There are more questions than answers regarding the current state of the Boston Bruins. What is their identity? Who will be the backup on opening night? Are they a playoff team?
However, one of the biggest question marks is on the blue line. General manager Don Sweeney was left with no choice but to deal defenseman Dougie Hamilton out-of-town after the two sides reached an impasse during contract negotiations. The 21-year-old shined on the blue line, leading all Bruins defensemen with 42 points although questions remain about his defensive abilities. Now that he’s in Calgary, the Flames will reap the fruits of his labor.
An aging core of defenseman and a group of young kids make up the current state of the Bruins’ blue line. Several questions remain on the defensive front that are void of a clear answer.
Here are three of the most pressing ones that bear watching as the offseason progresses.
Can Torey Krug Be A Top Four Defenseman?
Torey Krug is coming off a career-year scoring 12 goals and 39 points last season. The 24-year-old defenseman earned himself a one-year contract worth $3.4 million for his performance.
The next step in Krug’s development is to emerge as a top-four defenseman the Bruins desperately need. The Michigan native averaged 19:35 of ice time per night and led all blue liners in average power play ice time with 2:37. His booming slap shot, speed, and transitional abilities make Krug a weapon on the man advantage.
The only concern is on the penalty kill where he was only on the ice a total of 15:19 all season. Hamilton averaged just over a minute of ice time while shorthanded. Krug should see an increased workload on the penalty kill as a test of his top-four credentials.
The good news for the Michigan State product is that he is a solid possession player. Krug has a career Corsi-For at five-on-five of 54.1 percent yet most of that is a result of being a bottom-pair defenseman in his career. That may change this season.
The Bruins are not paying Krug $3.4 million to be fifth or sixth defenseman. He has a one-year tryout to prove he is not just a one-trick pony on offense and prove he can morph into a two-way player.
Can The Defense Corps Stay Healthy?
Captain Zdeno Chara will be 38 when the season begins. Dennis Seidenberg turns 34 this month. Adam McQuaid has struggled with the injury bug for the last three seasons.
Yet these are three of Boston’s top-four defensemen entering this season.
Chara missed 19 games this season with a torn ligament in his left knee suffered in late October. The 6’9 defenseman admitted to the media after the season the PCL is “about 10 percent” attached but promised he would “find a way to be great again”. His training regimen is one of the most rigorous around but is Father Time starting to catch up to Chara?
Hey, teams who didn't land Oduya, can I interest you in a used but working Dennis Seidenberg? Comes with a robotic knee and 4th round pick!
— Corey (@cheaward) July 15, 2015
Seidenberg played in all 82 games last season after missing a chunk of the 2013-14 campaign with a torn ACL. The German is a lock to be on the second-pairing so it is crucial that he replicates the games played but improves on the performance after being one of the worst possession players on the Bruins last season.
The defense corps, who is already under scrutiny in July, will need the good health of their veterans this season or else it could be a baptism by fire for the kids, testing the depth on the blue line for Boston.
Who Will Be The Sixth Defenseman?
The battle for the sixth and final spot on the blue line rotation shapes up to be one of the more competitive battles in training camp. Chara, Seidenberg, Krug, McQuaid, and Zach Trotman are almost locks to start the season with the big club. The battle at the bottom has several candidates that are ready to “duke it out”.
Newly acquired prospect Colin Miller put up numbers last season in the AHL that are hard to ignore. The 6’2 defenseman put up 19 goals and 52 points in 70 games with the Manchester Monarchs and was victorious in both the hardest shot and fastest skater competitions in the All-Star Game.
A smooth skater coupled with a booming shot is hard to ignore, especially for a club that needs mobility on their blue line. Manchester’s number six will get a serious look for spot number six in Boston.
Joe Morrow, Kevan Miller, and newly signed Matt Irwin are also in the mix. The 22-year-old Morrow has spent a majority of the last three seasons toiling in Providence but saw 15 games last season in Boston recording his first NHL goal.
The 27-year-old Miller saw his year cut short due to shoulder surgery and will have to earn his spot by demonstrating the tough, physical nature of his game. He is also one of Boston’s better plus/minus players in the past two seasons (plus-40 in 88 career games).
Irwin is the wild card. The former UMass product had a strong second half to last season scoring six goals and 13 points in San Jose’s final 30 games. He is on a one-year deal for cheap dollars and will have the motivation to prove he belongs with the Bruins.
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