For the first time in a while, the Boston Bruins have a more pressing need than a second-line scoring threat. Don’t worry, they still need that, but the biggest hole the team must address is a surprising lack of bite in their lineup.
This is not a piece arguing for a return to the ’80s style of staged fights and blurring the lines between a boxing match and a hockey game. This lineup doesn’t need that; no lineup in the modern NHL needs that. As the Jan. 26 game against the Colorado Avalanche showed, the Bruins do not have someone who will step in if temperatures start to rise. After Taylor Hall lifted Nathan MacKinnon’s stick inadvertently leading to a pool of blood on the ice and a broken nose for one of Colorado’s stars, Hall was hounded the rest of the game by a lineup including Gabriel Landeskog and NHL heavyweight Kurtis MacDermid. Hall’s belief that he “doesn’t have to fight if he doesn’t want to” is correct. To be clear, I don’t want Hall fighting. But somebody for the Bruins needed to stop the Avalanche from harassing him the rest of the night.
The Bruins have players who have shown a willingness to play a physical game and stand up for a teammate if the game calls for it. The problem is these players have either been in and out of the lineup all season or have had injury issues to wrestle with.
Frederic is the player currently on the Bruins’ roster who has shown a willingness to step up to anyone, anywhere, in the league. He has challenged and fought Tom Wilson before, and has not shied away from checks, opportunities to mix it up after a whistle, and chances to leave his mark on the game. The issue Frederic has found is in putting together a complete game. His physical game shows up every night, but his defensive awareness is streaky. His offense is even more hit or miss. These holes have made it harder for Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins staff to pencil Frederic into the lineup every night.
The flip side of the argument is that it is difficult for a player to build confidence and consistency in their game when they play in live action only once every 10 days. In the games they do play, they average under 10 minutes a game, and know they are mainly out there to hit and be physical.
Foligno is an established veteran who earned the captaincy for the Columbus Blue Jackets because of his tough two-way game with a willingness to stand up to anyone for himself and his teammates. Similar to what Landeskog has now turned into for the Avalanche, Foligno could beat you on the scoresheet, defensively by keeping you off the board, or by physically dominating a battle. Age has caught up to him and he is no longer the top-six forward he once was, but as a bottom-six checker he has earned a spot in the Bruins’ lineup. The issue he has faced this season is the injury bug. In the most recent example, Foligno, fresh off a lower-body-injury, fought Sam Carrick of the Anaheim Ducks. During the scrap Foligno injured his upper body and has yet to return to the lineup.
Foligno was brought in because he possesses this bite without being a liability on the ice. He may not be a 50-point player anymore, but he is an asset who will go to the dirty areas of the ice, will be sound defensively, bring a physical presence to the game, and adds the leadership of a former captain. But he can’t do any of this from the press box recovering from injury.
Clifton is similar to Frederic, just in defenseman form. He doesn’t have the same size as some other names on this list but when Clifton is on the ice, other players know it. He flies around and hits anything he gets the chance to. Similarly, he will drop the gloves if the opportunity presents itself. However, this frantic play has been some of his undoing. In finishing a check, Clifton has been dragged out of position in the past. His offense is premised on an active skater with a strong shot, but he is not producing at a level that covers for the defensive mishaps.
These internal options are fine, but the Bruins should be exploring trade options to add to this roster. The core of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Charlie McAvoy on the back end, only have so many seasons left to win another Cup. To supplement these players, the Bruins’ brass should be exploring a defenseman who can slot into the lineup immediately. Everyone would love to trade for a Norris-caliber player, but that isn’t realistic with the options available on the trade block or with the assets the Bruins have to trade. Instead, here are a number of targets who could play night in and night out, would add to the blue line, and could bring toughness so teams stop taking runs at skilled players like Hall, Pastrnak, and Marchand (even when Marchand instigates).
Ben Chiarot (MTL)
Chiarot is one of the hottest names on rumor boards around the league and will fetch a valuable return for the Montreal Canadians. A physical defenseman who can log valuable penalty-kill time and shutdown minutes is not the easiest thing to come by. His offense won’t jump off the board, but the Bruins don’t need him to lead coast-to-coast rushes. They need a blueliner who can shut down an opponent’s top six while being strong enough to clear the front of the net and make any forward entering the crease understand they are signing up for a long night. Chiarot is the type of player teams need to fill out a lineup moving into a deep playoff run.
