Bruins will dig deep on blue line
Defense corps can overcome loss of Dennis Seidenberg, but it won't be easy
The veteran blueliner suffered a season-ending injury on Friday when he tore both the MCL and ACL in his right knee. It's a devastating loss for the Bruins, and they will miss Seidenberg's valuable ice time and solid two-way play, particularly come playoff time. Coach Claude Julien won't have the ability to reunite his best shutdown defensive pairing of Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara.
Fortunately, the Bruins have options and depth to fill the void, but it's a safe bet that general manager Peter Chiarelli is trying to figure out how to bolster the team's blue line via trade. Boston's success is based on its defensive game, and without Seidenberg in the mix, others will need to contribute more until one or more reinforcements arrive.
Saying the Bruins need help is by no means a shot at the current defensive corps or the organization's prospects. Others will play more minutes and contribute accordingly, but losing Seidenberg's experience, especially in the playoffs, will hurt.
"He's your prototypical good defenseman at both ends of the ice," Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. "He can do it all, and it hurts to lose a guy like that. It's not the first time this happens to us and we have the luxury, as an organization, to have the depth that guys can step up from the minors."
After the team's practice Monday morning at Ristuccia Arena, there was no sense of panic from Julien or the players. Even Seidenberg, who obviously is disappointed, is convinced everything will be fine.
"Like you've seen in the past, we always seem to step up in tough times and I don't see it being any different," Seidenberg said. "We have a lot of young guys playing in Providence or playing up here already that are playing great hockey and big minutes. I don't see a reason why it shouldn't keep going like that."
During training camp, Chiarelli and Julien both suggested the team would try to figure out a way to keep Chara's ice time from escalating during the season. To this point, he has been averaging more than 25 minutes per game, plus he has been dealing with an undisclosed injury that forced him to miss Saturday's game and half of Monday's practice.
Chara is not the only veteran defenseman who is banged up. Adam McQuaid has been dealing with a chronic lower-body injury, while Johnny Boychuk is battling a back injury. Dougie Hamilton is out with a lower-body injury, while Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski have played increased minutes.
Once he's healthy and returns to the lineup, Hamilton should take advantage of the opportunity for increased playing time with his defensive partner gone for the season.
"For me, right away I was pretty upset," Hamilton said. "We're partners and I told him I was going to miss him and miss him on the ice. He was helping me with my injury, so it made it extra worse when he went down with one. Obviously, I feel really bad."
Julien might pair Chara and Hamilton once the sophomore blueliner returns.
"You can't put too much pressure on yourself to fill a role like his," Hamilton said. "I'm not even playing right now, so just to be able to play I'll be happy, and then once I get settled in I'll try to make up for [Seidenberg] a little bit."
As much as it sounds cliché, the best way for Hamilton and the rest of the young defensemen to contribute is to simply continue to play their game. Hamilton has shown improvements from his rookie season, but there are still ways he can be better.
"I don't think he has to focus on doing more," Seidenberg said. "He just has to focus on doing what he does well."
Without Seidenberg, Julien said he's not the type to overanalyze the situation. He's not going to ask another player to do anything differently.
"I'm not expecting Torey Krug to all of a sudden turn into a hitting machine," Julien said.
"You don't replace guys like [Seidenberg]. You just make sure you buckle down, play your game as best you can and, as a group, you hope if everybody does that it covers for that loss."
The Bruins already have needed to dip into their defensive talent pool in Providence at times due to injury, recalling Kevan Miller, Zach Trotman and David Warsofsky. Miller is currently on recall and will serve a vital role.
Miller, 26, has played nine games with the Bruins this season and has one goal and one assist, including a plus-two rating. He has been impressive during his time in Boston and brings size, strength and on-ice vision that fits well on the Bruins' blue line.
"I think he's played really well when he's been here," Julien said after Monday's practice. "Whether he's here for the year or not, the call is going to be for upper management to decide that, but there's a pretty good chance we brought him up to stay a while. It's just a matter of him continuing to play the way that he did."
The Bruins were forced to send Miller back to Providence because of a rule that would have required him to clear waivers if he was assigned to the AHL after playing 10 games in the NHL. At the time of the transaction, Chiarelli said the next time Miller is recalled it would be for good.
"It's unfortunate what happened to Sides, so I'm just here to be ready to play when called upon," Miller said.
Since the organization's depth is being tested, Chiarelli likely will seek help via the trade market, but acquiring a veteran defenseman will be a challenge. With the season nearly at the midway point, many teams are still in the race for a playoff spot, so the Bruins would have to give up a player of quality to get one in return.
The idea of bringing Mark Stuart back to Boston is intriguing and financially possible, but he's an unlikely choice. There are other possibilities who may not jump out at you but could be a good fit, such as Carolina Hurricanes veteran Ron Hainsey. The 32-year-old's cap hit is $2 million, and he has been averaging more than 20 minutes per game. Hainsey played for Julien when he was coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
If there's a silver lining to losing Seidenberg, at least the Bruins have a little more than half the season to figure out the best course of action in order to be prepared for the Stanley Cup playoffs.