By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has decided to subscribe to a philosophy of quantity over quality when it comes to his defensemen, while his Tampa Bay counterpart Steve Yzerman has decided it’s more important to have an elite top-three of defensemen rather than have nine capable blue-liners available for the playoffs.
Now comes the fun part: seeing whether the Bruins or Lightning go deeper in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs after the decisions their GMs made leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday.
The Bruins unquestionably had interest in Ryan McDonagh to anchor their second pair behind the first pair of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy, but ultimately couldn’t come to agreement with the New York Rangers on a palatable price. The Lightning, deciding they couldn’t survive with just Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman as high-end defensemen in their top four, paid a king’s ransom for McDonagh (who’s signed through next season) and versatile 24-year-old forward J.T. Miller.
The Lightning may have had a little more in their “vault of futures” to entice the Rangers, and are definitely in a bit more of a win-now mode than the Bruins, who are ahead of schedule in terms of their organizational reboot. But that doesn’t mean the Lightning landing the best defenseman to be moved at the trade deadline automatically makes them Cup winners or even a team destined to defeat the Bruins in a second-round series.
Acquiring the top defenseman on the market doesn’t guarantee a Stanley Cup title or even a trip to the final four, or else we’d be talking about the defending Cup-champion Washington Capitals after they rented Kevin Shattenkirk last spring. It’s worth noting that even though they’ve added McDonagh, the Lightning will still be leaning on the likes of Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn to play some major minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill.
Sweeney decided not to upgrade his second defense pair, with McDonagh or another defenseman who may have been available but didn’t move. Up until this past weekend, the Bruins had been getting by with Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo in that second-pair role and have juggled things in recent games with Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid getting longer looks because of some ineffectiveness and Carlo’s first NHL healthy scratch on Sunday.
Despite a recent dip in the Bruins’ defensive play, they’re still second in the NHL in goals allowed per game. Miller’s recent return to health and the acquisition of Nick Holden from the Rangers has Sweeney boasting of an eight-man D corps he’s willing to put up against any team in the league.
“Up until now I think they’ve shaped up pretty well given the position we’re in,” Sweeney said during a press conference Monday. “I’m not saying they’re operating at full power right now, I don’t think they’ve played particularly well the last couple of nights and it probably shows up in the results. But overall I think the depth of our eight guys can stand up to anybody if they’re playing to their capabilities. If they’re not, then we probably won’t.”
With McDonagh, the Lightning’s top four is definitely better than the Bruins’ on paper. Whether that pans out when the games are played, or turns out to be the formula for success in the postseason, remains to be seen. The Bruins are taking a risk because Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk have no NHL postseason experience. We all know McQuaid’s limitations and we don’t know yet how Miller’s improved skating and hands will translate to the playoffs.
But it’s a risk Sweeney was willing to take.
“We went our direction, they went in theirs,” Sweeney said about Tampa Bay. “I’m sure they feel good about it as we do about ours.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.