Last Wednesday morning Bruins’ Owner Jeremy Jacobs, CEO Charlie Jacobs and team President Cam Neely sat down with the media for their annual end-of-season press conference. Much was discussed during the availability, but the thing that stuck out the most was how often Neely discussed the left side of the Bruins’ defense.
It’s been a hot topic around Boston for several seasons now and became more popular after their season came to an end earlier this month after losing in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Behind Zdeno Chara on the left side you’ll find Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk. Two undersized, offense-first defensemen, both of which bring a unique skillset to the Bruins’ blue line.
As valuable as the pair is to the Bruins, the team realizes that finding a big body to play behind Chara is a must. The Bruins saw first-hand in their series with the Lightning how valuable having size on a blue line is. The Lightning slowed down the Bruins with a healthy dose of Victor Hedman, followed by Ryan McDonagh. Two left shot defensemen who both hover above six feet.
The Bruins have tried to address this issue in recent drafts. Jakub Zboril, (2015) Emil Johansson, (2014) Jeremy Lauzon, (2015) and Urho Vaakanainen (2017) are all left shot defensemen that are at least six feet tall.
As excited as Neely and company are about the pipeline of left-handed defensemen, Neely knows that the young guys they have at the moment are not quite NHL ready.
“In an ideal world, if you can find a guy that can skate, retrieve pucks, and is a big body on the back end, that’s what we’d love to have,” said Neely.
With the Bruins not having what they’re looking for in the system just yet, it’s outside of the organization where the Bruins can address their need.
“As far as size goes, would it be nice to have a little bigger [defenseman] on the left side other than Z? Yes. So that’s something I think Don [Sweeney] is going to work on in the offseason,” Neely added. “But that’s not to take away from what the guys did on the left side for us. I thought they played very well for us.”
Trying to address the issue via free agency won’t yield the Bruins any results. The available left-shot defenseman market is paper thin, with no real second pair defenseman on the market.
The Bruins best shot of finding their man will be via trade, and luckily enough for the Bruins, they've got the chips to make a move.
With the Carolina Hurricanes reportedly in sell mode, Noah Hanifan’s name instantly comes to mind. Hanifan is young, 21, tall, 6’3, a Boston native, and a former Boston College Eagle. A quick look at Hanifan’s numbers may scare you a bit,—career minus-53—but playing on a weak Carolina Hurricanes team has watered down his numbers a bit.
Hanifan is set to become a restricted free agent this summer and the price for the young defenseman will certainly be steep. But if Sweeney really wants to solve this problem this offseason and get his number two left-shot defenseman, he’s got to pull the trigger on a move.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson was another potential target for the Bruins, but according to reports
Ekman-Larsson is close to a new eight-year extension with the Coyotes.
Sweeney does have the benefit of waiting a bit. A trade deadline move could be the better play for the Bruins. Although they struggled defensively throughout the playoffs, the Bruins can survive with Krug and Grzelcyk as their second and third left defensemen.
“The way Grzelcyk came in, I was really impressed with how he played,” said Neely. He added an element on our back end that we didn’t necessarily have as far as puck retrieval, making the good first pass.”
It’s a good sign that the Bruins are aware of their issue and are openly admitting they want to address it.
It doesn’t have to be in an ideal world. There are guys out there that do as Neely would like them to do: skate, retrieve pucks and act as a big body on the back end. The Bruins just need to be willing to pay the price for them.