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Maybe There is Still Hope

Posted By Matt Preston On Mar 29 2013 @ 9:20 pm In Boston Bruins | No Comments

Looking at the Boston Bruins offensive options on the trade market seemed a bit fruitless. With more questions than sure things coming from any of their rumored trade targets, probably making it not worth the cost general manager Peter Chiarelli might have to pay [1] after being duped out of Jarome Iginla earlier in the week. Defensively, however, could be an area the team seeks out and makes some improvements prior to the April 3rd trade deadline.

The norm throughout the Claude Julien Era in Boston is their defensive ability has always far outweighed their offense and this year is no different. Currently ranked third in the NHL, as opposed to their 10th ranked offense, the Bruins are giving up just 2.19 goals per game. Their top ranked penalty kill is nearly flawless, operating at 91.2%, leaps and bounds above their 23rd ranked power play, while goaltender Tuukka Rask finds himself second in the NHL amongst regular starters with a 2.02 goals against average.

While putting up good numbers, the Bruins typically staunch defense is starting to become an issue. Injuries are starting to take their toll. Adam McQuaid is likely out for the remainder of the regular season with a shoulder injure and Johnny Boychuk, who may return to the lineup on Saturday in Philadelphia, has been hampered by a foot injury of late. Veteran Andrew Ference has struggled with sloppy play all season. While rookie Dougie Hamilton has played well as one of the Bruins top four defensemen, how heavily does a team with a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup want to rely on a 19-year old rookie in the playoffs?

The Bruins have also struggled to hold leads and close out games this season, with their most recent lost Wednesday night just the latest example of games the Bruins have blow, as they fell to the Montreal Canadiens, 6-5, in a shootout after leading 4-2 heading into the third period of a game with first place in the division on the line. They can be very good at both shutting and wearing teams down, but the Bruins are going to have to be better than they have been on the backend if they want to be playing well into May and June.

If it is to be assumed the Pittsburgh Penguins are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, the biggest concern should not be scoring goals against the Penguins, they are susceptible, but rather quieting their league-leading offense. While it is debatable if there enough on the market to put the Bruins over the top in the quest for their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, finding one, if not two defenseman to bring in and bolster their struggling, but ample defensive core should be Chiarelli’s prime focus from now until Wednesday’s trade deadline.

Once Jarome Iginla was off the market, the next name the Black-and-Gold faithful fell in love with was defenseman Mark Streit of the New York Islanders. With the ability to play big minutes and a big shot from the blue line, Streit does have a certain appeal when it comes to the possibility of coming to Boston. Streit, however, is not the biggest, most rugged defensemen at just 5’11”, 191 lbs. He also carries at -40 rating since the start of last season, albeit playing with a weaker Islanders team.

While not without his upside, it almost seems as though Streit is just a poor man’s version of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and it is hard at times to see where he would fit in the Bruins rotation. It is also hard to believe the Islanders would be all to willing to let go of their team captain as they, currently tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference, make a late push for their first playoff appearance since the 2006-2007 season, despite his status as an impending, unrestricted free agent.

If there is an Islanders defenseman likely to move, it is more likely to be Lubomir Visnovsky. Also an impending free agent, Visnovsky is another slick moving, offensive-minded defenseman, who could be used like Streit as a backup for Hamilton, if the rookie struggles. Given his disputes with the team when he threatened to sit out the year and tried to have his trade to the Islanders from Anaheim reversed, likely management feels no deep ties to the 36-year old defensemen.

The Islanders, however, are a younger team on the rise and still in the thick of the playoff hunt, so there would likely be a request for a bigger return for either of their top end defenseman. The better bet for aging, puck moving defenseman would be Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks. Better in his own end and on the power play, Boyle is a far better option than the Islanders’ duo and would have a much better impact on the Bruins than either Streit or Visnovsky.

Though there have been whispers all season the Sharks are looking to move Boyle, San Jose currently sits seventh in the West and would be looking for pieces to put them over the top in return for their top defenseman. Boston does have a wealth of defensive prospects that could be moved, but is any trade worth it for the B’s if their current NHL talent comes into question?

Boyle also comes with another year and a salary of nearly $7 million. The Bruins are already going to have offseason issues with the salary cap coming down for the 2013-2014 season. He would be a great addition, but Boyle is probably little more than a pipe dream.

The upside is Chiarelli should not be spending much time kicking the tires on more offensive defensemen, but looking to solidify his defensive rotation with a stauncher brand of d-man, which makes the idea of the Oilers’ Ryan Whitney, whose name came up on Wednesday as a possible deal the Bruins were looking to make to supplement the foiled Iginla deal, appealing.

Younger at just 30, but still an impending unrestricted free agent, Whitney seems to be on his way out of town after three injury plagued seasons in Edmonton. Seemingly healthy this year, Whitney has been a healthy scratch on seven occasions, so the price tag may be reasonable if the rumors from earlier resurface and a change of scenery to his hometown team could help spark a resurgence in his play.

His stronger style of play in his own end could make Whitney a better option to fill in for McQuaid than Aaron Johnson and a good insurance policy if Boychuk’s injury or Ference’s struggles persist. Though he is a different type of player, Whitney’s eight years of experience could also make him a good option for Julien if the coach decides to scale back Hamilton’s minutes and tighten up the game plan as the season moves towards the playoffs. The best option by far of any rumored in connection with the Bruins.

While he is what the Bruins should be looking for to solidify their blue line, Whitney – or a player of his ilk – alone is probably not enough of an answer for the Bruins. There would have to be additional moves to supplement the Massachusetts native’s acquisition to feel as though the Bruins really had bettered themselves at the trade deadline.

What that move is remains to be seen. Thankfully, however, while Chiarelli might not be able to do much to building an offense to contend with the high powered Penguins, the possibility seemingly exists for the Bruins general manager to upgrade his defense to a point his team has a shot to beat Pittsburgh in a seven-game playoff series.

They might have lost out on Jarome Iginla, but a few strong acquisitions and some fortitude and improved play by their current roster and not all hope is lost yet for the 2013 Boston Bruins.

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