March 5 came back to haunt the Boston Bruins on May 14, when their 2013-14 season came to an end. General manager Peter Chiarelli admitted as much two days after his club’s second-round playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
When addressing the press last Friday, Chiarelli allowed a connection between subpar results at the trade deadline and subpar results in the postseason. As quoted by ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald, he said, “We have a young back line right now and I’m partially to blame if you want to assign blame. Maybe we didn’t get enough at the deadline, maybe we overestimated the youth and where they were.”
The youth he refers to was constituted by Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller. All four were in their first or second NHL seasons and seeing regular action in the absence of injured veterans Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg.
By the deciding phases of the playoffs, those were the choices for the active roster. The odd men out were the more seasoned trade-deadline imports Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter.
It is safe to assume those two will not be back in Boston when the Bruins reconvene in September. Another easy assumption is that Seidenberg, who has not seen game action since Dec. 27, will be primed to tackle a clean sheet.
There are times when teams consider a long-injured incumbent player’s return tantamount to inserting a refreshing new acquisition. Will that apply to the Bruins and Seidenberg, or does something more need to happen to the blue-line brigade this summer?
Two Bruins beat reporters have presented fascinating, albeit contrasting, propositions for the start of the 2014-15 season.
In a Tuesday morning write-up, Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com said to expect ruffles on the roster, though not among defensemen. The only external transaction he envisions is the potential departure of Bartkowski or McQuaid.
Otherwise, Haggerty asserts that “The B’s are locked in for next season with Zdeno Chara/Dougie Hamilton, Seidenberg/Johnny Boychuk and Torey Krug/Kevan Miller as the top three pairings.” Depending on who is still on the roster, Haggerty writes that Bartkowski or McQuaid will be the spare.
The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa opines that the Boston blue line could stand to obtain a fresh face. He specified in last Friday’s paper that the Bruins should seek a third puck-moving connoisseur of the Hamilton and Krug ilk.
In Shinzawa’s words, “Under the divisional playoff format, it’s possible that the Bruins could repeatedly clash with Montreal and Detroit. Both teams emphasize skill and speed. The Bruins have to get faster and quicker to avoid future hiccups.”
Shinzawa goes on to mention Vancouver’s Alex Edler and Phoenix’s Keith Yandle as suitable pick-ups, if possible. His column underlines Bartkowski and Johnny Boychuk as potential exports in order to create room for that type of acquisition.
Casting off Bartkowski is logical enough. He is, in essence, to the current Bruins defensemen what Jordan Caron is to the forwards. That is, he split the previous three seasons between Boston and Providence and then only had the team dress him in a positional pinch in 2013-14.
Depending on what, if anything, the Bruins want to add, the injury-prone McQuaid is another easy choice of sacrifice. Per his TSN.ca profile, three protracted injury stints forced him to miss 51 games and the playoffs in 2013-14 alone. He has been sidelined for similar reasons eight other times dating back to a sprained neck during the 2011 playoffs.
Of course, that history is bound to create complications if Boston wants to part with him. The fact that he is still recovering may ultimately rule him out as a candidate for one of the team’s two allotted compliance buyouts.
There is also the logic that other teams may not want to take a chance on McQuaid via trade. If they do, the return package to the Bruins would probably amount to little more than shaving off his $1,566,667 cap hit.
On the other hand, McQuaid could still be a useful stand-in if he makes the most of eight-plus consecutive months away from game action. But as a regular, he may have been permanently supplanted by the likes of Miller. After all, Miller garnered a contract extension on the heels of a literally smashing performance on Jan. 20, the day after McQuaid’s last appearance.
In turn, of the three younger defensemen who have solidified their stripes, Miller is now an established punisher. Hamilton and Krug stand out as established puck-movers, and Hamilton may have more to give as he grows into his 6’5” frame.
As both of the offensively proficient youngsters gain experience, they ought to develop more consistency in their transitional initiative and finish. That would amount to a way of passively adding polish to the two-way portion of the defensive corps.
With that in mind, the Bruins had best not be raring to export Boychuk, a 30-year-old stay-at-home veteran of nearly five full seasons. He should still have a place on this team, opposite Chara and Seidenberg, as exemplary elders who deal checks and block bushels of shots.
Chara is 37 years of age and coming off two straight seasons dense with Stanley Cup playoff and Olympic action on top of the regular season. Since January of 2013, he has played 125 regular-season and 34 playoff games for the Bruins, plus four in Sochi for Team Slovakia.
The perennial minute-muncher will need a few breathers over the course of 2014-15, and Boychuk and Seidenberg should both be there to spell relief on the physical front. Both are less expendable now that Andrew Ference has gone elsewhere.
Shinzawa makes a fair point as to the prospect of frequent postseason encounters with Detroit, Montreal or both. However, there will be 82 regular-season games between now and the next playoff run and no more than 10 will feature those two adversaries.
That means there will still be times that call for no shortage of the hard-nosed variety of defense. In addition, it will still serve a purpose even when Boston is also working to match an opponent’s flash and finesse.
The Bruins brass may very well conclude that their team must take measures to beat those teams at their own game. If that happens, however, they can address that at midseason through internal shuffling or dealing before the deadline.
If they start 2014-15 with the makeup that Haggerty foresees, barring injury, the Bruins will have tried-and-true options for an adjustment. Chara, who is no slouch in any zone when his game is on, has partnered with Boychuk and Seidenberg alike.
By swapping out Hamilton in favor of one of those prospective second-tier blueliners, Boston would establish balance on each pairing. That is, one stay-at-home specialist working with a two-way connoisseur.
Of course, the best way to decide that works is to test it against primal competition. In the event of multiple mishaps in the regular season, it will be Chiarelli’s calling to redress himself after this year’s defense-at-the-deadline shortcoming.
Unless it is to one-up a rival in an immediate, time-sensitive trade derby, that can wait until winter. For now, the Bruins do have roster-related matters to address this summer—particularly among the forwards—but nothing pressing sits among the defensemen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.
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