In their pursuit of at least another deep playoff run to kick ice chips over the memory of their abruptly terminated title defense in 2012, the Boston Bruins cannot live out on their Stanley Cup core alone. Nor can they wait for defenseman Dougie Hamilton and forwards Jared Knight, Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Spooner to step in and blossom.
As promising as the three forwards are, patience is a necessity for them in particular. Likewise, as encouraged as anyone may feel about Nathan Horton restoring normalcy, the Bruins ought to know as well as any team not to bank too heavily on those with concussion history.
Even with Horton, general manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien are overdue to concede that the brawny winner cannot be at his best in alliance with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Lucic must be reassigned to the third line and Chiarelli must pursue an extra top-six caliber forward.
Most preferably, he should continue to browse the free-agent market so as not to be forced to relinquish any of his established players or any of the aforementioned prospects. He must be keen on one who can replenish some of the void left by Mark Recchi, instill a new wave of inspiration to the dressing room and hold the big club up while Spooner and Knight foster in Providence.
In ascending order of potential value, here are the top five available forwards Chiarelli needs to look at and prepare to extend offers.
The veteran of eight NHL seasons had his most productive yet in Winnipeg last year, tallying 18 goals and 29 assists on a team that ranked 12th in league offense.
At the same time, Wellwood is a somewhat undersized center and was not exactly the topmost contributor to a Jets power-play brigade that also placed 12th in the NHL. He did have some more prolific playmaking power-play days in Toronto circa 2005-07, but it’s hard to project him revitalizing that with the current core in Boston.
The fact that he is not even 30 is another reason why Wellwood is the lowest of the five possibilities on this author’s list. That is unless the Bruins can make only a short-term pact, which may or may not be realistic given that Wellwood has worn a different uniform each of the last three seasons.
With uncertainty and turbulence both on and off the ice in New Jersey, Sykora may be one the less-publicized, but quite viable options to lure away. The Bruins, in particular, ought to see no shortage of reasons to consider him based on his age, resume and recent output.
His power-play production last season (four goals and two assists) was nowhere near the 13-6-19 log with the champion Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-09, essentially his last season before a protracted absence from The Show.
On the other hand, his overall production this past season (21-23-44) was virtually identical to that of his last full NHL campaign (25-21-44). His clutch scoring (team-best six game-winners for the Devils last year, 10 clinchers for Pittsburgh in 2008-09) is not to be overlooked, either.
If the Bruins believe the 35-year-old Sykora can replenish his power-play touch and at least retain his rate, they should not rule out plugging him into their youthful strike force.
Arnott is not overtly physical and may not do much to shore up the top six. His last two seasons have been among the three shallowest of his career with 33 points in 2010-11 and 34 in 2011-12.
For what it’s worth, though, he charged up a decent 6-8-14 log in his first year on a St. Louis team that struggled on special teams for the better part of the year. But he had protracted droughts in that department, including absolutely zero output in March and the final week of the regular season.
Still, Arnott has 1,244 career games under his belt, will have just turned 38 by opening night, and will be raring to round out two full decades in the NHL. By bringing that level of seasoning into a dressing room full of recent champions thirsting for more, Arnott and the Bruins could symbiotically improve one another.
In that sense, the potential mutual benefits are not unlike those of the aforementioned Sykora.
Selanne just turned 42 on Tuesday, but defies his age much the same way Recchi did until his retirement at 43. The Finnish phenom led a not-so-deep Ducks team this past season with 66 points, including a 12-16-28 log on the power play.
Although reports hold that Selanne would only return to Anaheim if he is to extend his NHL career, it cannot hurt Chiarelli to try to convince him that Boston is a better destination.
Especially if the seemingly ageless forward craves one more Cup.
An exemplary leader through his nine years as captain of the Coyotes, Doan is easily the most energetic and most physical option on this list.
He placed third on his team during the 2011-12 regular season with 50 points and ran away in the hits category with 205, more than any Bruin and fewer than only 25 other NHL skaters.
In the first multi-round playoff run of his 17-year career, Doan followed up with a 5-4-9 scoring log and 79 body-checks in 16 games.
With Doan waiting to decide on whether or not to stay with his career-long employers until Monday, Chiarelli has the whole weekend to paint him a more enticing picture in Boston.
It may require a slightly longer deal than other candidates given that Doan is only 35 and seems to have much more ahead of him. However, the worst side effect in that regard would likely be a need to trade one or two of Jordan Caron, Spooner, Knight or Khokhlachev so as to spare them the congestion in the system.
The best-case reward, on the other hand, would be at least two or three years of a fruitful, physical veteran presence that ought to evoke the two-plus years of Recchi.