The best thing for the Boston Bruins to think about, digest and accept is the reality that nobody is going to weep for them.
Yes, the B’s are missing seven regulars from their lineup due to injuries and suspensions. They have suffered a couple of major injuries with the second concussion for Loui Eriksson and a season-ending ACL/MCL tear for Dennis Seidenberg that was clear when you could audibly hear the German defenseman screaming as his ligaments snapped under the weight of Cory Conacher.
They couldn’t overcome the missing tandem of Zdeno Chara (day-to-day with a good, old fashioned undisclosed injury) and Seidenberg in a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night at the Canadian Tire Centre. That’s pretty understandable given how important both workhorses are to Boston’s nightly game plan during the regular season, and underscores just how much the Black and Gold will miss Seidenberg as Chara’s shutdown partner once the playoffs begin.
But the Bruins aren’t the only Eastern Conference team to experience a rash of injury issues this season.
The Anaheim Ducks have been ravaged by the injury bug all year in the West, and both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning have kept right on winning despite devastating injury problems. The Penguins led the NHL with 210 man-games to injury headed into the three-day holiday break, and count big name guys like Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Pascal Dupuis among their missing ranks.
The Lightning have been without their franchise player ever since Steve Stamkos broke his leg crashing into a TD Garden net back in November, but they’ve still managed to keep pace with the B’s all this time while waiting for the remarkable “Stammer” to return from injury.
Both teams haven’t used injuries as an excuse or a crutch this season, and that’s something good hockey clubs don’t make a habit of doing. So it goes for the Bruins, who received some good advice from coach Claude Julien on Saturday just when the self-pity levels might have been rising.
The Bruins have a deep, well-stocked organization and they’ve enjoyed consistent success over the last seven seasons, so others around their division and conference have been waiting for them to hit a pothole or two.
“It’s unfortunate because [Seidenberg] has always been one of our better D’s, and he always seems to step his game up at playoff time,” said Julien to NESN during the postgame show. “But we just have to suck it up, and everybody needs to step their game up.”
That’s good advice for all the players being asked to step up from the AHL level, and step right into a Bruins team with high expectations. On Saturday night guys like Zach Trotman and David Warsofsky did just that, and it appeared for a short time that the former BU defenseman might have even been the hero in a stirring comeback win for the Bruins.
That wasn’t meant to be when another fellow young defenseman, Torey Krug, fumbled a puck at the blue line that turned into a Bobby Ryan breakaway game-winner. It’s all part of the learning experience with young players getting thrust into roles that might be asking them to provide a little too much. It’s pretty clear that Dougie Hamilton is the defenseman best suited to step into Seidenberg’s No. 2 spot on the defensemen corps once he returns from his lower body injury.
Hamilton has the size, strength and raw offensive and defensive skills to excel in the number of heavy minutes assigned to Seidenberg year in and year out, and now it’s up to him to develop quickly into player prior to the playoffs. Clearly it won’t all be about the young B’s players as a solution, however.
There won’t be an imminent panic move for a veteran top-four defenseman, but Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has to know he needs another veteran blueliner prior to the playoff run for this group of players. The name Michael Del Zotto has been mentioned as an available player from the New York Rangers, but he’s not even close to what the Bruins are looking for.
Tim Gleason of Carolina would be a possibility based on the tough, gritty intangibles that the Bruins want on their own team, but he’s signed for another two years at $4 million per season beyond this season. That’s a non-starter considering Seidenberg is about to start a new four-year, $16 million contract extension starting next season.
Glenn Healy mentioned the name of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi during the Hockey Night in Canada hot stove, and he definitely fits the bill of what Boston should be looking for in a live body added to their defensemen situation. Girardi is in the last year of his contract, and that would make him attractive to the B’s as a $3.325 million cap hit.
There’s also Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen or old friend Mark Stuart playing out the string in Winnipeg, or unsigned 36-year-old free agent Wade Redden has told friends the only team he’d play for this season would be the Boston Bruins.
Those and more are possibilities down the road as the trade deadline approaches if the young defensemen aren’t enough to stabilize the situation. But whatever top-four veteran defenseman they acquire isn’t going to be as effective as what they had in Seidenberg, and that will have repercussions come playoff time.
The Bruins’ chances of winning another Cup this year took a major hit when it was determined that Seidenberg is out the next 6-8 months with a serious right knee injury, but nobody in the NHL world is going to feel pity for Boston.
They’ll simply expect the B’s to turn the page and get back to winning games, so that’s exactly what they need to do.