The Boston Bruins must work to avoid exposing any distinction between more than nothing and better than nothing. In the wake of the NHL’s trading deadline, they look to have made moves to reinforce their defense without making ripples.
A press release on the team's official website detailed the acquisitions of Corey Potter through waivers and Andrej Meszaros via trade Wednesday afternoon. Those two blueliners virtually plug the roster spots left by Dennis Seidenberg’s season-ending injury and the ongoing absence of Adam McQuaid.
Barring a rapid rise to an unprecedented competence level in their respective careers, Meszaros and Potter will stop at merely filling the vacancies. They do not figure to fill the voids given their assets and recent track records.
Any potential plus points from these two acquisitions can only travel as far as a cross-ice pass on a fresh sheet of ice that has not had a chance to fully freeze.
For starters, both players are more seasoned than the various stand-ins Boston has resorted to in recent months. However, they have made a paltry impact on their respective clubs leading up to Wednesday’s transactions.
The 30-year-old Potter was last seen in extramural action with the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 27. He logged 11 minutes, 47 seconds against Vancouver that night. His nightly average ice time of 13:46 trails that of nine other rearguards on a team that has authorized 3.24 opposing goals per game.
For a variety of reasons, Potter saw action in 16 of the Edmonton’s first 62 games in 2013-14. Since training camp, he has endured a back, neck and groin ailments and spent a conditioning stint with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, according to TSN Canada.
He might spell any given Bruin in need of a breather on sporadic occasions for the balance of the regular season. Potter’s expectations can stop there. He offers negligible promise in the way of defensive prowess or stamina for the playoffs.
Meszaros’ freshest data does not jut out much higher, though, he is clearly the better of Boston’s additions. Leading up to Wednesday, he ranked sixth among Philadelphia’s blueliners with 17:22 of playing time per game. He compiled that average in 38 appearances out of a possible 62.
Granted, those sparse appearances magnify the 54 hits and 49 blocked shots he has logged on the Flyers’ behalf this season. In addition, this move comes less than a week after the Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi wrote that Boston captain Zdeno Chara was supposedly “nudging the Bruins to add Meszaros for the stretch run.”
The implication there is that Chara and Meszaros could reap rewards via familiarity as Slovak countrymen and recent Olympic teammates.
The Hockey News accentuates the notion of a somewhat decent Chara partnership when its Meszaros scouting report notes that he “is willing to play the body and also adept at playing on his off-side (right).” Chara is a left-handed shot and therefore a natural left-lane patroller who the Bruins will lean on, along with his associate, to protect the home zone with physicality.
Yet the same THN report cautions that Meszaros “is inconsistent in the physical department, despite the size to be dominant.”
Assuming Carchidi’s rationale was accurate when he foreshadowed the transaction, this is where Chara’s leadership comes in. The elder statesman of the Bruins blue-line brigade, along with the coaching staff, must tighten their fists in the way of flexibility to ensure they get the most out of Meszaros.
Only by those means will these deadline deals emerge as any sort of upgrade on the unripe likes of Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller. As much as that quartet can grow and deliver in the future, the 2014 homestretch and playoffs are no time to collectively burden those youngsters.
If nothing else, Mezaros can relieve one of those four by joining Chara and Johnny Boychuk as the veteran half of the active defensive six pack. The ninth-year professional is a veteran of 46 NHL playoff games, including 20 as part of Ottawa’s run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final.
That is still not nearly the same as McQuaid and Seidenberg, who have each been to two championship rounds in more recent memory (2011 and 2013). Not that anyone should have expected the Bruins to gain that exact caliber.
No realistic move would have single-handedly replaced Seidenberg, he of 21:50 per night along with 61 hits and 66 blocks in 34 appearances this season. The quantity and quality of the trade market was not exactly combining to prolific proportions.
With that said, the Bruins took Meszaros off the Flyers’ hands one day after watching Philadelphia reel in Andrew MacDonald, a perennial minute-muncher. The 27-year-old New York Islander-turned-Flyer has averaged 23 minutes or more per outing every season since becoming a full-time NHLer in 2010.
MacDonald, who tips the scale at 185 pounds, would not have delivered much seasoning or size. But he would have brought the stamina that is less certain with Meszaros and is all but out of the question with Potter.
MacDonald was one of nine prospective Boston imports that Comcast Sportsnet's Joe Haggerty listed on Monday, as was Meszaros. Haggerty noted that “MacDonald tops 25 minutes of ice time per game, has virtually no cap hit and leads the NHL in blocked shots while not shying away from sacrificing his body to win.”
The “virtually no cap hit” part and the relatively light return package that went to Long Island emboldens the emptiness left on the Bruins’ front. With only a six-figure salary cap hit of $550,000 on an expiring contract, per capgeek.com, MacDonald could have at least preempted the temptation to claim Potter had Peter Chiarelli lassoed his services.
One can only speculate as to whether a dual MacDonald-Meszaros import was ever feasible. The Flyers might or might not have been willing to part with Meszaros had they not added a defenseman first. In fact, NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman wrote that Meszaros “became expendable” in the wake of MacDonald’s arrival.
Given a stringent choice between the two, MacDonald would have been the better option by virtue of his certifiable stamina, 198 shot blocks so far in 2013-14 and his slim salary. The last aspect would have left more room for the Bruins to attempt an additional acquisition, Meszaros or otherwise.
Add the fact that MacDonald’s former fellow Islander, prolific striker Thomas Vanek, went to Montreal on Wednesday, a deal that was confirmed on the Canadiens’ website. MacDonald’s familiarity with Vanek from at least a few months of practicing together could have helped Boston’s cause in a late regular-season and/or playoff card with the Habs.
Still, Meszaros is not entirely lacking in experience or grit. The question centers on whether he can add enough to help Boston muster any ounces of postseason fulfillment sans Seidenberg and possibly McQuaid.
It will be on his new coaches and teammates to assimilate him and ensure maximum use of his strengths while constricting his shortcomings. Between Vanek’s arrival in Montreal and Steven Stamkos’ impending return from injury in Tampa, opposing offenses are narrowing the margin for error in the Atlantic Division.
How the Bruins fare against one or more of those inevitable challenges in the playoffs will equal the verdict as to whether they did better than nothing or just more than nothing at the 2014 trade deadline.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.
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