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5 centers Bruins could target via trade to help replace Bergeron

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To be clear, there's no "replacing" Patrice Bergeron. What he brought to the Boston Bruins on and off the ice over the last 19 seasons simply cannot be replicated.

Bergeron, who retired on Tuesday, is arguably the best defensive forward of all time, owning an NHL-record six Selke Trophies. He was also stellar offensively right until the end of his illustrious career, producing 27 goals and 31 assists in 78 games last season.

The Bruins now have a gaping hole down the middle of their lineup. And with David Krejci - the longtime unsung No. 2 center - mulling his future as well, the Bruins could be without two lineup staples they've boasted for nearly two decades.

Boston's management certainly knew this day would come - and prepared accordingly. The current projected 1-2-3 punch down the middle of Pavel Zacha, Charlie Coyle, and free-agent signing Morgan Geekie is nothing to scoff at, and it's a trio the team may be content with. But it leaves much to be desired for a team coming off a historic campaign that still has Stanley Cup aspirations - even if 2022-23 was likely their best shot.

But there are question marks with all three players. Zacha, the No. 6 pick in 2015 by the New Jersey Devils, is just 26 years old and clearly has the most upside of the bunch. His first season in Boston was a career year (21 goals, 57 points) after an underwhelming seven-year run in New Jersey. But it came while playing the wing, which may be the position he's best suited for. Going from second-line wing to first-line center is a huge ask.

Coyle is a stellar two-way player but, while Krejci spent the 2021-22 season in Czechia, he proved that he's ideally suited for a third-line center role. That's not to say he can't function as a 2C, but, at 31 years old, he's yet to prove he can do so effectively.

Geekie, meanwhile, has lots of room to grow. But his career high in points is 28 and the 25-year-old was non-tendered by the Seattle Kraken this offseason.

There are certainly obstacles to finding a center to fill the void left by Bergeron (and potentially, Krejci), but it's not impossible. For one, Boston only has about $6 million in cap space and two restricted free agents in Jeremy Swayman and Trent Frederic still without new contracts. Secondly, the Bruins don't own their first-, second-, and third-round picks in the upcoming draft, and their farm system is among the worst in the NHL.

But there are still ways to pull off a deal. The Bruins should be willing to dangle 2021 first-round pick Fabian Lysell, or even Frederic and Swayman, for the right return. Boston could also dip into its 2025 and 2026 draft picks. As far as clearing cap room, the club should consider defenseman Derek Forbort and his $3-million cap hit expendable if it means landing an impact center.

Without further ado, here are five centers the Bruins should be targeting via trade:

Elias Lindholm, Flames

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Contract: 1 year, $4.85M
Trade fit: ★★★★★

Among the centers that could be available, Lindholm is the most seamless fit. He's no Bergeron, but he's similar in a lot of ways. They're both 6-foot-1, shoot right, and are strong in the faceoff circle. Lindholm is also solid defensively, garnering three top-10 Selke finishes, including the runner-up in 2021-22. He's not overly flashy offensively, but he's a clever distributor who's great at finding openings in the slot to set up for a shot. Lindholm kills penalties and can also effectively play the bumper position on the power play.

In his introductory press conference, new Flames general manager Craig Conroy stated that he doesn't want to let key players walk as free agents as Johnny Gaudreau did a year ago. Lindholm also reportedly turned down a big offer to stay in Calgary, suggesting he could be dealt before the 2024 deadline.

While Lindholm, 28, is due for a big raise and will be a coveted free agent if he hits the market in 2024, his modest cap hit for the upcoming campaign would be a boon for the Bruins. It may not be ideal for Boston to pay a steep price for a rental, but the club has a knack for re-signing players acquired via trade. So perhaps Lindholm could be convinced to stay long-term.

Mark Scheifele, Jets

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Contract: 1 year, $6.125M
Trade fit: ★★★★☆

Scheifele's defensive game is declining as his career progresses, prompting a move to the wing down the stretch in 2022-23. But he's remained productive offensively, tallying a career-high 42 goals this past season. Perhaps landing in Boston's sound defensive structure, surrounded by star two-way forwards like Brad Marchand, could help elevate Scheifele's defensive game as a center.

The Jets already dealt fellow center Pierre-Luc Dubois this offseason and allowed longtime captain Blake Wheeler to depart after a buyout. But with Scheifele, goalie Connor Hellebuyck, and other key players entering contract years, it could be a good time for a reset.

Scheifele's contract contains a 10-team no-trade list, but an opportunity to join the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners would likely be too tempting for the 30-year-old to pass up.

Logan Couture, Sharks

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Contract: 4 years, $8M AAV
Trade fit: ★★☆☆☆

There are more obstacles than solutions in a potential Couture trade. The 34-year-old's contract term would be a concern for the Bruins. The cap hit is also a bit rich, so San Jose would probably have to retain a portion. But with the Sharks already eating some of Brent Burns' contract - and likely to do the same in any Erik Karlsson deal - they may not wish to use their third and final retention slot on Couture.

Couture's deal also contains a list of three teams he can be traded to. But considering the Sharks are entering a rebuild, and Couture is still chasing a ring, going to Boston would be hard to turn down.

Couture still has game, though, producing 27 goals and 67 points - the latter of which tied the second-highest total of his career. He's also known as a big-game player, collecting 101 points in 116 career playoff games.

There are red flags, for sure, but with the Bruins in win-now mode, it's an option worth exploring.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Capitals

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Contract: 2 years, $7.8M AAV
Trade fit: ★★☆☆☆

The Capitals are not rebuilding just yet, but a Kuznetsov trade isn't beyond the realm of possibility - he did apparently request a move out of Washington. His contract includes a 10-team no-trade list, so going to Boston is an option if he truly wants out.

Kuznetsov is coming off a rough season in which he tallied just 12 goals and 55 points and was a defensive liability. The Capitals may not be eager to sell low - or retain salary, which would be problematic - but they do have Nicklas Backstrom and Dylan Strome to center their top two lines.

The Caps may also want instant help in return to remain competitive, so perhaps a deal involving Frederic - who's spent his NHL career at wing despite being a natural center - could make sense if the Caps believe Frederic can slot in as a third-line center.

The Bruins would be betting on Kuznetsov's offensive upside. The 31-year-old is, after all, just one year removed from a 78-point campaign.

Christian Dvorak, Canadiens

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Contract: 2 years, $4.45M AAV
Trade fit: ★★★☆☆

Dvorak is easily the least appealing name on this list. In fact, he's the only player who wouldn't be an upgrade over either Coyle or Zacha.

But if the Bruins opt to replace Bergeron by committee, Dvorak is an interesting buy-low option. His two-year tenure with the Montreal Canadiens has been a disaster, but he produced stellar two-way results in his five seasons with the Arizona Coyotes. He isn't a dynamic offensive play driver, but he has a decent shot and is responsible defensively. He's still only 27, too.

Given his recent struggles, the cost for Dvorak would likely be quite low, and the Habs may even be willing to retain a portion of his already modest salary. He has an eight-team no-trade list but, given how poorly his time in Montreal has gone, Dvorak is likely eager for a fresh start - and could benefit from it.

(Cap source: CapFriendly)

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