Through the first dozen or so games, one thing has made itself remarkably clear is the current group of defensemen on the Boston Bruins are just not good enough for this team to be a serious contender.
Since the departure of Zdeno Chara, the Bruins have not been able to find a left-handed defenseman to play with Charlie McAvoy. Yes, Matt Grzelcyk and McAvoy have played well together at times, but most would agree Grzelcyk is probably not the guy you want facing the other team’s top forwards every night.
Derek Forbort, who looks to be getting more comfortable with the Bruins’ system in recent games, is also not a top-pairing player on the Bruins or any other team in the NHL.
In addition to this problem, Mike Reilly, who was a pleasant surprise last year after he was acquired at the deadline, has struggled this season in his own zone, and as a result has been a healthy scratch.
Just as significant of a problem for the Bruins has been their right side of their defense: McAvoy has been mostly great, but the Bruins cannot rely on him to be perfect all season long.
Other right-handed defensemen are needed to carry the load. Brandon Carlo, who quietly plays a strong stay-at-home defensive style of game most nights, has also had his difficulties at times this season (i.e. the game against the Oilers). Part of the issue may be the fact that his left side partner seems to change from period to period this year.
Then there’s Connor Clifton. While his reckless “Cliffy Hockey” can be fun to watch sometimes, he has proven himself to be anything but reliable this year in his own zone.
Compounding the Bruins’ issues on defense is the fact that there aren’t any suitable replacements on defense within their organization: Jakub Zboril is not going to solve what’s ailing the B’s, nor is John Moore.
Although many of the names mentioned above can play much better, to make this team a Stanley Cup contender, outside help is needed to strengthen the back end.
The following list of defense targets are all pending UFAs at the end of this season. It’s possible the Bruins could make a deal for a player who is not going to be a free agent at season’s end, but it always seems like guys who are soon-to-be UFAs on bad teams are the most likely candidates to switch teams during an NHL season.
Nick Leddy (Detroit Red Wings)
30-year-old Nick Leddy was no doubt brought into Detroit this season to provide some stability and leadership for a very young and talented Red Wings team. Leddy is still an excellent skater, has good vision, and has played on the top pairing in his career.
Given Leddy’s contract expires this season, and the Red Wings’ desire to keep stocking the kitchen cupboards with young talent, it’s likely Leddy is traded to a contender before the season ends.
Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim Ducks)
It seems like we’ve been hearing Lindholm’s name in trade rumors for about 5 years now, but Lindholm remains a Duck, and a productive one at that. Lindholm has developed into a strong shutdown defenseman who has some offensive talent as well, putting up 205 points in his first 536 games.
The thing about Lindholm getting traded this season (and Josh Manson, who will be discussed later) is that the Ducks are off to a great start this year, sitting in 2nd place in the Pacific.
The other reason why Lindholm may not be traded is that the Ducks are in a very good salary cap situation, and could easily bring back Lindholm next season if they felt he was a key piece going forward.
Ben Chiarot (Montreal Canadiens)
Much to Bruins fans’ delight, the Montreal Canadiens flat out stink this year, and as a result changes are brewing in La Belle Province — Ben Chiarot and a number of their older players could be moved by the end of the season.
For Boston, Chiarot could be exactly what they need to add to their backend. A very capable defender in his own zone, Chiarot is a very gritty player who’s not afraid to throw his body around.
On top of this, he’s also good at getting pucks to the net and has found a bit of an offensive game recently scoring 4 goals this season already.
Of course, trades between the Bruins and Canadiens are always going to be unlikely, but you never know!
Brayden McNabb (Vegas Golden Knights)
Much like Chiarot, Brayden McNabb plays an old-school, in-your-face type of hockey.
McNabb has been a very solid contributor to Vegas’ success over since their beginning; however the Golden Knights now have to deal with Jack Eichel’s massive contract, meaning McNabb, a pending UFA, may be on the move.
Josh Manson (Anaheim Ducks)
A name that is on a lot of Bruins fans’ wish list this season is the Ducks’ Josh Manson, and for good reason: Manson is a big, steady defenseman with a mean streak. He’s also shown some offensive ability at times in the past, putting up 7 goals and 30 assists in the 2018 season.
The issue with Manson, as mentioned earlier, is that Ducks are playing well, and can afford to sign Manson in the off-season. Also there’s talk of Manson becoming the Captain of the Ducks when Getzlaf retires.
John Klingberg (Dallas Stars)
If the Bruins are looking to add offense to their back end (and potentially a power play quarterback), then they should take a long look at John Klingberg. The Dallas Stars are off to a bad start this season and given the teams in their division, it’s probably not going to get any better for the aging Stars.
Klingberg is a great skater, has excellent vision and great offensive awareness. What he is not is an excellent defender or particularly physical.
Given the Bruins already have Grzelcyk and Reilly in their line up, who play a similar game (albeit less productive), adding Klingberg may not help address the Bruins’ defensive needs.
It’s also likely that if Klingberg ends up getting traded, the price tag for him will be very high — the Bruins aren’t exactly loaded with high-end talent in the prospect pool, making it hard to entice Dallas.
Rasmus Ristolainen (Philadelphia Flyers)
If fans think the Bruins’ defense is soft, then Ristolainen may be the right fit for the Bruins.
Ristolainen is a big, strong defenseman who can eat up big minutes and is not afraid to lay the lumber to opposing forwards.
And while most of us probably remember Ristolainen from his days on very poor Sabres teams, Ristolainen’s play in Philadelphia is one of the reason the Flyers have allowed the 3rd fewest goals against in the Eastern Conference at the time when this article was written.
Adding Ristolainen could really benefit the Bruins, but you have to think that the Flyers will be interested in re-signing him, given the hefty price they paid to get him.
It’s hard to believe the Flyers would move him after giving up 1st & 2nd round picks to Buffalo, especially if they’re fighting for a playoff spot.
Editorial Note: Clip here
Kris Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Speaking of unlikely, 34-year-old Kris Letang is a UFA at the end of this season. And while Letang was part of the foundation of the Penguins teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Penguins have a tough decision to make about Letang this off-season.
Letang is still very productive on both ends of the ice, but is getting older. As a result of still being a top defenseman in the league, Letang may be seeking a big contract to bookend a very good career — a big contract that Pittsburgh may not be interested in giving, especially with Evgeni Malkin needing a new deal as well.
Another factor to consider is that the Penguins are off to a bad start (just 5 wins in their first 13 games) and if they don’t turn around their season, moving Letang might become more of a reality.
For Boston, adding a defenseman the caliber of Letang would instantly improve their team in a big way. However, the price would probably be pretty high for a guy who’d be a pure rental for the Bruins.
Though it’s early in the season, it’s no secret this team is getting older and their chances of winning another Cup are running out.
If they want to win this year, they need to add another defenseman, perhaps two.
The Bruins also need to think long and hard about their long-term future: going out and trading for a defenseman or two will take away from the limited prospect pool and valuable draft picks.
It’s a tough situation for the Bruins to be in, but it’s one that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.