The Bruins Have A Logjam On Defense

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(Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/AP)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

In the 2016-17 playoffs versus Ottawa, the Bruins were forced to use both rookies like Charlie McAvoy and career 8-9 defenseman like Joe Morrow in games because their defense had been decimated by injuries. The next year it was guys like Matt Grzelcyk and Nick Holden in the lineup vs Toronto and Tampa. I can only assume that as the Bruins were being eliminated in Game 5 of their series against the Bolts, GM Don Sweeney was vowing never again to have a depth problem in the playoffs.

That summer he signed left-handed defenseman John Moore to a five-year deal. During camp, he dealt blue-liner Adam McQuaid to the Rangers but acquired the less expensive former Bruin, Steve Kampfer, in the deal along with a draft pick. That gave them proven NHL players in: Chara, McAvoy, Krug, Carlo, Moore, Miller, Kampfer. They also had Matt Grzelcyk, who had played well in 2017-18 as a rookie, not to mention promising youngsters like Vaakaneinen, Lauzon, Zboril. At the time, I remember the B’s faithful asking where all these defensemen were going to play. Apparently, Sweeney knew what he was doing?

In 2018-19, because of injuries, Boston ended up using 12 different defensemen over the course of the regular season and playoffs. All of the guys I mentioned above, plus a pleasant surprise in the form of free-agent signee Connor Clifton. A 5th round draft pick of the Arizona Coyotes in 2013, Clifton was unable to come to a contract agreement with them after four years at Quinnipiac University. He ended up signing an AHL deal with Providence and performed well enough in 2017-18 to earn himself a two-year NHL deal. He ended up filling in admirably during the regular season after the usual myriad of injuries, playing 19 games. He played another 18 games in the playoffs as Boston went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

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(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Before the 2019-20 season would even begin, the Bruins depth on defense would again be tested. John Moore needed offseason surgery after he played through an injured shoulder in the playoffs last year. Kevan Miller, who ended last season on the injured reserve, would start there to begin the season. Neither Moore nor Miller has played a single game for the Bruins this year, but it appears that both are finally getting healthy, and could push for playing time within the next few weeks (Moore is closer). On the surface, this would appear to be a good thing for the Bruins, but it will force Don Sweeney and his staff to make some decisions.

The first hurdle for Sweeney was that he and head coach Bruce Cassidy would have to decide what to do with Connor Clifton, who has been quickly approaching the point where he would no longer be waiver exempt. The obvious advantage to Clifton maintaining his exempt status is that he could be sent down to Providence without another team being able to claim him when he went through the waiver process. It was something that the B’s front office must have been thinking about long and hard because Clifton sat out two of the last five games in favor of Steven Kampfer before Sunday. Apparently, the staff came to some sort of conclusion, because Clifton played his 60th NHL game against Montreal, which will mark the end of his “exempt” status.

Most people who follow the team thing it’s a foregone conclusion that Clifton would not make it through waivers if the Bruins attempted to send him down at this point. Sweeney is not going to just give an asset like Clifton away, so the logical assumption is that he is here to stay with the big club.

Other relevant news that was announced Sunday was that John Moore had been loaned to Providence of the AHL for the purpose of a “conditioning stint”. Moore played that afternoon in Providence’s 4-0 win over the Charlotte Checkers, where he recorded an assist and was a “plus” two for the game.

Moore has since been recalled and placed back on LTIR, but the Bruins have said he may be ready to play Thursday. The maximum amount of active players allowed on an NHL roster at any one time is 23. With David Backes being activated off the IR for the game against Montreal, and Gaunce sent down, the Bruins are at 22 right now. With Clifton’s waiver status changed, Moore supposedly ready to play Thursday and Kevan Miller getting closer to full health, something is going to have to give. The Bruins can add Moore to the roster and I believe they will be ok as long as Miller is still on the LTIR.

In the short-term, I would not be surprised to see the Bruins waive Kampfer. I think his ability to sit out for long periods and still play well when called upon is valuable, but I believe he would pass through waivers unclaimed (unlike Clifton). The problem is even if the B’s carry 8 D/13 F, when/if Miller returns someone is going to have to get moved.

