The Boston Bruins are very clearly re-tooling their back end after waving goodbye to Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug this offseason. The million dollar question is how seismically those changes are going to impact the ability to win for this season’s Bruins group.
The B’s have clearly and often mentioned a desire to develop young D-men like Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen and Jeremy Lauzon on the left side to match with the lone remaining lefty hold-over, puck-mover Matt Grzelcyk.
“We’re going to do it by committee and allow some of these [young] guys a little bit of trial and error and [to] potentially fail as a result of it. But also succeed as a result of it, and not look over their shoulder in any way, shape or form because they have to gain that experience,” said Sweeney. “You’re not going to move forward in your career if you’re not put in those situations.
“Sometimes you fall flat and other times you rise up. We have several players, [Brandon] Carlo and [Charlie] McAvoy and Kevan Miller coming back on board. Obviously Griz has been in situations and Jeremy Lauzon and John Moore and Jakub Zboril, who is looking for an opportunity to breakthrough at the National Hockey League level. The players we have on our roster are what they are. The competition will begin and there are no guarantees, and we understand that.”
Letting go of a pair of veterans in Chara and Krug clears the way for what could be a bumpy development process, even if Don Sweeney had hoped the 43-year-old might have stayed in more of a reserve 7th defenseman-type role.
Clearly the Bruins have plenty of talent on the right side in Brandon Carlo, Charli McAvoy, Connor Clifton and Kevan Miller that will be able to provide some stability, and John Moore is still around as well as a veteran option in case the growing pains get too intense.
But moving on from Krug and Chara, as big as they are for roster-changing moves, hasn’t changed Sweeney’s expectations for this year that the Boston Bruins are a playoff team, and still have a fighting chance at a Stanley Cup.
In that sense the B’s expectations for this year are business as usual.
“We’re a team that’s well positioned to be competitive in our division and get into the playoffs. That’s our expectation and see where we go from there. It’s an uncharted kind of year that we’re going to face as was the return to play, going into a bubble environment,” said Sweeney. “If anyone that has a clear-cut answer in terms of what to expect in and what players may or may not remain healthy, good on them to have the foresight to be able to do that.
“We have to have the depth within the organization. I think you have to be strong, obviously in all areas. I’ve made no bones that we’ll have some exposure in introducing some younger players [on defense] that we plan to integrate and blend in, but our goaltending is in a great spot and our forward group is [too]. Now we have to be healthy and hopefully we move forward. But I don’t think our expectations have changed at all.”
The question really is whether the expectations should have changed at this point. The Bruins have major turnover on the back end, they’ll be missing the NHL’s leading goal scorer for at least the first few weeks of the regular season and they are in an ultra-tough East Division competing with the Flyers, Penguins, Capitals, Islanders and Rangers for just four playoff spots in the division.
This could be a season where the significant roster changes, the unique circumstances and the aging core group in Boston really forces the Boston Bruins to take a step back. But we’ll have to see how things play out before knowing if that’s the case, or if Sweeney accurately nails this as something less than a franchise-altering change.