By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
After swinging out on superstar top-sixers Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares in free agency’s opening week, the Bruins immediately and naturally shifted their attention towards defenseman John Moore.
Now, I feel confident saying nobody saw the Bruins’ order of operations going this way in pursuit of immediate help in the typically-overpriced July 1 market. And I’m pretty sure nobody expected the Bruins to have to commit over $13 million and five years to ink a d-man whose production through his first eight NHL seasons has maxed out at 22 points in 2016-17.
There has to be more to Moore’s game for the Bruins. It’s the only possible reason as to why you would commit this kind of salary to a what appears to be long-term position of strength — first-round picks Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen and 2015 second-rounder Jeremy Lauzon are all left-shot defensemen — and with seven NHL defenders already signed.
Here are the basics of Moore’s arrival to the Bruins: Moore comes to Boston after recording seven goals and 18 points for the Devils a season ago. The 18 points ranked as the fourth-most among Devil defenders while his 141 shots on goal ranked as the most on the New Jersey blue line. Moore also set a personal career-high in time-on-ice per game, with 20:01 per night. Before joining the Devils, Moore played for the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, and Arizona Coyotes. Moore was a piece of that Ranger squad that lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, and played five playoff games last year.
And in Jersey, Moore’s most common partner last season was Damon Severson.
In fact, the Moore-Severson was the Devils’ most consistent even-strength pairing a year ago, with 800 minutes of play together. It was a pairing that struggled to break even from a possession standpoint (their 48.99 Corsi-For percentage was the eighth-worst among pairings with at least 700 even-strength minutes together last season). Now, that’s not an indictment of Moore’s game as a whole, though, as the Devils were the league’s 10th-worst possession team a year ago. The good news is that the Moore-Severson pairing was on the ice for the 28th-most goals among pairings with at least 700 minutes together. The counter, however, is that their minus-6 goal differential was the eighth-worst among that same group.
But Moore alone was a valuable piece to Jersey’s defense, as he logged the second-most time on ice with the Devils protecting a one-goal lead. He was one of their more efficient players when it came to preventing goals against in that situation, too.
And while he was limited in terms of his shorthanded deployment, Moore was among the league’s best when it came to limiting chances against, and even showed an ability to push pace the other way when shorthanded. (Only Brenden Dillon and Erik Karlsson had better possession percentages among defenders with at least 120 shorthanded minutes last season, and his scoring-chance percentage was actually tops in the league, meaning the Devils actually created some offense with Moore on the ice killing penalties). And given the weapons the Bruins boast on their penalty kill — Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, namely — that potential of a two-way threat beginning on the backend would be more than welcomed.
In other words, Moore looks like the kind of player that the Bruins could trust in key spots.
This is a definite need for the Black and Gold, too, as the Bruins have clearly had their own worries with having to turn to Torey Krug and/or Matt Grzelcyk when the 41-year-old Zdeno Chara needed a breather in lead-protecting finishes.
“John, from a recovery standpoint, from getting back on pucks, being able to play against different line matchups in situations for us,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said of what Moore can bring to their defense. “We got through a time period when Zdeno was injured and at times we switched Kevan Miller over to the left side; obviously, we had [Nick] Holden at the time. So, again, the balance that we feel we needed to make sure that we felt good about. Matt Grzelcyk had a heck of a year and stepped in and gave us everything we asked and probably more than we would have expected, but overall, I think we have better balance in terms of what we can present each and every night as a matchup for our team.”
And the Bruins clearly believe that Moore’s skating game — especially as a 6-foot-3 d-man in an offensively-loaded Atlantic — and its potential under Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is something that’s worth investing in for the next half decade.
“He’s a bigger player. The last two years in the playoffs, really, when you’re running through 10 two years ago, we went through all eight this this year. Brandon [Carlo] hasn’t even had a chance to play in the playoffs. I just think, the makeup of our group, we felt that the opportunity to add a player of that nature fit into how Bruce [Cassidy] wants to play: getting back to retrieve pucks, be able to defend with his feet against faster, bigger, stronger players complements the group we have,” Sweeney noted of his group’s new makeup with Moore in the picture. “It may seem congested as we sit today.
“But to tell you the truth, we’re really happy, because when you get into the year and you’re wondering, OK, where does that guy come from, now you’ve got to go find him and acquire him and what that acquisition cost may be – this is a unique time of the year where you’re able to put players on your roster that you think can fill needs, and that’s what we did.”
Where Moore lines up in a perfectly healthy Boston defensive six remains to be seen. The Bruins don’t exactly have a Severson replica on their roster — Charlie McAvoy is an elite defender and it’s hard to imagine the Bruins taking McAvoy away from Chara to help Moore and Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller may be too defensive-based to legitimately compare them to Severson — but perhaps that’s for the best when it comes to maximizing Moore’s impact in Boston.
Given the way the Krug-Miller pairing was victimized in the postseason (that pairing allowed 10 goals in just 91 minutes together and posted the league’s worst goal-differential this past postseason, at minus-5), it’s likely to the left of the ever-improving Miller where the Bruins feel they can bring the best out of their shiny new toy on defense.
No matter the ask, though, Moore wants to prove he can be whatever the Bruins need.
“I think in this league you’re either growing or you’re dying and I pride myself everyday on getting better and growing my game,” Moore offered when asked about potential improvements. “I try, whatever the coaching staff asks me, whatever role they want, they see me in I try and fit that to a T and everyone wants to be accountable offensively without sacrificing defense. And at my age, I feel like I’m coming into the prime of my career. I want to get better in all aspects.”
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.