Boston Bruins President Cam Neely wasn’t beating around the bush when it comes to the immediate needs for his hockey club. Certainly, there are incumbent free agents to be signed and decisions to be made on some pretty important roster players, but Neely listed one particular area of need at the top of the B’s “to do” list this offseason.
It’s a left-handed defenseman that can play top-4 minutes and contribute to all areas. Just as Charlie McAvoy is the clear-cut No. 1 defenseman for this Boston Bruins group, it sure feels like they could still use a No. 2 defenseman to that group that would essentially mirror what McAvoy can bring on the left side of the defense.
“The elusive left D we’ve been looking for that can chew up a lot of minutes,” said Neely, when asked what he would add to this current core Boston Bruins group in a perfect world. “Maybe play on the second pairing with Carlo. That’d be more of a shutdown or some puck movement [with] some offensive blue line acumen. As we saw, you can never have enough D and we never seem to have enough.
“For some reason or another, we get banged up. I think our D this year had maybe eight concussions, which is something I don’t know how to combat. But that position is something that we’ve been looking [at] for a while. Hopefully we can do something to grab someone that’s going to help maybe play 20 minutes a game for us.”
It was clear the Bruins needed at least one more established defenseman adept at retrieving pucks, breaking it out of the B’s defensive zone and handling the kind of pressure that the Isles forecheckers were throwing at them.
Clearly, they also need to get somebody bigger and heartier, as well, given the disturbingly high eight concussions that their blueline group suffered during the season.
Eight total concussions for the Bruins defensemen group over the course of this season. That’s a very concerning number.
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) June 15, 2021
The head injuries hurt badly in the playoffs as both Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller were knocked out of commission in a development that greatly compromised their penalty kill against the New York Islanders. It also feels pretty apparent that asking Matt Grzelcyk to play big, heavy NHL minutes at 5-foot-9, 170-pounds is perhaps asking too much from a player that gives his everything each time he suits up for the Black and Gold.
The Boston Bruins went into the season looking toward youngsters Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Urho Vaakanainen to potentially develop into that player after both Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug walked in free agency last offseason. Zboril was inconsistent enough that the Bruins were forced to trade for veteran Mike Reilly at the NHL trade deadline and ended up injured during the playoff run. Lauzon looks like a solid bottom-pairing stay-at-home defenseman at this point in his career but is playing a bit above his level when asked to be a steady top-4 guy.
And the 22-year-old Vaakanainen probably should have been “the elusive left D” that Neely referred to, but simply hasn’t developed into the workhorse shutdown defenseman that the B’s envisioned him to be when they tapped him in the middle of the first round back in the 2017 NHL Draft. Instead, the Bruins are left to either re-sign the 6-foot-1, 199-pound Reilly after a pretty good stint following the trade deadline, or head out into the trade and free agent market to upgrade their roster.
Reilly, Alec Martinez and Alex Goligoski are the top left-handed defensemen on the UFA market next month, but there are others like Ryan Murray and Jamie Oleksiak that could be intriguing possibilities as well. Still, it feels like the Bruins would be better served using trade chips like Vaakanainen and Jake DeBrusk among others to land a younger, established left-shot defenseman that could grow along with the rest of the young Bruins D-man corps.