The Bruins had a size problem. Did they do enough to fix it?
It’s been almost two years since the Big, Bad Blues stampeded through Boston and bullied their way to the Stanley Cup. In a series of moves since that historic letdown, whether intentional or not, Don Sweeney has fashioned himself a bigger and more balanced roster. One that should be better built for this time of year.
Teams in the modern NHL have put more emphasis on speed and skill than past eras. But it’s really an elite mix of size and skill, at both ends of the ice, that prevails in May and June. That’s a relic of Stanley Cup history that will always be preserved.
It’s played out that way in the 2020-21 regular season, too. Ten out of 16 playoff teams entered the season in the top half of the league in average height (via The Athletic). Predictably, 14 playoff teams are also top-16 in goal differential. Eight playoff teams are top-16 in both.
“Size” does not mean goons and barbarians. The Bruins have lost recent playoff series because of not a lack of enforcers, but more simply, a lack of the requisite size and strength to withstand the physical toll that comes with a long postseason run. It’s no coincidence that the teams with the big defenses, and a balance of size and skill up front, are often the ones hoisting the Cup in the end.
The last two teams to eliminate the Bruins, the Blues and the Tampa Bay Lightning (including 2018), had both the bigger defense and the bigger size advantage over opposing forwards. Oh, and they both won the Cup.
Obviously, the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara is going to skew average height. In the 2019 playoffs, Bruins defensemen stood at 73.7 inches (just under 6-foot-2) on average. But outside of Chara, they averaged 72.2 inches – barely 6 feet. And even with Chara, the average Bruins defender was only 0.6 inches taller than the average Blues forward – basically even. Contrast that with the average height of the St. Louis blue line, which towered over Boston forwards by 2.9 inches.
The same problem resurfaced in the 2020 bubble, as Tampa’s average height advantage on defense (2.5 inches) beat the Bruins’ (1.5). Feet and inches certainly don’t tell the whole story. But it’s become clear and obvious that the Bruins haven’t had the right mix of size and skill to hang with the teams that went all the way.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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 and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.