.

However, Sweeney miscalculated by not importing anyone with a top-six pedigree to replace the semi-retired Rick Nash or a third-line center that could make up for the departure of Riley Nash. Sweeney probably gave his prospect pipeline a little too much credit when he decided that all of last year’s rookies would at minimum continue what they produced last season, or improve on that production, and that a prospect would be able to center that third line.

On the wing, Jake DeBrusk seems to have overcome his early slump and is playing better now than he did even in his excellent rookie season. But Danton Heinen has been inconsistent and is having one of those seasons (6.9 shooting percentage) that makes you wonder if he’s going to go most of the year without buying a goal. Anders Bjork has often looked lost trying to get his two-way game up to speed. Ryan Donato needed more seasoning in Providence of the American Hockey League.

As far as the competition to center the third line, it was unfair to expect 19-year-old Jack Studnicka to be ready to make the jump from junior hockey. And putting so much weight on Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, a second-year pro, and Trent Frederic, a first-year pro, to take over an important spot in a lineup that’s expected to contend for the Stanley Cup, not just a playoff spot, was equally unfair.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that adding help “up front” is at the top of Sweeney’s agenda because that’s been his main priority once it became obvious no one in-house was ready to completely replace either Nash.

Sweeney’s among the preponderance of NHL general managers that operate patiently. And let’s face it the Bruins aren’t in panic mode because they’ve been able to survive a week already without Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and the other key injured folks. Right now other teams know the Bruins are buyers and that could increase prices. So it sounds like Sweeney’s going to bide his time and hope that the likes of Colby Cave and Joakim Nordstrom can continue to be respectable placeholders up front, and that Chara, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo heal up to bolster the back end. A healthier team will be easier to assess and put Sweeney in a position of strength to start dealing.

“We don’t know what our team really looks like,” Sweeney told Friedman. “If there’s good news, it’s that some other guys have had to drive the bus … given us an idea of what they can do. Bruce Cassidy and Kevin Dean were part of our development plan, so they knew what we had.”