Marc DesRosiers/USA Today Sports

Bruins remain short on left-shot options at center

Ty Anderson
July 06, 2017 - 1:22 am

If the season started tomorrow, the Bruins would have a minor issue with their current roster construct. And it would be beyond the glaring fact that the club’s top right-side sniper, restricted free agent and 70-point man David Pastrnak, remains unsigned, too.

The Bruins, who boasted the league’s best penalty-killing group a season ago, with 85.7 percent of their penalties against successfully killed off, only have one left-shot forward that can take shorthanded faceoffs. And it’s the freshly extended Tim Schaller, a player who while a natural center, played the left wing almost exclusively for the Bruins a year ago, with just 57 faceoffs taken, a figure that ranked him ninth among all Bruins skaters.

Of course, this situation isn’t something that the B’s did not see or know was coming.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was likely always going to walk away from unrestricted free agent Dominic Moore, especially after Moore earned a pay raise from his $900,000 salary a year ago thanks to an 11-goal, 25-point campaign as the B’s fourth-line pivot and No. 2 penalty-killing center behind Patrice Bergeron. Sweeney said as much the day before free agency began. He followed through with that decision, too, as Sweeney instead extended both Schaller and center-turned-winger Noel Acciari for a combined $1.5 million while Moore left to the Maple Leafs for $1 million.

Moore, of course, was also the club’s left-shot center.

With Moore in the fold, the B’s penalty-kill returned to near the top of the league, and was the second-best mark of the last seven seasons, second only to 2013’s shorthanded squad that killed off 87.1 percent of their penalties. It was also the breaking of a two-year trend that featured the worst penalty-killing figures of that seven-year sample, with an 82.0 success rate in 2014-15 and 82.2 mark in 2015-16.

2014-15 was the year that lefty Gregory Campbell truly fell off a cliff for the Bruins, while the season after saw lefties like Max Talbot and Joonas Kemppainen struggle to be anything close to adequate penalty-killers en route to the waiver wire. It didn’t help Kemppainen and Talbot that the Bruins lost their second-best penalty-killing lefty forward, Chris Kelly, just 11 games into the season because of a broken leg.

Even in those lean years, the Bruins had more left-stick options in the middle than they do now.

It goes Schaller, then, uh, Sean Kuraly, should he make the NHL team.

“We don’t have a lot of left-shot guys that can come in and take draws,” Sweeney admitted.

“Colby Cave is another player that has done well in Providence and he kills penalties and we think he’ll be in the mix," he continued. "[Jordan] Szwarz has been a good depth player. Really, really established himself last year. He was a good – really good veteran for our group down there. He played with [Danton] Heinen an awful lot and they were a really good line. So, I think he’s another guy, as I said, the depth part of our organization, we wanted to continue. And when you look around the league, there’s a lot of teams that did very similar things that we did [July 1] in that regard.”

The Bruins could address that with a veteran signing like they did with Moore a year ago -- Vern Fiddler and Jay McClement, two experienced centers with tons of a shorthanded experience, remain on the open market -- but they’re like Moore in the sense that they’re talents that wouldn’t be added to the mix until late August. And even then, that may be above their timing, with professional tryouts more likely routes for both. Or the Bruins could hope that Schaller, who once took Hockey East Defensive Forward of the Year honors, is a capable fill-in option at center with the club shorthanded, and that depth players such as Cave, Kuraly, and/or Szwarz take that next step.

Maybe, even, it's something that the Bruins -- who are not as hung up on line-to-line matchups under Bruce Cassidy as they were under Claude Julien, a coach that seemingly always preferred having multiple options at center on the same line during his tenure with the Bruins -- don't even worry about until they have to. 

“Last year, it was sort of put forth that we had too many centers and I do not think you can have too many centers in the National Hockey League,” said Sweeney, “I think centers can play wing. I don’t really know too many wingers that can play center.”

But if they’re a lefty, there’s a good chance they’ll get a chance to do just that this fall.