Making a holiday wish list for Santa to help the Bruins in 2022 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Bruins are spending the holidays at home as COVID-19 has resulted in their last four games being postponed.
The B's are not scheduled to return to game action until Monday, Dec. 27 when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden.
The Bruins have been inconsistent as a team this season and sit in fifth place in the Atlantic Division standings through their first 26 games.
Given the extended pause in the schedule, let's look at a holiday wish list for the Bruins as we approach the New Year.
1) A full, healthy lineup
Injuries, suspension and COVID-19 have prevented the Bruins from having a full lineup for most of the season. Brad Marchand, Craig Smith, Curtis Lazar and Nick Foligno all have missed at least four games.
The Bruins currently have 10 players in the league's COVID protocol, including four top-six forwards in Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Taylor Hall and Craig Smith. The Bruins could be without several players when they're scheduled to return to game action Monday, Dec. 27 versus the Penguins.
Having a full, healthy lineup for an extended period of time would give general manager Don Sweeney a good look at the roster to assess which positions are most in need of an upgrade before the March 21 trade deadline.
2) Another top-four defenseman
Finding another top-four defenseman was a huge need in the offseason and it still hasn't been addressed.
Derek Forbort was signed in free agency, and even though he's scored a surprising amount of goals (four), he's not a legit top-four defenseman. He's also nowhere near the ideal partner for No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy.
Brandon Carlo is a solid player but his injury history remains a concern. Can he withstand a full season and a deep playoff run? Mike Reilly has already been a healthy scratch this season and isn't creating offense at the level he did in 2020-21. Jakub Zboril was challenging Reilly for ice time and started to play pretty well in a third-pairing role, but he was recently lost for the season because of a torn ACL.
McAvoy is having another Norris Trophy-caliber season, but the drop-off between him and the next-best defenseman on the team is too large.
The Bruins will not be a serious contender for the Stanley Cup without upgrading the blue line with an additional top-four defenseman who can log 20-plus minutes per game against quality competition.
3) Scoring depth
A compelling case could be made that scoring depth is the most glaring weakness of this Bruins team. Boston ranks 23rd in goals scored per game and 30th in 5-on-5 goals scored.
The first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak is still among the league's best. Marchand leads the team in goals (11) and assists (16). Bergeron's 23 points and Pastrnak's 21 points rank second and third, respectively, among Bruins players.
No other B's forward has tallied more than 14 points, and only five of the team's forwards have more than eight points. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy's 15 points are more than every B's forward except the top line.
Taylor Hall was re-signed in the offseason to score goals, but his five tallies through 26 games are short of expectations. Inconsistency has been a problem for Hall, too, evidenced by his ongoing 10-game goalless drought.
Craig Smith missed several games earlier in the season with an upper body injury, but even when in the lineup he's disappointed. Two goals in 19 games for Smith is simply not good enough.
The Bruins tried to inject some scoring depth in their bottom-six by signing free-agent forwards Tomas Nosek, Erik Haula and Nick Foligno over the summer. These players have combined to score just three goals so far.
It also doesn't help the Bruins that younger players such as Jack Studnicka, Karson Kuhlman and Trent Frederic have failed to make a consistent impact offensively.
The Bruins are capable of reaching the playoffs with the top line shouldering much of the scoring burden. But this lack of scoring depth will ultimately prevent them from making a deep playoff run if it's not addressed before the trade deadline.
4) A future commitment from Patrice Bergeron
Bergeron is 36 years old and in the final season of an eight-year contract signed in 2013. He has not yet revealed his intentions beyond this season. It's possible he doesn't even know what he wants to do.
The B's captain was asked about his future in September.
“That’s something that a lot of people have asked me this summer," Bergeron told reporters. "I think for me, the way that I approach this year is I want to concentrate on this year. I have a year left on my contract. I think that it would be useless for me to think about the future."
Losing a top-six center in David Krejci over the offseason was a setback for the Bruins' lineup, even though Charlie Coyle has done a nice job filling in as the No. 2 center. Losing Bergeron would be a far greater challenge given his brilliance in all three zones at 5-on-5 and both special teams units.
The Bruins also don't have a young player/prospect capable of filling a top-six center role in the immediate future. Jack Studnicka was supposed to be that kind of player, but he's once again disappointed offensively. The B's prospect pool, which ranks near the bottom of the league, doesn't have any high-end talent at the center position. The Bruins have selected two centers -- Trent Frederic (2016) and John Beecher (2019) -- in the first round of the last six drafts, and right now neither one projects to be a top-six player in the NHL.
Bergeron still is an elite player and should again be a finalist for the Selke Trophy. Given the Bruins' lack of quality options to replace him, it would greatly benefit the team if Bergeron chose to return for at least another year.