Brad Marchand (Getty Images)
Brad Marchand won’t be suiting up for Boston’s matinee against the Tampa Bay Lightning as the Bruins left winger has been sidelined indefinitely with a concussion. Marchand, 27, has scored 116 goals over the past five seasons, which is the most of any Bruins player since 2010-11.
No one could have expected the Boston Bruins’ offense to have such a precipitous decline in 2014-15. By scoring 261 goals in 2013-14, more than 30 more than the league average, the Bruins were the third most lethal team in the NHL. However, they followed that performance up with an abysmal 213-goal, 23rd-ranked offense in 2014-15 and the 2015-16 campaign isn’t exactly getting off on the right foot, either.
In Saturday’s game against Montreal, Bruins left winger Brad Marchand collided with the elbow of Canadiens right winger Dale Weise. The collision left Marchand stunned, but he left the ice on his own power. Following the hit, which occurred with five minutes left in a game Boston was trailing 3-1, Marchand went to the dressing room and didn’t return. It has since been announced that he’ll be sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.
“We’re going about it with the League’s protocol with concussions and his return will be dictated by how quickly he recovers,” Boston coach Claude Julien told the Bruins’ website Sunday. “We have no timetable for him.”
On an already offensively stunted Bruins team, losing Marchand is a serious blow. Over the past five seasons, Marchand has scored 116 goals for Boston, which is nine more than any other player on the club over that span. Finding a replacement for his production won’t be easy and, while the main concern is Marchand’s health, if the Bruins want to rectify missing the post-season in 2014-15, they’re going to need to have someone step up in a hurry.
The immediate replacement for Marchand will be Brett Connolly, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2015 trade deadline. Connolly, 23, has 141 games of NHL experience over a four-year career and mustered a mere 18 goals over that span. In 2014-15 with the Lightning, Connolly suited up for 50 games and notched 12 goals, his career high, while skating fourth-line minutes. That said, he’s not exactly the offensive force Marchand is and Connolly won’t be a suitable replacement for Marchand’s scoring.
That's not to mention Marchand has been a top penalty killer for Boston, a role Connolly won't be able to fill with the same ability. Marchand has been one of the best counter-attack threats down a man over the past five seasons, scoring 15 shorthanded goals for the Bruins, which is the most of any player in the league since 2010-11.
A big issue for the Bruins right now is they don’t have many NHL-ready options to fill in for Marchand, so Connolly is one of their only weapons. The line of Matt Beleskey, David Krejci and David Pastrnak won’t be broken up by Julien quite yet, so the most realistic switch is moving Connolly up the lineup, shifting Chris Kelly to the third line and having Joonas Kemppainen slot into the fourth-line.
One scoring option the Bruins did have is winger Seth Griffith, who managed to notched six goals and 10 points in 30 games with Boston, but he’s currently sidelined with an MCL sprain. He injured the knee in Boston’s pre-season opener Sept. 21 and was slated to have a 3-4 week timetable for return. Monday marks three weeks since the injury, but Griffith participated in the Bruins’ morning skate ahead of the matinee against the Lightning, meaning he won’t be in the lineup quite yet.
This could also be just the opportunity Alexander Khokhlachev was waiting for. The 22-year-old center made it clear this off-season that he wasn’t happy with his role in the Bruins’ organization, saying he wanted the chance to suit up with the big club after two years in the AHL. With Marchand going down, maybe it’s time for Khokhlachev to get that opportunity.
Since making his AHL debut in 2012-13, Khokhlachev has been no slouch for the Providence Bruins. In 137 contests, he has scored 38 goals and 103 points. In Boston, he’s gotten a total of four games action and averaged less than 10 minutes per contest. Giving someone with Khokhlachev’s skill set a chance at making an impact — and shuffling the lines to make him fit — could benefit the Bruins.
Worth an outside look is 21-year-old Frank Vatrano. In 2014-15 with the NCAA’s University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Vatrano scored 18 goals and 28 points before inking a deal with the Bruins. Now entering his first full season of AHL action, Vatrano has gotten off to a white hot start, potting five goals in two games in Providence. Sustainable? Not likely. But right now Vatrano has a hot hand.
Austin Czarnik, also an AHL rookie this season, could also be worth a look. He’s coming off of four good seasons with University of Miami (Ohio) in the NCAA, including a nine-goal, 45-point campaign this past season.
The unfortunate reality for the Bruins is that no matter how long Marchand is out — short-term, long-term, one game or 50 — Boston can’t do much to bring in more offense outside of dipping into the farm system. They have little more than $1.2-million in salary cap space and trading for scoring isn’t easy. There are free agent options, of course, such as Curtis Glencross, Erik Cole, Stephen Weiss or Michael Ryder, but inking another veteran — especially an injury prone one such as Cole or Weiss — might not do much to supplement the offense.
Boston is in a tough spot and they’ll need Marchand back as soon as he’s healthy. And if their top-scoring winger is out for a significant period of time, Bruins fans might be praying for an offense with enough firepower to finish as high as 23rd in the NHL.