Last year coming into pre-season camp there were three spots up for grabs and five players competing for them. We were pretty sure that one of those spots would be an extra defenseman carried by the team in case of injury and that the three players to make the cut would be on some kind of rotation so that nobody got stale and quality game time was had by all. Well three things happened. Injuries to the defense started almost right away. Two regulars didn't finish the season and a fourth rookie made the squad from out of nowhere after being called up. Heading into this years camp Torey Krug is a RFA and remains unsigned. One of last years regulars with be fighting for a roster spot and should he lose it, may be moved on.
Adam McQuaid is a big rangy defenseman and his role is the number six defenseman on this team. He was the soft 4 spot until it was determined what Doug Hamilton's value was. One thing Adam is, is a right hand shot, right side defenseman. A rarity and luxury in this league for a number six spot behind two other right handed shots. His reputation is being a stay at home defenseman that gets the extra minutes the top four do not absorb during a game. He's tough and occasionally an enforcer. He doesn't put up many points and doesn't face the top lines of other teams unless he's killing penalties. His average TOI is 15-17 minutes on a good night. In 30 games he put up modest totals of 1 goal and 5 assists, with a +12 and made 54 hits with 42 blocked shots. At 27 he should be hitting his prime, however he's had a real difficult time staying healthy for the Bruins over the last 3 seasons when the Bruins needed him most. In the 2011-12 season, he was hurt going into the playoffs and a key reason the Bruins couldn't get past Washington in the first round when toughness was needed. In the off season he developed a blood clot in one of his legs and wasn't totally recovered to start the shortened season in early 2013. Good thing though, because he might have missed 2/3rds of the season if it had started on time. This past season, started well enough, but nagging injuries took over from the start of the second month into the season. Groin, ankle, quadricep injuries and in the end an ankle surgery combined to keep him off the team from late January and through the playoffs. As a veteran player making $1.567 million against the cap and a salary of $1.8 million for the coming season, he might, if healthy be a movable piece and in demand because of his right handed shot. The depth of the Bruins has three candidates that could back fill his position. At any rate, he becomes an UFA after the season and likely won't be returning. My report card rating for Adam is a C because he was effective at times when his role wasn't more than expected. But as injuries mounted on the teams defense and youngsters came in, he wasn't missed when he wasn't in the line-up and couldn't elevate his game to be more when called on.
Kevan Miller got a good look from mid December through the playoffs as McQuaid's replacement. He didn't disappoint and may have moved up permanently into the six spot. He also had modest numbers of 1 goal and 6 assists but was a plus 20 and had 103 hits and 85 blocked shots in limited duty. Miller is willing to fight and is a hard hitter in his own end. When he played, he was playing an average TOI of 17:27 and played in big moments at the end of periods and games filling in with Chara to shut other teams down. While he looked a bit out of place at times against Montreal, he was the most consistent of the three rookies on defense in the playoffs. I expect him to win the number six spot on this team and with his humbling cap hit $800 thousand be the big reason McQuaid will move on at some point before or during the season. I award Miller a B+ with room to grow. I see Kevan as Boychuk's replacement down the road.
One of the most exciting stories to come out of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013 and out of pre-season last year was Matt Bartkowski. Surprising everyone by coming out of camp as the seventh defenseman and a player the coaching staff did not want to keep out of the line-up for very long. Matt originally was supposed to be part of the trade that didn't happen with Calgary for Jerome Iginla. He would have been a top 4 defenseman during the season with Calgary but was having a hard time hanging on to his spot on the Boston roster. If not for Torey Krug he would have been a lock for the number 5 spot on last years team. In the end, after Seidenberg went down to injury and the Bruins were unable to make a trade for his replacement of a good enough quality player, he became the "De Facto" number four defenseman on this team heading into the playoffs. On the Bruins, he just wasn't experienced enough and took the brunt of catcalls for a Bruins defense that wilted against the Canadians. Since after training camp, he didn't allow not being one of the top six defensemen to affect his effort or game; I believe he will bounce back and use the negative experience of the playoffs to his advantage coming back this year. Though he put up 18 points during the season in 64 games, it was his +22 and 155 hits that impressed me most and playing in versatile situations with time on the power play occasionally and being a good transitional passer up the left side boards on breakouts. He proved he could play 19-20 minutes during the season game in and game out and is another option to play minutes that give relief to Chara during the season. I'm not sure the Bruins at this point feel his overall game is worth keeping him on the roster over Krug, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did as he adds more to the team in most situations. I give Matt a B+ for last season and worry that he may become a trade chip this season at the trade deadline if the Bruins seem healthy at that point. I'd hate to see him playing for another team in the playoffs against us.
Finally, Torey Krug! It's not that I'm not a Torey Krug fan, I am. But Krug's upside on the ice on this Bruins team has to be balanced with his downside. At 23, playing in 79 games and scoring 14 goals and 26 assists with a +18, Krug is a dynamic offensive talent and as a quarterback on the power play allowed Chara to be utilized as a big body in front of the net to good advantage. My problem with Krug is that he's not big enough to ever be dominant defensively at 5'9"s and 180 lbs. He has blazing speed and agility in abundance. A high hockey IQ and is adept at passing with speed. But he's easily overwhelmed in the corners and behind his own net by players of size. In highly contested games, his TOI numbers drop because he's kept on the bench and held back for offensive zone face-offs and power play time. This is unfair to the other 5 defensemen on the team in games where things balance in the trenches. This is what leads to injuries over time to teammates over playing. There is an upside or solution to this problem though and I don't know if the Bruins are bold enough to experiment with it. I envision Torey as a left wing on the third or fourth line. He's defensively sound enough to play forward and as a short handed forward during a penalty. He could still quarterback power plays and contribute offensively as a forward and I can envision him playing with Soderberg with his fast release and good passing in traffic. It would also make him available during a game if an injury occurred to a defenseman to drop back on defense to finish a game. With his offensive skills, it's possible he could be a 20-25 goal scorer and wouldn't that help in replacing Iginla. I give a Torey a solid B and I hope to watch him dazzle as a fan. But I worry that he'll go the way of Greg Hawgood and Matt Hunwick as an undersized defenseman that will either hurt the team in the long run or he will pile up injuries as teams target him while playing defense. As a winger with his expected to be reasonable contract cost, he could make space under the Salary Cap available for moves if someone such as Chris Kelly or Adam McQuaid moved on and a cheaper prospect could move up or at the trade deadline if the Bruins wanted to bring in a 25-30 goalscoring sniper.
Thats I how I see and envision the current Defense! Next the current roster of forwards and then I'll have some reports and predictions on current Bruins prospects!
Keep the Madness Going! Until Next Time!