BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins finally responded to the lack of size and heaviness that’s existed as one of the few real, undeniable weak spots for their hockey club over the last few seasons.
Out went 6-foot-1, 186-pound Danton Heinen after never really playing to his size or offensive skill level after a strong rookie season. And in comes newly acquired 6-foot-2, 234-pound Nick Ritchie from the Anaheim Ducks in a 1-for-1 trade on deadline day.
Ritchie is a former top-10 draft pick who has averaged 11 goals and 29 points in Anaheim over the last three seasons while not exactly playing for an offensive powerhouse. The deadline day deal wasn’t done to provide the Bruins with offense, though, as much as it was executed to bring the Bruins size, strength and heaviness up front. With Ritchie, the Bruins are a better equipped to adequately deal with the big, deep and strong teams like Tampa Bay, Washington and maybe even St. Louis that they may face in the playoffs.
It’s an admission from the Bruins that they needed more physicality and muscle among their forward group after watching the players on the ice get pushed around by the Blues in last season’s Stanley Cup Final and pushed around one too many times by the Capitals over the last handful of seasons as well.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney alluded to glaring roster need while discussing the deal with the media on Monday afternoon. To that end Ritchie also said he plans to bring the “big game” of net-front presence, hitting and gritty play along the boards with him to Boston. And that’s exactly what his job description is going to require.
“It was an area that we felt we needed to address from some interior ice play, size and strength, net-front play, contested puck battles. [These are] things that we feel Nick will bring to the table for us,” said Sweeney. “He’s done it in Anaheim and we think he’ll address some of those needs for us moving forward.
“Where [the Bruins players] were last year in a Game 7 and where they are this year, they should be proud of themselves. But if you have opportunities where you can address areas of need with your group then you have to do it. Secondary scoring is always so important and we believe Ondrej [Kase] will provide some of that. If [Ritchie] goes in and plays with Charlie Coyle then those are two big guys that are going to be hard to contain.”
There’s no doubt the Bruins are better on the ice after essentially trading a first round pick, David Backes, Heinen and Axel Andersson to Anaheim in exchange for Ondrej Kase and Ritchie, and they also shaved upwards of $3 million off their salary cap for next season as well. The extra cap space will be a massive, long-term roster-building factor when it comes to re-signing both Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk.
But that’s a story for another day with the Bruins attempting to keep up with teams like the Lightning, Penguins and Capitals that were very active improving their teams ahead of the trade deadline.
The immediate impact will make the Bruins a tougher team to play against with a little more diversity among their winger options from game-to-game and opponent-to-opponent. They can go the speed route with a player like Karson Kuhlman against the faster, more skilled teams, or they can go the big, heavy and physical route with Ritchie against heavier match-ups around the league that turn into punishing grudge matches in the postseason.
That’s an important difference from last year’s group where it felt like the Bruins roster was built for regular season success with a dominant Perfection Line, great special teams play and an elite goaltending duo that led them to the postseason. They have the speed, skill and special teams game down to a scientific winning formula.
This season they are still built for the regular season with the same group of impressive strengths. But now, it feels like they are also a little more prepped for nasty, physical playoff battles where big bodies and bad attitudes are often needed.
It remains to be seen how it will all play out for the Black and Gold when they attempt to get through the Eastern Conference playoff gauntlet. But at long last it seems like this trade deadline shows that the Bruins decision-makers learned from what caused them to fall a little short of their goals last spring, and they’re not going to get fooled again.