BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins were already blessed with two centers that could easily be classified as No. 1 pivots on not just their own roster but pretty much in the lineup of every other team in the NHL.
By the end of the season, they were actually deeper at center than they knew.
Already David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron were well-paid, top-producing two-way players the Bruins built their forward corps around. Then in midseason the Bruins decided to swap Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg, who had been playing left wing in his first full season in North America. The result of that position shift was a third line (along with right winger Loui Eriksson) that played like a first line for several weeks until Kelly left the lineup with a back injury.
Although Kelly had already provided the Bruins with a solid third-line center who was capable of playing sound defense, winning key faceoffs and popping in the occasional goal, Soderberg gave them a third-line center that could legitimately score, pass with the vision of a first-liner and also change shifts with his physicality.
Between the veterans on the roster and a couple of prospects coming up the pipeline, the Bruins have an embarrassment of riches at center that might be a source of trade bait when the team looks to upgrade on the wing or on defense this summer.
Here are my grades for the Bruins’ centers for the entirety of the 2013-14 season:
Contract status: Hoping the last year on his current deal leads to him being paid at least as much as teammate Patrice Bergeron.
There was no doubt all season long that Krejci was the Bruins’ No. 1 center, as he continued his chemistry with left winger Milan Lucic and forged an amazing relationship with newcomer Jarome Iginla on the right wing. But then it all fell apart in the postseason. Krejci blamed himself and his lack of a single goal for the Bruins’ early demise, and you really couldn’t argue with him. Of the Bruins’ 12 playoff games, Krejci looked like himself in maybe half. An extremely improved defensive player, Krejci was minus-3 in the playoffs after he was plus-39 in the regular season. In Bergeron’s shadow, Krejci gets overlooked for his overall contributions to the Bruins. It’ll be interesting to see when and how much the Bruins decide to pay Krejci with his status set to flip to unrestricted free agent July 1, 2015.
Contract status: We have eight more seasons to see if Bergeron will ever be less than a perfect human.
I don’t have to waste a lot of words singing the praises of Bergeron. He scored 30 goals, was plus-38 and earned another nomination as a finalist for the Selke Trophy. In the playoffs he had nine points (six goals) and continued to establish himself as both the face of the current Bruins team and also as one of the all-time greats in the organization’s history.
Contract status: The Bruins have one more season to convince the Swede that his late-career decision to cross the Atlantic shouldn’t be a three-year thrill ride but a long-term plan.
With six points in 12 playoff games, Soderberg was clearly playing his best hockey at the end of the season. Through a clumsy training camp and then the early part of the regular season, when he was injured and then had a tough time getting back into game shape, it looked like Soderberg had fooled everyone while playing in his native country. Then he hit his stride around the time he should’ve been heading to the 2014 Sochi Olympics had Sweden not snubbed him. That worked in the Bruins’ favor, as Soderberg was at full strength for the stretch run and finished with 48 points in 73 games. Health and comfort should make Soderberg better in the near future, and he’s clearly made some centers in the Bruins’ system expendable.
Contract status: With just one more year left on his deal, Campbell might be an attractive piece to move in order to make way for youth. He makes just $1.6 million, so there wouldn’t be all that much cap relief for the Bruins.
The highlight of Campbell’s 2013 playoffs was playing a shift on a broken foot. In the 2014 playoffs, he often looked like he was skating with something even more severe hindering his legs. After a typical regular season that featured a plus-1 rating, eight goals and 21 points in 82 games, Campbell was point-less in the playoffs. Of course he’s not judged on stats, but along with Merlot Line linemates Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton, Campbell wasn’t a difference-maker in terms of physicality or puck possession. The fourth line’s struggles were like a pulled-out Jenga piece in the Bruins’ tower of success.
Contract status: Has one more year left on his contract for everyone in New England to complain he doesn’t play enough because obviously he’s the second coming.
The Bruins’ answer to Michael Bishop, Spooner used his longest NHL tryout to chip in 11 assists in 23 games. However, he won just 40 percent of his faceoffs, failed to score a goal and was clearly still a work in progress in terms of his strength. No one expects him to be a hitter; he just needs to be able to win more battles both with his body and savvy (like diminutive defenseman Torey Krug). Spooner’s still just 22, and if the Bruins keep him they have the luxury of depth in front of him, so he doesn’t have to be rushed. Of course, that’ll allow more clamoring for him to play on all four lines 30 minutes a night in the NHL. Maybe general manager Peter Chiarelli can find a counterpart with as much enthusiasm for Spooner’s game as the fans and the Bruins can make the center part of a package for help on the wing on the NHL roster (especially if Iginla is a goner).
This is the fifth installment in a six-part series grading how Bruins players performed over the course of the 2013-14 season. You can read the other report cards:
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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