For the better part of Claude Julien’s tenure in Boston, the Bruins have been known for their defense. Despite a lot of personnel turnover on the backend, the Bruins have found success year in and year out. Over the last few years, there had been a great deal of consistency on the blue line, as Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, and Adam McQuaid became mainstays. This summer, Andrew Ference departed Boston via free agency and signed with the Edmonton Oilers. The team cited their lack of cap space and their strong group of young, defensive prospects as the main reasons for letting Ference leave, a true testament to how highly they regard their prospects. With Ference leaving, the Bruins were left with seven defensemen at the NHL level, with at least a few prospects prepared to make the jump in the coming years. With only six spots in the lineup for defensemen, someone will be the odd man out. The real question becomes, “how will the team handle this surplus of defensemen? “ The team will most likely end up making a trade, whether that happens in the fall, at the trade deadline, or next summer, one of the seven defensemen will be on the move. The frontrunner looks like Johnny Boychuk.
Boychuk is signed to a very reasonable deal, signed for the next two years with an annual cap hit of $3.36 million. For a top four defenseman, that is great value. With Dennis Seidenberg set to become a free agent next summer, the Bruins will need to create cap space to re-sign him. At that point, Boychuk will have the second highest salary for a Bruins defenseman behind only Zdeno Chara. With Adam McQuaid, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and Dougie Hamilton making about half of Boychuk’s salary, Boychuk presents the best opportunity to clear cap space, without creating too big of a hole in the lineup.
Trading Boychuk would definitely leave the Bruins with a void to fill. He’s averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per game over the last three seasons, while seeing time on the power play and the penalty kill. He plays a physical game and has a cannon of a shot. Fortunately for the Bruins, they have a number of guys chomping at the bit to get Boychuk’s spot. After spending most of last season in the AHL, Torey Krug really thrived in the spotlight of the NHL playoffs. He became a staple on the power play, helping to transform the Bruins power play into a weapon. Like Krug, Matt Bartkowski spent most of last year in Providence, and stepped into a big role in the playoffs when Andrew Ference went down. While both Krug and Bartkowski would help offset the loss of Boychuk, the most likely candidate to take over the top four spot is Dougie Hamilton. The Bruins first round pick in 2011, Hamilton found himself playing over 17 minutes per game in his rookie year, netting five goals and 16 points. Coincidentally, those 16 points match Johnny Boychuk’s career best, made all the more impressive when you consider that last season was basically halved by the lockout. When you consider that all three of these players will likely progress with more NHL experience (all three are 25 or under and have played less than one full season in the NHL), it makes the decision to put Boychuk on the block that much easier.
With Boychuk’s reasonable salary and valuable skill set, he is very attractive to other teams. If a team were to target a play of Boychuk’s caliber in free agency, the deal would likely land well north of $3.36 million per year. When you factor in his age (29 years old), his value goes up even more. Based on the trade value of comparable (or lesser) players, Boychuk could net the Bruins quite a bit near the trade deadline or next summer. Players like Douglas Murray and Robyn Regehr brought back multiple second round draft picks at the trading deadline last season, while Anton Sekera was traded for an NHL defenseman (Jamie McBain) and a second round pick this offseason. Depending on when the Bruins look to move Boychuk, and what their roster looks like at the time, they could help their current roster or help stock pile their prospect pool through the draft. Either way, Boychuk will provide the Bruins organization with great value.
Just as he has done on the ice for the last few years, Johnny Boychuk will help the Bruins even after he moves onto a new team. The cap space will be nice, but the return on Boychuk will go along way in helping bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston.