BOSTON – Even the glossiest of outlooks within the Bruins reveal serious defensive issues: the Bruins finished 19th in goals against while allowing 2.8 goals per game, and had continued, consistent defensive breakdowns at awful times while struggling all season to break the puck out of their defensive zone. It was the single biggest reason behind the Bruins missing the playoffs this past season, and Cam Neely admitted on Wednesday it was “probably at the top of the list” of upgrades this summer.
Both Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are well on the back nine of their careers, and Adam McQuaid, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller among others were forced into top-4 duty with the roster down a couple of high caliber NHL D-men.
It comes to the forefront of the discussion amid plenty of talk about Don Sweeney’s plan for this season, and his lack of execution when it comes to upgrading on the back end. Sweeney failed to move up in the first round of the last summer’s draft to land coveted Boston College D-man Noah Hanifin, and then couldn’t land the young top-4 defenseman during the season either before settling for rental D-man John-Michael Liles.
Needless to say, the Bruins must find one or two young top-4 D-men this summer after getting rid of Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton in successive seasons.
“I can tell you [Sweeney] worked extremely hard to try to move up. The scouting staff did a good job of identifying, and obviously you look back at the draft where you kind of had to be to get one of those D that were highly coveted, he just couldn’t do it last offseason,” said Neely. “[He] tried throughout the year to make something happen and he’s maybe laid some groundwork leading up to the deadline and hopefully be able to get something done in the offseason. But like I said earlier, we know it’s an area that we need to improve upon.”
One would expect the B’s will pick up the efforts to potentially snag young, potentially available D-men like Jacob Trouba, Mathew Dumba, and Sami Vatanen among others this summer. Neely listed the upgrading at defense, getting heavier along the right wing position and shoring up the backup goaltending situation when asked about the three biggest priorities this offseason.
“Everything is on the table to be honest with you. We need to improve our club, so everything is on the table to try and do that,” said Neely, when asked if the Bruins will be open to trading their draft picks this summer. “Improving our defense is No. 1, and I’d like us to get a little heavier on the right side. I think we need that element in the forward group, and obviously somebody that can play. That’s an important piece, but I think we need to get a little heavier up front.
“We have some skill. We just need to add a little more of the gritty piece. We have to take a look at the backup goaltending situation. With [Malcolm] Subban’s injury that threw a little bit of a wrinkle in maybe that development there. So we have to take a look at that.”
The Bruins may go the trade route for the right wing, but there is a very talented group of forwards set to hit free agency on July 1. A candidate like New York Islanders free agent Kyle Okposo would look really good in a Bruins uniform as a heavy, skilled free agent upgrade on right wing, and others like Troy Brouwer, David Jones, and Shane Doan (somewhat wishful thinking with this one for the Bruins) are potential unrestricted free agents as well.