By Pat Donnelly
There are many issues with this year’s and past versions of the Boston Bruins. The roots of these stem from goaltending, coaching, the defense, mismanagement, and the lack of consistency fromkey players. In this five part series, the obvious problems with the Boston Bruins will be noted and explained. This edition will evaluate this team’s piss poor defense.
This defense is bad, hands down. It is not necessarily the worst defense in the entire league, but it is one of the worst to watch from a fan’s perspective. There are instances over the course of many games where there are periods of play in which the Bruins are hemmed into their own zone for an extended period of time, this is when some fans may use a word like “agonizing” when watching this defense.
Some of the issues that plague this group just can’t be helped, for example, the decline of Zdeno Chara is completely unsurprising and couldn’t have been avoided because of his age, size, and how he many minutes he logs. Another example is the lack of an “elite” top four or top two defenseman. Sure, Don Sweeney has had nothing but assets to trade, and had all the leverage in any deal he would want to make; however, certain deals (the keyword there is certain) haven’t been able to come to fruition because of the horrific salary cap situation he inherited.
Now, let’s be serious for a second, none of us expected the Bruins to be in the sort of position they are in right now. This is in large part due to the defensive core that has been on display night after night. First, we have what is left of Zdeno Chara that the Bruins are still clinging to. The 39 year-old behemoth has been in serious decline for a few years now. While he would be a perfect fit in a role as a number 2, 3, or 4 defenseman with his current level of play, Chara is forced to log top minutes due to the subsequent lack of talent. It truly is scary when Zdeno Chara still leads the entire team in average time on ice per game.
Next up is Torey Krug, more than likely the best defenseman the club currently has in the NHL. Krug is an assist machine and a power play threat with his impressive one-timer. While the 25 year-old is solid in his own zone and on the penalty kill, it is moving the puck in transition and contributing to the offense are his main strengths. Goals have been extremely hard to come by over the last two seasons as Krug finished last year with only 4 goals as opposed to his previous totals of 14 and 12. In fact, Krug only had only one goal this season until January 10th when he scored against St. Louis, sparking a three-game goal streak. Krug is also oneof the best possession players in the NHL as he’s 2nd in the entire league in Corsi.
We now jump to Adam McQuaid. McQuaid is an excellent penalty killer, is decent in his own zone, and a perfect top 6 defensive defenseman; however, there is just a glaring overall lack of skill that has been magnified through McQuaid having a top 4 role on this team. It should also be pointed out that the 30 year-old is extremely prone to injury.
Time for John-Michael Liles, Donny Sweeney’s prized trade deadline acquisition has only played Boston for a small amount of games, yet has proven effective moving the puck on the breakout or in transition, or in the attacking zone (mainly on the power play). The 36 year-old is nothing specialin his own zone, but nothing to scoff at either, but given his age, his skating game in terms of speed is not where it once was. So, Liles is nothing more than the plethora of top 6 defenseman that Sweeney is boasting on his roster.
Colin Miller is quietly putting together a breakout year defensively, owning a team-best 33.9% FA/60 (Fenwick, or unblocked shot attempts against, per 60 minutes). However, Miller is hardly a favorite of Claude Julien and has either found himself playing extremely well and seeing plenty of ice time, or sitting in the press box after a few mistakes. The worst part is players like Adam McQuaid and the sparkling turd that is Kevan Miller, who are nowhere near the skill set of Colin Miller, see significantly more ice time than him. This is in spite of the fact that Colin is better than both of them in most statistical categories, including a better GF% (Goals for versus goals against) and a better FF% (Fenwick, unblocked shot attempts for). This Miller has better than 60% in both of those categories while Kevan Miller and McQuaid are right around or below 55%. Miller’s skill set is also obvious as his booming 105 mph shot was the hardest at the AHL Skills Competition two years ago, and his blazing speed was the fastest out of everybody.
Brandon Carlo has proven that he was truly a diamond in the rough. One Boston’s second round picks from 2015 turned heads at last year’s World Juniors, had a spectacular year in the WHL, impressed in training camp and found himself a spot on the top defensive pairing next to Zdeno Chara. Granted, Carlo’s great play is more than likely aided by having one of the best defensemen of the 21st century on his side, but when put into lower pairing roles with less skilled players, Carlo has continued to excel. The 20 year-old phenom has displayed that he can play a shutdown role in key situations like the penalty kill (which has been astounding of late).
We now find ourselves discussing the dumpster fire that is Kevan Miller, superstar top 4 defenseman (I say this sarcastically), and a poor carbon copy of Adam McQuaid. Kevan Miller’s contract could make a strong case for the worst in team history (4 years with an annual cap hit of $2.5 million). Admittedly, that’s an exaggeration, but my boy Donny Sweeney could have let Miller go to the market where he would’ve signed somewhere else for a bit less, giving the Bruins more cap space to play with or use it to sign somewhat of an upgrade. Also, hear me out on this, could we have leveraged that cap space in say, a trade? A trade for a top 4 if not top 2 puck-moving defenseman like Kevin Shattenkirk? Who knows, but the reality is that Kevan Miller is currently wearing a Bruins sweater night in and night out, wasting a roster spot that should be held by Colin Miller or Joe Morrow. Miller is a good fighter and excellent hitter, other than that he contributes nothing more than a bad contract to this team.
Speaking of Joe Morrow, remember him? It appeared that the 24 year-old had picked up his level of play for a decent stretch of games earlier in the season, but a poor streak of play has left him watching from the press box most nights now. Morrow, a former 1st round pick, has the offensive capabilities and natural skill to be a solid top 6 if not top 4 defenseman in the NHL, but the glaring downside is massive inconsistency from the youngster. Morrow will have stretches of brilliant play followed by a string of mediocre games.
There are several bright spots on the horizon. Exhibit A: Charlie McAvoy. McAvoy, the crown jewel of our prospects, is having an outstanding sophomore year at BU. The General league-wide consensus is that once BU’s season is over, Charlie McAvoy is a Boston Bruin. Jakub Zboril is looking more and more NHL ready as the weeks go by; however, questions arise when looking at this prospect’s work ethic. The Saint John’s Sea Dogs cornerstone has all the natural talent in the world, but the consistency of his compete level is an issue. Jeremy Lauzon is quietly proving who he should’ve been a first round pick back in 2015. Lauzon, another assist machine with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL, tallying 40 assists and 50 points in 46 games last year. This year he has 10 assists and 12 points in 16 games. Couple his offensive capabilities with potential shutdown defense, you’ve got yourself a future core player. Fans have already had tastes of Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk who are having solid rookie seasons in the AHL.
While the defense lacks key pieces and depth of talent, the future remains bright (just look at the beacon of light skating at Agganis Arena on Commonwealth Ave each night). This core has certainly overachieved in many ways (6th in goals against per game), there is still much to be done if this team hopes to be a contender in the near future. The next portion of this series will cover the lack of inconsistency from key players.
Parts 1 and 2 can be found at thelinks below: