Over the last two offseasons, the Boston Bruins defense has had some notable subtractions. In 2020, Torey Krug left in free agency to join the St. Louis Blues, then right before the beginning of the 2020-21 season, former captain Zdeno Chara also left in free agency to the Washington Capitals. Then this summer, Jeremy Lauzon was selected by the Seattle Kraken in their expansion draft.
As there is every year, there were some additions to go along with those subtractions as the Black and Gold prepare for the 2021-22 season. With that said, let’s take a look at the Bruins depth chart on defense as training camp is just a couple of weeks away.
It was an up and down 56-game 2020-21 season for Grzelcyk to say the least. He battled multiple injuries and played in just 37 regular-season games. He was expected to take over the quarterback role on the Boston power play after Krug left, but the injuries limited him in that opportunity, which forced coach Bruce Cassidy at different times to go to a five-forward unit.
When Grzelcyk was healthy following his injuries and illness, Cassidy did pair him with Charlie McAvoy as the top pair, which gives the Bruins an opportunity to have a duo together as their top pair for the future. In October 2020, Grzelcyk signed a four-year deal that carries an annual capt his of $3.687 million. Boston is hoping that the 27-year-old can stay healthy this season and have a bounce-back campaign.
At the trade deadline in April, the Bruins were in need of depth on the left side and general manager Don Sweeney traded for Reilly from the Ottawa Senators for a draft pick. What an addition Reilly was to the blueline. In 15 regular-season games, he had eight assists with a plus/minus of plus-7. The 28-year-old, like the rest of the defense, wore down in the second round of the playoffs against the New York Islanders, but Reilly became a priority this offseason when free agency began.
Following the end of the season with the loss to the Islanders in six games, Reilly stated that he wanted to re-sign and Sweeney heard him and made it happen. The Bruins agreed to a three-year, $9 million contract with Reilly to return to Boston. Sweeney and Cassidy are hoping to get as much of an impact from Reilly over an 82-game schedule as they got in 15 games last season.
After losing Lauzon to the Kraken, it was even more imperative that Sweeney find a replacement once free agency began on the left side and he agreed to a three-year, $9 million deal with Forbort. Last season with the Winnipeg Jets in 56 games, he logged a career-high for a season for time-on-ice at 20:45 with two goals and 10 assists. He’s not going to light up a stat sheet, but will sacrifice the body.
Forbort, who can play in all situations, blocked 115 shots and dished out 85 hits with his 6-foot-4, 219-pound frame. The 15th overall pick in the 2010 Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings can play any of the three defensive pairings, and he started 58.1-percent (%) of shifts in the defensive end for the Jets last season.
Last season, Zboril was the feel-good story out of training camp when he made the roster on the third pairing with veteran Kevan Miller. It ended up being an up and down rookie season for the 13th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft, but with some of the offseason moves by Sweeney, Zboril might find himself on the outside looking in when the season starts in October.
Zboril battled through an upper-body injury and illness in the middle of last season, but returned for the end of the season, and even played top-pairing minutes when other teammates were out. He was injured in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Capitals and it was the last time he played in a game for the remainder of the postseason. Barring an injury to any of the three above him, Zboril will get a lot of time with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) this winter.
When Krug and Chara left in free agency, McAvoy was expected to take on the leadership role on defense and the 23-year-old was more than up to the challenge in 2021-22. He averaged 24 minutes a night in 51 regular-season games and came within three assists of a career-high with 25.
In 11 postseason games, McAvoy’s workload increased, as you would expect, to 26:39 a night of time-on-ice and he had 11 assists with one goal. Already making a case to become a yearly contender for the Norris Trophy, McAvoy is in the final season of his contract and expects to see a significant increase from his three-year, $14.7 million contract he’s playing on following this upcoming season. Clearly, he is the best Boston defenseman.
If there is anyone on the Bruins roster who would love to have a bounce-back season, it’s Carlo. Injuries forced the 24-year-old to just 27 games last season, with the biggest setback being a concussion he sustained on March 5 on a hit from Tom Wilson of the Capitals. After missing nearly a month, he sustained an oblique injury in his second game back from the concussion that forced him to miss the month of April. He returned in time for the playoffs, but a Cal Clutterbuck hit in Game 3 of the series against the Islanders forced him to miss the remainder of the playoffs.
Carlo will be entering his sixth season with Boston and the 6-foot-5, 212-pounder, who the Bruins selected 37th overall in the 2015 draft, signed a long-term deal as a restricted free agent this summer. The Bruins gave him a six-year, $24.6 million contract, that carries a yearly $4.1 million cap hit, to remain with the Black and Gold. When healthy, he can be a shutdown defensemen with his long reach.
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Last season, Clifton was beaten out by Miller for the final right-shot defensemen spot, but when Miller announced his retirement this summer, it opens a door for him to earn the final spot on the final pairing. A steady defenseman, Clifton ended up playing in 44 games in 2021-22 with all the injuries the blueline was hit with, averaging over 18 minutes a night. At 5-foot-11, Clifton is not afraid to take the body and will be fighting to make the third pairing at the beginning of the season.
The Bruins signed Moore as a free agent to a five-year, $13.75 million contract, that carries a $2.75 million cap hit, in July of 2018 and things have not gone the way Moore or Boston have hoped. Injuries have hovered over him during his time wearing the Spoked-B, but he will be in a battle with Clifton for the final roster spot in training camp.
Boston has two other prospects on defense in youngsters Urho Vaakanainen, who has 16 NHL games under his belt, and Jack Ahcan, who made his NHL debut last season. Both will most likely find themselves in Providence this season, but will have a chance to impress the coaches in training camp. Overall, the Bruins enter the season with a different feel on the blueline after a lot of players got some action under their belts in a 2020-21 season filled with injuries.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.