Almost everyone who follows the Boston Bruins, from fans to media members to bloggers and back, seems to think the club has to dump a body before the start of the NHL season. All the talk is that the Bruins simply have too many NHL defenders on their roster and that something has to give. There are eight defenders currently under contract with the club who have NHL backgrounds and who can reasonably be penciled into almost any lineup across the league.
This isn’t a negative, in fact, it’s an overwhelming positive. Some may call me crazy, but I’d say it’s arguably Boston’s biggest advantage over the rest of the Atlantic Division and will be the reason they are playoff-bound for the third straight April. For my money, Boston has the best and deepest blueline in the Atlantic, even ahead of the popular choice down in Tampa Bay.
On top of all that, depth is good. The Bruins can take a lesson from the 2011 Vancouver Canucks, last year’s Edmonton Oilers and many other teams who have lacked depth about why having a surplus is an overwhelmingly positive thing, not an issue that has to be dealt with.
Nothing Goes According to Plan
Remember, even the best drawn up plans don’t always come to fruition. This holds especially true in professional sports, where there are so many variables that it can easily make your head spin. The first and the most obvious variable is injury concerns. You can never, and I mean never, bank on a fully healthy season from your team regardless of sport. That’s a losing battle and will almost always come back to bite you. Bottom line is that injuries are a big part of sports, especially hockey.
Who is to say Boston’s blueline stays healthy for the 2018-19 season? At 41-years-old, Zdeno Chara is no spring chicken and players at that age are seemingly always more likely to get hurt. It’s an issue no one wants to talk about, but remember Charlie McAvoy missed time last year with a minor heart issue. The issue holds a high probability to reoccur and it’s something everyone needs to be cognizant of.
Let’s also not forget that Adam McQuaid has never played a full season in the NHL, and has only played more than 70 games in one of the last four seasons, coming in 2016-17. Kevan Miller, meanwhile, hasn’t hit the 70-game mark since 2015-16.
Injuries happen and almost every player on the Bruins depth chart has dealt with them in one way or another during the last few seasons. Having NHL-proven coverage for those players is a massive plus and it shouldn’t be thrown away because adding to a depth chart at this point in the offseason is hard.
Oilers and Canucks Serve as Examples
Last season, the Edmonton Oilers entered the year as a Stanley Cup favorite but they failed to hit 80 points.
A huge reason was their defense. They lost Andrej Sekera for the first portion of the year with a torn ACL while Oscar Klefbom dealt with shoulder problems all year. On top of this. Adam Larsson missed a large chunk of the year due to his father’s passing. Things happened and Edmonton’s defense collapsed. Along with it went their hopes and dreams of a Stanley Cup.
What about the 2011 Vancouver Canucks, the team Boston beat to claim their first championship since 1972?
They had ample injuries on defense in the playoffs and ended up playing their eighth and ninth defenders at different points during that run. One could argue the 2006 Buffalo Sabres didn’t make the Stanley Cup because of all the injuries they suffered on the back end. Neither team had the depth this Boston group has right now.
Not only that, with as well as Matt Grzelcyk played last year, it’s important to remember that young players do not develop in straight lines. There will be growing pains and there will be valleys to match the peaks. Charlie McAvoy could also suffer from that. Remember how high everyone was on Brandon Carlo at this time last year? Development pains happen to even the best young players. A sophomore slump, however unlikely, is never out of the question.
What About Bruins Trade Options?
The Oilers have also lost Sekera for a large chunk of this upcoming season, and many people have connected the Oil and Bruins together because of that need and Boston’s surplus. Sure, there is a fit there from Edmonton’s perspective, but couldn’t Boston hold out if they really want to make a deal involving one of their defenders?
While I think Boston would be smart to hang onto all these blueliners heading into camp, one could argue that a trade does make sense. Of course, that kind of deal has to make the Bruins a better team. Dealing a player for the sake of it will only get you hurt and will likely involve you losing said deal.
Considering the strong possibility that Artemi Panarin won’t re-sign in Columbus after this season, is it really crazy to think that the Jackets could pull the trigger on a deal involving the star between now and opening night?
I don’t think so.
Do you think Columbus would be interested in someone like Torey Krug to augment their young blueline led by Seth Jones and Zach Werenski? I certainly do.
What about instances when a team under pressure or who has high expectations falters out of the gate?
Considering the lack of management and coaching changes last spring, it’s highly probable that a number of people will be starting the season on the hot seat. Imagine if Edmonton struggles early and the defense is a hole again? You might actually be able to snag Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for Krug, like so many in Boston are dreaming of now.
With this surplus of defenders, Don Sweeney has leverage; leverage that he is almost alone in having. Outside of Nashville, Tampa Bay and maybe San Jose, I can’t think of another team with such a stable of defenders on hand. It’s a great problem, if you can even call it that, to have.
What Should the Bruins Do?
If I’m Sweeney, I’m keeping my powder dry, at least until training camp gets into full swing. It’s impossible to know what is going to happen, impossible to know if injuries will become a factor and if players will struggle to live up to their expected level of ability. You’re always better off hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. Right now, the Bruins are prepared for the worst on defense with eight legit options on deck. That’s smart if you ask me.
We’ll see what Sweeney and company actually do, but I think patience until a can’t lose trade presents itself or the extra bodies are needed is the right play.
Everyone around Boston seems to think this layer of depth is bad news for the Bruins. I happen to think it’s the best thing going about this roster right now.
A 2016 graduate of Springfield College, Alex graduated with a degree in Sports Journalism and Communications. Since September of 2016, Alex has served as the Director of Broadcasting and Play-By-Play announcer for the USPHL’s Boston Junior Bruins. Alex has also called games for Northeastern University, Holy Cross and UMass Lowell. Alex is the founder and lead writer for The Oilers Rig, and Edmonton Oilers blog he created in June of 2013. He’s also currently serving as a contributor to Murphy’s Hockey Law in addition to his work at THW. Alex is a native of Woburn, Massachusetts.