In their first press conference of off-season following the Boston Bruins' Game 7 elimination at the hands of their most hated rival, the Montreal Canadiens, team president Cam Neely and general manager Peter Chiarelli intimated forthcoming "tweaks" to the system. In order for these adjustments to take hold, the B's must first make crucial decisions as 10 players enter free agency this summer.
There is likely to be changes on each of the Bruins' four lines. Jarome Iginla will probably explore the market in search of more cash than Boston can offer under cap constraints, fracturing one of the most dominant top lines in hockey through the regular season. Brad Marchand trade rumors have already begun to bubble up, with the Winnipeg Jets as the alleged suitor. With Chris Kelly returning from injury, Bruins coach Claude Julien must decide the fate of the third line, which so desperately lacked an identity prior to Carl Soderberg's advent at center. With Shawn Thornton an unrestricted free agent this off-season and Matt Fraser a pleasant surprise in the Montreal series, the Merlot Line's days may soon be coming to an end.
The addition of Fraser, a shoot-first forward, to Boston's roster, along with the organization's desire to move away from a more pugilistic style, suggest the Bruins are finally willing to place a premium on offense. Accordingly, Reilly Smith — a restricted free agent this summer — must be at the center of this change.
The 23-year-old Toronto native notched 20 goals and 31 assists in his first season with Boston, fresh off last July’s blockbuster trade sending Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. Loui Eriksson was presumed to be the crown jewel of the deal, but the Swedish winger’s two concussions and a breakout performance from Smith soon shined a spotlight on No. 18.
Though Smith suffered a drought following the Olympic break, this inconsistency will likely dissipate with experience. Smith was fifth in goals for the Bruins through the regular season and third through the playoffs. If the Bruins wish to commit to this change in philosophy, a young forward with proven production is a fine start.