We all heard the comments from Boston Bruins president Cam Neely the day after the team’s second-round playoff exit this year. Comments wherein which he acknowledged, yet again, the team’s (dire) need for a left-shot puck-moving defenseman and/or a big shutdown blueliner to play with Charlie McAvoy. Now, rumors are well and good, but just straight-up pulling any old name, regardless of the player’s actual ability to help the team, out of a hat is where I draw the line.
Case in point: Ryan Suter, one of the best US-born hockey defensemen to ever play in the NHL and the latest name pulled out of that damn hat, was once a spirited defender on the blueline for a time. Once. However, my friends, in my opinion, those days are long gone, as the former Olympian Wisconsin-born blueliner approaches father time at age 36.
The 6-foot-1 and 205-pound sturdy and seemingly always reliable left-shot defensive defenseman skated his way to 93 goals and 607 points in 1,198 total NHL games over sixteen years. A hell of a career, no doubt.
But sixteen years, especially sixteen of intense defensive play, are brutal on any set of hockey legs; I don’t care how good of a skater a player is. Suter may be a suitable signing for another Cup contender somewhere else in the league, but it ain’t with the Bruins. Sorry not sorry folks, but it’s not, and since I am a nice guy I will even tell you why. The Boston Bruins, much like with their crop of forwards, also mismanaged their crop of defensemen. Go figure.
What do I mean? Well, simply put, they didn’t draft well there either, and now, the guys they have left to defend the “realm” of Swayman and Vladar (and Rask?), are either retiring (Kevan Miller), likely being plucked away by Seattle (Conor Clifton and/or Jeremy Lauzon) or languishing in development hell (Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakinainen) like a live-action He-Man movie that never sees the light of day.
Yet the Bruins want to win now, instead of in 3-5 years from now, and so if that is the case then they need to make moves that demonstrate that. As such, signing Ryan Suter to any kind of contract, at all, does not demonstrate that. I don’t need to see another David Backes-type situation, partial or otherwise, take hold on the Bruins blueline. I saw the original version and I did not like it then either.
Now, Suter may not be Zdeno Chara in that he is not a defensive liability in his own end, at least not yet, anyway. But with the type of defensemen set to hit the free market in a few weeks’ time, why would Bruins GM Don Sweeney sign Suter when he can get left-handed defensemen that are under or on the right side of 30?
Defensemen with all the senses, skills, sizes, and styles of play the Bruins did not have in most of their defense corps all of last year and then some. Defensemen like Jamie Oleksiak, Mattias Ekholm, Vince Dunn, Adam Larsson, and Brendan Smith—all of whom are available when free agency begins later this month or will be made available via trade by their teams.
Each of these free agents and trade assets are younger than Suter, ranging anywhere from 4 to 12 years younger in fact, which means they have less mileage on them as players. Which, in retrospect, means the B’s can sign any one of these younger defensemen to a longer contract term than they could Suter. Which, essentially, also means most of those free agents and potential assets would, undoubtedly, be a vital piece to the Bruins’ new core of key players for Stanley Cup runs. Both in the near and the distant future.
Whereas, however, with Suter, the Bruins, perhaps, may go on one or two Cup runs with him as their defensive veteran, maybe. But what happens if he gets hurt, or his play declines, or decides to hang up his skates without anyone ready to step into his role or all of the above? And now the B’s have to go look for his replacement but the prospect pool and the trade and free-agent markets are lackluster? You see what I am saying?
So, thanks but no thanks Ryan Suter lovers, because the Bruins are already at that point — searching for a skilled left-shot defenseman who can play for them for more than a year or two or three — right now.
Therefore, it makes all the sense in the world for the B’s front office to find a bit of a better answer to that question, one that is a long-term one, not a shortcut.