What Should The Boston Bruins Do With Their Reinforcements When Regulars Return?

Al DanielCorrespondent IINovember 26, 2014

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 15 : Joe Morrow #45 of the Boston Bruins passes the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes at the TD Garden on November 15, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli broke a bold projection to the club’s radio broadcast team Monday night. As both Joe Haggerty of csnne.com and Mike Cole of nesn.com later relayed, Chiarelli voiced his hope for Zdeno Chara’s return within a maximum of two weeks.

It is safe to assume that forwards Chris Kelly and David Krejci, each nursing less severe injuries than Chara’s PCL, will be back before the minute-munching blueliner.

That should mean, barring new developments, all but one Bruins regular will be in commission no later than after their four-game road trip next week. Defenseman Adam McQuaid, who sustained a broken thumb and six-to-eight-week recovery prognosis Nov. 18, is the exception. Although, with his timetable, he should be back by January.

In any case, the Bruins will soon need to make multiple returns to their heavily utilized farm base in Providence. Either that, or contemplate possible waiver risks or even pre-empt those risks by brainstorming trades, thus preparing to gain in exchange for their losses. Or a blend of all of the above.

In light of his declaration on Chara, Chiarelli is sure to be mulling those decisions already.

Some reassignments will be easier to make than others, but to say anything is possible is to speak from more than just a technical standpoint. After all, how many of this team’s followers were expecting Seth Griffith to go back to the AHL, even for a day, as he did Monday afternoon? (Griffith was subsequently recalled Tuesday evening, supplanting Jordan Caron and Alexander Khokhlachev.)

Assuming fate blesses the Bruins with better health, that move was a harbinger of things to come. As Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe explained in Tuesday’s notebook, the Griffith transaction was meant “To make room for Marchand.”

Second-line left wing Brad Marchand’s return from a three-game absence Monday night coincided with fellow forward David Pastrnak’s NHL debut. With that, the Bruins have now dressed 11 different skaters in both Boston and Providence attire so far in 2014-15.

Because Griffith had made 18 appearances, seen first-line action and scored five goals and seven points for Boston, his demotion was a head-scratcher. Then again, few observers were likely expecting to see Ryan Spooner in Rhode Island this regular season.

Who Should Stay in Boston

Like Griffith, Joe Morrow came into the current campaign with no prior experience in a meaningful NHL game. Yet he has since logged 12 altogether sound performances with Boston during Chara’s absence and other overlapping injuries.

Morrow most recently drew easier attention by thrusting home his first big-league goal against Pittsburgh Monday night. In the wake of that game, CBS Boston columnist Matt Kalman offered the following assessment:

In 12 games with the Bruins, Morrow hasn’t produced at the offensive end but he’s been solid as can be in his own end…More than anyone that’s filled in during the Bruins’ rash of injuries, Morrow has seized his opportunity and that could lead to a job in the NHL even once everyone is healed.

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 22 : Matt Bartkowski #43 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Montreal Canadiens at the TD Garden on November 22, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

As noted, not everyone is looking likely to heal until January, at the earliest. That would temporarily mean having up to six of Boston’s original 2014-15 defensemen available, plus room for a spare.

For what it’s worth, Matt Bartkowski started that season as the spare seventh blueliner. Even amidst the onslaught of injuries to his teammates, he has made only five appearances in November. In all, his 10 games played this season are two fewer than what Morrow has logged.

As long as McQuaid is out of the lineup, Morrow can help to supplement some of the missing grit. The Hockey News, after all, acclaims him as “an aggressive defenseman who can hit with aplomb.”

If and when McQuaid is back in full form, Morrow should have other distinguishing qualities to offer the lower tier of Boston’s blue-line brigade. For instance, in the aforementioned Kalman’s write-up, Bruins head coach Claude Julien opined that “he’s always been a pretty reliable guy so far. Moves the puck well and I think he sees the ice well. He’s got a good shot.”

At his current rate, Morrow should have at least four or five additional chances to hone and demonstrate those attributes before Chara’s estimated return. Once that happens, and until McQuaid returns, he could be in a perpetual footrace with Bartkowski for a spot on the game roster any given night.

If Morrow is a long-term keeper for the organization, the Kevan Miller treatment projects to be the best approach for him. Miller burst out of the blue to claim a permanent NHL roster spot amidst the 2013-14 injury plague. Now Morrow is on a path toward earning the same status under similar circumstances this year.

Who Can Be Sacrificed

For all parties concerned, an external transaction rather than an internal one might be in order when full normalcy returns to the lineup. THN’s Lyle Richardson hinted as much in a Tuesday blog post.

Under the rationale that they need to spring for an established top-six right wing on the trade market, Richardson wrote that the Bruins have the requisite “depth in young defensemen to offer as bait, though first they’ll likely wait until injured blueliners Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid and David Warsofsky return to action.”

Could Morrow be a part of that bait? Perhaps, but the fifth-year professional Bartkowski and fourth-year professional Warsofsky might make logical castoffs as well. The undersized Warsofsky is essentially a less proven edition of Torey Krug, while the 26-year-old Bartkowski has generous seasoning and might be better served on a different depth chart.

By virtue of his experience, and potential resultant know-how, Bartkowski might fetch a better return package than anybody else in a hypothetical trade. One could make a similar change-of-scenery argument for Caron, another fifth-year professional who has yet to play a full-length NHL schedule.

Who Can Return to the Minors/Sidelines

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 24 : David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins passes the puck during warmups before the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the TD Garden on November 24, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Imag
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

Compared to the Morrow saga, virtually everything up front should be a relatively coasting stride for Chiarelli. When Kelly and Krejci return, the likes of Pastrnak should be easy to reassign to Providence, as Khokhlachev already was after Monday’s game.

Although Pastrnak earned a few stimulating scoring chances and a late-game promotion Monday night, there is still no cause to rush him. A few early slurps of regular-season action will benefit him in the long run. But he needs a substantial sample size of games with double-digit minutes on his ice-time log before he graduates the AHL.

By comparison, though not as inherently skillful or flashy, Griffith is further along in his familiarity with North America and its professional ranks.

If the Bruins bring Richardson’s speculation to fruition by reeling in a right winger, Griffith and Pastrnak would be equally logical minor-league returnees. That is, unless Boston somehow cuts ties with a current forward, such as Simon Gagne, and needs a new 13th forward.

Matt Fraser figures to otherwise remain in that spare role, which makes ample sense. Fraser has already made 14 appearances with Boston this season (same total as 2013-14) and maxed his AHL learning curve with 90 goals in the previous three years.

Nobody needs to supplant Fraser as the substitute forward, a slot Caron once occupied. But with Morrow, Bartkowski could have someone raring to usurp his initial role and may be better off changing colors before the 2015 trade deadline.

Aside from those three, and Griffith, everyone who has stepped in for any stretch can let their Spoked-B crests morph back to Spoked-Ps when the time is right. If Chiarelli has his way, that will be no later than when the Bruins get home from the Pacific Coast.

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com