In what could be a season-long search for an answer to the question, the Bruins kick off training camp with a decision on their hands about their top forward line that was the NHL's best pretty much all last season.
Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak formed the "Perfection Line" and all three scored 30-plus goals while playing dominant two-way hockey all season, to the point where it was months into the season before opponents scored an even-strength goal against them. They were equally devastating in the Stanley Cup playoffs when Pastrnak's six-point game against Toronto broke one of Wayne Gretzky's scoring records, and the trio accounted for 16 goals and 53 points in just two rounds of playoff action.
So, the Bruins know they have something pretty darn magical when they lump those three forwards together. It gives the Black and Gold something that is going to strike fear deep in the hearts of even the best defensive opponents.
All that being said, the Bruins clearly also became way too one-dimensional offensively in the second round against a pretty solid Tampa Bay Lightning defensive unit. If the B's top line or their power play didn't score for them, then they weren't getting much done offensively in the five games it took to get eliminated.
So now Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is left with the question of whether it's better to keep his dynamic top line united, or whether sliding Pastrnak to a second-line spot with David Krejci might help diversify the offense up front. There are good arguments to going with either choice, and Cassidy seemed to be doing mental gymnastics with the calculations while talking about it at last week's Bruins Foundation golf tournament.
"It's an easy switch whatever we decide. We've done it in-game, in-period, in the first 10 minutes of a game or in the third period," said Cassidy. "It isn't a difficult switch at all. [Pastrnak] has played with both Bergeron and Krejci, so moving somebody up [to the top line] becomes the question. We played Danton Heinen there last year when Marchand was hurt, we used [Anders] Bjork there at the beginning of last year and the other guy that we haven't used that could go up there is [Ryan] Donato even though he's a left winger.
"We've gone through Plans A, B and C as far as who would be the best fit, but to me, it's about who takes the ball and runs with it. It won't be a difficult decision to do it in terms of making the switch."
What Cassidy wasn't really saying is that the Bruins could also mix things up dependent on matchups throughout the regular season. If it's a team the B's feel like they could handle, they could simply roll with that top line and watch them roll up big numbers against forwards, D-men and goalies that simply can't hang with them. Against the better, deeper teams in the league that they're likely to see in the playoffs, that's where the Bruins could spread out the offense up front and drop Pastrnak into a "Wild and Crazy Guys Line" with Krejci as they might in the postseason.
Essentially, it will come down to one of the young guys stepping up and claiming the right wing spot alongside Marchand and Bergeron, which is a tougher assignment than it might seem at first blush. What they want to avoid is a situation like a couple of years ago when they forced Brett Connolly onto the line with Bergeron and Marchand, and it got to a point where they weren't even looking to pass the puck to Connolly amid some major offensive struggles.
Marchand certainly sounded like a guy that wasn't worried about it, but one who also enjoyed his time rolling other teams last season with No. 37 and No. 88.
Really when it comes down to it, who wouldn't enjoy being pretty close to unstoppable?
"Obviously the way that we play together we're very comfortable. But we're going to do whatever is best for the team. If we end up splitting up and we're winning games then that's all that really matters," said Marchand. "We'll play it out. We'll feel it out. I'm sure there's going to be some kids that are playing for spots and may fit in well too, so that's what camp is. The start of the year is always a ‘feel out' process. We didn't start together last year and we ended up working together. I'm sure there will be times when we're not together and there will be some kids inserted in there, and I'm sure there will be times when we are together. So we'll play it by ear."
Clearly, it's a fluid situation with the Perfection Line and just how much it will be featured, particularly early in the season when the Bruins are trying out some new things. Ideally, the Bruins will find combos that make both top forward lines dangerously productive throughout the season. But it's hard to imagine Cassidy and Co. going away from such a proven force of goal-scoring nature when it gets to late-season crunch time and the Bruins are badly in need of a goal or two.