BOSTON (CBS) — I guess while we’re using the upcoming two-plus weeks without an actual Bruins game to conjure up trades general manager Peter Chiarelli can make between the end of the Olympic trade freeze and the March 5 trade deadline, we’re going to have to lower our expectations for what kind of a haul Chiarelli can acquire to bolster his roster.
Chiarelli told us as much Saturday prior to his team’s 7-2 rout of the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden.
“There’s really not that many players available, so beggars can’t be choosers really at this point,” Chiarelli said after noting that he’s focused more on defensemen than forwards in the trade market. “With each passing game, I see our D maturing, I see them making less mistakes. I mean, it makes it a little easier on me. But I always feel that we need eight good NHL defenders going in to the playoffs. While I’m certainly not going to replace [Dennis] Seidenberg, he’s too good and those players aren’t available, you’d like to think that there is a player with a little bit of Seid’s defending that we could find and help us. But this year’s been a story about our depth and I’ve been happy with it.”
Prices are high and teams aren’t giving up on their seasons. So the likes of Dan Girardi from the New York Rangers and Andrew MacDonald of the New York Islanders might be out of the Bruins’ reach, even if those players are moved. Chiarelli said he definitely doesn’t want to move someone off of his NHL roster, and that he’s willing to do a rental or take on a player with term.
As for whether the players he’s targeting are capable of playing in the top-four to at least make up for a little of Seidenberg’s loss, Chiarelli said those types of defensemen are outnumbered by the ones that would be described more as “depth” guys.
“I don’t know. [Matt Bartkowski’s] been in that top four and he’s been playing well. It’s a bit of supply and demand so I don’t really – the names that I am thinking about and talking about, maybe two or three of them can play in the top four and the rest of them would maybe shuttle in and out and play down a little bit,” Chiarelli said.
So folks, think more about Greg Zanon, Steve Montador and Wade Redden more than Seidenberg or even Aaron Ward or Derek Morris. And that’s too bad, if your expectation is that the Bruins will win the Stanley Cup for a second time in four years.
If the Bruins stand pat (or just add someone to push Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller for bottom-pair minutes), the top four would look like this: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Johnny Boychuk and Bartkowski. Then it would be up to coach Claude Julien to decide if he wants to pair his veterans – Chara and Boychuk – in the tradition of the Chara-Seidenberg pair of years past. That would put Hamilton and Bartkowski together. Those two looked swell together Saturday, but it wasn’t as if the Senators were even trying during what their coach Paul MacLean called a Bruins “clinic.”
Julien could balance youth and experience by keeping Hamilton and Chara together, as they’ve been for much of the past couple weeks, and go with the high-risk pair of Bartkowski and Boychuk.
A lot will depend on the Bruins’ playoff opponent, but more than anything, success will depend on Hamilton and Bartkowski’s development. So far Hamilton, when healthy, has done little to make anyone doubt his ability to balance offense and defense and chip in on the power play. His maturity has always been ahead of his years and he’s been even better this year than in his rookie season.
Then on the other hand is Bartkowski. Sure, the Ohio State product has made strides this season. But so far to me he’s still not a top-four defenseman on a team that thinks it’s going to be playing in June.
Chiarelli said he’s comfortable with Bartkowski in his top four prior to and after the trade deadline. What’s he going to say? Degrading Bartkowski would only hurt the 25-year-old’s confidence and hamper Chiarelli’s attempts to make a fair deal by declaring to the other 29 GMs that the Bruins have to make a deal.
The proof about Bartkowski is on the ice. Regardless of the extra ice time the Bruins have been forced to give Bartkowski because of his status as a left-handed shot and the injuries to Seidenberg and McQuaid, and Chara’s early journey to Sochi, Bartkowski is still too unpredictable. He’s still experimenting with ways to win the battles that he can’t triumph in with his 6-foot-1, 196-pound frame. His passing is below average and his decision-making is up and down, especially when it comes to gambling without the puck.
Bartkowski’s had some strong games and had some solid shifts within poor games. He’s spent a lot of time in the penalty box because of his mistakes and the Bruins’ goaltending has covered up many of his other errors. Those gaffes might be more difficult to bounce back from in the postseason.
There’s still time for Bartkowski to improve and be a better all-around player come the playoffs. But there’s also more time for Chiarelli to reconsider and maybe meet a higher price to guarantee his top four will feature three veterans. That might even require parting with Bartkowski. If Chiarelli is as confident in his scouting department as he always says he is, he should be able to expect that through the draft and college free agents, the Bruins would be able to replenish their system if they decide it’s time to deal Ryan Spooner or any of another handful of prospects.
Even after the youthful depth kept the Bruins afloat in last year’s playoffs, and then the veterans got back together for the Stanley Cup finals, the Bruins came up short against the Chicago Blackhawks. Expecting those youthful defensemen to carry a much greater amount of the burden through four rounds again is a risk I wouldn’t take if I was Chiarelli. Until the final buzzer sounds on the trade deadline, Chiarelli has to go after a top-four defenseman with pit-bull aggression.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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