BOSTON -- With one week before the puck drops on the 2014-2015 season, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien still have some difficult roster decisions to make ahead of the Oct. 8 opener against the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden.
A healthy internal competition has taken place during training camp, with some players making a statement to earn a spot, while others have fallen from grace.
Offensively, the Bruins have four vacancies. Defensively, Boston's blue line is a virtual logjam, and it's only a matter of time before Chiarelli trades a defenseman.
With only two preseason games remaining before the Bruins head out on their annual team bonding trip after Saturday's exhibition game at home against the Detroit Red Wings, more cuts and a possible trade or two are coming.
Julien likes consistency in his lineup, which is something the Bruins have enjoyed a lot of in recent seasons. With the exception of a tweak or two, Julien knows what works best in order to achieve success. Nonetheless, there are more question marks entering this season than there have been in years.
Barring any trades, when the season opens a week from now, here's how the four lines and defensive pairings could shape up for Boston:
The top line remains a work in progress. Krejci and Lucic have been playing together for years. Eriksson would be the third right wing on that line in five seasons. Lucic is still rehabbing from offseason wrist surgery and it could take him awhile to get up to speed. That line has always been built on power and strength, but with Eriksson in the mix, there's likely to be more finesse in the mix.
If Eriksson doesn't find chemistry on that line, perhaps the Bruins would be better off having him return to the third line, where he wouldn't be going up against opponents' top defensemen.
Another option on the top line could be Fraser. He's had an impressive camp, and even though he plays the left wing, he's comfortable playing the right side, too. He's big, strong and talented and could serve that line well, though Fraser will likely start on the third line, with Carl Soderberg at center and veteran forward Simon Gagne, who could possibly earn a spot on the right wing.
Now that Smith has signed a one-year deal, he will return to his normal spot on the right side with Bergeron and Marchand on the second line. While it will take Smith, who missed 11 days of training camp, a little bit of time to shake the rust, his linemates have been playing in midseason form. Chiarelli and Julien have both said they want this line to remain intact.
For years, Bruins fans were in love with the Bruins' energy line, also known as the "Merlot Line," with Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. Campbell will miss the start of the season with a nagging midcore injury, and Thornton now plays for the Florida Panthers. With Campbell sidelined, Kelly could serve as fourth-line center. Since Paille can play both wings, fellow forwards Jordan Caron and Bobby Robins could earn a spot on the fourth line.
Then again, Caron could be the odd man out and possibly end up getting traded. If sent down to Providence, he would have to clear waivers, which seems unlikely.
"You hope Gregory will be back soon," Julien said. "We don't know when. We hope to see him on the ice sooner than later. He's improving well, also. Again, we're going to have to make some decisions here with the season basically a week away. We're going to have some decisions to make on who's going to start here. And depending on the health of our team maybe some will start and won't be here all year. Those are things you have to do when you're put in that situation."
The other scenario in question is how to handle Boston's first-round draft pick, David Pastrnak. The 18-year-old forward suffered a left shoulder injury on the second day of training camp and has not been cleared to play in preseason games. Julien is hoping Pastrnak will be allowed to play in at least one of the remaining two exhibition games this weekend.
Before the injury, Pastrnak impressed with his ability during rookie development camp and the national rookie tournament. But he hasn't played against NHLers in a preseason game, which could affect his chances of earning a spot. If he doesn't, per his contract, Pastrnak will return to play in the Swedish Elite League.
Defensively, Julien has some options. Whether a trade happens or not, the coach is prepared.
"When that time comes, we'll have to deal with it, but right now, I have all those guys at my disposal and I have to think as a coach who's got those guys with him," Julien said. "But nothing's been done that says you may not have this guy or that guy yet. I'm playing with the guys that I have right now. I'm using them as if I'm going to have them."
During Tuesday's 5-3 preseason loss against the New York Islanders, numerous organizations were in attendance, with scouts focused on Boychuk and McQuaid. Chiarelli said this week he would rather not trade anyone, but he has no choice given the team's cap constraints. If he decides to keep Boychuk, who has one year remaining on his $3.36 million contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July, Chiarelli could move McQuaid or Matt Bartkowski.
Defenseman David Warsofsky also remains in the mix on Boston's blue line.
The Bruins had the day off Wednesday, but management and the coaching staff held meetings. The team did announce that forwards Justin Florek, Ryan Spooner, Alex Khokhlachev and goaltender Jeremy Smith (subject to waivers) have been released from camp and sent to Providence.
A lot will happen in the next week, but once the dust settles the Bruins should start the season strong in hopes of once again emerging as a Stanley Cup contender.