Well, what now?
A Bruins roster already hampered by some pressing vacancies up front and on the blue line was dealt a serious blow on Tuesday evening, as the team announced David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand underwent major surgical procedures back in September — putting their availability for the planned start of the 2021 season (Jan. 1) in serious doubt.
While there stands a chance that the 2021 season could be pushed back due to the current COVID-19 climate, Boston has to operate with the expectation (for now) that it will be without its top-two wingers for at least the first few weeks of the new NHL campaign (up to six weeks in Pastrnak's case).
Of course, there's still plenty of time between now and January for Don Sweeney to try and recoup some of that lost offensive production — whether it be dealing for a top-six winger or perhaps signing a sniper like Mike Hoffman to a short-term deal. But let's face it — there's not really a band-aid that the Bruins can slap on here to fix their current situation — as few solutions trump the luxury Boston regularly usually enjoys when No. 88 and No. 63 can be penciled into that top line.
Still, at the least for the first few weeks of the new season, Boston will just have to make do with what they have to work with — with Pastrnak and Marchand's absences creating a domino effect that will feature some top-six promotions and a couple of surprising call-ups. Here's a look at a few players (on Boston's current roster) who could earn a look higher up in the lineup come January.
While perhaps a more proven scorer like Jake DeBrusk (or Taylor Hall!) stand as logical options given the need to draw some 5v5 offense out of that top line, a shifty winger like Bjork makes plenty of sense. Even if the numbers paint Bjork as a winger with plenty of room to grow when it comes to his offensive game (his 1.99 expected goals for per 60 minutes rate was 13th among Bruins regulars in 2019-20), his steady, two-way game shouldn't make him a liability on a line that, at the very least, can't be put on the ropes if matched up with an opposing top-six line.
And even if the tangible production for Bjork left a lot to be desired, he showed a willingness to put pucks on net and operate in Grade-A ice as the 2019-20 season progressed. During play up in the Toronto bubble, Bjork actually ranked second on the team in 5v5 scoring chances per 60 minutes at 10.54 (David Pastrnak paced the pack with a SCF/60 rate of 11.93) and fifth in shots per 60 at 8.95.
That natural progression when it comes to Bjork's offensive game could be rewarded with some extended looks on that top line next to Bergeron in 2021, with Bjork also finding a great deal of success when skating next to No. 37. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, Bjork and Bergeron have skated together for 104:24 of 5v5 ice time, with Boston scoring seven goals and relinquishing three during that stretch. That equates to a goals for per 60 minutes rate of 4.02 — not too shabby. (For reference, the line of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak has generated a goals for per 60 minutes rate of 3.63 over the last three seasons.)
Again, Bjork doesn't boast the finish of Pastrnak or the playmaking capabilities of Marchand, but at the least in the short term, Bjork should be able to hold his own as a solid stop-gap, especially if he continues to build off his encouraging play during last postseason.