Last Saturday, during media availability following a team morning skate, Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy finally said out loud what most, if not all, of Bruins Nation has been for months (and years) now.
It was the ‘shot heard round the Hub’, no doubt, as longtime B’s writer Joe Haggerty of Boston Hockey Now, agreed and reiterated Cassidy’s sentiments earlier this past Sunday.
Now while Cassidy is no Pat Burns, the B’s bench boss won’t get any argument from me because, on this matter, he could not possibly be more right. The team’s defense group, regardless of any advanced analytic statistics, consists of one too many “Mr. Nice Guys.”
Too many Bruins defensemen aren’t mean enough
Indeed, because so far, virtually all of them have been wallflowers on the ice compared to other NHL blueliners. Case in point, according to quanthockey.com, these are the NHL’s leaders in hits (top 25), the only quantifiable, non-fighting categorical metric of meanness in hockey.
And, of course, wouldn’t you know, of the 25 listed, ten are defensemen, but not a single Bruins blueliner is one of them. Or, for that matter, even close enough to be so. In fact, among Boston’s defenders who’ve skated in at least 43 games this season, Charlie McAvoy leads all in the hit parade with just 93, followed immediately by Connor Clifton and Brandon Carlo with 91 and 85 hits, respectively.
After that, though, it drops off egregiously to Mike Reilly with only 56 hits before falling completely by the wayside to Matt Grzelcyk with a measly 20 (Jakub Zboril had 24 in just 10 games before season-ending injury) hits.
The Bruins have to get meaner on defense or it’s over before the postseason even begins
Indeed, and so if the B’s intend to ‘prickish’ it up on defense, the good thing is it wouldn’t cost them an arm and a leg. For example, hitting-machine defenseman Luke Schenn of the Vancouver Canucks (152 hits, 11th-best) is currently playing on a two-year contract worth $1.7M with an $850K cap hit.
However, if the 32-year old Schenn isn’t coveted by the B’s front office, another defenseman who loves to hit is Jani Hakanpaa of the Dallas Stars (127 hits, 25th-best), who is also playing on a team-friendly contract. Either way, both of them are exactly what Bruce Cassidy is, essentially, asking Bruins GM Don Sweeney for on defense as each of their levels of ‘prick’ is just what the doctor ordered.