Anyone who turns on NESN each night there’s a Boston Bruins game expects one thing out of their hometown team: A win. Lately, the Black and Gold haven’t been giving those fans the fulfillment of their desires. The Bruins are 2-3 over their last five games, and the horizon is looking pretty dim. Over their next seven games, the Bruins will face seven teams that would be in the playoffs if the regular season were to end today. And only two of those seven games will be played at the TD Garden. It doesn’t look to be getting much better. Many fans are left questioning; what is going on with the B’s? The answer is not what, but who? That man is Dennis Seidenberg.
- The Past –
Seidenberg has been a member of the Bruins for the past four seasons. For many of those years, Seidenberg spent his time in the (very large) shadow of his Norris Trophy-caliber defense partner, Zdeno Chara. While Chara received well-deserved credit for the championship, Seidenberg’s efforts seemed to go unnoticed. In fact, Chara’s most mind blowing stat of the Stanley Cup run was his time on ice per game of 27:39, or just over 46% of an NHL game. But ironically Seidenberg trailed Chara in that statistic by a mere 2 seconds per game, and ended with a time on ice per game of 27:37 throughout the playoffs. Seidenberg has quietly proved his diligence and durability through his years with the Bruins. Since his arrival in Boston in the ’09-’10 season, Seidenberg has managed to miss only four regular season contests. His valued presence as a part of the Bruins’ mix of young and veteran d-men over the years has been unparalleled. Seidenberg has anchored the Bruins’ top-tier penalty killing unit, and even brought the team to 4th in the NHL in penalty kill last season. Since the Stanley Cup victory in 2011, Seidenberg had managed a plus/minus of +44 in the regular season. Seidenberg is one of the best players on the Bruins, and had a case even for Norris trophy consideration. But on December 27th, the Bruins saw not only their top defenseman go down, but also the “Robin” to their – nearly seven foot tall – “Batman”. It’s not like Seidenberg won’t be back next year, but absence will be felt.
- The Present –
Dennis Seidenberg’s torn ACL would be the end to his 2013-’14 season. Devastated, nonetheless, the Bruins were forced to play the night following Seidenberg’s injury, and immediately began to feel the magnitude of their loss. The Bruins lost to the Senators, and then the next game to the Islanders. The Bruins did follow up with a couple of solid efforts against Winnipeg – who has the 25th ranked power play – and the Predators – who ‘boast’ the 25th-worst total in the “goals for” category. But the real exposure of the Bruins’ weak defensive depth came during their late night matchup in Anaheim with the Ducks. The Bruins surrendered three power play goals on three opportunities. The worst part of the night was the poor play of Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski as penalty killers, especially on the goal by Matthew Perrault to spark the scoring for the Ducks. Following the game many were left to wonder which direction this Bruins team was going? Regardless of how talented the Anaheim team was, the Bruins look to have hit a bad turn in their nearly flawless year. The Bruins found out just how much Seidenberg meant to them.
- The Future –
As fans and followers, we mustn’t dwell on what could have been with Seidenberg, but on what Peter Chiarelli will do to improve his team, and recover from the loss of their defensive workhorse. Since most NHL GM’s refuse to share their feelings with the public, we on the outside are left only to speculate. We can only take guesses pertaining to what the men in the Boston Bruins front office are thinking. One thing for sure is that the Bruins are in desperate need of another two-way, top-four defenseman.
Many writers and journalists have already been doing the speculating for Bruins fans. The names like Christian Ehrhoff of Buffalo and Andrej Mezaros of Philly have been tossed around. But there is one problem with acquiring some of the players the Bruins have been considering: they are all older, veteran defensemen in the last years of their contracts. It’s true the Bruins don’t need to acquire a guy, and sign him to a seven year deal. But the Bruins shouldn’t be in the market for a rental at this point with the roster they currently have. Zdeno Chara is beginning to reach the tail end of his long and incredible NHL career, which will be a tough pill to swallow if the Bruins are already hurting at defense. The Bruins’ minor league system is stockpiled with young defensemen. But those young defensemen are players that most teams would be adamant on acquiring. Between players and draft picks, the Bruins have an abundance of pieces to trade away to almost any team improve their backend.
The lack of tradable defensemen out there across the NHL is tough, and that limited the Bruins to only a few suitable players that would improve both their defense and their power play. Two guys that seem to work perfectly are Dmitri Kulikov of the Panthers and Dan Girardi of the Rangers. Kulikov is a tremendously gifted puck handler, and Girardi is an asset in the defensive zone. Both players are not small either, and eventually Kulikov will fill into his large frame. While one plays on a team in the bottom of the NHL and one on a team towards the top, both players are attainable at the right price.
Dmitri Kulikov is the least likely to end up a Bruin of the two, and by no means is Peter Chiarelli even considering the 23 year old Russian. But Kulikov is a strong two-way defenseman, and can be a great addition to the Bruins’ power play and penalty kill. Kulikov is young, and will be owed $2.5 million per year until the end of next season when he becomes a Restricted Free Agent. Kulikov is the perfect player for the Bruins to pursue, and has a low risk contract to work with. If he simply doesn’t work out in Boston, the Bruins are not handcuffed to him for the next five years only 2. Plus, if Kulikov ends up playing to his potential, the Black and Gold would have one of the best defensemen in the NHL on their roster. Kulikov’s inconsistency is worrisome, but a simple change of scenery could be all it takes to boost his confidence. Kulikov could be the high upside project for the Bruins, and it may only take backup Chad Johnson and Matt Bartkowski plus a conditional draft pick to send him up to Boston.
Another more likely scenario for the Bruins is the acquisition of the 29 year old defenseman Dan Girardi. Girardi has played for the Rangers for the past seven years, and has reached the last year of his $3.6 million per year contract. Many believe that GM Glen Sather considers Girardi a trade piece, so it wouldn’t be insane to think the Rangers are looking for some serious return on their veteran blue liner. Girardi is an even stronger two way defenseman than Kulikov, and involves less potential and more of an immediate impact. Girardi could be looking for a similar contract at the end of the year, which makes him a player worth trading for. The hefty price for Girardi is something near highly regarded defensive prospect Joe Morrow and a draft pick in the high rounds. The chances the Bruins want to give up Morrow is slim, seemingly because of his promise to the organization.
- The Reality -
Both of these ideas seem to work out for the Bruins, but the possibilities are endless. One thing is for sure though, and that is the Bruins need to make a move. Whether it be to improve by giving up less goals or by scoring more goals, the B’s need to be active until the trade deadline. For now, Dennis Seidenberg is gone, and the Bruins have shown that they cannot rely on their young guys to step up. The once deep Bruins defense core has become a fairly shallow one. The Bruins have nearly $4 million to work with at the deadline, and need to make use of all of it. If they hope to be cup contenders they can’t allow three power play goals in a game. Change is not a fantasy, it’s a reality for this currently banged up Bruins team. But with all this worry we forget that at some point Peter Chiarelli can be trusted to better the Bruins for the short and long term. Don’t worry, it’ll all work out Bruins fans.