Is the Bruins’ Defense in Trouble?

To start the 2019-20 season, the Boston Bruins will be without Kevan Miller and John Moore as both have been placed on injured reserve. There is also the dilemma of Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo still not having signed contracts. Throw in the possibility of captain Zdeno Chara sitting out for opening night and now we have a dilemma. So, just what is the Bruins’ defense going to look like this season?

Last week, Adam McQuaid was spotted at the informal Bruins captains’ practice. However, despite rumors going around, he was simply just practicing with some former teammates. While the idea of him rejoining the Bruins is a nice concept and the defenseman is still an unrestricted free agent, the likelihood of him remaining with Boston past a tryout offer (if the Bruins extend one to him) are slim to none. The fact of the matter is, the Bruins have much better in-house options that would suit their needs than bringing McQuaid back.

Can the Bruins Sign Carlo and McAvoy in Time?

The biggest conversation surrounding the Bruins this offseason has been the signing of McAvoy and Carlo, or, the lack thereof. Both players were core pieces to the Bruins’ defense in their Stanley Cup Final run, but there is a problem — there’s only about $7.25 million of cap space available.

Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo
Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo (Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports)

Looking at the extra baggage the Bruins carry and who they could afford to lose, a few names come to mind; Miller, Moore and David Backes. While all three players provide a veteran presence, there are other players that would remain on the team who could provide much of the same thing (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Chara).

In order to sign both defensemen, the Bruins are going to need around $11 million combined for both deals — McAvoy is looking to get around $7-8 million and Carlo, $4 million. Naturally, the Bruins are playing the waiting game like they tend to do, holding out until other young defensemen are signed before extending offers. Either way, the Bruins are still going to have to make some moves for the offers to happen. The only realistic options are to buy out Miller and Moore’s contracts or do something about Backes.

Combining both Miller and Moore’s contracts ($5.25 million) likely wouldn’t be enough to obtain both McAvoy and Carlo, therefore there is only one viable option; say goodbye to Backes. Last season he spent the majority of the playoffs as a healthy scratch. He is expected to be sidelined at the beginning of this season with an injury, and while this will provide cap relief in the short-term, if he isn’t slated to miss a significant amount of time, they need to look at other options. It seems the only way to keep him and McAvoy and Carlo is to put him on long-term injured reserve. Otherwise, the likely scenario is to trade him, though his hefty no-trade clause list could pose a problem.

Charlie McAvoy Bruins
Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The other long-shot option is to sign McAvoy to a one-year deal and have the defenseman essentially prove his worth, which isn’t the worst idea. He has yet to play a full, 82-game season. The most he has appeared in during the regular season is 63 games in his first season and then just 54 last season. Only having two seasons under his belt, both riddled with injuries, a one-year deal makes sense.

In the beginning of August, president Cam Neely spoke openly to Joe Haggerty of NBC Sports Boston about his concerns, but that they “should be able to get something done for both,” and that a bridge deal may be the best option for McAvoy. If they propose a one-year deal to him in the $5 million range, we’re looking at enough cap room to sign Carlo long-term and some more time to be able to make salary decisions. However, this is also a deal that could backfire if McAvoy has a breakout season and boosts his worth, costing the Bruins much more in the near future.

Zdeno Chara on the Sidelines

Chara told reporters last week that he could possibly miss the season opener on Oct. 3. When all was said and done at the end of last season, it was noted that in addition to his jaw injury, he also sustained an elbow injury. During informal practice last week he told Boston Globe reporter Matt Porter that he wasn’t sure if he would be ready for opening night stating, “I think I should be, but it’s a process of making sure there are no setbacks or any discomfort.” (from ‘Zdeno Chara says he may not be ready for Bruins opener,’ Boston Globe, 9/7/2019)

Zdeno Chara (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There is no question Chara is an essential piece to the defensive core, especially on the penalty kill. However, having him sit out for a few games until he gets back to 100% wouldn’t be detrimental. The Bruins have a fairly versatile group of defensemen that are able to step up and fill slots when needed. They have Steven Kampfer and Urho Vaakanainen who could also put in more ice time. Giving Chara time to rest and get back to full health is a necessity for the Bruins if they want to have another chance at a Cup run.