This is Part 2 of a five-part “Breaking Down the Boston Bruins” series that will run this week at Boston Hockey Now. Today we’ll look at the current and future picture for the B’s defensemen as we head into an important offseason.
On Monday, my BHN partner-in-scribe, Joe Haggerty, looked at what the Boston Bruins may do with their forward group? If Patrice Bergeron retires, that will be the second top 6 center the Bruins have lost in one calendar year after David Krejci departed for his native Czechia last July. As Haggs pointed out, the Bruins, unless Jack Studnicka seizes the opportunity, will need to explore the NHL trade and free agent market regardless of Bergeron’s decision. So, you can officially consider the Boston Bruins in the market for a proven top 6 center or two.
Will Bruins general manager Don Sweeney also be in the market for a defenseman or two as well, just as he was at the NHL Trade Deadline when he acquired Hampus Lindholm? The top pairing of Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy could wind being one of the best top pairings in the NHL next season but there are some big question marks in the bottom six for the Boston Bruins.
Is the top 4 pairings group good and tough enough for the elevated and more physical play of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Do the Boston Bruins still need a Kevan Miller-type defenseman on the third pairing?
These questions are just as important as who will succeed Bergeron and Krejci if the Boston Bruins aren’t headed for a rebuild or retool, and don’t want to be one and out again in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Time To Move On From Carlo Or Grzelcyk?
Let me preface what about to say by stating that I think Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo is easily one of the nicest players I’ve covered in my 20 years a puck scribe in the NHL. He also seems like a great teammate, and does have exceptional skills and mobility for a 6-foot-6, 220-pound defenseman. Now that being said, while Carlo is nice off the ice, he’s absolutely too nice on it!
Carlo has become this Bruins generation’s version of former Boston Bruins defenseman Hal Gill. Like Carlo, Gill and his 6-foot-7, 230-pound frame was expected to be that physical net-front clearing presence. He wasn’t and unfortunately it took the Bruins eight seasons to figure that out. Either the Bruins acquire that big man in front type of player they’ve wanted Carlo to be and accept Carlo for what he is, or they do what they did after eight seasons of miscasting Gill and move on. If the latter, they could try and do a straight up hockey trade and acquire a defenseman that can play that role, or they could use Carlo as trade bait in a deal for a top 6 center.
There’s currently plenty of clamoring from Boston Bruins fans on social media to trade the oft-injured Matt Grzelcyk. Grzelcyk, another classy lad off the ice and by all accounts solid teammate on and off the ice, has sadly proven that he cannot physically stand the elevated forecheck in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Losing Grzelcyk in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final was a factor in the Boston Bruins falling in seven games to the St. Louis Blues and Grzelcyk missing Games 6 and 7 played a role in the Bruins’ recent seven-game series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The read here is that Grzelcyk has been grossly misused and was wrongly type-casted as Torey Krug’s replacement. Grzelcyk can still provide that powerplay punch and great breakout pass, but he can’t handle Top 4 minutes at this point, unless the Bruins were to pair him with aforementioned defenseman Carlo isn’t.
Just a thought but unrestricted free agent-to-be and Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg could be worth looking into on the UFA market. The 29-year-old, 6-foot-3, 190-pound rearguard will be highly coveted and is due for a nice pay raise but if the Bruins aren’t going to go all in building up the middle, then why not solidify what could be a formidable and productive top 4 pairing group?
Will Clifton Be Traded?
While Connor Clifton was one of the Bruins’ better defenseman in the seven-game loss to the Hurricanes, his inconsistency and reckless play could have him being dealt away this offseason. As the season wound down, Clifton and Derek Forbort did finally find chemistry. Forbort became a shot-blocking machine and key cog in the penalty kill. Still, do the Boston Bruins need a more calculated and physical presence like Kevan Miller was, rather than the Tasmanian Devil type like Clifton?
An NHL source confirmed to Boston Hockey Now Monday that Clifton was out there on the NHL trade market at various points this past season so it will be no surprise if he is again now. The question is, who could come in and fill that Miller role?
What about 31-year-old, 6-foot-2, 204-pound and potentially three-peat Stanley Cup champion Jan Rutta who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 13?
If the Boston Bruins don’t improve their blue line and find the right mix of physicality and skill, not even the best NHL betting odds will have them as playoff contenders.