With the signing of free agent defenseman John Moore on July 1, don’t blame the Bruins if they begin suffering a case of déjà vu over the next few months.
It was four seasons ago when the Bruins had a similar surplus of defensemen and some accompanying salary cap issues entering training camp. Everybody around the organization answered questions throughout the preseason about all of the quality NHL bodies they had on the back end, and what they were going to do with them.
As most Bruins fans will remember, training camp ended that fall with Peter Chiarelli infamously dealing top-4 defenseman and Stanley Cup champ Johnny Boychuk away to the New York Islanders for a couple of second round picks that eventually turned into Brandon Carlo and Brett Connolly.
The fact it involved No. 55 was a bit of a surprise at the time, but the writing was on the Black and Golden wall that one of the D-men was on his way out the door prior to the start of the season.
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Now the Bruins have a similar surplus of NHL-caliber defensemen with Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and now Moore on the left side, and Charlie McAvoy, Carlo, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller on the right side. Clearly something has to give for the B’s, and all signs point toward Krug being the very valuable trade chip for Boston.
Clearly it’s not that the Bruins are anxiously looking to jettison the diminutive, super-productive D-man, but instead Krug is the biggest valued asset that could bring Boston a goal-scoring forward suitable for second line duty.
The 26-year-old Krug is far and away their most marketable D-men in trade talks with a whopping 110 points over the last two seasons, and a key PP quarterback role on a Bruins power play that’s been dynamite in the last few years. Krug is an easy sell to a team in need of major power play upgrades, and in the all-around offensive game only elite D-men Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and John Klingberg have more points than him over the last two seasons.
Much like Boychuk a handful of years ago, there will be some growing pains moving on from a quality player like Krug with his puck-moving and elite offensive ability. But then again Krug has also ended each of the last seasons with an injury that knocked him out of the postseason, and put into question his ability to remain healthy through the physical playoff pounding.
So will the Bruins deal him with a couple of seasons to go left under contract in Boston with a cap hit slightly north of $5 million?
The smart money says “yes” and it may happen late in training camp a la Boychuk with Krug is coming off a fractured ankle. The undrafted D-man will need to show that he’s fully healthy and up to speed as he’s expected to be in training camp. Clearly the extra B’s bodies on the back end will be one of the big talking points of training camp this fall, and it would very interesting if it leads up to a hockey trade right at the tail end of preseason.
It’s also entirely possible, however, that the Bruins could carry all these D-men into the regular season given that they still have roughly $4 million in salary cap space, and a number of young forwards they’d like to try out on the second line. Perhaps Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen turns into an offensive force and negates the need for the Bruins to go out and get a heavy duty, scoring winger like Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Wayne Simmonds.
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Reading between the lines, Don Sweeney admitted as much when talking about teams with “surplus” at certain positions in good standing for trade discussions now that the free agency period has passed by the first day of July. There’s also the very realistic scenario that second-year D-man Charlie McAvoy is ready to be a top PP quarterback and point producer for the Bruins, and that young guys like McAvoy and Grzelcyk will be ready to take the next step.
“We feel very comfortable with the group of guys we have [on the back end], and we’ll move forward with it. When the [trade] calls come as a result, that’s part of the business, and everybody understands that. It also allows some of our younger players to develop at the natural pace without necessarily putting them in situations they’re not ready to handle,” said Sweeney. “If they are, we’ve been adamant in that, in terms of consistently sending that message that, if they are, then we’ll move and do what we have to do.
“There are teams that maybe were trying to accomplish things [in free agency] that didn’t, now whether or not you have surpluses or…there’s certainly been discussions leading up to it that have indicated [trades will happen] in some point in time. When that is, whether that is training camp or the first part of the season, everybody is going to kind of look for surpluses or areas that other people have strength in that you don’t. It was leading up to it. Whether or not that actually happens, you just never know.”
One thing is certain right now with the Bruins: They have at least one too many D-men, and they don’t have enough bona fide goal-scorers that could diversify the very one-dimensional offense that we saw from Boston in the playoffs.
That could change with one hockey trade over the next several months, and the onus is now on Sweeney to find that deal and pull the trigger on a trade that would put the Bruins back on equal footing with the improving Maple Leafs and Lightning this spring.