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(Photo Credit: The Associated Press)

It would appear that the two most likely candidates for a trade would be Moore or Miller. The Bruins have won so far this season without them, so it makes sense one of them would go. The two guys are apples and oranges in my opinion. Miller is the more physical of the two, and that’s definitely something the team could use more of. On the flip side, Moore is a big body and a very good skater, but not overly physical. One advantage he has is that he is comfortable playing either side, whereas Miller is strictly a right side guy.

It’s going to be an extremely difficult decision for the front office, but one that has to be made because of the emergence of players like Grzelcyk and Clifton. It’s a good problem to have and one that 30 other NHL teams likely would not mind having.

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Bruins’ Cassidy Provides Injury Updates On Krug, Miller, And Co.

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(Photo: Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy issued several injury updates during his media availability at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday afternoon. Most notably, Cassidy said Torey Krug, who was placed on injured reserve just under a week ago, is “probable” for Saturday’s tilt with the Minnesota Wild. The 28-year-old has not played since November 10, and has 2-11-13 totals through 17 games this season.

Cassidy also provided the following injury updates: Patrice Bergeron, who did not skate at practice, had a maintenance day, Par Lindholm was cut during Thursday’s game versus Buffalo and required stitches (he is not ruled out for Saturday), and Brett Ritchie, who is dealing with an ongoing issue, felt “much better.”

Additionally, the Bruins’ bench boss said defenseman Kevan Miller suffered a “little setback.” However, the team does not think it is anything too serious, but is remaining cautious with the 32-year-old. Miller has not played since April 4 after undergoing surgery for a fractured kneecap.

Cassidy noted that defenseman John Moore is back to being a full-participant at practices, shedding the red “no-contact” sweater, but is still a couple weeks away from making his season debut. The 29-year-old had shoulder surgery during the offseason.

After taking down the Sabres by a 3-2 final at TD Garden on Thursday night, the Bruins return to action tomorrow at home against the Minnesota Wild. Boston will look to make it three-straight wins after going 1-2-3 in the team’s previous six games before Tuesday’s win at New Jersey.

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Bruins’ Defensive Logjam

( Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports )

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bruins Recall Urho Vaakanainen on Emergency Basis

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( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

By: Yanni Latzanakis  |  Follow Me On Twitter @yanlatz

The Boston Bruins announced that the team has recalled defenseman Urho Vaakanainen from Providence on an emergency basis and joined the team for practice today, November 11, at practice at Warrior Ice Arena following a 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday Night.

Urho Vaakanainen has played in 15 games for the Bruins AHL affiliate Providence Bruins this season tallying two assists and four penalty minutes. The 20-year old defenseman has played in two NHL games during the 2018-2019 season but has yet to record a point in the NHL. His last NHL game was October 23, 2018 in Ottawa when Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki elbowed Vaakanainen and injured the young defenseman with a concussion. The 6’1″ defenseman from Joensuu, Finland was drafted in the first round, 18th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the Bruins.

This call-up by the Bruins is most likely due to the Bruins losing Torey Krug in Sunday nights game against the Flyers. After the game, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said that Krug left the game prior to the start of overtime with an upper-body injury. If Krug is unable to go on Tuesday when the Bruins host the Florida Panthers, it is likely that Vaakanainen will draw into the lineup.

Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller was also skating Monday morning at Warrior Ice Arena wearing a normal black practice jersey which is a good sign for the 31-year-old defenseman who has played just three NHL games since February.

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Bruins Defensive Depth Could Be Tested Early On In The Regular Season

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 19: Matt Grzelcyk #48 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round in the 2018 Stanley Cup play-offs at the Air Canada Centre on April 19, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs 3-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Matt Grzelcyk(Claus Andersen)

(Photo Credit: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

By Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty

Ideally, this scenario never happens and we can resume peaceful existence, but there is a chance that Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are not in the opening night lineup for the Bruins. In this event, things need to be done in a certain way, in my eyes. This scenario also assumes that John Moore and Kevan Miller will be out of the lineup recovering from their respective injuries.

First defensive pairing; Chara-Clifton

Zdeno Chara and Connor Clifton have a little bit of experience with one another, but not much. I still think this is the ideal first pairing with a decimated defensive core. While I think there is a chance Chara’s playing time gets scaled back ever so slightly this season, this would not be the scenario to do so. A shutdown presence is very much needed in this case.

