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Does Adam McQuaid have a place in this Bruins lineup anymore?

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Outplayed and made obsolete by Matt Grzelcyk, Quaider might have become a spare part.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

On October 19th, just six games into his new season, Adam McQuaid boldly (or foolishly, depending on whom you ask) stepped in front of a slapper from Bruins castoff Colin Miller and broke his leg. His timetable for return to game action was given as eight weeks.

Less than six weeks later, McQuaid was skating:

Three weeks after that, and more or less on schedule, head coach Bruce Cassidy intimated that the big defenseman’s return was imminent:

Skipping ahead to after the Christmas break, he was still nowhere to be seen on a lineup card. While still holding him out, Cassidy went so far as to acknowledge that McQuaid was indeed healthy:

It’s now been more than ten weeks since his injury, and he’s been a “game-time decision” for the last five games. By all reports, McQuaid has completely recovered and is practicing at full capacity.

So why the delay? Put simply, the Bruins are stalling.

After McQuaid’s injury, Cassidy struggled to find a replacement for an entire month. Paul Postma got the first shot and broadly failed. Rob O’Gara got some run and didn’t hurt, but didn’t impress either. Finally, Matt Grzelcyk got his shot starting on November 22nd. The pride of Charlestown hasn’t looked back.

Since Grzelcyk’s insertion, the Bruins have gone 13-3-2. Grzelcyk himself has exceeded expectations, dominating shot share at five-on-five: Of defensemen who have played more than 200 minutes this season, Grzelcyk’s rates rank him first in Corsi, Relative Corsi, Goal Differential, and Expected Goals. That’s for the entire league.

There’s an interactive chart at the bottom of this post where you can see just how good Grzelcyk has been in terms of generating and suppressing shots. For the sake of context, you can also see how sheltered he’s been (very high ratio of offensive zone starts, excellent on-ice teammates, mediocre competition) and also how he’s benefited from great puck luck (massive PDO).

All of that indicates that while he hasn’t had his hands full with tough minutes, our eyes aren’t fooling us when they tell us that Grzelcyk has been excellent.

While the former BU captain’s performance alone is enough to block McQuaid’s return, there is another factor: handedness. I’ve gotten eye rolls in the past for bringing it up, but I think it’s obvious that Grzelcyk’s partner, Kevan Miller, is a more effective player on his natural right side. Miller can get by just fine on the left, but the ability to protect the puck better on breakouts on the right gives him an offensive boost. He can better use his speed and vision to create rushes instead of muscling the puck out into the neutral zone off the boards or with a backhand. Miller has looked like a renewed player since switching to his right, more confident and dangerous than we’ve ever seen him. Keeping him in that spot should be a consideration.

So with the Bruins cruising and the blue line largely stable, Cassidy and Don Sweeney have a choice to make. They can’t keep a healthy player on IR forever, and the roster is full. Pending an injury, they will have to make move to get McQuaid back on the roster.

The obvious choice is to place Paul Postma on waivers, hope he clears, and assign him to AHL Providence. After signing a one-year deal, Postma has never earned the trust of the coaching staff. In his twelve games, he’s logged single-digit minutes in seven. He’s likely fallen behind McQuaid, Grzelcyk, and O’Gara on the depth chart. If he clears, he can get some playing time in Providence. If he doesn’t, the Bruins save a little cap space and move on with plenty of depth. That’s a luxury they’ve earned by drafting and developing well.

That would leave McQuaid to replace Postma as the Bruins’ seventh defenseman, a role that probably suits him. Players with his skill set are fading away from NHL relevance, as the game demands better foot speed and sharper passing on breakouts than McQuaid is capable of producing.

Of course, injuries will occur, and McQuaid will get more ice time. It just shouldn’t be at the expense of anybody in the lineup. Not Grzelcyk. No, not Brandon Carlo either. The way the Bruins have dragged their feet on this return tells me they know it.

Top 20 Shot Share Defensemen

Player CF% Rel CF% P/60 GF% xGF% Rel xGF% PDO ZSR TOI% TOI CF% QoT CF% QoC
Player CF% Rel CF% P/60 GF% xGF% Rel xGF% PDO ZSR TOI% TOI CF% QoT CF% QoC
MATT.GRZELCYK 61.97 10.55 1.31 80 64.48 11.79 105.44 60.9 27.53 229.7 51.53 48.82
HAMPUS.LINDHOLM 53.79 9.52 0.54 55.26 52.07 10.43 100.14 46.85 36.13 442.3 44.97 50.68
ZACH.WERENSKI 57.17 8.12 1.03 56.6 56.29 5.75 99.48 55.93 37.06 642.28 49.32 50.03
COLIN.MILLER 55.74 7.6 1.28 50 55.4 4.68 97.89 60.66 30.68 514.53 47.21 49.54
MARK.GIORDANO 57.26 7.57 0.63 48.98 57.74 8.28 98.06 53.25 36.78 661.95 50.48 49.86
SETH.JONES 55.83 7.29 1.15 55.93 53.18 2.21 99.78 54.04 38.03 733 50.6 50.1
DOUGIE.HAMILTON 57.03 7.28 0.99 53.7 58.34 9.52 99.21 53.45 36.94 664.88 50.98 49.86
TRAVIS.SANHEIM 54.47 7.22 0.62 39.47 54.1 5.88 95.36 57.62 29.99 481.15 46.89 49.47
CODY.FRANSON 57.61 6.82 0.64 46.67 56.98 5.6 97.58 63.9 30.96 283.3 52.35 49.58
RADKO.GUDAS 55.43 6.82 0.51 47.62 56.68 6.76 97.26 56.65 28.76 350.6 47.6 49.07
ERIK.KARLSSON 53.08 6.58 1.28 34.55 49.54 6.22 93.36 59.16 41.54 609.67 45.82 49.16
NATHAN.BEAULIEU 52.53 6.15 0.48 48.39 47.07 3.02 98.62 49.36 30.65 378.47 45.71 50.55
JASON.DEMERS 50.76 6.12 0.6 39.68 49.25 7.2 95.36 48.72 36.3 698.92 44.79 50.54
CHRISTIAN.DJOOS 53.29 5.99 0.94 61.76 50.16 7.57 104.36 65.18 26.44 381.53 46.75 49.65
ROMAN.JOSI 52.86 5.85 0.94 48.98 50.69 6.19 99.49 48.08 37.08 572.5 48.37 50.79
DAMON.SEVERSON 51.2 5.81 0.7 53.33 52.97 2.93 100.28 56.73 35.32 598.77 45.62 49.45
JARED.SPURGEON 49.54 5.81 0.69 38.89 57.44 8.85 96.61 46.39 38.63 519.42 44.8 50.6
DREW.DOUGHTY 53.19 5.8 0.89 60.71 53.09 8.65 102.46 48.84 40.81 737.82 48.2 50.06
OLIVER.EKMAN-LARSSON 50.3 5.45 0.51 36.21 49 6.85 94.84 48.67 36.77 707.93 45.15 50.51
RYAN.SUTER 48.75 5.29 0.99 43.64 53.01 3.07 98.28 46.5 41.15 728.98 44.12 50.69
Minimum 200 Minutes Corsica