The Bruins dropped a surprise Tuesday: They will be without Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak if the NHL season begins Jan. 1.
The club revealed that those two star forwards, plus top defender Charlie McAvoy, had surgeries four-plus weeks ago. All are recovering on schedule, according to a statement, but only McAvoy has been cleared for offseason workouts.
Pastrnak who had a right hip arthroscopy and labral repair Sept. 16, is slated to be back in about five months — or, mid-February.
Marchand had sports hernia surgery Sept. 14, and is on target to make a full recovery approximately four months from the procedure — or, mid-January.
McAvoy’s right knee arthroscopy, done Sept. 8, is not expected to interfere with his availability for the start of next season.
Pastrnak was playing through a hip injury during the postseason, in which he scored three goals with seven assists in 10 games. He missed Games 2, 3, and 4 of the first-round series against Carolina. He looked compromised after that.
“It was bothering me pretty much every game,” Pastrnak said Sept. 4. “It was something I could still play. Wasn’t 100 percent at all, but I got to that point where I could play through it.”
Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase were late in returning stateside after the NHL returned to training camp. The two wound up missing all of training camp because they came in contact with a person known to have tested positive for COVID-19.
“To be honest, very frustrating,” Pastrnak said. “My closest what I felt to 100 percent was the last game of our season. I could totally tell the difference. It was obviously so much more fun when you’re feeling healthy and you feel like you can contribute more and help the team more.”
The NHL is targeting a Jan. 1 restart, a date that is COVID-19-dependent. If the puck dropped New Year’s Day, Marchand would be some two weeks away from returning. Pastrnak could miss six more weeks.
The two combined for 76 goals and 106 assists last year. Marchand led the Bruins in assists (59), while Pastrnak shared the league lead with 48 goals.
They are two-thirds of the Bruins' top line and two-fifths of a power play that just watched Torey Krug walk to St. Louis in free agency. Marchand is arguably the Bruins' top penalty-killing forward.
It is a buyer’s free agent market, and the Bruins, who added productive ex-Predators winger Craig Smith to boost the middle six, could bring in outside help to insulate Pastrnak and Marchand from needing to ramp up too quickly. Five days after free agency began, the options on the left side were numerous: Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, Mikael Granlund, Alex Galchenyuk, Michael Grabner, Conor Sheary, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Duclair, and Dominik Kahun. Among the few right-shot free agent wingers left unsigned were veterans Ilya Kovalchuk and Corey Perry.
But instead of committing cap space to the UFA market, the Bruins would likely stay in-house. After adding Smith, they had some $11 million in cap space to sign RFAs Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, Zach Senyshyn, Jakub Zboril, Karson Kuhlman, and Peter Cehlarik. The Bruins could go with what they have until Nos. 63 and 88 are ready to rip.
Without Marchand, the left-wing depth chart could have DeBrusk and Anders Bjork on scoring lines, Nick Ritchie and Par Lindholm in the bottom six, and Anton Blidh and Trent Frederic hoping to make an impression.
The Bruins let No. 4 left wing Joakim Nordstrom walk as a UFA to see what Blidh and Frederic, both on entry-level deals, could bring to the table.
Given Pastrnak’s longer absence, the right wing cadre would need a little more support than the left wing. Smith, a third-liner in Nashville, could climb into Boston’s top six with the still-developing Kase and Bjork, the latter of whom has played a lot of right wing. Chris Wagner, Kuhlman, or top prospect Jack Studnicka could see third-line minutes.
Studnicka, at the end of his first pro season, did not look out of place in five playoff games. This could be time for the Bruins to give Senyshyn an extended look, provided he signs.
“We certainly expect players to continue to push our group,” general manager Don Sweeney said Sept. 9. “Trent Frederic, Zach Senyshyn, Jack Studnicka, several other young players that we feel are going to be part of the future of the organization. But they have to come earn their spot.”