By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
If the Bruins defense is going to stink, it better be with guys like Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen doing the stinking.
That’s the promise that the Bruins are ostensibly making ahead of the 2020-21 season, as they said thanks but no thanks to Zdeno Chara and turned a giant 6-foot-9 page toward their future on the blue line. It’s Charlie McAvoy’s unit now, and it’s certainly more about the leadership transition than money or playing time or anything else.
But it’s now on Bruce Cassidy and Don Sweeney to stick to their word. Because despite Chara’s departure, the Bruins still have veterans that threaten to become barriers instead of building blocks. Will they stick to ripping off the band-aid, or will they stop halfway because it stings too much?
The problem isn’t so much that the Bruins are paying Kevan Miller and John Moore a combined $4 million, compared to Chara’s $795,000 that he got from the Capitals. Money doesn’t matter as long as the right guys are playing. The problem is that they’re here in the first place, and potentially standing in the way. Will Miller and Moore be a crutch for Cassidy? Will the coach have too short of a leash for the “many younger and talented players” on the Bruins defense, as Chara himself described them?
Dust off your microscopes for Zboril. The 23-year-old defenseman is still in the Bruins organization and is seemingly getting his most golden opportunity yet to play regularly on the blue line. He may not be an NHL defenseman at all, let alone a serviceable top-4 guy. The ship may have long sailed on whether Zboril will pay off as a 2015 first-round pick. But if the Bruins are aggressively moving toward a younger defensive corps, then they owe it to Boston and they owe it to Zboril to let him play through all the ups and downs and see what they have.
“They have to rise up and take that challenge,” Sweeney said of the Bruins’ younger defensemen. “Some of them have been sitting, percolating, as we say, in the development process and playing all those key integrated minutes in Providence and getting opportunities up here but being sheltered at times. And they’re hopefully ready to take that ball and run with it.”
Not exactly a guarantee that the kids will get a fair chance to develop. Sweeney name-dropped Miller and Moore multiple times in his press conference last Thursday, and of course they’ll be in the mix on a defense that is rebuilding on the fly, particularly on the left side.
But if the season progresses and we start to see more and more of the two veterans over the young players, it will be fair to wonder what we’re doing here. Are the Bruins committed to figuring out what the kids can do or not? Maybe they’re just that bad and they simply have to give substantial minutes to Miller and/or Moore. Well if that was a possibility, why are they here and not Chara?
It’s also quite possible that Chara wasn’t going to get those minutes back and wanted to go where he had more opportunity. Then Miller and Moore shouldn’t get those minutes, either. This is the issue. Until Sweeney, Cassidy, and Cam Neely prove that they are truly committing to young blue liners like Zboril, Vaakanainen, and Jeremy Lauzon over veteran retreads that are no guarantee to stay healthy, let alone play well … then we’re left wondering what the real plan is on the defense.
Let the kids play. And let them suck out loud, if they have to. If they don’t, the Bruins’ already-dubious handling of Chara’s departure will make even less sense.
Matt Dolloff 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 Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at firstname.lastname@example.org.