By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12
As the Boston Bruins prepare to officially open up training camp in just a few days, it appears as if general manager Don Sweeney may not necessarily be done with his offseason shopping. David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period reported over the weekend that Boston could potentially be interested in unrestricted free agent defenseman Ben Hutton.
Hutton skated in 65 games with the Los Angeles Kings during the 2019-20 campaign, posting four goals and 12 assists for 16 points. On his career, the University of Maine product has 15-71-86 numbers in 341 games.
There’s reason to see why the Bruins may be interested as there is plenty of uncertainty on the left side between the Zdeno Chara situation, which Pagnotta mentioned, as well as fairly unknown commodities in youngsters Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon and Jakob Zboril. Boston also has a hair over $2.98 million in cap space to play around with.
So, with all that in mind, here are some pros and cons for if Hutton were to land in Boston for the 2020-21 season:
Potential bargain signing
Hutton had a strong season with the Kings last year. The 6-foot-2, 206-pound defenseman finished with a career-best plus-five rating as one of five L.A. skaters to finish with a plus rating.
Among qualified skaters in L.A., Hutton finished with the third-highest Corsi-for with 55.8 percent, according to Natural Stat Trick (45-55 percent is considered average). With the 27-year-old on the ice at even-strength in 1060:18 of time, the Kings out-scored opponent 43-40, outshot the opponent 620-498, and out-chanced the opponent 505-426.
In terms of high-danger scoring chances, the Kings held 57.48 percent (219-162) of the high-danger chances with Hutton on the ice at 5-on-5 last season. In those situations, Los Angeles outscored opposing teams 25-21.
He’s coming off a one-year, $1.5 million contract, and I wouldn’t imagine he’d command more than that, especially considering the flat salary cap and the types of bargain-bin signings we’ve seen the last few weeks. If Hutton can replicate last season, or at least come close, I’m in.
Adding a veteran with experience to the left side
Hutton brings five seasons of NHL experience to the table, spending the first four with the Vancouver Canucks. If Chara does not re-sign, the Bruins would have to roll with a combination of Matt Grzlecyk, John Moore, Zboril, Lauzon and Vaakanainen on the left side.
As confident as I am in pairing Grzelcyk with Charlie McAvoy, that would leave Moore as the only real veteran presence on the blueline, and his struggles during his time in Boston have been well-documented. So, bringing in a guy like Hutton, who has more experience than Lauzon, Zboril and Vaakanainen, may not be the worst thing in the world.
A fine safety net and depth piece
No one is saying that Hutton will be the next big top-four defenseman to find a new home in the NHL. Considering Boston’s needs and where he’s at during this point in his career, he’d be a fine bottom pair d-man and penalty-killer. If need be, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he had to slot in further up in the lineup due to injury or other circumstances.
To me, it seems like the Bruins are doing their due diligence on insurance policies and value signings for if Chara walks or hangs up the skates, or if one of the youngsters isn’t ready.
Too many cooks in the kitchen?
As I mentioned above, the Bruins already have several bodies who are capable of playing in the NHL, or at least knocking on the door. If the B’s sign Hutton, and one or two of the kids prove they are ready for the big time, then all of a sudden there’s another roster headache with even more NHL-caliber defensemen vying for ice time.
Maybe a some internal competition to get the most out of players would not be horrible, but that runs the risk of stunting a player’s development or creating friction among the team. If the Bruins are serious about Hutton, maybe the safest bet is starting him off on a professional tryout (PTO) before signing him to a contract once they know what they have.
John Moore 2.0?
Of course, there’s the possibility that the Bruins hand Hutton a contract with bloated term, salary or both that he can’t live up to. Sound familiar? Right, the Bruins already have that in Moore.
Whether that’s an indictment on the team for handing out the contract, or Moore for failing to meet expectations is another conversation. Regardless, I’d hope to not see a repeat of past mistakes if Hutton signs in Boston.
What if the Bruins get pre-Los Angeles Ben Hutton?
Look, Hutton was not a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination during his time in Vancouver. Was he great? No. Was he horrible? No.
The fact is he was simply an average-to-below-average player during his time with the Canucks. If Hutton can’t build off a good season last year, and regresses, then the Bruins simply wasted a roster spot and cap space.