With Iginla out of the picture, who will take his spot on the top line?
The Boston Bruins have never been a team that seeks to own free agency. Save for two-franchise altering signings in 2006, the B's tend to watch from a distance as teams scoop up the top guys on the market.
|Is Eriksson ready to make the jump? (via Bruins.nhl.com)|
And with the Bruins tight against the cap heading into this off-season, they had their hands tied as the other 29 teams shelled out nearly $560 million on free agents when the clock hit Noon last Tuesday.
One of those free agents was of course, Jarome Iginla. Instead of returning to Boston on another cheap-money deal and another run at the Cup, he chose to explore options elsewhere, where the money and term were larger.
And that place was Colorado. And who can blame him? Iginla was unwilling to play under another mercenary deal, where he would have to earn his cash by hitting a number of bonuses through the season. And when the 2014-15 season is over and done with, he would be in the same situation for the third off-season running.
With Iginla heading to the Rocky Mountains to finish his career, he leaves the Bruins with a glaring hole to fill on the top line. Priority #1 for Boston now is to find someone to fill the vacancy left by Iginla. Who is up for the task?
Will it be Loui Eriksson? Eriksson will be entering his second season as a member of the Black and Gold, and after a disappointing first-year campaign in which he scored only 10 goals and recorded 37 points, he will be looking to rebound and become the scoring threat he was during his time as a member of the Dallas Stars.
Eriksson missed time through the year due to concussion issues and couldn't establish a consistent rhythm as he tried to adapt to Claude Julien's system. He was often in flux, although Eriksson did show flashes of his offensive brilliance, most notably when he was paired with fellow Swede Carl Soderberg on the third line late on in the season.
Eriksson can hold his own when it comes to keeping the puck on his stick and working through body checks to get his shots off. Speed won't be an issue skating with Milan Lucic and David Krejci like it was with Iginla. Eriksson will get his chance to prove he can skate with Lucic and Krejci on the top line. Whether or not he can find a grove and produce the points necessary playing as a top-three forward, remains to be seen.
Reilly Smith could also be a target to move up next to Lucic and Krejci if Eriksson can't make it work early next season. As soon as Smith is officially re-signed and brought back into the fold, there will be the possibility he can bump up off the Bergeron line to skate on the top trio. Smith has the wheels, skill and potential to fit the bill, but is he top-three material? Placing the hopes and expectations of the '14-'15 season on a 23-year-old who just finished his first full season as a pro could bring unprecedented pressures.
Not to mention the fact that the Bergeron-Smith-Marchand line was often one of Boston's fastest and most consistent through the season, and breaking them up could lead to even more unwanted trouble.
Of course, with the Bruins needing to shuffle their players up a few lines, it distorts the patented balance they model their team after. Daniel Paille, if he isn't traded for cap relief before the season begins, can find a home on the third line next to Soderberg, along with player X, with X serving as one of many potential skaters from their talent pool in Providence making the permanent jump to the NHL. Greg Campbell can also find himself skating next to new linemates, as the fourth line is primed for a renovation.
Matt Fraser, Justin Florek and Ryan Spooner all got time at different points last season to showcase their abilities, and they did little to prove they aren't ready to take over the reigns as bottom-six forwards going forward. They have the skill, speed and hunger to break into the NHL and seize the opportunity from day one at training camp. Boston is banking on having their young skaters revitalize the bottom lines, which will allow the B's to tinker with their skaters with the aim of finding a combination that clicks.
Whoever the Bruins end up pegging as the heir to Iginla on the top line, one thing is sure: who ever it is, they will need to prove they can shoulder the workload of being a top-three forward, and fast. The Bruins can't afford to stutter offensively out of the gate come October.