Bruins’ Facing Tough Offseason Decisions on Defense

With every new season, there comes change. This offseason is one where there could be some big changes for the Boston Bruins. Not only is the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft this month on July 21, but seven days later, free agency begins and the Black and Gold have several key free agents that are eligible to hit the open market.

While most of the pending free agents are forwards, there are a lot of questions surrounding the Boston defense this summer and what it might look like when training camp opens at Warrior Ice Arena for the 2021-22 season in the fall. There are likely to be some subtractions on defense from the group that skated off the ice at the Nassau Coliseum against the New York Islanders following the Bruins Game 6 loss in the second round that eliminated them from the postseason on June 9.

Let’s take a look at the Bruins defense and what questions surround them this summer, as well as what players could be lost in the expansion draft or free agency.

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft

This is where some changes could easily occur on July 21. The Bruins have until July 17 to submit their protected list for the draft to the NHL and the obvious choices for them to protect on defense are Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, and Brandon Carlo. If that’s the case, then there going to be some intriguing names left available for the Kraken.

One player that Seattle would have interest in is Jeremy Lauzon. In his first full NHL season in the 56-game shortened 2020-21 season, Lauzon was a big piece of the Bruins’ top-four. Along with Carlo, Lauzon was one of Boston’s top defensive penalty killers and when the 6-foot-1, 204-pound left-shot missed 15 regular-season games with injuries, his absence was felt. Not a big point producer, the 52nd pick in the second round of the 2015 Entry Draft had one goal and seven assists this season with a plus/minus of plus-8. Lauzon can play on both the left and right sides and he is just 24 years old, which makes him most likely the one the Kraken wants.

Jeremy Lauzon Boston Bruins
Jeremy Lauzon, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Another defenseman that could be lost in the draft is Connor Clifton, who has more NHL experience than Lauzon. Clifton played very well for the Bruins in the Toronto playoff bubble in 2020 in eight games with a goal and two assists, playing 15:40 a night. This season, he failed to make the Bruins roster at the beginning of the season, but because of injuries, he played in 44 games with a goal, six assists, and a plus-10. A steady defenseman, Clifton is not going to add his name to the scoresheet much, but he is a defensive defenseman that can log over 18 minutes a night.

Connor Clifton Boston Bruins
Connor Clifton, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Jakub Zboril was the first of three consecutive first-round picks for Don Sweeney in his first draft as a Bruins general manager in 2015 and the 24-year-old just completed his first full season in the NHL. In 42 games, the 13th overall pick had nine assists, but after a good start to the season, injuries kept him in and out of the lineup and he missed the entire playoffs. Zboril, who began the season paired with veteran Kevan Miller, has only played in 44 NHL games and has yet to reach his potential.

Free Agency

While free agents at forward are going to be a focal point this summer for the Bruins, the defense has free-agent decisions that need to be addressed. Carlo is the biggest free-agent name on defense and the 24-year-old is a restricted free agent. At 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds, Carlo dealt with concussion injuries this past season, but he is a big asset to the blueline with his penalty killing and his long reach to frustrate opponents. Re-signing the 37th pick in the 2015 draft should be a no-brainer.

Brandon Carlo Bruins
Brandon Carlo, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Miller was the nice bounce-back story of the season for the Bruins. After suffering a knee injury in the 2019 playoffs, he went through a lengthy rehabilitation process and re-signed last October with the Black and Gold for one year. He made the roster out of training camp, but was just limited to 28 games because of injuries. He played in four playoffs games, before taking a high hit from Dmitry Orlov of the Washington Capitals in the first round that sidelined him from the remainder of the postseason. At 33 years old, Miller plays with a physical presence, but his age and injury history is something that should concern Boston.

At the trade deadline in April, the Bruins filled a need for a left-shot defenseman when they acquired Mike Reilly from the Ottawa Senators. A puck-moving blueliner, Reilly had eight assists in 15 games with Boston and finished with 27 combined with the Bruins and Senators. The 27-year-old carried a $1.5 million cap hit this season on the final year of a two-year, $3 million contract. He is in line for a payday as a free agent and if the Bruins want to retain him, they will have to pay him. With the lack of an experienced left-shot defenseman in the organization, he should be a priority this offseason.

Plenty of Questions This Offseason

Between the Expansion Draft and free agency, there is going to be change on the Bruins blueline. Boston went younger on defense for the 2020-21 season and suffered so many injuries that they needed to pick up veterans on waivers. If the Bruins are all-in to make a run for a championship next season, then adding depth on defense is a must this offseason.

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