Throughout the next three days, the Bruins Daily staff will be handing out their grades for players and management from the 2016-17 season. Today in Part 2, we’ll assess the Bruins defense and goaltending. Check back Monday for Part 3 as we examine the years of Bruce Cassidy, Cam Neely and Don Sweeney.
With Don Sweeney unable to get any help on the blueline in the off-season, the Bruins entered the 2016-17 season having to rely on what he had on the back end. Though issues with consistency remained, the Bruins defensemen and goaltending improved over time, especially under Bruce Cassidy.
Our esteemed panel of Anthony Travalgia, your’s truly and Bob Snow assess the year of the Bruins defense and goaltending. Here are the final evaluations.
Zdeno Chara (Anthony Travalgia – AT)
For a 40-year old that has a lot of miles on his body, Zdeno Chara had himself one heck of a season. Sure, Chara’s diminishing speed was evident at times, but the captain still logged big, key minutes for the Black and Gold.
Chara was asked to be a guide for rookie Brandon Carlo and did a great job with that as Brandon Carlo had a solid rookie campaign. With one more year on the books and a very reasonable $4 million cap hit to come, Chara will most certainly be a valuable asset for the Bruins next season.
Brandon Carlo (Tim Rosenthal – TR)
Entering the season without a major off-season addition on the blueline, GM Don Sweeney was hoping that one of his talented defensive prospects in the pipeline would fill a big need. Enter Brandon Carlo.
In his rookie year, the 2015 second round pick – acquired from the Islanders in the Johnny Boychuk trade – proved to be a reliable top pairing defenseman with Zdeno Chara. Though he hit the proverbial rookie wall midway through the season, both Bruce Cassidy and Claude Julien had faith he would turn things around. The Colorado-born defenseman did just that – especially when Cassidy took over – and was a reliable shutdown defenseman down the stretch, while occasionally chipping in offensively as seen with his 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists).
With Charlie McAvoy now in the fold, the Bruins will have two of their top four blueliners in the fold for the foreseeable future. That can only be a good thing for Sweeney, Cassidy and the rest of the Bruins brass.
Torey Krug (Bob Snow – BS)
Boston’s bona fide No. 2 D-man stumbled out of the gates without a point in his first nine games. But then caught fire in the next 72, putting up eight goals and 43 assists for 51 points – top-10 in the NHL. Better, his 25 power-play points were best on the roster and among the league’s best blueliners. The only negative? A minus-10.
Without management adding legitimate help on defense, Krug put more responsibility on his shoulders than his skill level could deliver over 81 regular-season games and the playoffs. With Krug’s contract running through 2020 – at $5.25 million per season – he is turning out to be one of Sweeney’s better signings.
Adam McQuaid (Anthony)
Asked to play a top-four role in the Bruins d-core, McQuaid was reliable for the Bruins in a season where their defense was one of their weaknesses. As always, McQuaid didn’t do much to hurt the team and coasted by as a solid body on the blue-line. The veteran had 10 points in 77 games.
With some tough decisions coming up in regards to which players to protect in the Expansion Draft, McQuaid could come up as a valuable option for the Golden Knights.
Kevan Miller (TR)
With an increased role as a top-four blue-liner in 2015-16, Kevan Miller proved to be a proverbial punching bag on social media more often than not. Whether it was his performance at the Winter Classic or other instances where he struggled, Miller couldn’t quite gain any consistency after being paired with Zdeno Chara more often than not on the Bruins’ top defensive pair.
Miller missed the first couple of months of the 2016-17 season due to a shoulder injury. With Carlo finding his groove and getting top-four minutes, the pressure on Miller to perform in a significant role was lessened with each day before his return on Thanksgiving night. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but unlike 2015-16, Miller was more of an asset than a liability in 2016-17.
From his bruising hits to his improving in his own end and playing well without the puck, Miller (13 points in 58 games) turned things around this season. At a time where the Bruins defensemen were dropping like flies with the injury bug during the playoffs, the veteran proved to be a solid contributor and saw an increase in ice time more often than not against the Senators.
Whether he deserved a four-year contract extension last summer is still up for debate, but his consistency through 64 combined regular season and playoff games gives Sweeney a reason to protect him for the Expansion Draft.
Colin Miller (AT)
Colin Miller had as much of an inconsistent season as they come. Showing signs of brilliance at times, Miller’s powerful shot and smarts in his own end provided a glimpse of his potential. On the other hand, Miller would often show those blunders that has held Miller back from securing a permanent role on the Bruins d-core.
Like McQuaid, Miller is another option that may be left unprotected and may be calling Las Vegas home next season
John-Michael Liles (BS)
Liles came to Boston at the trade deadline in 2015-16. In 17 games, he had six assists and a minus-7, while the team did not make the playoffs.
Sweeney gave Liles $2 million this past year to be a contributor at both ends – the only off-season attempt to shore up a questionable defense. That didn’t happen. Worse, he only played 36 games in an injury-plagued season. His total this season a paltry five assists. Liles never scored a goal in a Black and Gold uniform in 56 regular-season games and the five first round contests with Ottawa
Tuukka Rask (TR)
Ah, yes. We come to the point where we examine arguably the most polarizing Bruin in 2016-17 – at least when you mention this to some like Michael Felger and other sports radio callers and personalities.
Were there times where Rask may have let the team down? Yes. Especially in late March when he missed an important start against the Islanders two days after arguably his worst performance of the season against the Lightning at home. There was also a stretch from January 5-February 9 where he allowed at least three or more goals on 10 occasions – including a span of seven straight games – and was pulled in a couple of instances. Luckily for Rask, at a time where backup goaltending was non-existent, the offense started to find its stride.
But there were also times where Rask was brilliant. With the Bruins struggling to score goals consistently during the first three months, Rask consistently gave the team to win on a nightly basis.
At a time where the outside noise was at an all-time high surrounding Rask, the 2014 Vezina winner played the best hockey of his season. After that rough start against the Lightning back on March 23 where he allowed five goals on 28 shots, Rask allowed just four goals in his final five starts solidifying the Bruins’ return to the postseason. In his return to the playoffs, Rask stole Games 1 and 5 and gave the Bruins a chance in every game.
Can he – and should he – improve on his .915 save percentage next year? Yes. But there were other numbers, like his eight shutouts – good for second in the league – his 2.23 goals against average and 37-20-5 mark that were in Rask’s favor as well. Just shows that numbers prove that Rask is still a bonafide No. 1 in the National Hockey League.
Anton Khudobin (BS)
The Bruins backup was brought back on a two-year deal after a previous stint in Boston from 2011-13. Sweeney put $2.4 million in Khudobin’s pocket to spell relief for Rask. Boston’s GM reached for the Tums when Khudobin went 1-5 in his first six starts. That spelled a Providence assignment from mid-December to mid-February.
Must have been the Dunkin’ Donuts Center brew, because when Khudobin returned on February 11, he reeled off six straight wins in key games to keep the team in the playoff hunt.
Khudobin’s 7-6-1 season with a 2.64 GAA is a tale of opposite halves – and grades – at F and A, respectively. But he was one of the main reasons the Bruins reached the playoffs.
Incompletes – Malcolm Subban, Zane McIntyre, Charlie McAvoy, Tommy Cross, Joe Morrow, Rob O’Gara, Matt Grzelcyk