Boston Bruins

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Lost in the tornado of debate and discussion that has torn through Boston in the wake of the Hampus Lindholm trade is one basic, undeniable truth: they got better.

We in New England love to point out when the team gets worse, to rhetorically ask whether they got better when it’s obvious they didn’t. The Patriots, for example, have technically gotten worse over the past couple of weeks, even though it’s still painfully early to declare their off-season some kind of failure. We’ll hammer that one until the wood splinters.

The Bruins, meanwhile, made a massive improvement in the area of their roster that was most desperately in need of one. The acquisition of Lindholm gives the Bruins exactly what they needed, and what they needed more than anything else: a legitimate top-4 defenseman, with excellent size, who can keep opponents at bay around the net and solidify things in his own end. And they needed that on the left side, where Lindholm will be a fine complement for Charlie McAvoy and/or the leader of a potential shutdown duo with Brandon Carlo.

This is the type of player the Bruins have needed for nearly a decade. Since 2015, when the team experienced real turnover on the blue line and missed the playoffs in the process, the B’s under Don Sweeney have mostly struggled to restock the defense through the draft, certainly on the left side for the post-Zdeno Chara transition.

Jakub Zboril is still only 25 years old and may yet take hold as a regular NHL defenseman, but he almost certainly will never become a top-pairing guy, and 100 percent won’t ever be the type of player that Lindholm is. Jeremy Lauzon flashed when given chances in Boston, but he’s now on his third team in two seasons after being drafted to the Seattle Kraken, then traded to the Nashville Predators at the deadline.

Which brings us to Urho Vaakanainen, the Bruins’ 2017 first-round pick who finally appeared to gain traction in his young career in 15 NHL games this season. Vaakanainen was the perfect trade chip to include in the Lindholm deal. The playing styles are similar. Lindholm is older, but he’s also bigger and is actually established. He’s what the Bruins hoped Vaakanainen would one day become, and lock up for an eight-year deal worth $6.5 million annually. So, essentially, they fast-forwarded five years.

The Bruins’ biggest problem in recent playoff runs has been at the defensive end of the ice. Their second-round loss to the New York Islanders was the latest example of a defensive corps unable to withstand the physical grind, to protect the net-front, to suppress high-danger scoring chances at a high-enough level. Things that their opponents (Blues, Lightning, Isles) have repeatedly done to them.

Lindholm promises to give them more ability to (finally) do it back. Same goes for depth pieces like Derek Forbort and the Bruins’ other trade deadline addition, Josh Brown. The Bruins had gone too far in the direction of undersized, offensive-minded defensemen, and away from the kind of defense you need in the playoffs. GM Don Sweeney has spent the past calendar year correcting that problem.

There was, and still is, a clamor for more secondary scoring, and we all would’ve taken it, obviously. But secondary scoring hasn’t been the issue in recent playoff runs. Of all Bruins with at least 10 playoff games over the past three summers, you know who averaged the most 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes? David Backes! He’s not a great example, but the No. 2-3 players in that category, Marcus Johansson and Craig Smith, are. David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand finally check in at 4-5 on the list. Meanwhile, Patrice Bergeron ranks behind all those aforementioned names, plus Ondrej Kase and Danton Heinen.

If the Bruins’ No. 1 line plays to their capabilities, which they infamously did not do in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, there’s still a chance they have enough around them up front. The defense was the real issue. The Bruins allowed the third-most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes in the 2021 playoffs. That number should absolutely go down with the addition of Lindholm and other roster adjustments they’ve made.

Of course, as is tradition around here, much of the focus will be on what the Bruins did not do at the deadline, like decide on a trade for Jake DeBrusk, or add an impact forward. It certainly wasn’t a perfect trade deadline. They could’ve used an upgrade somewhere up front just like they needed it on the back end, and had the cap space to do it, but ultimately left that money unused.

