There may be a new white whale when it comes to the Boston Bruins search for a David Krejci replacement as the No. 2 center.
Sure, the Bruins have said that Charlie Coyle enters training camp with the inside track as the No. 2 center, and top prospect Jack Studnicka is going to get opportunities to show he’s ready for the big time at 22 years old. But neither of these options is going to give the B’s the kind of production, two-way play or dynamic offensive ability as Krejci, not to mention is big game ability where “Playoff Krejci” routinely leveled up his game during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Certainly a “No. 2 center by committee” doesn’t sound like an ideal scenario for a Boston Bruins team that still harbors hopes for another Stanley Cup.
“David is the one, played a big role for us – sometimes quietly,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy during Boston Bruins Development Camp over the summer. “Now all of a sudden, when he’s not here, we’ll probably realize how good of a player he was. I think we all knew it. But now we’re gonna live it firsthand without that one-two punch.”
“I think the obvious choice [for No. 2 center] is Charlie Coyle. He’s the most familiar with our guys. I’m the most familiar with him. Allow the other guys to fall into place. I know that [Erik] Haula and [Tomas] Nosek prefer to play in the middle. Nick Foligno is more of a guy that will move around so that’s probably how it will play out for him. Charlie and Taylor Hall – and [Craig] Smith was on that line last year – if Coyle can bring some of what Krech did, it will be a real good line. That’s the way we’re leaning, and we’ll see how the other pieces shake out.”
It’s clearly a stretch to believe that Coyle, who has reached the 20 goals and 50 points mark just once in his nine-year NHL career, is going to bring what Krejci routinely did in terms of offense and playmaking.
One player that could “bring some of what Krejci did” is likely looking at a change of address sooner rather than later: San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl.
Doesn’t it make some kind of poetic hockey sense to replace one playmaking Czech center with another dynamic Czech pivot that’s looking to get out of San Jose after posting 151 goals and 323 points in 503 games for the Sharks over the last eight seasons following his NHL debut as a 19-year-old?
According to the Athletic’s Kevin Kurz, this is what the Sharks are looking at for Hertl coming off 19 goals and 43 points in 50 games last season: “Along with a first-round pick, they would have to get at least one potential high-end prospect in return, too, and preferably someone who could play NHL games ahead of or along the same timeline as guys like William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau and some of the other prospects who are around 19 or 20 years old (in other words, probably two years away). In a perfect world that player is probably a center, but considering Ryan Merkley’s declining stock and Brent Burns’ advancing age, a defenseman might be just as welcomed.”
While it’s well-documented that the Boston Bruins don’t have the trade assets to get a player like Jack Eichel when the Sabres are looking for at least four pieces in return for the Buffalo center, the B’s could pony up a first round pick and Jack Studnicka as the centerpieces for a hockey trade to get then an heir apparent at the center position for the next handful of years. It’s clear at this point that Hertl hasn’t been made available as San Jose exhausts all attempts to retain him their talented 27-year-old center, but there’s zero doubt the Boston Bruins will have interest if he becomes a trade market option.
Hertl is a little different player than Krejci, of course, and is bigger (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), more dangerous scoring the puck and a little less of a passer and natural playmaker than No. 46, but he’d be the perfect addition to a hockey club that’s got a wide gap between their aging top centers and a pivot prospect pool that isn’t exactly top notch.
The real complication is a $5.625 million cap hit for Hertl, who will undoubtedly be looking for a big raise as he approached unrestricted free agency following the season. The Bruins would need to move Coyle ($5.25 million) to the Sharks in order to make the money work given that they currently have just $1.635 million in cap space after their NHL free agent spending frenzy. Presumably, the Bruins could try to move the contracts for Jake DeBrusk and/or John Moore instead to make the deal, but that could add to Don Sweeney’s degree of difficulty for pulling the deal off this season.
While everybody around Massachusetts will focus on Chelmsford’s Eichel as the wayward hockey son brought him to be the No. 2 center for the Black and Gold, maybe, just maybe, it’s Tomas Hertl that makes a lot more sense as a fit for the Boston Bruins?