Clifton didn’t shy away from a larger role no matter where he played in the lineup last season, making him the best option in this scenario, with Matt Grzelcyk on his off side not being the worst thing either. But ultimately, I think Clifton should be the guy on pairing number one in this scenario.

Clifton’s physical presence, skating, and puck-moving abilities could really compliment Chara’s shutdown style pretty well.

(Video Credit: Tom Brady on YouTube)

Second defensive pairing: Krug-Kampfer

On the second pairing, Torey Krug and Stevie Snipes join forces to further stabilize the top-four. Torey Krug is a wagon and Kampfer really improved as the season progressed. He even scored a huge goal in game one against Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals, earning himself the title of Stevie Snipes.

Krug’s defensive game took a step in the right direction, and Kampfer’s defensive and puck-moving abilities are solid enough to complement Krug’s game and potentially create a solid duo on the back end.

Third defensive pairing: Vaakanainen-Grzelcyk

This is where it get’s interesting. This pairing has the potential to be a puck possession, zone exit-entry monster pairing. Grzelcyk has seen time on his opposite side with Chara in the past, but I think putting him with Urho Vaakanainen could be very beneficial for Vaakanainen.

Who knows? Maybe Grzelcyk will be able to showcase his one-timer again on his opposite side.

(Video Credit: SPORTSNET on YouTube)

Despite being undersized, Grzelcyk’s been able to handle himself in the physical game fairly well, and he and Vaakanainen could very well create offense and facilitate plenty of puck possession through the neutral zone.

A good chunk of this pairing success hinges on how well Vaakanainen continues to adapt to the NHL in a second stint. His first stint this past season was cut short due to a concussion after an elbow from Ottawa Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki. An elbow that netted Borowiecki a one-game suspension.

In this doomsday scenario, I would love to see what this pairing could do with one another.

What else is there?

Alex Petrovic is set to join the Bruins in camp on a PTO. There is also still a chance that the Bruins perhaps sign another defenseman to join the mix at camp and potentially provide reinforcement past a PTO.

There are also a few AHL options, god forbid it gets to the point so early in the season. Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, and Wiley Sherman are the three available options at this point in time. Lauzon and Zboril have seen brief NHL time, Sherman hasn’t. Hopefully it doesn’t come to disrupting their AHL development in the event of more chaos on the back end for the Bruins.

In this scenario, things could be a lot worse, and I think this would be the best way to operate with McAvoy, Carlo, Moore, and Miller all potentially out of the lineup to start the season. The depth was tested for quite some time early last season, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I don’t think it will, but crazier things have happened.

Report: Bruins Re-Sign D Steven Kampfer To A Two-Year Deal

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PHOTO CREDITS: (NHL.com)

By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj 

According to Frank Seravalli of TSN and other reports, the Boston Bruins have signed defenceman Steven Kampfer to a two-year contract extension worth an average of $800,000 per season ($1.6 million total).

The 30-year-old, Ann Arbor, Michigan native has had a solid history with the Boston Bruins over his seven-year NHL career. Kampfer began his tenure in Boston back in the 2010-11 season, playing 38 games after joining the club in March of 2010 in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks. Kampfer recorded 5-5-10 totals in that time with Boston.

After ten games played in the 2011-12 season, Kampfer was traded to the Minnesota Wild and would not find himself in Boston until September 11, 2018, when he and two draft picks were sent to Boston in exchange for D Adam McQuaid. Within the 2018-19 campaign, Steven Kampfer played in another 35 games for the Bruins, recording three goals and three assists for six points, averaging 14:38 of time on ice.

The depth blueliner also found himself playing in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs – playing one game in three of the four series. Kampfer skated for 11:06 in Game Three against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round One and played 14:56 in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes, scoring the first goal of the hockey game.

Kampfer played a key role throughout the season for the Bruins, bringing some experience to the depth blueline players, especially when injuries or suspensions prevented the top players on Boston’s backend from playing. Even though the plus/minus statistic is typically looked down upon, Kampfer was never once a minus player in the postseason, further confirming that he can be trusted on in those important games.

For the Bruins, this contract ensures that they have the depth on defence that they need quite a lot. It has already been announced that defensemen John Moore and Kevan Miller will be out of the lineup for some time to begin the 2019-2020 regular season, meaning Boston will have to fall back on guys like Kampfer to get those early-season victories.

