By: Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio
The Bruins have rarely had success in developing and building their defensive depth. Before 2010, the Bruins hadn’t selected a defenseman in the first round since Matt Lashoff in the 2005 draft, who only played 74 NHL games. For nearly 5 years, the Bruins’ highest priority was a left-handed puck-moving defenseman. The Bruins either didn’t select a D-man entirely or swung and missed on every blue-line draft pick. Their former General Manager, Peter Chiarelli, had a knack for trading picks and upcoming talent for NHL-ready players but had almost no success in drafting. To put it into perspective, the Bruins selected six times in the 2007 draft, four of which were D-men. The six picks appeared in 23 NHL games, three of those games coming from one of the four D-men. Peter and the Bruins alienated their draft boards almost entirely and focused on free-agent signings and trades.
During the 2011 season, the Bruins possessed some talent on the back-end. Captain Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, and Andrew Ference donned the black and gold. There was a hole on the left side on the second/third pairing. They had tried Matt Hunwick, Matt Lashoff, Mark Stuart, and Matt Bartkowski, all of whom weren’t making a lasting impression. At the trade deadline, Chiarelli set out to find the defenseman they had been desperately wanting. He traded away Mark Stuart and former 2004 top-five pick Blake Wheeler for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik to the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets).
Peverley was seen as a bottom-six role player and ended up being an integral part of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run. This created an even bigger hole on the blue-line, which many felt was a complimentary move for a bigger trade. Sure enough, Chiarelli traded for Tomas Kaberle from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Joe Colborne (former first-round pick in 2008), a 2012 second-round pick and a conditional pick. The conditional pick turned into a first in 2011 if the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup, which came to fruition. It was a hefty price tag for one player, but at the deadline, teams are desperate and prices run high. At the time of the trade, Kaberle was a 12-year veteran with 520 points and a plus 25 rating. These two deadline moves, along with the Horton and Campbell trade, launched the Bruins into a strong playoff contender and yielded them their sixth Stanley Cup in history.
Since 2011, the Bruins have had more success drafting defensemen in large part to high draft picks (thank you, Toronto) and personnel moves. The Bruins brought in Keith Gretzky as Director of Amateur Scouting. Keith played a role in drafting players such as David Pastrnak, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, Jakub Zboril, Jake Debrusk, Brandon Carlo, Jeremy Lauzon, and Charlie McAvoy. It has taken years for the blue-line to finally take shape but after trades, free-agent signings, and better drafting, the Bruins finally have a good defenseman logjam problem.
Including two long-term injured reserve spots, the Bruins have nine NHL defensemen on the roster. The current six players have solidified their spots, so what happens when Kevan Miller and John Moore return from their injuries?
Miller came into the league from the University of Vermont as an undrafted free agent. He brings toughness, grit, and resiliency to the Bruins D-line. He’s currently playing out the last year of his four-year, $10 million deal, which many believe will be his last in a Bruins uniform. Miller fractured his knee cap in April of last season and has yet to return, however, Cassidy has reported he will be back to the Bruins soon.
Cassidy said that Kevan Miller’s return will likely not be next week — although the weekend could be a slight possibility.— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) November 7, 2019
The following week is more probable for the veteran to return.
Miller’s been plagued with the injury bug his whole career. He has yet to play a full 82 game season. In 324 NHL games, Miller has 534 blocks and 712 hits. He is not afraid to put his body down for the team, but unfortunately, it has resulted in too many injuries. His recent kneecap injury allowed Connor Clifton to seize the opportunity to play in the bigs, and he ended up making a lasting impression on the third pairing. When Miller returns, the Bruins have a difficult choice to make. They could healthy scratch Steven Kampfer or Connor Clifton or reassign them to their affiliate in Providence. Clifton was waiver exempt before November 9th, but he has played in 15 games and therefore needs to clear waivers if the Bruins want to send him down. It would be no surprise if another team scooped him up on the waiver wire.
It would be an unfortunate move because Clifton has played well enough to continue his role as a bottom pairing D-man and recently signed a three-year, $3 million deal this past off-season. The Bruins could also look for a trade partner for Miller. Unfortunately, his current trade value is minimal with the recent injury; therefore he will need to showcase what he has left before General Manager, Don Sweeney, picks up the phone. If the Bruins do trade Miller, it could be for a middle-to-late-round pick to alleviate their cap situation and allow their young D-men more opportunity to make a name for themselves.
The other returning defenseman, John Moore, was signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2018 to a five-year, $13.75 million deal. Moore is a former first-round pick in the 2009 draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He never found his groove in Columbus, nor New York, before moving on to New Jersey. He averaged 19:39 time-on-ice for the Devils and discovered some offensive ability, but still couldn’t post a positive plus/minus stat. Sweeney signed Moore for depth at the blue-line and spread his cap hit throughout the five years to avoid further cap mismanagement. The 6’2, 210-pound defender played in 61 games in the regular season for the Bruins and 10 games in the recent NHL playoffs. He made it through the Stanley Cup Final, before being ruled out with an impending shoulder surgery that would sideline him for four to six months. He has yet to return but is skating with a non-contact jersey which is a good sign for any player on the injured reserve.
Joakim Nordstrom and Par Lindholm are on the ice for morning skate. John Moore (red non-contact) is also skating.— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 10, 2019
Jake DeBrusk and David Backes are not practicing. #NHLBruins pic.twitter.com/aXy6ls8AVP
When Moore finally returns, his situation is a bit trickier. The Bruins could find a new home for Miller in the meantime, which would alleviate the pressure of trying to plug Moore back into the lineup. If Sweeney is unable to find a trade partner for Miller, the recent General Manager of the Year has a taller task. Moore’s contract is easy to trade because of the low cap and could also warrant a mid-round draft pick. But, like Miller, his trade value is quite low because of the recent injury.
The Bruins have to start thinking about next off-season, as they have a few key players on the last leg of their contracts, one of which is power-play quarterback, Torey Krug. Krug is playing the last year of his four-year, $21 million deal and is coming off two consecutive 50-point seasons. There’s word around the league that he should gain a significant raise and has been rumored to be gaining trade interest in the past two years. Sweeney has made it clear he wants to keep the 5’9 D-man in a Bruins uniform.
Don Sweeney on possibly trading Torey Krug: pic.twitter.com/Hgp6ZFg6R3— Nicole Yang (@nicolecyang) June 17, 2019
Another likely – and more plausible – scenario has the Bruins keeping their D-men and waiting until the February trade deadline to strike a deal. History has shown deadline day prices can be high, so Miller or Moore could yield the Bruins an unexpected player or pick. Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jakub Zboril are all knocking on the Bruins’ roster door. All three have showcased some skill in the NHL over the past few seasons, but none have been able to solidify a roster spot yet in large part to the logjam at defense. The Bruins have a very good problem at defense with their plethora of NHL-ready names. They haven’t had this luxury in quite some time, but Sweeney will need to work his magic once again if he wants the right talent in the lineup and a positive cap balance in next year’s off-season.