From a physicality standpoint, Chiarot is exactly what teams want. He has size, can skate, and is rapidly approaching 100 hits on the season. He is also regularly deployed against the opposing top line and expected to shut them down. While Montreal has been historically bad — boy, does that feel good to write — he is certainly not the issue. The only issue, if you want to call it that, with Chiarot, is his position as a left defender. In an ideal world, he would be able to slot in on the right side in Clifton’s current spot.
Related: Bruins Need to Upgrade Their Right Wing Position
Being on an expiring deal for a team plummeting towards a lottery position makes Chiarot the quintessential deadline target. The Canadian’s new leadership of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes will have plenty of suitors, which could mean an overpayment is required to pry their top trade piece from them. In the bidding war that could ensue, I am not sure this price can be met, so the Chiarot sweepstakes may become too steep for Don Sweeney and the Bruins.
In my dream world, a deal could be had for a third-round pick, with possibly a conditional future late-round selection (i.e. Bruins’ 2024 sixth-round pick goes to Montreal if the Bruins reach the Cup Final and Chiarot plays in half the games). These picks would help the Bruins improve their current team without hurting their prospect pool or strong future assets. The team’s draft history has been far from ideal and this record only gets worse as the rounds go on. So, losing a third-round pick for an established pro is a very reasonable trade in my book.
Mark Giordano (SEA)
Giordano was viewed by many as a win-win for the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. He is one of the best leaders in the game as evidenced by his tenure as captain of the Calgary Flames and his Messier Award for leadership. He immediately brought a veteran presence to the locker room while also being a key piece on the back end. He is on the Kraken’s top pair — ideally he would slot in on a second pairing for a playoff team, which will help improve his overall numbers and production as his matchups become more favorable. Giordano could pair with Brandon Carlo and create one of the strongest shut-down pairs in the league. He can also step up to the top pair and play with McAvoy if the game or situation calls for it.
On the physical side, Giordano may not have the highest fight number or penalty minute numbers, but he is a physical presence who will step in when a teammate is catching the opponent’s attention. If all it takes is a scrum, he will be front and center, and if a fight happens, he doesn’t back down.
The asking price may be steep for Giordano. A package would likely require a top-two round draft pick and possibly a prospect as well. As with most any deal the Bruins will be looking at, the salary cap could come into play. If Seattle retains salary to allow the Bruins to make the math work, a prospect or second-round pick would almost certainly have to be added in.
Jeremy Lauzon (SEA)
Lauzon would be another candidate for a homecoming after being left unprotected by the Bruins and therefore selected by the Kraken. He has the distinction of being the only right defenseman in the group. He is also the youngest. Therefore, he could be the hardest to pry away from a team who is looking to build around young controllable pieces.
The Bruins’ right side of the blue line is likely where the most immediate help could be found. This makes Lauzon an appealing option because it does not require much roster maneuvering. He showed last year with the Bruins he can play meaningful minutes and eat hard minutes on the penalty kill. Lauzon would likely replace Clifton in the lineup, which is more of a one-for-one switch than upgrading the physical side, but he does present a stronger all-around player.
As the youngest player on the list, Lauzon would likely command a package rather than a single pick for the player. He will be entering a restricted free agent year, but can still be signed to a team-friendly deal. I would be comfortable giving up a third and fifth rounder for him. They could also get creative with conditional picks. The fifth could be a 2023 fifth-round selection that upgrades to a 2024 fourth if the Bruins make it to the Eastern Conference Final and Lauzon plays in at least half of the playoff contests. This deal stings because he had been on the Bruins and went to Seattle for nothing, but hindsight is 20/20 and we can’t dwell on it now.
As mentioned the Chiarot discussion, drafting has not been a strength of the Bruins. The 2021 class has given a glimmer of hope that better picks are coming, but a known commodity is more valuable than a pick that will be used on an 18-year-old who the organization has not already worked with and implemented systems with.
Wrap it Up
A team can never be too tough, but they can be too soft. I am not ready to anoint the Bruins with the “soft” label yet, but on the scale, they are certainly leaning that way. While the internal options of Frederic, Foligno, and Clifton have merit on their own, adding one or two other physical players will help round this team out. The Bruins’ skill is there. The experience is there. Now the toughness and tenacity of a champion needs to be added to the mix.