Boston and the rest of the National Hockey League are only one week away from the free agency frenzy on July 1st meaning those key players that need contracts are going to need to sign with their current teams fast. Boston now has just over $13 million in remaining cap space with players such as RFA defenceman Charlie McAvoy, RFA defenceman Brandon Carlo, RFA forward Danton Heinen, UFA forward Noel Acciari and UFA forward Marcus Johansson, among others, expiring very soon.

This signing is a solid move for General Manager Don Sweeney as he locks up a reliable depth defenceman for under $1 million annually on a low-term deal. Heading into the next stages of the NHL offseason, the news and stories will be piling up and everyone here at Black N’ Gold Hockey will make sure that you get all of the latest information.

Check out this week’s Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast Episode 132 below!!

Everything You Need To Know About The Boston Bruins Break Up Day

Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33), of Slovakia, lies on the ice after getting hit in the face with the puck during the second period of Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues Monday, June 3, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

( Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson/Associated Press )

By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

Break up day happens every single year, but this one obviously hurt more than the rest. You could tell that every guy in the room went through a ton throughout the entire year, here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Zdeno Chara

This news doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but Chara confirmed that he had multiple fractures to his jaw, and his expected recovery is 5-6 weeks.

Kevan Miller

It seems like we’ve been waiting forever to hear some sort of update on Miller’s injury, but it’s been confirmed that he broke his kneecap vertically in a regular season game against the Wild in April. He was reportedly close to returning in the Carolina Hurricanes series, but re-fractured it while rehabbing, capping off an absolutely brutal year for the defenseman.

Dec 15, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins center David Krejci (46) takes a knee on the ice during the second period against the Anaheim Ducks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

( Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper/ USA TODAY Sports )

David Krejci

No injury news or anything like that, but it’s worth noting that in an interview Krejci said that he hoped that there weren’t going to be many changes to the roster this offseason, “we are very tight, very close.”

Jake Debrusk

He didn’t say much about the topic, but it was clear that when Nazem Kadri cheap-shot Debrusk, it (likely a concussion) had lasting effects on him throughout the playoffs.

Brad Marchand

It was pretty obvious that something was up with Marchand in the playoffs, he revealed that he was dealing with a sprained hand (that he re-aggravated during their scrimmage), a strained groin and abdominal injuries.

( Photo Credit: Steve Babineau/Getty Images )

Patrice Bergeron

Bergeron dealt with a groin injury throughout the playoffs but won’t need surgery.

David Pastrnak

Pasta said that he re-aggravated his thumb during the Columbus series.

John Moore

This one surprised me a bit. Moore was hit from behind during a game in Tampa, and it blew out his shoulder and broke his humerus and could be out for four to six months. “I could barely hold a stick with two hands.”

Charlie Mcavoy

Finally, some good news, when asked about his future with the team he said, “I don’t want to go anywhere. This is the best place on Earth. This has become home for me. I want to be here forever.” Hopefully, this bodes well in contract negotiations.

Boston Bruins’ Marcus Johansson was hospitalized after an enormous hit by the Hurricanes’ Micheal Ferland sent him flying to the ice during Tuesday’s game.Â

( Photo Credit: Getty Images )

Marcus Johansson

Some more good news. Johansson continued to say that he loved his time in Boston and is very eager to hear what the Bruins have to offer, “hopefully they can work something out.”

Noel Acciari

The 4th liner played with a fractured sternum and also injured his foot while blocking a shot in game seven against St. Louis that will need to be evaluated.

Steven Kampfer

The upcoming UFA noted that he wants to stay but realizes that the defense is “a bit of a logjam.”

David Backes

Backes was very vague when talking to the media and knows that there is a lot of uncertainty about his future, but reiterated that he wanted to stay in Boston.

Torey Krug

One of the biggest question marks of this offseason is “definitely very aware of the situations and scenarios that can play out” but also “wants to be here forever.”

Hypothetical: Losing McAvoy Might Shake Up Bruins’ Pairings Quite A Bit

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( Photo Credit: Claus Andersen/ Getty Images )

By: Cameron McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter: @CSthinks

The Bruins, for the second time in the span of two weeks, closed out a hard-fought playoff series against a solid, skilled playoff opponent. The hard-earned victory did not come without its share of physicality, an aspect of the series in which Bruins’ defenseman Charlie McAvoy was more than involved.

