Among many other byproducts, the absence of Dennis Seidenberg could accentuate the magnitude of the Bruins' offseason loss of Andrew Ference, now captain of the Oilers.
As the club confirmed in a Saturday press release on its official website, Seidenberg has suffered a season-ending ACL/MCL injury.
For the player, this means an estimated stretch of six to eight months away from regular hockey activity. For the team, this means spending the balance of 2013-14 with only three healthy defensive veterans whose NHL careers were in full swing before the waning calendar year of 2013 began.
Naturally, that assumes the roster stays as it is, although one ought to believe that general manager Peter Chiarelli will act within his power to pursue some sort of rentable reinforcement. The alternative to that is to keep banking on a collectively overworked, physically fragile and professionally unripe band of blueliners.
First and foremost, Seidenberg’s deletion from the lineup compounds the complication that is Zdeno Chara’s delicate tank. The towering 36-year-old (going on 37 in March) captain’s season-long reliability in 2013-14 has been in question ever since he wilted at the end of last year’s sprint to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
With that much physical taxation and barely three months of summer to recharge for this season, Chara will need to preserve as much energy as he can if Boston is to sustain any realistic hopes of a multiround 2014 playoff.
When Chara is not in action, either by way of scaled minutes or healthy scratches, the likes of Seidenberg would ordinarily make the next best source of the club’s characteristic physicality and stinginess. Instead, for at least the foreseeable future, it is now on Chara, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid to dish up that veteran sandpaper.
McQuaid, however, is also a magnet for concern due to his own recent health record. He has already missed 18 of the team’s first 39 games this season, including eight in November with a groin injury and nine this month with a lower-body ailment.
Since March of this year, McQuaid has had three protracted stints on the sidelines, the other being an 11-game absence with a shoulder ailment late last season. With all of that still filling much of the rear-view mirror, it is difficult to assert that an elevated role is in McQuaid’s best interest at this time.
As the Bruins currently stand, the rest of their defensive depth, beginning with their fourth rearguard and running through their spare seventh, comes strictly from first- and second-year NHL regulars. These include any combination of the 25-year-old Matt Bartkowski, 22-year-old Torey Krug, 20-year-old Dougie Hamilton and such prospective Providence call-ups as Kevan Miller, Zach Trotman and David Warsofsky.
That, by the way, is only counting those who have dressed for at least one game with Boston so far in 2013-14.
Miller has seen the most action of any defensive promotions with nine NHL appearances. He returned to the AHL less than two weeks ago upon reaching the nine-game mark because that was as far as he could go without needing to clear waivers for his next reassignment.
Theoretically, if they stick to internal transactions, the Bruins could promote Miller once more without worrying about waivers as he would most likely remain in Boston by default. However, the odds are that neither he nor his fellow 25-and-under players combined are ready to plug the pothole that Seidenberg’s injury has caused.
Without Seidenberg, Boston is left to risk a little baptismal burning as it sees whether any of its younger half of the defense can fit The Hockey News’ description of Seidenberg, namely someone who “Is adept at logging big minutes and is a sound defender.”
Furthermore, without Seidenberg, the Bruins are down to two defensemen who are playing more than two shorthanded minutes per night in Boychuk and Chara. They are now without their leading shot-blocker, who had posted an unsurpassed 66 blocks to date.
Then there is the inevitable question of who will relieve at least some of Chara’s burden as the season wears on and the stakes jut out more noticeably. Under ordinary circumstances, that task would easily fall unto Seidenberg, the only player to have rivaled Chara’s ice time in each of the past three playoffs.
Granted, the 29-year-old Boychuk could be ready to take on a few more nightly minutes. Even so, somebody else still needs to round out the top two, three or four, depending on how the Bruins are handling Chara on a given night.
On that front, McQuaid’s aforementioned health history and the collective youth of the other incumbents create a finger-crosser for the likes of Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien.
Naturally, the other solution is to seek a trade or other form of external transaction. In a Sunday morning column, beat writer Joe Haggerty of csnne.com listed such names, with varying degrees of plausibility, as Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, Tim Gleason, Wade Redden, Mark Stuart and Kimmo Timonen.
Casey Ippolito of The Hockey News also suggested Stuart, who began his career as a Bruin, as well as Andrew MacDonald, Kris Russell, Nick Schultz and Mike Weaver.
If and how Chiarelli goes about acquiring any emergency imports will certainly be a subject of fascination. Come what may, it is a safe bet that Seidenberg’s injury has actually triggered trade talk that would have happened anyway. Saturday's prognosis just prompted the wave of speculation to start a little sooner.
Remember: Boston entered this season not only having Chara’s long-term stamina to worry about but also having lost another bruising leader in Andrew Ference to free agency and salary-cap constraints. Those two elements and the McQuaid factor all amount to potential over-reliance on youth and Seidenberg’s premature offseason is just another suffocating layer.
The Bruins entered 2013-14 with a best-case scenario of dressing four veterans and two professional sophomores as their active defensive corps. Now they are down to three veterans with the missing link being what would have been their best bet for seasoned stability.
Barring the insertion of another dependable veteran, a hasty growth spurt is in order for several young, homegrown blueliners. That goes for their sheer competitive aptitude and psychological fortitude.
Until further developments, Seidenberg’s absence means there is one less exemplary leader to kick ice chips over the potentially demoralizing effects of watching Chara falter via fatigue. Therefore, Bartkowski, Hamilton, Krug and any other stand-ins all need to work toward faster positional independence while Chiarelli still has time to assess his assets in advance of the March 5 trading deadline.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.