BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins have a major dilemma on their hands when it comes to defenseman Johnny Boychuk’s future with the team.
That’s why when it comes to drilling his way out of “cap jail,” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is being patient. He insisted this week in the aftermath of forward Jarome Iginla’s departure for the Colorado Avalanche that major decisions could even be put off as late as the upcoming fall. Decisions might not really get difficult until next July, especially when it comes to Boychuk.
Although he’s close, Boychuk isn’t among Boston’s untouchable players when it comes to trades. And beyond those untouchables he’s clearly the player that would bring back the most in return in a deal, first because he carries a salary-cap charge of just $3.67 million as he enters the final year of a three-year contract he signed prior to the 2012-13 season. That was a cap-friendly deal when he signed it with the Bruins and it would be on another team as well. According to CapGeek.com, Boychuk’s modified no-trade clause expired May 31.
Moving Boychuk would relieve both the Bruins’ cap crunch and their logjam on defense, where if you believe Chiarelli the team has at least nine NHL-ready players (including prospect David Warsofsky). There’s no question the Bruins could swap Boychuk for a top-six forward that would go a long way toward making up for the 30 goals the Bruins lost with Iginla’s exit. However, the Bruins might not be able to live without the 30-year-old Boychuk, who is clearly underpaid based on advanced statistics relative to the rest of his team.
And although Boychuk should be ticketed for a major raise in the summer of 2015 (or before) that could further hamper the Bruins’ cap flexibility (based on some of the deals signed many lesser, older defenseman in unrestricted free agency this week), they might have to live with the consequences of having Boychuk play out his deal because he is one of the few sure things on Boston’s current depth chart on defense.
Last season, Boychuk set a career high for ice time per game at 21:12 and that wasn’t the only statistic that proved, regardless of what pair he played on most season, he was legitimately the Bruins’ No. 2 defenseman after Zdeno Chara.
Boychuk matched his career-best with five goals and bettered his best with 23 points and a plus-31 rating. Those are the simple statistics. Then there are the advanced statistics, which are courtesy of ExtraSkater.com and are based on Boychuk’s 5-on-5 ice time. Boychuk’s shots-for percentage relative to the Bruins’ shots-for percentage with him not on ice was +2.9 in the regular season. That was second among Bruins defensemen and league-wide was the same percentage as Ottawa Senators star Erik Karlsson, Brendan Smith of the Detroit Red Wings and Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues.
Boychuk’s Corsi-for percentage was +1.2 and increased to +1.6 in the playoffs. In the postseason, his shots-for percentage increased to +7.0. As you can see, Boychuk’s importance to the Bruins went beyond his sometimes under-utilized rocket-like shot (he’s never been a power-play regular) and his bone-crunching open-ice hits.
Replacing Boychuk would be difficult in any season. But then you take into account the Bruins’ specific defense corps, which includes the much-injured Adam McQuaid. There’s no telling if he’ll ever be able to stay on the ice and also continue his development into a shutdown defender that can play mostly on the third pair but help out Chara against certain matchups.
Undrafted rookie Kevan Miller was a great story last season. But his effectiveness dropped off with an increase in playing time in the playoffs. Advanced stats might not be the be-all-end-all, but Miller’s Corsi-for percentage dropped from -5.5 to -10.2 and his shots-for percentage dropped from -6.0 to -7.9 once the Bruins stopped playing for the Presidents’ Trophy and started their chase for the Stanley Cup.
Dougie Hamilton’s development has been great. He’s still bound to have a few growing pains the next couple seasons. No one is going to cast Torey Krug as anything more than a fourth defenseman and power-play specialist. Matt Bartkowski and Warsofsky are still at the coin-flip stage of their careers.
And then there’s the elephant in the room, Dennis Seidenberg. Coming off ACL/MCL surgery, Seidenberg put his relentless work ethic to use and made himself a lineup option had the Bruins not lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round. Everyone loves Seidenberg’ character and toughness. Although he typically posts high positive plus/minus ratings and ranks near the top of the Bruins’ standings in blocked shots and hits, a lot of the things he does can’t be quantified. What Seidenberg did for the Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup championship run and even the run to the 2013 Cup Final will never be forgotten, and rightfully so.
Love for what Seidenberg did in the past, though, cannot blind one from looking at him as a question mark, and not just because of his latest injury and his age (he’ll be 33 this month). While the Bruins were lamenting Seidenberg’s absence during the regular season and playoffs, everyone forgot to tell them that Seidenberg was in the midst of a terrible start to his 2013-14 season. In 34 games before he went out of the lineup, Seidenberg’s shots-for percentage was -8.7 and his Corsi-for percentage was -5.2. That’s a far cry from his 2012-13 season, when those numbers were +2.9 and -1.5, respectively. There’s no telling if Seidenberg would’ve been the player the Bruins needed him to be had he not gotten hurt of if he’d returned to the lineup for the conference finals.
The Bruins have a reason to worry that Seidenberg might be on a downward trek at this point in his career. And if Hamilton’s not quite ready to adopt Seidenberg’s No. 2 role on a Stanley Cup championship-caliber club, Boychuk becomes more important to the Bruins as a player than a trade piece.
Boychuk took less than market value to stay in Boston the last time he was free. He might do that again. The Bruins, however, can’t count on that. And with the likes of centers David Krejci and Carl Soderberg playing the last years of their deals before unrestricted free agency, the Bruins could be in for a cap crunch again at this time next year.
Salary-cap-wise, the Bruins might be better off pawning their Boychuk problem off on another team. But for winning hockey games, they’re probably best to sit tight until they see exactly what they have to replace him.
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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