Examining the series as a whole, McAvoy’s game has been elevated as the playoffs have progressed. McAvoy’s one outlier (performance-wise) came in Game 2, in which some questionable pinches and late-game defense by McAvoy found Boston relying on Tuukka Rask to make some saves that were not only large but were also in charge (I am hilarious, big credit to me). Aside from that one game, McAvoy has made a consistent case to be considered as the Bruins’ top defenseman…and if Brandon Carlo had chosen to be a basketball player as a young man, McAvoy would indeed be the Black and Gold’s top blue-liner. Fortunately for the Bruins, Carlo stuck with hockey.

At any rate, McAvoy’s aforementioned physicality led to him taking a brief dip in some hot water. McAvoy’s hit on Josh Anderson at the end the second period of Monday’s Game 6 against Columbus warranted a penalty, and many a Jackets fan (and hockey fan) thought warranted even more of a response.   Regardless of McAvoy’s meeting with the Department of Player Safety on Tuesday afternoon, the scenario that McAvoy misses some time is a difficult one that the Bruins need to be ready for (regardless of how his absence comes about). While the Bruins have used defensemen Steven Kampfer, John Moore, and Connor Clifton at different times as members of the team’s third D-pairing, the absence of McAvoy might shake up the lineup much more than a fluctuating third-pair.

 

For instance, McAvoy has been crucial to the lineup as a partner for Zdeno Chara, who (as much as it pains me to say) has begun to look more and more his age as the playoffs have progressed. Having McAvoy’s athleticism, skating ability, hockey sense, and physicality on the back end provide a much larger safety net for Chara than, say, Steven Kampfer might. I’m not bashing Kampfer, and I’m not bashing Chara. But it’s important to recognize the limits and capabilities of each defenseman in order to adequately address any potential lineup shifts.

Changes

With that being said, what would a potential Chuck-less lineup look like?

Certainly, Bruce Cassidy would be wiser than to put a seventh or eighth defenseman alongside Zdeno Chara. It is likely that this means Brandon Carlo or Connor Clifton see themselves flanking the big man in the event that McAvoy is sidelined (press-boxed).   While Kevan Miller would be a more than serviceable replacement for any right-handed defenseman in the lineup currently, his health remains an issue. This leaves Cassidy taking his pick of potential insertion into the lineup from Steven Kampfer or John Moore. While Kampfer might be the logical choice to fill the void of a missing right defenseman, I am of the camp that the best players should play, regardless of their handedness (a reason why I was baffled that Chara remained on the ice for the final minutes of Game 5… which is neither here nor there).

 

Unfortunately, I don’t think John Moore has separated himself as a better replacement than Steven Kampfer. For as much depth as the Bruins have in terms of actual bodies, the depth of their ability on the back-end is somewhat limited. And, while the Bruins have a considerable amount of Black Aces ready to play from Providence, the fact remains that Kampfer’s playoff experience, though limited, trumps that of any potential young prospect fresh out of Providence.

In the event that McAvoy does come out of the lineup for any reason (suspension, injury, etc.) I think it’s fair to expect Cassidy to go with the following pairings on the back end:

Krug-Carlo
Chara-Clifton
Grzelcyk-Kampfer

These pairings, while limited in their offensive capabilities, bring about the least amount of change to the lineup (Carlo pairing remains untouched) while balancing the amount of skating ability, defensive commitment, and experience to field an effective defensive corps.

 

As much as I’d like to be positive about the hypothetical pairings I just created in response to a potentially negative scenario, there’s no getting around that Charlie McAvoy’s removal from the B’s lineup hurts.

A lot.

Bruins’ Miller Being Out Is A Bigger Loss Than You Think

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( Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara/ USA TODAY Sports )

By: Cam McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter @CSthinks

Most nights, when Kevan Miller is healthy and suited up for the Bruins, he’s the toughest guy in the rink. Unfortunately, Miller has been injured for the better part of the season. Having played in almost exactly half of the Bruins’ regular season games, naturally, the team was looking forward to having him back in the lineup for the playoffs.

