The Boston Bruins have played excellent hockey from the start of the season, exceeding the predictions of many of the game's experts who expected to see the team fall back in the pack this year.
The Bruins set NHL records last year for points and victories, but those achievements were overshadowed by the team's defeat in the first round of the playoffs. They were beaten by the Florida Panthers in the first round when Carter Verhaege scored the series winner in overtime of the seventh game.
The Bruins had to live with that disappointment all summer, and they have continued to hear about that shocking loss throughout the 2023-24 season. Despite losing star centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to retirement, the Bruins have the best record in the Eastern Conference and have battled the Vancouver Canucks for the best record in the league.
Head coach Jim Montgomery deserves credit for keeping the team playing dynamic hockey when most thought the Bruins would either barely made the playoffs or fell short of a Wild Card spot.
The team has received great goaltending from Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, and they have a pair of big-time scorers and leaders in David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. Charlie McAvoy is one of the best defensemen in the league and they have a solid crew of blue liners.
As the Bruins prepare for the final tw0-plus months of the regular season, they have the same intent as they did a year ago. The Bruins have hope of winning the Stanley Cup, and they could be active prior to the March 8 traded deadline.
Bruins made several big moves a year ago, but still suffered a first-round loss
Even though the Bruins blew everyone out of the water during the regular season last year, general manager Don Sweeney did not take anything for granted with his team. He made several big trades to fortify their roster at the trade deadline and the Bruins acquired Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway from the Washington Capitals and Tyler Bertuzzi from the Detroit Red Wings.
Those moves appeared to make the Bruins stronger and all three made key contributions down the home stretch of the regular season, but they were brought in for the playoffs.
The Bruins have been an active team around the trade deadline in recent years and they don't have a boatload of draft choices to offer in potential trades.
Instead of making multiple moves this season, it may be better for the team to concentrate on adding one player who can strengthen the team and prepare it for its playoff run.
Additional scoring is needed
The Bruins have one of the top goal scorers in the game in Pastrnak, and Marchand has the know-how, desire and toughness to put the puck in the net. Pastrnak has 33 goals and 42 assists through 52 games, while Marchand has contributed 25 goals and 23 assists.
Those two are at the top of the list, and Charlie Coyle has done an excellent job of stepping up at the center position following the Bergeron and Krejci retirements with 18 goals and 27 assists.
Montgomery has seen a number of his players make solid contributions, including James van Riemsdyk, Pavel Zacha, Trent Frederic, Morgan Geekie and Danton Heinen.
However, the Bruins could use another big-time goal scorer.
Jake Guentzel of the Pittsburgh Penguins would be a solid fit
The Penguins are currently seventh in the Metropolitan Division, nine points behind the third-place Flyers. They are also seven points out of the last Wild Card spot, and the Penguins could come to the conclusion that they are not going to be a strong playoff team this year.
If that occurs, the Penguins could sell off a top asset like Guentzel, who is a talented goal scorer. He is second to Sidney Crosby with 22 goals and 29 assists, and his 51-point total in 49 times shows that he is contributing more than one point per game.
Guentzel could be a perfect fit for the Bruins, but Boston will not be the only team that is interested. It would be one thing to acquire Guentzel, but how much would it cost the team to bring in a star who could leave through free agency in the offseason? Guentzel earns $6 million this season, but he will be a free agent after the playoffs come to a conclusion.
Frank Vatrano would be a solid fit
If the Bruins can't bring in Guentzel, Frank Vatrano of the Anaheim Ducks would look good in a Bruins uniform.
Vatrano is a hard-nosed forward with an accurate shot, and he has scored 22 goals and 16 assists to lead Anaheim. The 29-year-old Vatrano played the first two-plus seasons of his career with the Bruins and he would return as a mature and clutch goal scorer. A move to acquire Vatrano could be an X-factor for a team that has unfinished business in the Stanley Cup playoffsl