Over the course of the next two weeks, we here at Bruins Daily will be getting you ready with everything you need to know for the 2013 National Hockey League season. Today, we take a look at the Bruins group of defensemen.
This season, familiar faces from season’s past return to the blue line for the 48-game shortened NHL season. Gone, but certainly not forgotten, are the days of Joe Corvo coughing the puck up in the defensive zone. It’s also safe to remove the burning images of Greg Zanon flopping down on every possible shooting situation. That being said, don’t hold your breath on waiting for Mike Mottau to walk through the Garden doors, either.
Needless to say, as other NHL teams shuffled their defensive corps, General Manager Peter Chiarelli decided to keep his core group together. Don’t forget that in a shortened-season, familiarity is absolutely an advantage.
Last season, the Bruins brought in veterans Zanon and Mottau to fill the void left by the abysmal play of Corvo and late season injury to Adam McQuaid. Lost in the shuffle was the stellar season Johnny Boychuk endured (5 Goals, 15 Assists, +27) while playing the majority of the season alongside Chara. As customary as a pat down at an airport, Big Z turned in another solid season (12 Goals, 40 Assists, +33) worthy of Norris Trophy candidacy, while Dennis Seidenberg (5 Goals, 18 Assists, +15) shut down the top line of opposing foes. B’s assistant captain and CBA folk legend, Andrew Ference, (6 Goals, 18 Assists, +9) brought a calming presence and was trusted with logging crucial special teams minutes. Rounding out the core from last season was McQuaid, (2 Goals, 8 Assists, +16, 99 PIM) who was improving every night, prior to sustaining a combination of injuries towards the end of last season.
When camp opens up next week, there’s a hot debate as to whether or not a roster spot is up for grabs. For staters, whether or not Adam McQuaid is recovered from offseason surgery to remove a blood clot from his upper torso is a big mystery. If the dark side is strong on this one, expect the mullet-laden McQuaid to suit up near the end of January. If No. 54 were healthy, the argument is that prospect Dougie Hamilton would be in line to take over the 6-spot on the blue line. However, due to a shortened season, the question is whether or not Chiarelli wants to use a year of service time on Hamilton by not keeping him in the OHL. Don’t let that fool you. At every level of play, Hamilton has dominated (2012-13 OHL Niagara: 32 GP, 8 Goals, 33 Assists, +24) which should result in a roster spot with the big club to open up the season.
Nonetheless, expect growing pains with Hamilton this season, which makes the battle for the seventh defenseman of that much more significance. Locked in competition is Aaron Johnson, (3 Goals, 13 Assists, -12 for Columbus in 2012-13) Garnet Exelby,(AHL Grand Rapids: (18 GP, 2 Goals, 0 Assists, +5, 35 PIM, *FA signing from Detroit) Matt Bartkowski(AHL Providence: 30 GP, 2 Goals, 7 Assists, 0 +/-, 39 PIM) and David Warsofsky(AHL Providence: 30 GP, 2 Goals, 7 Assists, -1).
With teams allowed roster exemplify buyout clauses at the end of the season, all eyes will be on Boychuk, whose three-year $10.1 million contract extension begins this season. Boychuk has had his fair share of skeptics during his tenure in Boston for his erratic play when not paired alongside Chara and will need to show progression this upcoming season to remain calling Causeway home.
Also playing for a contract this season is Ference, whose $2.25 million annual cap hit is set to come off the books at the conclusion of the season. Since arriving in Boston during the 2006-07 season, Ference has had an issue staying healthy. However, the CBA negotiator has done nothing but prove his skeptics wrong by playing in at least 70 games over the last two seasons.
With a shortened season, depth is more crucial to an organization’s success than ever before. As Anthony stated in yesterday’s Bruins Forwards Preview, it should come as no surprise when players suffer injuries in the upcoming season. Looking at the collective group, I believe Chiarelli will either trade or sign a veteran defenseman, like last season with Zanon and Mottau, to bolster an already strong group. Heading into the upcoming season, when healthy, this group ranks in the top-5 of the National Hockey League.