I count myself among the many Bruins fans who were anticipating Miller’s return for playoff hockey, only to fall for the oldest trick in the book: Miller getting hurt. I got got. You got got. We all got got.

 

While Kevan “Not So Meek Mill” Miller (TM) again finds himself sidelined with important hockey to play (this time with a knee injury), the pain of his absence has been assuaged by the steadiness of replacement Connor Clifton’s play. With Miller again watching his teammates from the press box, the Black and Gold will turn to either Clifton or Steven Kampfer (which is a whole different story) to slot into the right spot on the B’s third defensive pairing.   I won’t address the possibility of Kampfer beginning the Toronto series ahead of Clifton right now, because it’s early and it will do nothing but ruin my day.

While Kampfer would not be my choice of replacement for Miller over Clifton, his presence likely won’t have enough of an impact on the series to make a sizeable difference. Quite simply, I don’t see Toronto stealing any wins because of Steven Kampfer and his (likely) 12 minutes a night.   But unlike many Bruins fans that have come out of the woodwork to voice their approval of Connor Clifton’s play, I am still less comfortable with “The Connor Clifton experience” than I am with what Miller would bring to the table. Clifton is a solid young defenseman, good even. But he doesn’t heal the wound that Kevan “Killer” Miller’s absence has created, and I personally think this will matter if Miller can’t return to the B’s within the next two weeks.

Size and Toughness

Clifton is sized at 5’11”, 175 lbs. That means he gives up three inches and 35 pounds to Kevan Miller. While I am very much a proponent of skating as an asset on the defensive side of the puck, Miller’s toughness is not going to be replaced by Clifton. Certainly, Clifton plays a tough game for a somewhat undersized first-year player, with a propensity to throw some solid hits.   Clifton’s hits are the types that are made through his skating ability.

He has smart gaps coming back on the defensive, and he is able to close these gaps with just a few strides. With that being said, it is the toughness that Miller brings in his own end that is not getting replaced by Clifton. And like it or not, the Bruins will be spending a decent amount of time in their own end, especially against the Toronto forward units. Miller’s strength and toughness is such that he can manhandle opposing forwards and move them off of pucks, creating turnovers and helping the Bruins relieve pressure.

Skating

Connor Clifton is a great skater. Better than Kevan Miller even. Guess what, though? Kevan Miller is also a strong skater. And Miller’s skating has improved in every single season he has played with the Bruins. Having worked on the skill side of his game with Adam Oates, there has been an improvement in just about every facet of Miller’s game since he joined the Black and Gold. These improvements are not at all limited to his skating, as his puck-moving abilities have gotten exponentially better, while he has become much more confident in all three zones (when healthy). This has, amazingly, happened without him abandoning the gritty, tough style of hockey that he came into the league with.

Protection

With Miller out of the lineup, the Bruins are much more vulnerable as a unit. That’s just a fact. Last year, the Bruins saw Nazem Kadri throw a cheap shot at forward Tommy Wingells, who missed time due to injury. Admittedly, there are probably better targets for Kadri’s attention, but Kadri’s presence remains, as does the presence of a quicker-paced, more physical brand of hockey that comes around each spring during the playoffs. Having Miller in the lineup is crucial for the protection of the Bruins’ lineup against incidents like the one above. His ability and willingness to drop the gloves to restore some order in the game and protect his teammates serve the Bruins well, especially with the star power in their first two forward lines, and how important they’ve been.

 

The fans that yell “shoot” when the Bruins cross the offensive blue-line will say that Miller’s absence is fine because Zdeno Chara will drop the gloves for the Bruins. To that, I say, “wake up.” Zdeno Chara does not best help the Bruins lineup by sitting in the box for five minutes. His playoff experience and defensive pedigree (while not what it used to be) needs to be utilized on the ice… you know… playing hockey. The Bruins can afford for Miller to sit for five minutes as a third-pairing defenseman because his toughness and the tone that he sets for the game more than makes up for his brief absence.

Overall

Should the Bruins use Steven Kampfer as Miller’s replacement, then they are giving up skill, skating ability, toughness, playoff experience, and veteran leadership. Should the Bruins use Connor Clifton as Miller’s replacement, then they are again giving up toughness, leadership, and experience, and Clifton’s skating is not enough of an asset to counterbalance those sacrifices. Kevan Miller’s brand of hockey is tailor-made for the playoffs, and the Bruins’ should be rubbing their rabbit’s feet in hopes of his return for the second round.

