Sky gave us a great look this morning at what Don Sweeney and Co. need to do to get their forward corps back on track.
There’s still some work to do on the back end as well. We’ve seen it with how Florida eliminated the Bruins, how they got to the Finals, and how Vegas shut them down. Stature does matter. You have to be good at hockey with the puck, but it’s your work without the puck, being physically imposing, using your frame to cut off passing lanes, and making those big hits that showcased just what the Bruins were lacking. Were they super strong with the puck? Absolutely. When push came to shove without the puck...it was a completely different story. There are two obvious places to look to upgrade this Boston Bruins' defense:
Left Defense 2nd Pair
Whether Matt Grzelcyk is out the door or not, it’s clear to me a change has to be made. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate how masterful Grzelcyk is at skating with the puck out of the zone, making controlled exits, and doing most of the little things right. He’s still going to have a tough time making the physical side of the game work in his favor. I’m going to leave Dmitry Orlov as part of the conversation despite Sweeney’s comments that it’s unlikely he resigns, but there are also some other very interesting pieces to consider.
There’s a lot of media below but bear with me here. Can Orlov put up points? Heck yeah, he put up 17 points (4-3-17) in 23 games with the Bruins. Can he drive offense AND limit chances against? Just look at his Corsi. Can he be imposing against the league’s best forwards? Look at the way he recovers to box out and then check Leon Draisaitl off the puck. If there weren’t a more perfect for the Bruins, I don’t know who it is. It’s beyond unfortunate what the Bruins' cap situation is and what Orlov’s cap demands are most likely to be. Pending anything crazy going on trade-wise, I don’t see this happening.
We’ve heard some chatter about taking a flier on OEL, the once-vaunted defenseman turned into an absolute pumpkin. Could you try a one-year, prove-it deal to see what happens? Sure. Do I think it’s worth it? Not a chance. Ekman-Larsson’s best days are far behind him, and if he isn’t going to do anything even strength if he isn’t going to do anything on the power play, there’s no use in having him on the roster. There’s no use in signing veterans just for the sake of signing veterans and I hope the front office recognizes that. If the Canucks were that willing to buy out his massive contract? Yikes.
Two inches and 25 pounds might make all the difference between Matt Grzelcyk and Erik Gustafsson. The Swede had a complete career revival in Washington, showcasing what it means to be a two-way defenseman. 38 points in 61 games in Washington, an average time on ice of over 20 minutes, insanely strong Corsi, a Fenwick of 53.2%, and the same amount of hits as Gryz in 14 fewer games. On a team that’s always coached great defense and paired with Brandon Carlo, I could see Gustafsson being absolutely perfect on this roster. He’s 31, and has never made more than $3M a season. His last contract was $800K, and while he definitely played himself to a better pay day, it’s going to for sure be for less than $3M. Sign me up, please.
Honestly, Jones didn’t cross my mind until seeing this tweet this morning. His Corsi and Fenwick numbers aren’t fantastic, but that’s maybe a product of being on terrible teams beforehand. He’d be a really cheap pickup, probably not that much more of a bump to his cap than the $1.35M he made last season. It’d be an experiment with the 26-year-old for sure, but the metrics are there. He also put up 116 hits in 73 games. Orlov put up 137 in 66 games. Seems like someone who doesn’t shy away from a physical game but not sacrificing good puck defense.
Caleb Jones will not be qualified by CHI and will become a UFA.— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) June 28, 2023
He played 2nd pair minutes on a bad team and came out with the best goal, shot, and xGoal differential among CHI defencemen. Worth a shot somewhere. pic.twitter.com/MkCKOmMwrX
Right Defense 3rd Pair
Connor Clifton definitely played himself out of a contract with the Bruins based on cost. He’s been an absolute sparkplug both on the ice and in the locker room, and despite the team not loving what we call this, Cliffy Hockey was damn fun to watch. How do we replace that?
Do you want a physical machine who actually played decent defense last season? Gudas could be the answer. He consistently batters opposing forwards, is coming off one of his better seasons points-wise, and would add that absolute menace Bruins fans die to have. Can he take things too far? Sure, but it’s not like the Bruins haven’t dealt with that before and helped their players keep things under control. He’s 33 and coming off a contract under $3M. It would require some help, but Gudas could be a firepot on the third line.
The 34-year-old is coming off a mighty heavy contract with the Ducks, but for what it’s worth, he’s not a terrible option. He seems like a power play aficionado, which the Bruins might have more in spades between Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm, but Shattenkirk blocks shots, makes hits, and with a steady pair, might not (always) be a liability. It may feel more like the Anton Stralman signing, but there’d at least be a place for him on the roster. Do I love the fit? Not 100%. But the right-handed d market is thin on talent who are both good and cheap, and beggars can’t be choosers for the right contract.
This option’s already in-house and could be signed to a mega-cheap contract—leaving much more cap to be spent elsewhere—and seems like he’s ready to take the leap to the NHL. Acquired this week for Shane Bowers, Walsh has been an absolute driver on the blue line for the Utica Comets. When the trade broke, a fellow writer was genuinely relieved he was out of their team’s AHL division. The Devils had no path for him to come up to the club, with Dougie Hamilton, John Marino, and Brendan Smith all solidly in their roles on the right side. Simon Nemec is clearly their next star on the right side as well. The Harvard graduate and Framingham native also fits Don’s mold of Massachusetts talent on the team. He has an inch and 10 pounds on Clifton, and alongside a steady stay-at-home defenseman next to him, which at this point might be Derek Forbort if not Jakub Zboril, I’d be content taking a flier on Walsh if it means the team can invest better in other areas.
Reilly Walsh, acquired by #NHLBruins, has been one of the best offensive defensemen in the #AHL over the past two seasons.— Jacob Stoller (@JLStoller) June 26, 2023
The Massachusetts native will be an RFA on July 1.@TheHockeyNews pic.twitter.com/BnDoYnHkhm
I’ll echo Sky’s comments here. This is going to be a rough offseason for the team, for its fans, for management all the way around. And look, they swung for the fences and I can’t blame them for doing so. Now, it’s about being creative and bolstering this team to survive and reload. Bruins fans will never accept mediocrity and a full-out tank-a-thon rebuild. There are ways for Don Sweeney to be shrewd and do the right thing for the team. It definitely won’t be pretty, but all we can do is what he does when the chips are down.