Brandon Share-Cohen The Hockey Writers
Bruins Options for Defense Depth at Trade Deadline
When the NHL’s annual trade deadline rolls around, it’s hard to not get excited. Anxious, might be a more appropriate term to use, however, as fans, media and players alike wait patiently to see what type of deals will unfold.
Everyone wants to bolster their team. Whether it be with a deadline acquisition or assets for the future, however, most people tend to disagree on the value of players, prospects and picks. It’s for that reason that there’s so much anxiety that surrounds this time of year.
While there are examples of good trade deadline deals, there are just as many examples of bad ones that have been made. It’s for that reason that a large chunk of fanbases tend to be reluctant to make a big splash while others recognize that an opportunity has to be grabbed when it arises. Somewhere in between is the healthy medium that entails sitting back and trusting a management team to get the job done.
For the Boston Bruins, that decision-making process is led by general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely. While Neely (and eventually Sweeney) may have been on the wrong end of criticism a few years ago due to the trajectory of the Bruins, those comments have died down with the current success this team is having. After all, Sweeney has built this team into legitimate Stanley Cup contenders with a prospect pool filled to the brim.
It’s certainly possible that the Bruins take that prospect pool and crack it open to try and make a big splash at the deadline. Acquiring a player of Ryan McDonagh’s caliber would help the team to a deep playoff run. At the same time, however, it could prove to be a costly decision. So what if the Bruins explored depth options on defense, rather than a splash like McDonagh?
Bruins Need Better Defensive Depth
It may seem odd to say that the Bruins need better depth on their blue-line. After all, this team has already had to sit Adam McQuaid as their seventh defenseman in the recent past because the six defenders in the lineup were simply too good to alter. Still, injuries arise and McQuaid did find himself back in the lineup eventually.
It’s for that reason that the Bruins need to be prepared for anything, though. Injuries arise and teams need to adapt. If the Bruins lose two defenders, they’re immediately left looking beyond McQuaid or Kevan Miller as a seventh-defender.
When healthy, the Bruins blue-line depth looks as follows:
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Kevan Miller/Adam McQuaid
Paul Postma – Adam McQuaid/Kevan Miller
It’s clear that the top seven options are reliable and can be counted on when the Bruins need them. Paul Postma, on the other hand, has too little experience after being signed last offseason to be relied upon as the team’s only depth option beyond their top-seven. It might not seem important, but with teams running eight, nine and even 10 or more defenders deep in a long postseason run, this is something that general managers must consider.
While Postma and Rob O’Gara could be seen as the Bruins eighth and ninth options on defense, Sweeney and his crew might be better suited finding an inexpensive defender who can play the eighth role while shifting Postma and O’Gara to the ninth and 10th roles respectively.
It isn’t a slight the 28-year-old Postma or the 24-year-old O’Gara. It’s the fact that the Bruins need to be prepared for anything and having someone with more experience simply can’t hurt them in the short-term.
Which Defenders Are Out There?
Ideally, the Bruins want a veteran defender who can step into the lineup if need be. A player who is a known commodity who has logged quality time at the NHL level. There are certainly options out there who haven’t played a large number of NHL games who could be had for cheap – and we’ll get there, but acquiring a player in the same vein as a John-Michael Liles acquisition from a few seasons ago could prove to be the team’s best option.
The issue with that option is the fact that there are so few pending unrestricted free-agent defenders playing for non-playoff teams that the selection is so limited it can almost be considered barren. Teams who are in contention for the postseason won’t be selling off their pieces to another contender to help bolster their lineup.
It’s for that reason that finding a player who fits the criteria for the Bruins is so hard to find. A potential acquisition may not be better or more experienced than Postma or O’Gara, but their role as insurance would be just as important.
Nick Holden – New York Rangers
He may not be the defenseman from New York that Bruins fans have been talking about, but he’s still an option.
If you mention the name Nick Holden to fans of the New York Rangers, you’ll often be met with shudders and face-palms. If anyone knows about Holden, it would be them. They’ve been forced to watch the 30-year-old blueliner for the last season and a half, all the while being subjected to him playing in a top-four role. A role he simply shouldn’t have.
Averaging 20:04 of ice time in his career, including 18:55 this season, Holden has proven he can play big minutes if needed. Fortunately, the Bruins wouldn’t need him to play big minutes. In fact, they might not need him at all.
As is the case with every other player on this list, the Bruins should be looking to add them for an inexpensive cost to bolster their depth. Ideally, these players never see the team’s lineup due to the seven defenders ahead of them being healthy. While Holden can play top-six minutes, he would be an invaluable piece for the team as a depth defender who can be relied upon more consistently than Postma or O’Gara due simply to his experience.