But the Bruins didn’t get worse. They got better. That’s objectively a good thing. If you choose not to acknowledge that, or focus on the downsides, that’s your problem. If you’re ignoring the obvious improvement to argue it was somehow a “bad” deadline for Sweeney and the B’s, please stop. Don’t be ridiculous.

And if you’re one of those people, you’ll probably be more surprised than you should be when the Bruins start to have more defensive success in the playoffs.

They needed that more than a #Number2Center, anyway.

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 mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.


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Dissecting what the Bruins did, and didn't do, at the deadline

  • VANCOUVER, BC – FEBRUARY 22: Jake DeBrusk #74 of the Boston Bruins skates with the puck during NHL action against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on February 22, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

    The most surprising news of the day: Jake DeBrusk’s two-year extension.

    If I had to guess, that two-year extension will take place somewhere else, but the fact that it happened and didn’t lead to a trade in the five hours between the announcement and trade deadline was a bit surprising. I mean, the second it went down, I started wondering where DeBrusk was going to land and how the Bruins were going to parlay the return into something more. It felt like an example of the market, which had been mostly down on DeBrusk all year, adjusting its prices in the B’s favor.

    Instead, the Bruins did it provide clarity and get back down to the basics with DeBrusk.

    “[We] sent a clear message to Jake and he sent one to us, that he just wants to play hockey,” Sweeney said of DeBrusk’s extension. “Bottom line is he knows he’s an important part if he plays to his capabilities, he’s going to help us and help himself.

    “The impact that he can have on our hockey club, we believe in.”

    The way I read this: The Bruins are more willing to ‘lose’ a DeBrusk trade in the summer when they’re not in the middle of surging up the Eastern Conference and relying on them to be a contributor on their top line. Without a direct replacement at their disposal — and I believe that the Bruins wanted a right-shot, natural right wing to slot at RW1 if DeBrusk was a goner — there was just too much risk in saying ‘we gotta be done with this just because’ when it came to DeBrusk.

    The Bruins also have to hope that delaying this split benefits them in some fashion. The No. 1 hope is that DeBrusk plays well and helps the team go on a run, develops some more consistency in his game. From there, DeBrusk would either want to stay (this one seems unlikely) or simply maximizes the return coming the B’s way. Another is that the market is less depressed now that DeBrusk’s cap hit for the next two years is known and there’s no icky qualifying offer on deck. Third, of course, is that everything remains the same and the Bruins have to bite the bullet on one of these offers that didn’t woo ’em the first time.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 02: Zach Senyshyn #19 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period of the preseason game against the New York Rangers at TD Garden. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    The Bruins did, however, honor one 2015 first-round pick’s trade request with the move that sent Zach Senyshyn to Ottawa.

    And just like that, the Bruins have officially closed the book on one chapter of their disastrous 2015 NHL Draft. A reach made with one scout believing that they had a sleeper on their hands, Senyshyn felt doomed from the start when the analysts outright said they didn’t even have him listed on their charts for the first round and scrambled for info. He didn’t do much to prove ’em wrong, as his development was a bit slower than the B’s would have liked and came with a near-constant injury interruption.

    Ultimately, I have no idea what kind of NHL player Senyshyn will be in Ottawa, if he’s an NHL player at all. (And if he can’t hack it for his hometown Sens, one of the neediest teams at right wing in all the land, I don’t think he’s going to get a chance to hack it anywhere else in this league.) I think he’s looked solid in his brief NHL samples, but again, the injuries haven’t helped.

    But I think, collectively, we can have one gripe about Senyshyn’s Boston tenure. For a team that has routinely played centers and left wings on the right side, it was weird to never see Senyshyn get an extended look just for the hell of it. I mean, he went unclaimed on waivers multiple times and had two straight training camps without even skating with NHLers. It was basically the definition of a ‘throw some crap at the wall and see what happens’ kind of option and it never really came to be.

