Chiarelli likes current B's, but will still look to add

Chiarelli likes current B's, but will still look to add
February 7, 2014, 11:00 am
Share This Post

ST LOUIS – The Bruins knew what they were taking on when they made some significant roster changes this season.

Despite making it to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals last June, the Bruins front office opted to go with young defensemen instead of proven veterans like Andrew Ference, and replaced popular players like Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton with new faces in Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla.

There have been some turbulent ups and downs through the team’s first 56 games of the season, and it’s taken some time to fully integrate all the new talent into the established core. But there’s also been plenty to like while watching the Black and Gold go through a 7-1-2 run in their last 10 games, with just a final Saturday meeting against the Senators left on the docket before the Olympic break.

“They’ve played well aside from the Montreal game (a 4-1 loss last week), and you’ve got to take that game as an outlier,” said general manager Peter Chiarelli. “We’re moving the puck well, the power play has been good, the [penalty killing] has been doing well and the goalies have been good. We’re on a good stretch now. We’ve got [26] games left now. We’re in a pretty good spot.

"But my initial instinct was to add depth, and that remains."

Clearly the Bruins are in a good place. They hold a seven-point lead over the Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, and are just six points behind Pittsburgh, on whom they also have a game in hand, for the best record in the Eastern Conference. The new blood has breathed life into a previously stagnant power play, and their 169 overall goals are tied for seventh in the NHL. Defensively they remain strong, with their 123 goals allowed — only 2.1 per game – ranking best in the league.

But the Bruins could use a little more team speed overall -- as was obvious in the loss to the speedy, skilled Habs -- and ideally want a top-four level veteran defenseman who's a left-handed shot and an unrestricted free agent. Their aim is to have eight quality NHL-caliber defensemen entering the playoffs (four left shots, four right shots), and would want to add a player with the strength, experience and toughness to replace the injured Dennis Seidenberg.

“We’ll see what’s out there," said Chiarelli. "You always want to get battle-tested guys. This has by far been the youngest group that we’ve brought in with new bodies, and new faces. So there’s maybe been a little more up and down with this group: Torey [Krug], Dougie [Hamilton], Reilly [Smith], [Matt] Bartkowski. But it’s been nice to see them go through that development. It’s what we intended on entering the year, and we really relied on them. It’s happened and it’s been nice.”

Clearly, Thursday night's 3-2 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues wasn’t exactly an “up” moment, as the B's were asked to do quite a bit against an elite Western Conference team without the services of Zdeno Chara.

But it wasn’t exactly a “down” moment, either, as Bartkowski, Hamilton and Krug all topped 20 minutes of ice time in a strong team defensive effort. Chiarelli likes the contributions the youngsters have made.

“They’ve played well," he said. "I think the spotlight has been on the defense with [Seidenberg] going down, and they’ve adjusted and played well. I’ve always felt like eight ‘D’ is an optimal number to go into the stretch drive and the playoffs with. We’ve got [David] Warsofsky up and he’s done well, but we’re probably looking to get another NHL defenseman.

“There are not many out there that really stand out, but there are a lot of serviceable guys out there that would fit in well with us. Pundits were saying we struggled with [Seidenberg] and we’re defending a little differently now. But I’d like to find somebody with some defensive capability. You talk about depth, but we also want a guy that’s going to be capable of playing in our lineup rather than a 7th or 8th guy. Bartkowski and Hamilton are definitely defending better this year, but we’d still like to add somebody.”

The good news is the Bruins have Seidenberg’s open $3.25 million cap hit on Long Term Injured Reserve, and have some assets to put into play if the right defenseman becomes available. Dan Girardi, Chris Phillips and Andrew MacDonald are all names on Boston’s radar; they have varying price tags, and even more diverse skill sets.

Girardi and Phillips might have the advantage over MacDonald in that they’re both traditional defensive zone warrior-types who n move bodies around the crease. But there’s also no indication either one of them will be traded anytime soon.

MacDonald does lead the NHL in blocked shots and is a useful player capable of logging big minutes, but doesn’t play any bigger in the defensive zone than his 6-foot, 180-pound frame would indicate. Either way the lowered salary cap,  combined with the large number of teams still within shouting distance of the playoffs, has lessened the field of “sellers” for a March 5 trade deadline that’s going to arrive rapidly this season.

“The cap is lower than last year, so you’ve got more teams at the cap [ceiling], so you’ve got contending teams that – if they want to make a trade – have to take somebody off their roster,” said Chiarelli. “The inclination is to not do that because you don’t want to mix up the chemistry. There is disincentive for a lot of teams right now.

“There are a few teams out there looking for futures deals (rental players for draft picks/prospects), but not as many as usual right now.”

Some things that are certainties for the Bruins headed into the trading season once the Olympics are over: they’re looking for a left-shot defenseman rental with an expiring contract, they aren’t interested in trading away their first-round picks, or young players like Bartkowski and Ryan Spooner.

The play of Boston’s young defenseman, up to and including the sound effort against the Blues without Chara on Thursday night, has Chiarelli far removed from a desperation mode. Instead he’ll simply be moving forward with the current group, and adding a defenseman that plays big in the D-zone while taking the body and blocking shots. The Bruins may not have a ton of competition given the needs of most teams around the NHL at this point.

“I think there are a lot of teams out there looking for scoring wingers,” said Chiarelli. “We’re good with the puck-moving guys. It’s as simple as we lost a good defender in [Seidenberg], and you want to at least have that in your pocket. You want some element of that. If you can’t get it, then you can’t get it.

“We have guys that are getting better at it. But when you get into the heavy slogging in the later [playoff] rounds, that’s when you really need it.”

Beyond the names of Girardi, Phillips and MacDonald that keep popping up, there will be a second tier of defenseman available around the trade deadline on March 5. Names like Edmonton’s Nick Schultz and Buffalo’s Henrik Tallinder will be among those experienced D-men dealt prior to the deadline, and wouldn’t cost the Bruins more assets than a lower-round draft pick in exchange for a few months of their service.

The Bruins will undoubtedly make a move or two prior to the trade deadline  and there are a list of names available to them. But the team has also shown their GM in the last three weeks that they once again have the goods to compete with the best teams come playoff-time, aided by a tweak or two.

One should expect Chiarelli to pull off that tweak, just as he's done in each of the last few years.