Holden has scored three goals and 11 points in 52 games this season after posting career-highs in goals (11), assists (23) and points (34) in 80 games with New York last season. His ability to chip in occasionally on offense while also playing in 18 postseason games (not a large number but considerably more than the zero games of postseason exposure between Postma and O’Gara) could make him a quality addition for Boston.
Unfortunately, Holden is one of the bigger names on the market this season in a year that has few quality players available. If the Bruins can somehow acquire him for an inexpensive cost, they should look into it. Something in the range of a combination of mid-round picks and mid-level prospects. If it’s an exorbitant amount, similar to the one that McDonagh could potentially fetch, the Bruins should look elsewhere.
Michal Kempny – Chicago Blackhawks
While Kempny may not be the same defender he was while playing in the KHL, he’s still shown that he can play NHL minutes.
Scoring a total of three goals and 14 points in 79 career NHL games between last season and this season, however, Kempny’s offensive contributions from his time in Russia should no longer be seen as relevant in the discussion. Still, he has solid instincts and has played top-four minutes at times this year on a Blackhawks team that has experienced a colossal collapse after a near-decade of excellence.
When Kempny signed in Chicago, the expectation was that he could help out their depth and bolster their team moving forward with the potential for more. At 27-years-old with an expiring contract, he could now find himself in the same role on a different club looking for a postseason run.
Averaging 15:04 of ice time over the last two seasons, Kempny has what it takes to play in a bottom-pairing role. His ability to produce shots and suppress shots while on the ice shouldn’t be understated either.
He’s a good defender who can easily play a top-six role on an NHL contender. Having him as the eighth-defenseman on the roster should instill confidence in the Bruins. Injuries happen, and while Kempny isn’t much more experienced than Postma or O’Gara, his skill set speaks for itself.
The cost of a deal like this is hard to gauge. While Kempny doesn’t have a ton of experience at the NHL level and hasn’t shown the two-way flash he did in the KHL, he’s still a solid player who’s only 27 years old. If the Blackhawks determine that he’s too valuable to trade for a mid-round pick given his ceiling and potential, the Bruins should move on.
If the Blackhawks are fair in their assessment and look to recoup any assets they can (the Blackhawks are missing their second and fourth-round picks this year, though they do own an additional fifth-round pick), then the Bruins could find themselves in business.
Dennis Seidenberg – New York Islanders
This one might hurt.
When the Boston Bruins used a decided to buy-out Dennis Seidenberg’s contract, they figured he was on his last legs and not worth $4 million a year for the next two seasons. Well, Seidenberg is still playing in the NHL. Signing with the Islanders after an impressive World Cup run, Seidenberg has actually averaged 19:07 over two seasons in New York.
Instead of paying Seidenberg $4 million in 2016-17 and 2017-18, they committed to paying him $1.166 million in 2016-17, $2.166 million this season and $1.116 million over the next two seasons. Meanwhile, Seidenberg has signed back-to-back one-year contracts with the Islanders worth $1 million and $1.25 million respectively.
Having a player like Seidenberg back in the fold could be exactly what the Bruins need for their deep playoff run. A player who is playing in a top-four role on the Islanders due to an injury to Calvin De Haan, Seidenberg is more than capable of playing in a bottom-four role on the Bruins for the postseason. As such, his role as an extra-defender in Boston coupled with his experience, familiarity with the team and veteran leadership could make him the best option for Sweeney at the deadline.
It might be an awkward conversation between Sweeney and Seidenberg at first, but there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging a mistake and making things right. There is one small problem though.
Islanders Still Aiming for the Postseason
The Islanders could look to make a trade or two around the deadline this season. What isn’t known yet, however, is whether those moves will be to add to the current roster or to sell off pieces for future capital. At the time of this writing, the Islanders sit just one point ahead of the lowly-Rangers who have committed to rebuilding. They’re also only three points out of a wild-card spot, however, which could make things interesting.
The fate of the Islanders will ultimately come down to how they perform in the weeks leading up to the deadline. If the team sits in a wildcard spot when a decision has to be made, general manager Garth Snow would be hard-pressed to subtract from his roster. At the same time, the Islanders could show signs that they aren’t ready to make a deep postseason run, leading to Snow selling off parts.
If the latter is the case, the Bruins should look at offering a mid-round pick for the 36-year-old Seidenberg who would love another run at the Cup after his seven seasons in Boston. It wouldn’t be the first time they acquired him at a trade deadline either.
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