By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
(Welcome to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s The Weekend Wraparound — or just The Wraparound, WW, Wrap, or whatever you care to call it. I’m not big on names. But here’s what you should know about it: It’s a weekly column that will run every weekend in addition to our complete coverage of the Boston Bruins, with or without ice available.)
The Boston Bruins have a ‘problem:’ They have too many defensemen.
On the left, there’s captain Zdeno Chara, puckmover supreme Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and free agent addition John Moore. On the right, the Bruins have No. 1 defenseman in waiting Charlie McAvoy, and the defense-first bodies of Brandon Carlo, Adam McQuaid, and Kevan Miller. Add it up and the Bruins are paying a seemingly affordable $21.3 million for a defense corps that allowed the second-fewest shots against per game in the entire NHL last season.
Saying this is a ‘problem’ is probably a little over the top, as that depth can go out in the window in the blink of an eye, as the B’s have learned in back-to-back postseasons. But the body count and its price at the bottom? It seems like an issue.
So, let me adjust that. The B’s problem is that they have too many capable defensemen… that they’re paying to actually play — eight of them, to be exact — but simply can’t when the season starts.
When the Bruins rolled with eight defensemen for the bulk of the 2017-18 season, it was with Paul Postma as that No. 8 defender on the depth chart, and on the hook for just $725,000. That made him the team’s cheapest signing, one you’re essentially cool with sitting for an extended stretch because it’s not as if you’re shoveling cash into a furnace. Now, excluding the entry-level deals for Carlo and McAvoy, the cheapest defender among the eight set to skate on the Boston blue in 2018? Grzelcyk, the man that essentially stole Postma’s roster spot (and then some), at $1.4 million per year.
For argument’s sake, consider Grzelcyk the most likely to be scratched on the left side. That’s not exactly something I would consider to be a great move, as the Grzelcyk-Miller pairing dominated during the regular season, and finished in the top 10 among all NHL defensive pairings in goal differential a season ago. But, you’re not scratching any of your other left-side defensemen given their pay/performance, so I suppose Grzelcyk becomes scratched by default. And consider McQuaid — who was a healthy scratch for eight games last year (though he was scratched for a few more, as the Bruins ‘took their time’ with his leg injury given their defensive logjam) — the most likely to be scratched on the right side.
The Bruins, who have just under $3 million in available cap space right now, would have over $4 million dollars in scratched defensemen alone in their press box in this scenario. This scenario, mind you, is the most likely play assuming everybody’s healthy and assuming the Bruins do not successfully find a way to finagle a trade between now and October.
And considering their unwillingness to have free agent bust Matt Beleskey and his $3.8 million sit in the press box last year — ultimately waiving the gritty winger and later eating half his salary to trade him to the New York Rangers — it’s incredibly difficult to imagine the Black and Gold stomaching this while icing what is a largely unfinished product.
So, in anything but breaking news, the Bruins are going to find themselves searching for a trade involving a defender.
Chara, McAvoy, and Moore are among those that the Bruins are not trading. Chara and McAvoy for obvious reasons, and Moore because you don’t sign a guy to a five-year deal only to trade him a few months later. I think the Bruins would be tempted to add Kevan Miller to that list of defensemen they’re not moving, as his versatility as a capable left- and right-side defender and ability to log 27-minute nights is something proven extremely valuable when injuries strike.
The most obvious candidate among this group seems to be Krug. Entering the final two years of a contract that comes with a $5.25 million cap hit, and after a 59-point season a year ago, trading No. 47 would essentially be a move that sees the Bruins trade Krug when his value is at its highest. But it would also leave the Bruins shy an elite offensive defenseman that’s largely underpaid when comparing his salary side-by-side with his overall production.
People knock Krug for his size and how it can run the Bruins into trouble in the defensive zone — the Krug-Miller pairing was a brutal one in the postseason, and not even the biggest No. 47 truther can deny that — but the simple fact of the matter is that you’re not getting anybody else who can offensively produce what Krug does at $5.25 million per season. That’s something you’ll find yourself paying $6.5-7.5 million for in today’s NHL, and typically for diminished returns. If the B’s are about maximizing this window, a 55-point d-man at under market value for the next two years does that.
Carlo is another one that the Bruins could probably get a solid return on, but this is a player that Don Sweeney had no interest in trading for Matt Duchene and/or Gabriel Landeskog in 2016-17, and was not exactly thrilled with entertaining as a piece in a potential deal for somebody such as Ranger-turned-Lightning d-man Ryan McDonagh last season.
The Bruins are still waiting to see what the dependable and defensively sound Carlo do in the postseason, too, as he’s suffered season-ending injuries in the final weekend of the regular season in back-to-back seasons. Also something to consider: Among the 19 NHL defenseman with at least 400 minutes of shorthanded time on ice over the last two seasons, only the Kings’ Drew Doughty (35) has been on the ice for fewer power-play goals against than Carlo (38). The Carlo-less Bruins, by the way, had the fourth-worst penalty kill among all playoff teams last spring, at 73.5 percent.
How about No. 54? Now, while it may not translate on the trade market, McQuaid is somebody with immense value within that locker room. He does just about everything you want out of a teammate; He blocks shots (he’s broken bones blocking shots), he defends his teammates whenever necessary (his six majors were the most among Boston skaters last year), and he took his scratchings in stride a season ago. He’s also one of the few remaining players left from the 2011 Stanley Cup team. At the same time, however, it’s hard to imagine McQuaid a) bumping any of the right-side defenders above him on the depth chart down to the press box and b) being OK with another year of part-time play, especially in a contract year.
There’s also the weird fact that one of McQuaid and Miller never quite seem to be healthy at the same time. Trading McQuaid and having Miller hobble through an injury-plagued 2018-19 season could quickly turn the Bruins into a team searching for defensive help, which would be the ultimate kick in the pants given their current situation.
Who’s dangled out there also comes with a varying impact on a return.
If the Bruins trade McQuaid, it’s to simply give him an opportunity where he’ll play regularly (think when the Penguins traded Ian Cole last season), meaning that the Bruins aren’t necessarily getting an impact forward or high-end draft pick in return — nor should they for what is essentially a rental on McQuaid’s expiring contract. If the Bruins move Krug, it’s undoubtedly going to be for a player whose offensive impact can change the complexion of Boston’s top two lines so that they’re better equipped to hang with the Maple Leafs and Lightning. If Carlo’s moved, it’s likely for a high-ceiling forward, but he would have to be one also on an entry-level deal or affordable second contract given the B’s cap space issues.
Those are three extremely different returns.
But any of those potential fallouts seem more plausible than the Bruins rolling with eight defensemen for another year.
Loose pucks: Correction on an earlier report that indicated that the Bruins had signed German forward Marcel Noebels. Apparently German media jumped the gun. Sounds like he’s coming to camp on a professional tryout… Big thumbs down to NBC Sports Boston’s Twitter account, who ‘forgot’ to include Bruce Cassidy as an option for a poll question asking which Boston coach you’d like to have for the next three years. The dude was a Jack Adams finalist!… Still not sure as to where the Bruins are leaning with their 2019 Winter Classic jerseys, and there’s been no leaks of any sort. Given the fact that the Bruins are playing at Notre Dame Stadium, it would almost make too much sense for the Bruins to wear some sort of gold uniform. But, I’m still sticking with my original hope: The gigantic block B from the Milt Schmidt days.
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? Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.