By: Joe Todd | Follow me on Twitter @heyjoetodd
I want to be clear: The Boston Bruins do not have a problem on defense.
For the purpose of this article, I am going to focus on the three most consistent lines on defense that have all played over 175 minutes together, according to moneypuck.com. These lines are
Grzelyck – McAvoy
Reilly – Carlo
Forbort – Clifton
All of these lines feature the players on their strong side, meaning that left-handed shots are on the left side and vice versa. This is something that Cassidy has kept consistent, barring injuries; therefore, we will discuss players relative to their appropriate sides.
Sticking to moneypuck.com, each of these three lines are expected to score at least two goals per 60 minutes of play and allow less than two goals against as well. Put simply, every line of the Bruins defense is expected to score more goals than they allow. These statistics are consistent across analytic models, including Twitter user JFresh Hockey’s model, which has consistently ranked the Bruins team defense first in the league with expected goals against rating of 1.98.
When the Bruins have struggled, it has been due to sub-par goaltending and an over-reliance on the “perfection” line of Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak. While Rask has not been sharp since his return to the lineup, Ullmark has been playing the best hockey of his career while Rask continues to get back into game (and hopefully Vezina-like) shape. Additionally, the offense has found its rhythm since Craig Smith was elevated to Line One, and the group of Hall – Haula – Pastrnak was born. Despite the ebbs and flows of the Bruins offense and goaltending, their team defense has consistently been the league’s best.
So why is there so much talk about improving our defense? Specifically, the left side?
Enter the Sandman
Jakob Chychrun and his team-friendly 4.6 million dollar contract is set to expire after the 2024-season. This gives any team that acquires him a top-four, 23-year-old, left-handed defenseman capable of scoring 20 goals, as evidenced by his 18-goal campaign in 2020-2021. With Arizona in a total rebuild, they have asked for a Jack Eichel type of package, according to TSN Insider Darren Dreger.
Jack Eichel was traded for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, and conditional first-round and second-round picks.
For the Bruins, this would be the equivalent to DeBrusk, Lohrei, or Lysell (our best prospects) and a first and second-round pick. While some Bruins fans will be shouting “DO IT! IN A HEARTBEAT!” at their computer screens, I hope the Bruins will steer clear from the desert’s defenseman for two main reasons.
1) The Grzelyck – McAvoy pairing is the best in the league
Bruins fans are begging to see a Chychrun-McAvoy pairing without understanding how good Grzelyck and McAvoy are together. They have league bests with a 1.46 expected goals against and a 70.7% expected goals rate; that’s 5% higher than the next best pair. Put simply; this pairing has a 70% chance of scoring a goal every time they are on the ice together. That is the highest total of any defensive pair on moneypuck’s website dating back to 2008. Disrupting chemistry like that is not worth our best prospect, let alone a first-round pick.
2) Reilly and Forbort were not signed to be scratched
Sweeney signed both Reilly and Forbort to identical three-year, nine-million-dollar contracts this past offseason. While Reilly was healthy scratched by Cassidy in November, he has since regained his puck-moving form from 2020 that got him the extension.
Forbort has played as expected: a shutdown, penalty-killing specialist that has averaged 3:14 minutes on the Bruins 11th ranked penalty kill. While I understand the desire of Bruins fans to upgrade over both players, I do not see Cassidy benching either player nor do I see Sweeney trading a recently signed player; that is a bad sign for future free agents. To make matters worse, Forbort’s contract includes a modified no-trade clause, so he is here to stay.
Where do the Bruins improve?
If I were Don Sweeney, I would be looking to acquire a right-handed defenseman for the right-side of the defense, as Connor Clifton appears to be the weakest link. While I am not necessarily begging for John Klingberg, he does fit the mold of what I believe is needed: an offensive-minded defenseman who excels at breaking the puck out of the defensive zone. He would make an excellent fit next to the stay-at-home mentality of Derek Forbort and could improve the powerplay over Charlie McAvoy.
This would allow for Reilly and Carlo, who both have struggled at times this season, to anchor the third pair and have better matchups. While the price will almost surely cost a first-round pick, I am only trading that pick for Klingberg if it comes with a contract extension, as Klingberg is expected to become a UFA after this season. If Sweeney can get more creative, my colleague Scott Wood discusses other options such as Damon Severson, Scott Mayfield, and Artem Zub to shore up the right side.
Future on defense
With Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Ahcan, and Mason Lohrei all left-handed defenseman expected to make the team in the next two to three years, the Bruins need to shore up the right side of their defense, with only Brady Lyle as one of the few right-handers in the pipeline. Left defense is not a position of need; in fact, it is one of the Bruins strongest. Acquiring Chychrun does not make any sense now or in the future.