The Boston Bruins’ blue line has been the subject of much debate all summer.
It all started with the contract negotiations (or lack there of) and subsequent trade of promising young defenseman Dougie Hamilton to Calgary on draft day. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Boston fans especially since the club made minimal improvements to shore up their back end.
Now, they will be without one of their veterans for an extended period.
Dennis Seidenberg to undergo back surgery tomorrow. Out 2 months. Tough luck for player and team.
— Fluto Shinzawa (@FlutoShinzawa) September 23, 2015
The Bruins announced on Wednesday morning that defenseman Dennis Seidenberg will undergo surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back and miss eight weeks. It’s a setback to a defense corps that was have some significant questions looming over their heads for the first 20-25 games.
Here’s my take on what the his injury means for Boston’s defensemen going forward.
If you’re of the “glass half-full” variety, the 34-year-old’s injury opens the door for the youngsters to lay claim to a permanent roster spot in Boston.
Joe Morrow and Colin Miller headline the list of young guns who are looking to take advantage of their fallen comrade’s absence. The 22-year-old Morrow was one of the pieces of the Tyler Seguin trade back in 2013 and got his first taste of NHL action last season after playing 89 games down in Providence. Morrow played in 15 games recording a goal and plus-three rating.
He is chomping at the bit to further showcase the offensive skills that made him a first-round pick in 2011.
As for Miller, he was the main prospect acquired for Milan Lucic on draft day. The Ontario native blossomed in Manchester last season scoring 19 goals and 51 points in 70 games with the Calder Cup Champions. He was regarded as one of the Los Angeles Kings’ best prospects thanks to his speed and booming shot, as demonstrated by his Fastest Skater and Hardest Shot victories at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition.
Miller may find himself in a bottom-pair role to begin but will have to earn his place with strong performances throughout the preseason.
Who’s Killing Penalties?
If you occupy the “glass half-empty” perspective, one of Boston’s biggest problems in Seidenberg’s absence is trying to find someone to fill his role on the penalty kill.
Last season, number-44 led the Bruins in shorthanded time-on-ice racking up close to 210 minutes. His 2:33 average time-on-ice/game while down a man ranked third on the club.
My projected Bruins pairings w/Seidenberg news:
— Nicholas W. Goss (@NickGossNBCSB) September 23, 2015
Using this projection as a guideline, it’s alarming to find out that only two of these seven defensemen averaged over a minute of shorthanded time per game in Chara (3:03) and Adam McQuaid (1:54). The 38-year-old captain and the injury-prone McQuaid look to be the figureheads for the Bruins penalty kill until late November.
Who will join them? Well, that’s where problems arise.
Zach Trotman averaged just 46 seconds of shorthanded time last year with Morrow (:28), Krug (:11) and Irwin (:09) behind him. Considering Trotman and Krug project to be top-four and averaged under a minute on a penalty kill combined, it could be a problem placing one (or both) of them in a situation they aren’t all that familiar with.
Boston averaged over five minutes a game on the penalty kill last season, so there is plenty of time that must be accounted for in Seidenberg’s absence.
The Long Road To Recovery?
The estimated time for his recovery after surgery is eight weeks. However, the real question is how long it will take the German to return to full fitness.
With Dennis Seidenberg out for 2 months, Bruins now have just one D-man that's regularly played 20 mins a night in NHL. And he's 38. Yikes
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) September 23, 2015
Seidenberg suffered a torn ACL in his knee back in December 2013 and showed some ill effects of that same injury for a chunk of last season. As an aging defenseman who is on the back-nine of his NHL career, the body takes a little more time to heal from these sorts of injuries.
One has to wonder how long it will take him to fully heal from this latest surgery. Seidenberg may be only on the shelf until U.S. Thanksgiving but how much more time will it take him to get in game shape? While everyone else will have found their legs a quarter of the way into the season, “Seids” will be essentially in preseason mode just trying to condition his body into game shape.
Two weeks before the regular season begins, the Bruins are already facing an uphill battle on the blue line with the loss of Dennis Seidenberg . For some, it will be an opportunity to showcase their talents to the coaches and front office in an attempt to remain in Boston upon his return.
However, there are many questions that do not have clear answers. Can Chara carry the blue line in Seidenberg’s absence? Will the young guns step up? Can the penalty kill survive for the first two months?
One thing is for sure: the Bruins defense corps has suffered a massive blow and will be put to the test early. How they react may decide where the course of the 2015-16 season lies in Boston.
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW