If you ask just about any Bruins fan how the off-season is going for their favorite team, they’d overwhelmingly say it has been less than ideal.
Besides missing out on some of the big names that could have helped the Bruins’ offense, fans also saw Torey Krug head to St. Louis, Zdeno Chara inexplicably remaining not signed yet, and no reinforcements have been brought in on the backend via free agency or trade.
Simply put, what Boston has done with their defense this off-season hasn’t instilled a lot of confidence in fans about the 2020-21 season.
The first move Don Sweeney made was to bring back oft-injured defenseman Kevan Miller on a one-year deal. Miller, when healthy, has proven himself to be a solid defender, but the “when healthy” part just hasn’t happened much over the last seven years.
The other significant move the Bruins made was signing Matt Grzelcyk to a four-year deal worth $14.75 million. While having Grzelcyk back in the fold is a win for the Bruins, having him as possibly your top left-handed defenseman is certainly not.
The current picture on defense look like this:
Right-handed defensemen: Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Connor Clifton, Kevan Miller
Left-handed defensemen: Matt Grzelcyk, John Moore, Jeremy Lauzon
Quite frankly, if the left side of the Bruins defense doesn’t scare you, then you’re probably one of those people who enjoy bungee jumping and/or public speaking.
But then again maybe we shouldn’t be worried...
This isn’t the first time in recent memory that the Bruins have gone through a rebuild of sorts on defense.
Not long after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, major components of their defensive corps left for greener pastures, and were replaced with by a youth movement.
Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, and eventually Adam McQuaid were succeeded be younger players like Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Joe Morrow, Rob O’Gara, Matt Grzelcyk, Zach Trotman, Kevan Miller and Brandon Carlo.
And while all of these new additions didn’t necessarily pan out, it’s fair to say the Bruins were left with more than a respectable blue line over the last few years.
Let’s also not forget the Bruins have two first-round picks and a second-round pick waiting for their full-time shot at the NHL in Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jeremy Lauzon.
When given the opportunity last season, Lauzon showed a lot of potential as a future second- or third-pairing defenseman in NHL.
There’s also good news coming out of Providence regarding Zboril, who may be rounding into a solid defender as well.
According to Jay Leach, the P-Bruins head coach, in May 2020: “The last 12 games or 15 games, [Zboril] became probably our best defenseman overall.”
He also impressed Don Sweeney enough to earn a new 2 year deal this off-season as well.
It’s not too late to find outside help either
If a youth movement isn’t the plan in Boston, there’s still plenty of time prior to or during the next season to acquire a defenseman.
Sami Vatanen (a right-handed defenseman) is still available and there are numerous left-handed defensemen who will become free agents in 2021 who the Bruins could look to acquire before the games get really important next season.
Guys like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Ian Cole, Alec Martinez, and Thomas Hickey are all defensemen who will probably be on the move sometime next season and could help stabilize the left side of the defense.
Sign ‘Big Z’
While Zdeno Chara is definitely in the late stages of the twilight of his NHL career, one thing that would certainly make Bruins fans breathe a sign of relief would be if management would re-sign the team’s captain.
Like him or not, Chara adds needed stability and veteran leadership to what could be a very young defense corps next season. He’s also still one of the best penalty killers in the league at age 43.
While the current status of Boston’s defense is a bit worrisome and there is still much to be sorted out before next season begins, it’s certainly not all bad news.
There are some young defenders who could step up next year, and there’s also a young guy named Jack Ahcan out of St. Cloud State who’ll be playing in Providence next season and is drawing comparisons to another diminutive undrafted player who just left the Bruins.
Speaking of Torey Krug, it will also be very interesting to see what the Bruins’ plan is to replace Krug on the power play.
While McAvoy has shown top-level defensive skills, his offensive play has lagged behind thus far. There’s also newly signed Grzelcyk, who had some success leading the PP when Krug was injured, but is he good enough to be a permanent fit on the power play? Could Chara return to the power play? Or how about a power play featuring five forwards with David Krejci on the point?
Stay tuned for answers to these and many other questions that surround the 2020-21 Boston Bruins.