BOSTON (CBS) – None of the Bruins’ three position groups underwent more change than the defense corps.
From the ill-timed trade of Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders days before the season to the injuries to major players that required a reliance on inexperienced young players to fill in, Boston’s defense corps rode a roller coaster in terms of performance all season.
When the Bruins’ defensemen played the system and backed each other up, Boston looked like the team that was a regular in the playoffs. Too often, though, they veered off track and that had a major hand in costing the Bruins their playoff streak.
Here are the grades for the Bruins’ defensemen:
A great skater whose hockey sense will obviously never catch up to that ability, Bartkowski should be cast in no role greater than seventh defenseman in the NHL. His mistakes and inability to consistently win battles cost the Bruins numerous times. He was given a chance to seize a top-four role and down the stretch coach Claude Julien scaled back Bartkowski’s minutes.
Missing 19 games in the middle of the season because of a knee injury put Chara into an unfamiliar situation. He hadn’t been playing that well when the injury struck in late October, and then he labored through the first three weeks after his return. Oddly enough, Chara was an elite defender and strong possession driver down the stretch but the Bruins could’ve used more from him at the offensive end.
In his second season as a NHL regular, Hamilton was expected to take major strides in his development. For the most part he did that. He still has to get better at deciding when to join the attack and when to hang back. He could still use some added muscle to help him in the battles. But he had 10 goals and proved he could handle being Chara’s partner against some of the NHL’s best scorers until an injury ended Hamilton’s season early.
Like Hamilton, Krug made major strides in his development. Impressively, he made those strides after missing most of training camp because of his contract dispute. Although the Bruins wouldn’t want to bank on Krug as a top-four defenseman on a championship team, he proved he could handle the role against certain matchups. He also continued to blossom at the offense end as a threat to make something happen every time he touched the puck, especially on the power play.
On a team with a toughness deficiency, McQuaid was vital to the Bruins keep opponents somewhat accountable with his physicality and willingness to defend teammates. However, he struggled when his role was expanded because of injuries, especially when Hamilton went out, and had problems for much of the season moving the puck out of his own end.
Miller’s toughness cost him a major chunk of the season because of a shoulder injury suffered in a fight. He has to fight, though, because he brings little else to the table. Probably best suited to play on a third pair, Miller even struggled in that role both keeping bodies out from in front of the net and transitioning the puck up to his forwards.
It was apparent the last few weeks of the regular season that Seidenberg was finally getting right. He would’ve been a force in the playoffs. Alas, his struggles during the regular season were a major factor in Boston’s failure to reach the postseason. Seidenberg had a chance to be a catalyst when Chara was out and the German failed to thrive during that important stretch. Seidenberg gets some benefit of the doubt because he was working his way back from injury and had a rotating cast of partners, including the helpless Bartkowski.
With his size and strength, Trotman quickly emerged as the player Julien most trusted to fill in for Hamilton next to Chara. With a little more physicality and NHL experience that will help his decision making, Trotman could make the Bruins’ decision to give him a one-way contract for next season look wise. He could’ve used his shot a bit more to help out at the offensive end.
McQuaid will be missed if he leaves as an unrestricted free agent, but he might be too expensive to retain. That’s where Trotman’s continued development will be important. … Bartkowski, another UFA, is probably gone. Joe Morrow played well when he was called on during the season and should give the Bruins a new left-shot option. An injury limited the Bruins’ ability to recall Morrow later in the season. … 2013 second-round pick Linus Arnesson came over to North America to play for Providence in the American Hockey League the last few weeks of the regular season. He might be an in-season option for the Bruins next season depending on their needs. … Hamilton is a restricted free agent. Whoever the next general manager is, he’ll be sure to do whatever it takes to retain the services of the future nucleus of the defense corps.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.