The Boston Bruins were lucky to make it through the first half of the season without losing any key players to injuries for an extended period of time, but that changed on Monday when Chris Kelly suffered a knee injury as a result of a collision with Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil.
Kelly will be out of the lineup "indefinitely," according to the team, and now Bruins head coach Claude Julien will have to make even more adjustments to the third line, which has been an area of weakness this season.
How should the Bruins construct their 3rd line?
The Bruins can replace Kelly by giving players already on the NHL roster more ice time, or general manager Peter Chiarelli could make a trade to add some scoring depth to the roster. The most likely scenario right now is moving Rich Peverley to center and giving wingers Jordan Caron and Jay Pandolfo a larger role as third-line wingers.
Before Thursday's home game versus the Florida Panthers, Julien talked about the team's depth at center with Kelly out of the lineup.
"We’re lucky to have guys like Peverley and even Seguin that have played center most of their career that can step in there and be comfortable in that position," said Julien.
"Peverley is going to have to fill some big shoes there, Kelly being a real versatile centerman that can do a lot of different things for our team. The other thing about Rich is he’s extremely good on faceoffs. That’s an area that we don’ lose a lot except that we’re now done to one left centerman, which is Campbell."
Pandolfo has played in five games this season and is capable of playing well defensively and contributing to the penalty kill, but he cannot be expected to make much of an impact offensively. While Pandolfo and Caron are capable of excelling in their third-line roles, this is one area of the team that Chiarelli needs to upgrade before the trade deadline.
Since the first, third and fourth lines on this team have been so inconsistent this season, the Bruins should acquire another goal scorer who can upgrade the power play and be relied on to produce offensively in the postseason. The Bruins have no chance of winning the Stanley Cup if they go into the playoffs with one dependable line (Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin).
With about $12 million in salary cap space at his disposal (per Capgeek), there are a number of options for Chiarelli to consider in the next 20 days before the April 3 trade deadline.
Let's look at three players who the Bruins should pursue in the trade market to upgrade their third line.
Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers forward has a no-movement clause in his contract, but it's possible that he might waive it to the help his team and go to a contender like the Bruins.
Briere is one of the best playoff performers of his generation with 109 points (50 goals, 59 assists) in 108 career playoff games. Even at 35 years old, Briere is still a highly-skilled forward capable of performing at a high level on a consistent basis and would be a good fit at center on the Bruins' first or third line.
He has only scored five goals with eight assists in 24 games this season, but to be fair, the entire Flyers team has struggled in 2013.
The asking price for a top-six forward of Briere's caliber would likely be high, and a young defenseman from Providence (such as Torey Krug) or a veteran from the NHL roster (such as Johnny Boychuk or Andrew Ference) would probably have to be part of any potential trade for the Flyers star since Philadelphia desperately needs more depth on its blue line.
The problem with acquiring Briere is that his contract still has two more years remaining with a salary cap hit of $6.5 million, which is a substantial figure for an aging forward.
The Bruins could use one of their two buyouts on him at some point if they traded for him, but adding a player to the roster with a large cap hit would be a surprising move for Chiarelli, who is one of the more conservative GMs in the league.
Ryane Clowe, San Jose Sharks
Clowe is the type of power forward that the Bruins need for their third line. The 30-year-old veteran would be a nice fit at left wing next to Kelly/Peverley and Caron.
The Sharks forward is in the final year of his contract with a salary cap hit of $3.625 million, and he will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
Clowe would provide the Bruins' bottom-six forward group with grit, penalty-killing ability, playoff experience and some offensive skill, although he has struggled a bit this season with zero goals scored and eight assists in 23 games.
As a quality defensive forward, Clowe would have no problem excelling in the Bruins' physical style of hockey. He has 11 blocked shots, eight takeaways and ranks second on the Sharks with 53 hits. Clowe will also drop the gloves if he needs to (see video below).
Jimmy Murphy of ESPN Boston recently reported what the Sharks are looking to acquire in exchange for Clowe.
I know the Bruins have strong interest in Ryane Clowe but asking price is 1st rd pk and prospect from what I am told. Too high.— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) March 12, 2013
That's a steep asking price, especially since there's an abundance of top talent in the 2013 draft class, but the Bruins need to make some sort of move for a forward before the trade deadline if they are to make a deep playoff run.
Brenden Morrow, Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars have a number of gritty, two-way forwards that the Bruins could target at the trade deadline, and according to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, Boston has recently scouted the Stars.
For fans wondering about scouts in Dallas: Penguins, Bruins, Rangers, Canucks.— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) March 13, 2013
One player that the Bruins should target in the trade market is Stars captain Brenden Morrow, who plays the kind of physical, two-game that the Bruins expect from all of their forwards.
In addition to his defensive skills, Morrow is also capable of adding some scoring to the lineup. He has scored six goals with five assists in 23 games this season. He also has 38 hits, seven blocked shots and six takeaways.
It's been a frustrating season for Morrow because he's played mostly in a bottom-six role and has also battled an injury, but going from the Stars to a Stanley Cup contender such as the Bruins would likely re-energize the veteran left winger over the final month of the season.
Morrow joined the Stars as a rookie during the 1999-00 season and has never won the Stanley Cup in his career. As an upcoming unrestricted free agent, Morrow would be highly motivated to play well in Boston and shine in the playoffs if he was traded before the deadline.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston. Nick has also covered the Bruins since the 2010-11 season. All quotes obtained first hand or from Bruins media website.