BOSTON (CBS) — Relative to their forward corps, the Bruins seem pretty set on defense, with their top five under contract and two of their better prospects also on the cusp of joining the NHL blue line in the near future.
However, we all know about the best laid plans. Once again this season, the Stanley Cup playoffs have proven how vital it is to have depth on defense in order to guard against injury and suspension. It’s better to be prepared than it is to wish upon a star your team will be as lucky as this season’s Los Angeles Kings, who have used just the same six defensemen for all 14 of their playoff games.
With all of Boston’s key defensemen one year older, and with the hard-nosed approach they all bring on the ice night in and night out, lineup shuffles at crucial times of the season are inevitable. So the Bruins will again have to supplement their back-end with players who embody that tough-as-nails attitude and can provide competition to those who would regularly be in the lineup.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the Bruins’ defense with the offseason ready to heat up in a just a couple of weeks after someone finally hoists the Stanley Cup:
Unrestricted free agent
Restricted free agent
Matt Bartkowski (RFA)
Andrew Bodnarchuk (RFA)
Ideally, I’ve always felt that if the Bruins could get to the point where Ference could remain as a third-pair defenseman for the duration of a season, regular season and playoffs, that would be proof they’re deep on the back-end. With Ference entering the last year of his contract, that should be the Bruins’ goal this season.
Without putting too high expectations on Hamilton and/or Krug, one of Boston’s prospects could be the one to challenge for a top-four spot. Or it could be as simple as a healthy McQuaid continuing to develop as an all-around factor. Remember, when he was playing his best in the middle of last season he was often getting difficult defensive assignments alongside Chara and getting some shots through from the point.
It’s almost automatic that Boston’s five signed veterans will be back, although a healthy McQuaid could be trade bait depending on how things play in terms of ice time and the lineup. Ference’s leadership is too valuable to the club, even if he winds up playing less, and it’s doubtful Boston just re-signed Boychuk just to turn around and trade him.
Corvo had all season to give the Bruins a reason to retain him and he failed. He’s a goner.
Zanon, although a solid fit for the stretch run, probably doesn’t factor enough into the Bruins’ plans for the long-term to come back. Another team with more to offer will be interested in his services.
Mottau, while a hometown guy, might find the money and the opportunity greater in other locales. He’s been a popular guy everywhere he’s played. If Mottau’s willing to risk being a long-time healthy scratch, it might be worth the Bruins anteing up the cash to bring him back just based on knowing what he can do as opposed to a player from that outside who might not fit as well.
A lot of what happens with the Bruins’ blue line won’t be decided until the team has a few exhibition games under its belt. Once the Bruins can determine where Hamilton and Krug fit, they can make difficult decisions, if necessary. That’s why general manager Peter Chiarelli was wise to make sure he’d have five top-four caliber defenseman signed heading into the offseason. Now all he has to do is add the depth to fill that sixth spot and have backups in case of emergency. And if one of the prospects leapfrogs a veteran or two, well that’s the type of problem every GM yearns for.