Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has admitted that he must relinquish one of his eight established NHL defensemen. He actually believes he has a ninth in David Warsofsky, and four weeks ago, told the press that “we can’t go into the year with nine NHL defensemen.”
But Warsofsky still makes sense as an AHL blueliner, as does Zach Trotman. Both saw their first slurps of NHL action in 2013-14, and both Warsofsky and Trotman re-signed with the organization this month.
Odds are Chiarelli will move only one of the eight holdovers who have played at least half a season in Boston. That should leave the NHL roster with the ideal distribution of seven rostered rearguards while Trotman and Warsofsky start 2014-15 in Providence.
No other arrangement makes as much sense for the Bruins blue-line brigade. While the top club will want to relieve one wedge of congestion, retaining relative seasoning and familiarity in the minors will yield multiple benefits.
For all of the promise Warsofsky has sculpted over three professional seasons, he is hardly proven in the NHL. His six-game sample size from last winter renders him a mystery man until he authentically arrives a la Torey Krug and Kevan Miller.
Likewise, Trotman’s two appearances make him Boston’s other recent defensive debutant who could still use some AHL refinement. But by logging massive minutes against the aspirants of other organizations, he too should ready himself to fill in on Claude Julien’s scroll when needed.
Throw in Joe Morrow, a rising third-year pro and second-year P-Bruin, and the franchise should have 10 properly placed blueliners capable of delivering. That is, seven returning household names and three prospective substitutes with prior organizational know-how.
All three of the latter have enjoyed at least one season of tutelage under Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy, himself a defensive connoisseur. With the new contracts and Boston’s hiring of Joe Sacco instead of Cassidy to fill an assistant coaching vacancy, they are set for another year together.
By virtue of experience with the team, Warsofsky stands as the elder statesman of the Baby Bs defensive corps. His performance in the defining phases of this past season verified his aptitude for that role.
In May, Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney told Jess Isner of bruins.com, “David was an anchor on the team this year from day one. He played with confidence and conviction on both sides of the play. He led a young group of D-men and wanted to be a difference-maker every night.”
Picking up where he left off can help the individual and the organization alike.
The P-Bruins figure to return a substantial stable of holdovers from one or both of their last two seasons. Coming off of back-to-back second-round, seven-game playoff losses to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton ought to stoke an overflow of collective determination.
From a Boston standpoint, it never hurts to have one’s primal prospects engaged in a simulation of the incomparable quest for springtime splendor.
A competitive AHL team that adheres to the same basic system as its nearby parent club makes for top-notch preparation. A team with the Bruins’ standards can ask little more of its feeder club than a core group determined to build on its own playoff foundation.
Between now and then, there will be the usual expectation of a revolving door between the two levels. That is when the top prospects will periodically flex their future potential on a more accurate gauge. That, in turn, is when higher-ups will have their head on a swivel as more long-term blueprints take shape.
Assuming consistent health, when he is not leading the younger band of Bruins, Warsofsky will reverse his role as a stand-in for Boston this regular season. Ditto Trotman and Morrow, depending on who is the best fit when a call-up is warranted.
None of them need to glance far back in time for influence. In 2013-14, Miller made considerable strides, completing his AHL-to-NHL transition within weeks of his Nov. 21 debut with the big club.
Granted, his 47 regular-season appearances were by default with season-ending injuries to Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg. But the straightforwardness of the Providence-Boston pipeline contributed to Miller’s seamless transition. After two-plus years in the minors, he only needed to elevate his intensity the same way every NHL newbie does.
The same was true of Krug, who became an NHL regular in 2013 after a promotion when both Bruins teams were in the middle of their respective postseasons. The same, if need be, can apply to the top-tier presumptive Providence holdovers in 2014-15.
With a 5’9” stature and 170-pound bulk, Warsofsky is carving a Krug-like persona with his size defiance and production from the point.
Trotman, second only to Christopher Breen among minor league Bruins blueliners at 219 pounds, must prove he can maximize the use of his brawn and avoid pressure-induced errors in NHL action. If he can do that, as Joe Haggerty of csnne.com speculated, he could be a long-term homegrown project in the making.
In Haggerty’s words from a recent write-up, “Trotman, 23, is likely looking at real chance at the NHL two seasons from now with Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski all unrestricted free agents following this season, and excited at the prospect.”
By that projection, a more generous sprinkling of appearances in Boston could be part of the organization’s 2014-15 itinerary for Trotman. Although, as Miller’s path proved, that is not an indispensable necessity.
The core point is that other circumstances could ultimately sap some of the Bruins’ quantitative and qualitative depth at the NHL level. Boychuk, in particular, could be looking at a preemptive exit via trade before his current contract, complete with a $3,366,667 cap hit, expires next summer.
Because those three are likely to command a raise, keeping any and all of them will require flexible, cost-effective new faces elsewhere on the depth chart. In that situation, there is no substitute for reliable, familiar and homegrown talent.
In the event that Boston parts with more than one of Bartkowski, Boychuk and McQuaid, the likes of Trotman and Morrow come in. As it happens, their respective deals run through 2015-16 with six-figure cap hits of $625,000 and $863,333.
Warsofsky will play through this coming season on a one-year deal worth an even $600,000. Because of his similarities to Krug and minor-league mainstay status through three years, he is a less likely keeper for the long run.
But besides the short-term benefit of continuity on the farm, the Bruins can reap plenty out of this small extension. Depending on what unfolds in the coming winter, Warsofsky could become worthwhile trade bait if Boston is a buyer at the 2015 trade deadline.
If that scenario does not develop, the ensuing free-agency risk would hardly be a catastrophe. One more bid to join the rest of Cassidy’s pupils in clearing the second-round Calder Cup hurdle would help the collective cause.
Remember: Boychuk and McQuaid went on multi-round playoff runs with Providence in 2008 and 2009, when Cassidy was an assistant coach there. Within five years, both had evolved into Boston staples, bolstering runs to the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
Will a combination of Morrow, Trotman and Warsofsky burgeon into Boychuk-McQuaid 2.0? Maybe, but that is why the Bruins brass is wise to preserve their shot at coming through the same channel.