Charlie Coyle celebrates with teammates as Bruins Coach Jim Montgomery looks on during a game earlier this season. Boston has the best record in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — The Bruins didn’t need to thump the Flyers on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center to punctuate a wildly successful first half of the 2023-24 season.

They didn’t even need to win the game to be guaranteed the best record in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break. But they did and head to the time off on a high note.

It would have been a good first half of a season for anyone, but there’s added satisfaction for the 2023-24 Bruins.

After last year’s playoff disappointment, General Manager Don Sweeney had to combat huge personnel losses with minimal salary cap space. Without Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Taylor Hall, Tyler Bertuzzi, Nick Foligno, Dmitry Orlov, Connor Clifton, Garnet Hathaway and Tomas Nosek, staying in playoff contention seemed like a pretty good goal to chase.

It looked like a bridge to 2024-25 when Boston’s own contracts coming off the books, combined with salary-cap expansion, would give Sweeney a chance to fully reload.

But Sweeney’s work within the bargain bin proved masterful. He snapped up Morgan Geekie, who the Kraken inexplicably let go, giving Montgomery a versatile piece up and down the lineup. James van Riemsdyk came in with still capable legs and ample motivation. At just a $1 million per season for nine goals and 23 assists, he’s a bargain and is outproducing Tyler Bertuzzi (six goals, 14 assists through Friday) who the Bruins couldn’t afford to keep. They didn’t overextend to re-sign Dmitry Orlov, who has struggled and they didn’t break up their goaltending duo which has been outstanding again.


The Bruins defense has been good enough and it’s almost to be expected that it could get better with a little health continuity.

There are still question marks about the team’s playoff potential, but there were people legitimately projecting the Bruins would miss the playoffs.

All of which leaves Sweeney with a decision. How aggressive does he want to be at the trade deadline?

The Bruins have very little financial flexibility which makes adding an impactful player difficult. They’d have to either shed salary or get a trading partner to retain salary or more likely both. Does Sweeney believe in this team enough to give up any of their limited number of prospects or future draft picks in hopes of making a run?

For almost any other team in first place, being aggressive buyers at the deadline would be the obvious path, but last year’s disappointment is likely to make someone a little hesitant. Is Sweeney among those someones? Even he might not know the answer yet.

Bruins Coach Jim Montgomery was a little cryptic about injuries to Derek Forbort and Matt Poitras before Saturday’s game. At this point, anything the Bruins get from Poitras should be treated like a bonus. The 19-year-old rookie is basically an on-ice intern for Boston. This training may prepare him for a big role down the road. But right now, he’s not ready to consistently be counted on.


Forbort is more complicated. He’s missed half the season with undisclosed ailments. If he’s healthy, he’s valuable in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill. He’s the sort of player that can be a crucial piece in the playoffs.

But if he’s going to miss time, Sweeney has to weigh some factors. Unlike Poitras, if Forbort, who makes $3 million, goes on long-term injured reserve, the Bruins get salary cap relief that could be valuable when making a move. But at the same time, if Forbort can’t play, that increases the incentive to add a defenseman at the deadline if they don’t feel like Kevin Shattenkirk, Parker Wotherspoon, Mason Lohrei or Ian Mitchell can be counted on for playoff minutes.

This team isn’t as talented as last year’s record-breaking squad. But it could be potentially better in the postseason. Against the Panthers, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Hampus Lindholm and probably Linus Ullmark were hampered by injuries. On top of that, the Bruins dealt with almost no adversity during the regular season. When it arrived during the postseason they didn’t handle it well from Montgomery on down.

They have had rough patches this year and emerged stronger from them. Presumably, they learned something from last year’s debacle too. If the Bruins keep winning at their current pace, Montgomery should have some flexibility to rest key players at the end of the regular season to be fresher, healthier or simply to avoid injuries, which he didn’t do enough last year.

It’s impossible to judge if it will be enough. But the Bruins will be different and hoping the results will be too.

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