5 Lineup Changes the Boston Bruins Should Consider for the New Year
With five games remaining in the current calendar year, the Boston Bruins are virtually set in a state where reformation comes recommended for 2015. They entered Sunday night’s tilt with Buffalo in a 2-5-2 slump so far in December.
Dating back to Nov. 21, when they nabbed a 4-3 shootout decision in Columbus, they have not won consecutive games in the last month. Going 4-6-3 in that span, they only finished one of those victories in regulation.
Odds are they are not going to turn this trend 180 degrees right away. The status quo is tried and true for the worse. At 16-14-3 overall third season, the Bruins need to pursue new arrangements to merely ensure their 2015 playoff qualification.
If the situation is appropriate, it might also not hurt to take a few glimpses at the more distant future. This means giving a few looks to some Providence mainstays later this regular season.
Whether it entails internal shuffling, dangling trade bait or honing the appeal of potential trade bait, here are five changes the Bruins should look into within the next three-plus months.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com
Break Up Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton
Sheer defense, with all of its old-fashioned trimmings, is among the least of Boston’s concerns right now. A slight shuffle among the rearguards for the sake of sparking more offense is affordable and in order.
Going into Sunday’s action, the Bruins have failed to score more than twice in 14 of their last 17 games, including each of their last five. If they are going to restore a habit of putting opponents away before overtime, they are going to need better finishes from everybody.
It would not hurt to generate more opportunities to begin with. One way to go about that is to distribute the two-way specialists from the blue-line corps more evenly throughout the depth chart.
This would entail putting Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton, who have recently been partnering on the first pairing, on separate units. With one occupying a slot on the top pair, the other on the second and Torey Krug on the third, they would have a proven playmaking rearguard in action at all times.
At the rate they are producing, the Bruins might as well get creative and try to extract more offense from their defense. Between initiating a breakout from their own corners and preserving attacks from the point, this arrangement would be their best bet.
As long as Hamilton renews his chemistry with Dennis Seidenberg, there should still be a passable veteran-youngster balance as well.
That will hold true all the more if and when Adam McQuaid returns from his injury. Based on a Nov. 19 report on the team’s website, he will be ready no later than mid-January, at which point he should link up with Krug.
More Matt Fraser
Another way to try to irrigate the arid strike force, even a little bit, is to tap into Matt Fraser’s release more often.
After suiting up for the first seven games of December, Fraser was the odd man out when David Krejci came back this past Wednesday. But there are enough reasons for the Bruins to try swapping Craig Cunningham out of the fourth line right wing in favor of Fraser.
Though he is a left-hand shot, The Hockey News notes that he “is versatile enough to play either wing position.” Just as importantly, the same scouting report declares Fraser “an industrious worker” who “plays a physical brand of hockey.”
A veteran of 52 NHL regular-season and playoff games, including 21 this season, Fraser also has not ceased to draw attention to his electric shot. Per DJ Bean of weei.com, after the youngster’s two-goal night Nov. 1, center Carl Soderberg said, “He’s a sniper…and he wins a lot of battles.”
A host of other reporters, pundits and teammates have been highlighting Fraser’s shot since training camp. As long as he sustains an adequate appetite (and why wouldn’t he?), he should earn his share of chances to flaunt it through hard-earned puck possession.
Every team that knows what it’s doing aspires to an oozing supply of offensive depth. With the qualities Soderberg and others have alluded to, Fraser has the means to deliver that at a time when the Bruins are aching for it. It’s time they gave him real chance to become a game-night regular.
A Trade Involving Matt Bartkowski
To restate Boston’s struggles up front once more, it is no secret they could use a personnel upgrade among their forwards. There has certainly been sufficient talk among enough analysts to assume the front office recognizes this need and is keen on addressing it.
Meanwhile, in a congested stable of defensemen, Matt Bartkowski could use a change of scenery. The fifth-year pro still has not cemented a regular role on the game roster, even with the protracted injuries to Chara and McQuaid.
It is only logical to conclude that he is simply not going to get that kind of a role as a Bruin. In turn, any deal that gives Bartkowski a change of scenery and makes the other necessary sacrifices to land another striker is worth Peter Chiarelli’s consideration.
Another benefit that would come with dealing Bartkowski is more room for the likes of Joe Morrow. The Bruins returned the rookie to Providence on Saturday, even though one could argue he has at least earned the right to serve as the parent club’s spare seventh blueliner.
At Couple of Games for Malcolm Subban
A temporary lineup change is still a lineup change, and this one would have plenty of merit.
Just as they did with current NHL backup Niklas Svedberg in 2013-14, the Bruins should give goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban his first taste of regular-season action before 2014-15 is over.
Since journeyman Chad Johnson’s one-year stint last season, Boston has generated no shortage of evidence that a stopper’s experience is secondary in its system. Svedberg’s own results in his last two outings, first in Los Angeles and then in Minnesota, are the freshest reiterations.
Though AHL stats can be sketchier to gauge, Subban has posted solid data more often than not in 14 appearances this season. He has confined nine opponents to two goals or fewer and posted s single-night save percentage of .935 or better on eight occasions.
The sooner he gets his chance to embolden his confidence and profile with the parent club, the better. With their dense organizational goaltending depth, the Bruins need reliable samples from everybody to make tough decisions in the foreseeable future.
If he turns in a few sound performances and instills mutual confidence with his skating mates in Boston, Subban will crack open a cluster of possibilities. One obvious scenario would involve succeeding Svedberg, a pending restricted free agent, as Tuukka Rask’s backup as early as 2015-16.
Authentic NHL exposure could also make Subban a more magnetic trade asset. Although the Bruins need to shed roster players and cap space to land what they need, prospects will also be critical to convincing sellers to part with their valuables.
A Ryan Spooner Recall
This proposition comes with more conditions than the others. It will likely have to wait until the others have had their turn.
With that said, one should not rule out another look at The Show for Ryan Spooner in early 2015, even it comes in February, March or April.
Few observers, if any, were expecting to see Spooner back in Providence attire at any point in 2014-15. Yet since mid-October, he has been refining his all-around game, particularly his defensive prowess and offensive finish.
Those two areas have had their iffy spells. While he was going through five straight “minus games” Nov. 23-Dec. 5, Spooner was missing a host of radiant goal-scoring chances. P-Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy recounted the latter to Mark Divver of the Providence Journal for a Dec. 4 report.
Furthermore, the whole process hit a roadblock over the first weekend of December, when Spooner went down with an injury.
Still, the 22-year-old center/winger is only a year removed from an 11-assist, 23-game ride with the big club. If he can replenish that productive persona after replenishing his health, he can still be a candidate to help spark the depth portion of Boston’s offense in 2014-15.