 

Either way, Kevan Miller being injured is a loss and a much bigger one than many of the fans who never played hockey will realize.

Fortunately, I don’t think it will matter in the first round. And it will only serve Connor Clifton well down the road to gain some playoff experience.

 

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—–> Click Here To Get Your Boston Bruins First Round Stanley Cup Playoff Tickets From The Great Folks at SeatGiant! <—-

Health Will Be A Key Attribute For Bruins Playoff Success

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(Photo Credit: AP Photo)

By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12

The Bruins’ struggles to stay healthy as a team for extended periods of time this season have been well-documented. However, as luck may have it, the Bruins are entering the playoffs with a relatively clean bill of health–the exceptions being Sean Kuraly (fractured hand), Kevan Miller (lower-body), and John Moore (upper-body). Not having Miller in the lineup could still prove to be a huge loss, but things certainly look better compared to what else the Bruins dealt with this season.

After dealing with a lower-body issue in the final week of the regular season, it looks like Chris Wagner will be ready to go for Game One. Also, after missing the last two playoff runs with injuries sustained in the final games of the regular season, Brandon Carlo will finally get the chance to suit up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Sure, one might read the title of this piece and chuckle, saying “anyone could tell me that,” but staying healthy has nagged the Bruins all year long; it may just prove to be their Achilles heel in the playoffs. Just look at the last two years the Bruins were in the playoffs: in 2017 versus Ottawa, the B’s were forced to lean on guys like Joe Morrow, John-Michael Liles, and Tommy Cross because of a depleted defense; in 2018, Brandon Carlo was missing again, while Rick Nash was clearly not 100% on the ice, among others.

Luck has not always been on the Bruins side this season; that’s for sure. Below you can find some examples of the injuries to key players that the Bruins have dealt with this season–just a few instances, of course:

Considering the frustrations between losing multiple big-time players coupled with the Bruins’ offensive struggles earlier this season, what the team was able to do this season is nothing short of spectacular. While it is no secret that the roster has been extremely depleted at times, the depth within the system has been able to step up and hold the fort when regulars have been out of the lineup for extended periods of time–from Karson Kuhlman to Jeremy Lauzon to Connor Clifton and so on.

The young guys and the depth players proved that they could step in and excel as needed, or in a pinch, during the regular season, but the playoffs a different animal where experience usually matters. Any team is able to handle some inexperienced guys in the lineup during the playoffs, but if Boston’s bottom-six or defense looks like the Providence Bruins like they did at one point or another this season, the team could be in big trouble.

So, for the Bruins to be successful and meet the expectations that the team not only has of itself but also the fans’ expectations, the team must find a way to stay healthy for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just look at the 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning two weeks ago as proof–check out Mike Cratty’s recap of that game to get the rundown on everything that happened. Up front, the Bruins were without Kuraly and Marcus Johansson; however, things were a lot worse on defense as the B’s were without Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, and Miller. The effects of a depleted defense, along with a lackluster effort in the third period, were what led to the Bruins’ third-period collapse on March 25th.

Considering the attack that the Toronto Maple Leafs boast–the three-headed monster in Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner (let’s not forget Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau)–the Bruins would certainly be in for a tough matchup if they were to lose a few guys to injury, especially on the backend. Should the Bruins end up in a meeting with Tampa Bay in the second round, the odds would be stacked against Boston even more if the team is down several players due to injury as the Bolts showcase guys like Art Ross-winner Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Tyler Johnson, to name a few.

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The playoffs will certainly be exciting in Boston; fans and the Bruins themselves should like the team’s chances this year. However, health could prove to be a deciding factor in how deep the Bruins can take this playoff run.

Interested in going to any Boston Bruins 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff games or the last regular season contests for the Providence Bruins? Take a look at the upcoming schedule and ticket availability from SeatGiant. Click the links below and use discount code BNGP to save a little cash!

—–> Click Here To Get Your Boston Bruins First Round Stanley Cup Playoff Tickets From The Great Folks at SeatGiant! <—-

—> Click Here To Get Your Providence Bruins Regular Season & Calder Cup Playoff Tickets From The Great Folks at SeatGiant! <—