You know that thing Claude Julien does when he’s on the hot seat, where he leans on veterans and low-risk players? Well, it appears he’s doing it once again.
It’s not a critique of the Bruins head coach, doing what he feels gives his team the best chance to win. Last season, that meant the scratching of Zach Trotman and Colin Miller in favor of a past-his-prime Dennis Seidenberg. In years prior, it meant sticking with a once reliable fourth line despite their transition into a possession hellscape.
Such moves are justifiable; Julien’s going with what he knows, trying to salvage both his team’s season(s) and his job. Players integral to past successes seem to have a leg up on the youngsters -- having proved their reliability.
Yet, in playing it safe, Julien may very well find himself transitioning to a new city when training camps open next Fall. An undeserved relocation, yes, but one that appears to be in the works for a team where “something has to give.”
Last night, in benching Colin Miller for the return of John-Michael Liles and slashing Frank Vatrano’s ice-time to barely above 10-minutes, is the latest example. Dominic Moore, a veteran of what seems like hundreds of NHL seasons, saw 18:06 of ice time last night -- an uptick of 5 minutes from his season average. Riley Nash played 16:32, his most in 9 games.
When games are close, and there’s pressure mounting, Julien looks to tighten things up. Two-way depth forwards see an increase in playing time and defensive-minded blueliners (Adam McQuaid played 21:50 last night in Carolina) are relied on to protect the fort.
Only, this hasn’t worked as well lately. Julien needs to rely more on the children, so to speak, and less on the veterans -- often more detrimental than their juvenile peers. Specifically on the backend.
Which brings me to Colin Miller. There’s no way he should be watching from the press box. Miller, in his second season with the B’s, is a superior alternative to both Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller on the right-side. As much as the latter two are competent in their roles as bottom-pairing, fringe top-four defensemen, playing both is redundant. With Liles now healthy, one of the two veterans needs to sit.
Miller’s outplayed his right-shotted contemporaries, both offensively and defensively. The 24-year-old has made major improvements defensively since arriving from the Los Angeles Kings, owning a team-best 33.9 FA/60.
Whether it’s by sending one to the press box, or finding a trade partner, one of McQuaid or the Miller known for fisticuffs needs to be removed from the lineup.
With the exception of scoring a five-hole beauty on Tuukka Rask, it’s been a promising 2016-2017 season for the potential top-four mainstay.
The only way for this strong campaign, albeit a brief one, to continue is for the Ontario native to be on the ice, not in the press box. It benefits his development as a player and, more importantly, gives the Bruins a better chance at winning.