Not gonna lie, I’ve been dreading writing this piece. It wasn’t a pretty season for the Bruins blue line as it proved to be their Achilles heel all year long. Costly unforced mistake after mistake piled up on most nights and lead to multiple layups for the opposition while Tuukka was left for dead. Yeah, it was ugly.
So rather than break this down too fine it really comes down to what your own expectations were for this bunch. Let’s be honest, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are playing on the back-9 of their careers. And the Bruins dumped Dougie Hamilton (because he didn’t want to be a Bruin) and Johnny Boychuk (because Chiarelli is an idiot) without replacing them with NHL caliber top-4 guys. They were starting the season shorthanded.
Now most people didn’t pick the Bruins to make the playoffs largely because of the blue line situation. So essentially the Bruins defense met expectations this year. They did what most thought they would. In all honesty, it’s not a huge surprise.
But if you were in our camp, where we saw a weak Eastern Conference, you thought they’d get in the playoffs. The surprising late season collapse, largely due to goal scoring drying up, means they didn’t meet our expectations. It’s all in what you thought you’d get out of this young patchwork group this year. Claude Julien getting the team within a point of the post season with a subpar blue line is what saved his job.
The Bruins organization in general is in a pretty tough spot because of their defense. Here’s why:
Zdeno Chara is Toronto’s version of Dion Phaneuf before they dumped him to Ottawa. A #1-D salaried player who’s playing like a 3. He’s just not the beast he once was. He shows plenty of flashes of it but far too many errors and speed issues plague him. Can the Bruins get out from under the contract? I’d be surprised. Not because no one would take him, not because no-movement clauses won’t be lifted by the player, but because ownership wants his name and likeness and a push for even a wildcard in the playoffs. And if they move him, who is his replacement? Who is the guy that eats 24 minutes a night?
Dennis Seidenberg could be traded and a replacement wouldn’t be as hard to find. Again, guys will lift their NTC’s if they aren’t wanted where they’re at. In fact, you could hang onto John-Michael Liles to fill 44’s void and I think that’d be fine. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug are those fringe top-4 guys that have intangibles that are great, but are they good enough? Kevan Miller had a disastrous first half of the season and slowly cleaned it up as the calendar flipped. And then the young bunch Don Sweeney threw to the wolves (and at Claude) in Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, and Colin Miller never seized the opportunity to lock up a full-time NHL gig. I do feel Colin Miller will pan out nicely for the Bruins though.
But all this means is the Bruins are stuck. They aren’t good enough to contend, they’re not shitty enough to stockpile lottery and high draft picks. And the chips they have to trade may not be good enough to get what they want in return. If you want the Bruins to clean house and start over you’re not going to get a whole lot in return to replace the blue line they have. Ownership won’t go that route either.
The Bruins would have to sacrifice a David Krejci, or a Malcolm Subban (as he builds more value) and a package of picks and prospects to start repairing the back end. They should have started with Loui at the trade deadline but that’s another horror story…
I hate to say it but right now I’m not seeing the moves, or the willingness from the brass at the top, to fix the defense any time soon. I think this team, because of the defense situation, could be stuck in neutral for awhile. I think they’re waiting on their prospects in Zboril, Carlo, O’Gara and such to replenish the system in time. And here’s to hoping a worthy free agent is looking for a fresh start in Boston as well.
In the meantime, sit tight. Maybe by July 1st, after draft day trades and free agency begins, we’ll be pleasantly surprised. But I’m not holding my breath.