By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins were never going to begin the season with eight NHL-quality defensemen on their roster.
Even with Boston’s recent defensive injury woes in postseason play — they went 10 bodies deep in their 2017 round one loss to the Senators and lost their second pairing of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo before and/or during the postseason in 2018 — that should have been obvious. It was a luxury, but one that was neither sustainable nor something the Bruins could legitimately afford in 2018-19. After all, this is the team that chose to waive and later trade (and eat half the remaining salary of) Matt Beleskey last season because they didn’t feel like burning $3.8 million in the press box on a nightly basis.
Which is why the timing of Tuesday’s trade that sent McQuaid to the New York Rangers in exchange for Steven Kampfer and two draft selections — one that gives McQuaid a fresh start before N.Y. camp — could not have come at a better time for all.
Especially the Bruins.
“Going into the year, we had eight defensemen, six would play,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy acknowledged Tuesday. “So it wasn’t automatic that Adam would be one of the two out, but if it were to work out that way, it would have been difficult.”
Of course, it was not automatic that McQuaid would have been one of the frequently scratched d-men. But it was probably likely. The B’s weren’t scratching top-pairing defenseman Charlie McAvoy, and Brandon Carlo remains a steady penalty-killing presence and his game’s growth is still very much worth the investment. Kevan Miller’s emergence as a versatile three-zone threat is something the Bruins would not rob themselves of, either, especially when he’s able to thrive in a third-pairing role.
So, barring an injury, McQuaid was back to eating press box popcorn and waiting for an injury to a teammate to strike. Selfless team-first guy or not, that’s uncomfortable. And given the fact that McQuaid was entering a contract year, getting Paul Postma’d to the ninth floor could have led the Bruins and McQuaid to a frustrating relationship similar to the Penguins and Ian Cole last year where the player almost wants to be moved for the sake of his own career moving forward. Given McQuaid’s contributions to the franchise over the last 10 years, that kind of treatment would have been hard to justify, too.
It would have been an incredibly uncomfortable situation for all involved.
“We do what’s best for the organization overall, first and foremost, and that won’t change,” B’s general manager Don Sweeney began. “[McQuaid] went through a tough time in November and December [last year] when he was healthy and returning and wanted to play. It’s always gonna be merit-based, and ultimately that’s the coach’s decision, but it was a tough stretch.”
There’s also the fact that the Bruins really did not have a definitive role for the nine-year veteran. Even with everything the 6-foot-4 defender does — blocking shots, sticking up for teammates by way of hits and fists — and would continue to do next year. The need for an ‘enforcer’ has obviously dwindled little by little, and the Bruins feel confident in the ‘team toughness’ and that the emerging leadership from some of the group’s younger players can help fill the void left by McQuaid’s little things.
I believe it’s also worth noting that while Cassidy himself appreciated McQuaid, it was clear that he had his own reservations about McQuaid’s effectiveness against skillful teams like the Maple Leafs and Lightning (two teams that aren’t going away anytime soon, by the way) based on his on-ice usage in their playoff head-to-heads this past spring.
There’s also the fact that McQuaid is no longer blocking the Boston pipeline should a Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, or Jeremy Lauzon prove capable of taking that next step and making their NHL debut at some point in 2018-19.
“I’ve been debating whether or not we were gonna stay as is and feel very confident in our group or to allow some of the younger guys to continue to push through and feel OK about our depth minus the obvious if we have injuries,” Sweeney, back from watching those young defensive prospects at the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, said. “That’s kinda been the conversations going back and forth. Some teams had reached out to me around the July 1st timeframe, so I’ve sorta had things I’ve explored.”
And with Kampfer and his $650,000 salary playing the new role of eighth defensemen (and likely bound for the American Hockey League, as Cassidy alluded to having just one scratched defenseman on his roster this season), the Bruins essentially cut $2.75 million off their 2018-19 books. That would leave the Bruins with just over $5 million to make an in-season move.
Considering the needs that may emerge for the Bruins — Cassidy seems determined to give the kids chances at second-line right wing and at third-line center out of the gate, but it remains to be seen whether or not they’re up to the task — in a hyper-competitive Atlantic Division, establishing this flexibility now has its benefits. Even if it’s at the expense of a beloved teammate.
“I don’t know if there’s a perfect time [to trade] to tell you the truth,” said Sweeney. “It just presented itself late last night.”
Which, as it turned out, was as good a time as any, really.
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.