    Just a bit odd, especially with a 2021-22 AHL campaign that came with a career-best 19 goals and 31 points through 51 games.

  • Jan 29, 2022; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Anaheim Ducks right wing Buddy Robinson (53) fights with Ottawa Senators defenseman Josh Brown (3) in the second period at the Canadian Tire Centre. (Marc DesRosiers/USA TODAY Sports)

    Mentioned it earlier, but you gotta like the Bruins’ move for Josh Brown for what it is.

    Without Urho Vaakanainen and John Moore out of the equation for the Bruins, Jack Ahcan became the B’s de facto No. 8 defenseman on the organizational depth chart. Now, the problem with that is the Bruins view the 5-foot-8 Ahcan as more of a specialist in the sense that if he’s playing, they’re going to want him opposite Brandon Carlo. They’d also to prefer to keep him on his natural left side. Not exactly a ‘throw him in’ option. So, if a slight rash of injuries came to the B’s blue line, you were talking about a defense featuring a Tyler Lewington, Kodie Curran or Nick Wolff as a lineup regular.

    Brown helps prevent that, even if it’s just by one extra body.

    A 6-foot-5, right-shot veteran of 165 career games between Florida and Ottawa, Brown posted a career-high 106 hits and 57 blocks through 46 games with the Sens this year, and brings a nasty element the Bruins could always use more of. (And if the name sounds familiar, Brown was the one who knocked Trent Frederic out of commission with a heavy hit early in the year.)

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 02: Jack Studnicka #23 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Rangers during overtime of the preseason game at TD Garden on October 02, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    It may have been a weak deadline in terms of high-end talent on the move, but the forward depth pieces were there.

    From old friends like Marcus Johansson to Riley Nash, and other potentially intriguing options such as Zach Sanford and Vladdy Namestnikov, the Bruins could have found a palatable price to bring someone in if they truly wanted to.

    But it doesn’t sound like the Bruins really didn’t want to reconfigure a 12-forward group that’s finally operating as one.

    “We certainly addressed some things this summer that we needed to from a depth perspective,” Sweeney said. “It took some time for chemistry and pieces to fall into place. Obviously with Bruce making the change and Pastrnak moving down with Hall, it kind of reconfigured how we were playing as a group. You see with the third line has now gone and played together for a period of time and they have some chemistry and productivity going. It sort of allowed the pieces to slot in where we had hoped and envisioned. You just never know. Fourth line plays to their identity and we’ve had depth in that situation.

    “Bottom line is the war of attrition starts from now until when a Cup is presented. Staying healthy is a big part of that.”

    And if health isn’t part of the equation, the Bruins are going to have to rely on players like Jack Studnicka and Oskar Steen up front. The Bruins deciding not to add a veteran depth forward confirms that these guys are indeed viewed as part of the equation for the Bruins, and their respective ‘rope’ should reflect that if this team is going to be as deep as they could be.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 09: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period against the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden on November 09, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Oh, and one more nugget from the deadline: There’s been a lot of talk about Patrice Bergeron and doing right by him in what may very well be his final season. Count me in as part of that. (And I think the B’s aggressive-but-not-reckless approach reflected that.) And as it stands right now, nobody knows what Bergeron is going to do. Not even Sweeney.

    But Sweeney does think he has an idea what it will take to keep No. 37 on the ice for the future.

    “My job is to put together the best team I possibly can [and] I honestly believe that Patrice is playing at the top of his game. If he’s healthy and he looks around at his teammates and enjoys it, he’s going to want to play hockey,” Sweeney said. “That’s his decision, he’s the only one that can have a timeline on it. I’ve never asked him since he made his statement since the first of the year. I just take my cues from how he’s doing and how invested he is [and] he’s pretty invested. And I think he’s excited about adding a player to our hockey club like Hampus and the long term [future].

    “Hopefully it sends the right message. Not just to your club, but to one of the important players in the history of the organization.”

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