The Future of the Boston Bruins’ Top-4 Defense

(Photo Credit: Joe Sargent / NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Ryan Duffy | Follow Me On Twitter @Rduffy26

The Boston Bruins fell short of their aspirations to move up the ladder in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 just over a week ago. It was a disappointing end to their season, especially with the uncertainty of whether their captain, Patrice Bergeron, will be returning next season. Bergeron eventually will be the next piece to fall of Boston’s championship-winning team, joining Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask. While the core that won the Stanley Cup in 2011 may be moving on, they have helped solidify strong leadership for the future of the Boston Bruins.

While Boston’s leadership is in good hands, roster changes will need to happen to ensure that the team will be competing for a playoff spot for years to come. The Bruins’ defense will be no exception, and there will likely be turnover come puck drop of the 2022-23 season. With Boston trading for and signing Hampus Lindholm at the deadline, the D-core seemingly has improved their top defensive pairing for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, multiple players on the Bruins’ defense had inconsistent seasons, and at least one of the Bruins’ bottom-4 will likely be dealt by the end of the offseason.

Matt Grzelcyk

While Matt Grzelcyk does many things well, his struggles during the playoffs were evident. In the Bruins’ first-round matchup against the Hurricanes, Grzelcyk particularly struggled at even strength. When Grzelcyk was on the ice, he was outscored 3-8 at even strength and recorded no points through five games. He had multiple instances of poor mistakes, and after playing games one through five in the first round, Cassidy decided to bench him for games six and seven.

In Grzelcyk’s defense, the team announced that he played most of the 2021-22 season with a dislocated shoulder, and he’ll require offseason surgery. “It was quite difficult,” Grzelcyk said. “Just not feeling like myself, obviously. Pain-wise, it would keep popping in and out. That’s why I’d have to miss a game or two and wait for it to calm down. Unfortunately, I have to get surgery. But just looking forward to getting healthy again and start feeling like myself again.”

It’s uncertain whether Grzelcyk will be healthy by the start of next season, which may lead to complications if the Bruins’ management team decides to trade him. Grzelcyk is a quality offensive defenseman who would draw plenty of attention league-wide.

Mike Reilly

Before Mike Reilly came to the Bruins at the 2021 deadline, he was a bit of a suitcase and spent time with three different teams since the 2017-18 NHL season. As soon as he got to Boston, he seemed to be a perfect fit in the Bruins lineup and impressed the coaching staff. This year he’s particularly struggled, and as a result, he’s been a scratch multiple times for Boston. Reilly recorded 17 points in 70 games in the regular season and was a minus-one. While these numbers aren’t horrific, Reilly spent a large portion of this season alongside Charlie McAvoy on the top pairing and didn’t match up well against the opposing team’s top lines.

Reilly played in five playoff games against Carolina after Lindholm went down with an upper-body injury in game two. Reilly optically played better in the playoffs than in the regular season, but he has shown flaws offensively and defensively. This year’s performance might make Reilly expendable and potentially a player that management decides to trade.

Brandon Carlo

Brandon Carlo struggled at the beginning of the 2021-22 NHL campaign but seemed to turn things around come the halfway point of the regular season. When Carlo is at his best, he’s using his skating ability and size to shut down the opposing team’s best players. Carlo is heavily relied upon when defending the lead and in defensive zone starts, as 62.6% of his starts came in the defensive zone this past year. Despite some things that he does well defensively, the lack of physicality given his size has become highly noticeable when defending in the playoffs. 

When the physicality picked up in the playoffs this year, Boston needed Carlo to use his frame to defend the front of the net and out muscle players. He struggled in certain matchups against Carolina, and he was outscored 1-6 at even strength when he was on the ice. The Bruins haven’t seen the physicality the team needs in the playoffs from Carlo. Many have speculated whether Carlo’s previous injuries have impacted his willingness to play physically, as he has had multiple concussions with Boston. Carlo is a great defensive defenseman when he’s on his game, but the Bruins are significantly worse defensively when he plays timidly.

My opinion

Despite the acquisition of Hampus Lindholm, the Bruins need to target improving their top-4 defensemen on the left side. Boston will likely look to improve upon this area by either dealing a young prospect along with Mike Reilly or Matt Grzelcyk. While Grzelcyk has been a good soldier for the Bruins, he hasn’t filled the shoes of what Tory Krug brought the Bruins offensively. Boston recently signed Jakub Zbroil to an extension, and he’ll likely get a shot at playing up and down the lineup this season. Whether or not they choose to fill this position in the offseason is to be seen, but Boston needs to upgrade their D-core if they hope to reach the 2023 Playoffs.

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2 thoughts on “The Future of the Boston Bruins’ Top-4 Defense

  1. Mason Lohrei is 6′ 4″ 195 lbs 21 years old Left shot defensemen and Ryan Mast is 6′ 6″ 210 lbs 19 year old Right shot defensemen. Both are projected to be top 4 defensemen with great skills. Lohrei could be on the Big club as soon as this upcoming season 2022-23. It’s time to bring him into the fold and get rid of Grzelcyk package him, Haula and a 4th rd pick to upgrade the right shot goal scorer to put on the top line. Unless Jesper Froden is put there from the start of training camp. He can scoot and snipe. This is if Bergeron comes back. I don’t understand why this kid Joona Koppanen isn’t on the 4th line left wing yet at 6’5″ 208lbs he would be one hell of a net front presence. He is now a half point per game guy and I say put Foligno in package deal to his brothers team or ask him to retire. Let some young guys play. I thought that was the reason for getting rid of Julien. Koppanen, Nosek and Lazar on the 4th line big boys and Lazar is a hound dog after the puck.

    How would the Bruins Defense look like when those two big boys arrive.

    Lohrei 6’4″ 210 McAvoy 6’1″ 211
    Lindholm 6’3″ 214 Carlo 6’6″ 220
    Forbort 6’4″ 217 Mast 6’6″ 225
    Wolfe 6’5″ 220 Brown 6’5″ 220
    Zboril 6’1″ 195 Clifton 5’11” 190
    Greenway 6’5″ 211 Lewington 6’2″ 195

    Honestly as the youngsters are ready the Bruins should be able to trade the Grzelcyks, Reilly’s, Zborils, Clifton’s and Ahcans for picks or pieces they are in need of like centers.

    • Lohrei is not getting into the Boston Bruins lineup next season. He’s already made plans to attend Ohio State University for the 2022-23 NCAA season. Wolfe won’t be retained next season, Brown most likely not coming back, and JD Greenway is on an AHL-Only contract.

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