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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 email@example.com.
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Dissecting what the Bruins did, and didn't do, at the deadline
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