The Boston Bruins continue to look for ways to strengthen the left side of their defense, and they continue to look at options other than 43-year-old captain Zdeno Chara.
The free agent continues to be unsigned as neither he, nor the Bruins, have officially closed the door on a return to Boston, but reports materialized over the weekend that the B’s have interest in free agent D-man Ben Hutton.
The B’s interest in Hutton was first reported by the Fourth Period’s Dave Pagnotta, who said the Edmonton Oilers were also kicking the tires prior to signing Slater Koekkoek to a one-year, short money contract.
Boston is among the teams with interest in UFA LD Ben Hutton, who also drew interest from Edmonton (Oilers signed Slater Koekkoek yesterday).
— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) December 27, 2020
The 6-foot-2, 206-pound Hutton posted four goals, 16 points and a plus-5 rating for the LA Kings last season in 65 games, and to his credit was one of the few Kings players still able to retain a possible plus/minus during a dreadful season.
Hutton was a standout D-man at the University of Maine before four solid seasons on the blue line for the Vancouver Canucks and would represent an affordable veteran alternative if youngsters like Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen and Jeremy Lauzon aren’t quite ready for NHL prime time. The plan is for the Boston Bruins to have a bit of a youth movement on their back end this season after presumably waving goodbye to both Torey Krug and Chara, but B’s President Cam Neely also indicated last week that they were looking to shore up their back-end depth with another body capable of playing in a top-4 role.
“I still think we’d like to still explore our back end a little bit. Even though we feel we’ve got some guys that can step in, it’s just a matter of the experience piece that everybody likes. You don’t get experience until you play,” said Neely. “I think you’re never really satisfied with your lineup, so I mean I’m sure Don [Sweeney] is still looking at potentially tweaking or adding, but we’ll see what happens the next couple of weeks here.”
Hutton is coming off a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Kings last season, so the Bruins have the cap space available ($3.6 million, per PuckPedia) to be able to offer him a bit of a raise on another one-year deal while still fitting comfortably underneath the cap. Hutton posted highs of five goals and 25 points in his four seasons in Vancouver, and by all accounts appears to be a solid two-way defenseman that can contribute at both ends of the ice.
It makes sense that the Bruins continue to pursue ways to strength their back-end depth after they fell short while pursuing Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson in a trade earlier this season.
As has been the case for weeks now, the B’s interest in Hutton casts real doubt on any chance that the 43-year-old Chara has of returning to Boston for a 15th NHL season. There are questions as to whether Chara wants to come back at all given that COVID-19 will make it a very unconventional hockey season, and it seems very clear that the Boston Bruins want to get younger on the back end.
Cam Neely said last week “there were a lot of factors at play” when considering whether or not to bring the 6-foot-9 defenseman back for one more year. The B’s will undoubtedly miss Chara’s leadership, his unrivaled toughness, his penalty killing and his big game experience if his run with Boston is over, but that should go without saying for a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the most iconic D-men in NHL history.