There’s no denying that Jarome Iginla was a good fit with the Boston Bruins in the 2013-14 season. His presence on the first line helped spark the Black and Gold to a Presidents Trophy season. Unfortunately for the 37-year old, who had another 30-goal campaign, his season ended in all too familiar fashion: without the Stanley Cup.
Although he expressed interest in returning to Boston for another shot at Lord’s Stanley, the lack of salary cap space forced Iginla to sign elsewhere. And on Tuesday he signed a 3-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche.
Without Iginla, the Bruins have a void to fill on the first line. Here’s a look at potential candidates to skate with Milan Lucic and David Krejci for the 2014-15 season:
The favorite to jump to the first line with Krejci and Lucic is the guy who was one of the centerpieces of the Bruins-Stars July 4th blockbuster trade that also involved Tyler Seguin. After battling through injuries and inconsistencies for most of his first season in Boston, Eriksson improved late in the season thanks in large part to his chemistry with fellow Swede Carl Soderberg on the third line.
In addition to his chemistry with Soderberg, Eriksson saw time on the second line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron early on in 2013-14. His versatility as a top-9 forward and his two-way play makes him a pretty good candidate to fill Iginla’s void. Can he fully overcome his concussion issues from last year and be a 25-30 goal player like he was in Dallas? That will be the burning question for Eriksson, no matter which line he skates on.
The Swede received much hype upon his arrival in The Hub of Hockey, but it took him awhile to get used to Claude Julien’s system. Once he did, though, he took off.
At 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, Soderberg’s size would be a good fit as a right winger on the first line. He is one of the fastest players currently on the squad and can occasionally throw his weight around.
Soderberg’s potential is only going to go up after a 48 point campaign (16 goals, 32 assists) a year ago. While he saw a good chunk of the season as a winger, he felt comfortable playing center when Julien moved him to that spot after Chris Kelly’s injury. Maybe he won’t start the season on the first line, but don’t be surprised if the team needs a shot in the arm during the season and the Bruins’ bench boss bumps him up as a first line winger.
The “7th Player Award’’ winner from last year had a breakthrough season in his first year with the Black and Gold and his role in the Bruins’ offense should expand even more with Iginla’s departure. He may see some power play time with Krejci and Lucic, but Smith’s chemistry with Bergeron and Marchand on the second line was second to none in 2013-14.
Is it possible for Smith to develop some chemistry with Krejci and Lucic? Sure. But why try to ruin a good thing if you’re Julien. The same can be said for separating Eriksson and Soderberg in an ideal world. But the B’s cap situation is far from ideal and replacing Iginla’s presence both on and off the ice will be a tough task.
Other Potential Candidates
Matt Fraser, Alex Khokhlachev and Ryan Spooner (pictured) each spent the majority of their 2013-14 campaign in Providence. Fraser was called up during the B’s second round series with the Montreal Canadiens and scored the overtime winner in Game 4, while Spooner spent some time in Boston during the first half of the season and Khokhlachev saw one game with the Black and Gold.
Although Fraser, Khokhlachev and Spooner have potential, it’s unlikely that they’ll all start the season in the NHL as they vie for one of the final roster spots at Training Camp. Whoever emerges from that trio will likely get third line minutes to start the 2014-15 season.