BOSTON -- Short or long, NHL offseasons are an exercise in roster evaluation, contract negotiations, the entry draft and free agency.
The Bruins are hitting most of that on the fly after reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but it has taken almost no time to identify their No. 1 roster priority for next season: They still need one more forward -- a winger -- to complete a true top six.
"That's what we're trying to identify, to help us, and balance us," B's general manager Don Sweeney said during Monday morning's season-end news conference with coach Bruce Cassidy at TD Garden. "I don't think I can sit here today and say I absolutely have the perfect identity player, but it doesn't mean we won't find him between now and then."
Cassidy, who spent much of the past season discussing, and occasionally acting on the concept of moving right wing David Pastrnak -- hitting career highs with 38 goals (most on the team) and 81 points -- away from the nearly decade-old Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron pairing, made it fairly clear that the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio is likely here to stay after Marchand hit 100 points, and Bergeron scored a career-high 79 points, despite missing 17 games.
"That's the game plan for next year," Cassidy said. "They've been an excellent line, and I think they want to grow as well, keep getting better."
That means the search is on for a winger to complement No. 2 center David Krejci and his working partner of the last two years, Jake DeBrusk. Krejci matched his career best with 73 points; DeBrusk jumped from 16 goals as a rookie to 27.
Things were different as the playoffs wore on, though.
With Bergeron's line limited more and more to power-play production, the DeBrusk-Krejci duo couldn't pick up the slack: Krejci finished sixth on the team with 16 points over 24 playoff games, and DeBrusk scored only four goals, after scoring six in 12 postseason games as a rookie.
One factor was that their right-wing options were veteran David Backes, whom Cassidy sees as a bottom six option, and Karson Kuhlman, who had played only three pro games at this time last year.
Sweeney said he'd explore outside options, and he'll have the opportunity very soon. He's already on his way to Vancouver for the NHL Draft, which will be held Friday and Saturday there. Just a little over a week later, the July 1 free agency period opens. Unrestricted free agents of interest can be interviewed starting the day after the draft.
The B's currently have internal options, but they're somewhat dependent on their own free agent situation. Their highest-profile unrestricted free agent, Marcus Johansson, got a brief look with Krejci and DeBrusk after he was acquired from the New Jersey Devils at the NHL trade deadline, but there's no certainty that Johansson will return.
The Bruins have about $14 million available under a projected 2019-20 salary cap of $83 million, but raises for restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen will swallow some of that, and a long-term extension for defenseman Torey Krug (negotiations can begin July 1), whose existing contract expires in a year, must be considered, as well.
Should Johansson be retained, he may still be best used with Charlie Coyle (also entering the final year of his contract). The pair formed a solid third line in the playoffs with Heinen.
If Johansson signs elsewhere, Coyle becomes a candidate to play with DeBrusk and Krejci -- but that leaves a hole at center on the third line, which the Bruins likely would fill internally. Sweeney mentioned Trent Frederic, a second-year pro next season, and current fourth-line center Sean Kuraly as options.
With Bergeron turning 34 next month and Krejci 33, the Bruins don't have forever to contend behind the current 1-2 punch at center. Completing the top six improves their chances, but as Krejci has found since Nathan Horton's free agent departure after the 2013 Cup Final, replacements aren't easy to find.
"In a perfect world, yes, we would identify a guy, plug him in there, (Krejci) would return to 70 points, and the line would be prolific," Sweeney said. "We hope to have that internal option. We spoke to a couple guys he had a chance to play with, so that might be the route we go, or we look outside the organization."
Around the Boards
Sweeney said that 42-year-old captain Zdeno Chara, who needs another 5-6 weeks to recover from his fractured jaw, will have a surgical procedure this week to remove loose fragments from his elbow. Defenseman John Moore (fractured humerus bone) has surgery scheduled; Backes (undisclosed) and Noel Acciari (heel) may face surgery, too. ... Cassidy's not immune, either -- he'll undergo a knee replacement this offseason.