Bruins: The Thin Blue Line

By pbadmin

by Derek Cheng

Despite having an all-star future Hall of Fame defenseman and a Vezina Trophy finalist, the Bruins still
had a very tough time keeping the puck out of their own net last season. They really need to improve their
defense if they want to start winning hockey games.

The promise of a free agent spending spree this summer has brought in limited help on defense with regards to some
of the higher-profile names available on the open market. The only signing thus far has been 33 year old Peter Popovic.
The Bruins did manage to re-sign Don Sweeney, which was deemed vital, since he is the most experienced Bruin and one of the few who played well last season.
But, with Popovic aboard and Sweeney back in the fold, there is only one difference between the 00-01 blueline and the 99-00 blueline.
Four defenseman remain from last year (Kyle McLaren,Darren Van Impe,Hal Gill, Sweeney) and the new face, Popovic,
replaces the legendary face of Ray Bourque. Popovic doesn’t even come close to comparing with Bourque offensively,
but he may be able to give Boston a steady stay-at-home defenseman the Bruins were sorely lacking last season.
Although the defense unit may prove to be adequate, if McLaren stays healthy and consistent and Gill learns to use his size,
there is still one more hole that needs to be plugged. The Bruins need another regular to fill out the top 6 on defense.
GM Harry Sinden may go after another free agent defenseman to fill the opening, but they don’t come cheap and it is still to be seen
if owner Jeremy Jacobs is ready to open his wallet and spend some of his loose change and make a winning team.
If the Bruins don’t go after another defenseman in the Free Agent market, they will look to one of their highly-touted prospects
to step in and contribute.

The free agent market is being described as rather bleak this year, especially on defense. But for the Bruins, there
are a number of high quality defensemen who could fill in nicely. Only Kevin Haller, Sean Hill, Vladimir Malakhov, Sylvain Cote
and Lyle Odelein have signed with new teams leaving guys like Matthew Schneider, Shawn Chambers, Larry Murphy, Kevin Dean and former
first-round pick Scott Lachance still available. Any of these players would bring considerable depth to the Bruins blueline, but
could hinder the development of such prospects as Jonathan Girard and Nick Boynton.

Here is a list of quality defenseman still available in the Free Agent market:

Matthew Schneider: Played under Pat Burns in 95-96. His 12 year NHL career may be in its declining stages, but he still possesses
the ability to fuel the power play. An early candidate to join the Bruins, Schneider, 31, may have lost out to Peter Popovic. Schneider
would provide the Bruins with some offense and is quite capable of tending the defensive zone as well. He may also be seeking
something around $3 million, which may be why he has not signed with the Bruins.

Larry Murphy: His stellar 20 year NHL career is coming to an end. Murphy only has 1 or 2 years left in him, but he can still provide
lots of offense. Murphy has always been a well-rounded defenseman, capable of playing at both ends of the ice. At 39 years of age, Murphy’s
most valuable asset would be his experience and leadership. He could help youngsters such as Boynton and Girard make the transition to the big leagues.

Shawn Chambers: An injury sidelined him for just about all of the 99-00 season. If not for the injury, Chambers, 34, would have likely
played another all around solid season. He possesses a good hard shot that is useful on the power-play and he is strong in his own end. Chambers
has never played a full season schedule in his 13 year career as multiple injuries have kept him out of the lineup. A two-time Stanley Cup winner in New Jersey
and Dallas, Chambers would bring the heart of a champion to the Bruins lockerroom.

Scott Lachance: A former first-round pick (4th overall) of the NY Islanders. Lachance, 28, has played 9 decent seasons in the NHL.
He is a stay-at-home defenseman who would add grit and depth to the Bruins defense corps. Lachance doesn’t have much offensive talent and the
Bruins already have 4 defenseman (McLaren, Sweeney, Gill, Popovic) who are strong defensively. It is unlikely the Bruins would seek another defense-only
player, especially for $1.5 million a season.

Dave Manson: He has a hard, accurate shot and used to be somewhat of an offensive defenseman, but has specialized more in the defensive aspect
in recent years. Manson, 33, scored only 1 goal in 63 games last season. His lack of offense will likely keep the Bruins from making an offer.

The Bruins’ alternative to seeking another million dollar defenseman via free agency is to hope for the development of at least one of
their highly-regarded prospects. Two-time first-round pick Nick Boynton and bluechip prospect Jonathan Girard are the most likely candidates for promotion,
but the Bruins still have a handful of other youngsters with great potential. Among them are minor league all-star Brandon Smith, hard-hitting Martin Grenier,
and two late round picks from the 2000 Entry Draft, Jarno Kultanen, and Pavel Kolarik. The Bruins also picked up a couple more solid prospects in this year’s
draft that will help this team in the future. Boston’s first pick (7th overall) was Lars Jonsson from the Swedish Junior League. He is an elite prospect
who has a lot of offensive talent. The Bruins also added to their future blueline depth with picks like Finnish bone-crusher Tuukka Makela, Czech product Zdenek Kutlak
and another Swede, 6-5 winger Andreas Lindstrom. Realistically, Jonsson and most of his fellow 2000 draftees are still a couple years away from the NHL, but they give
Boston a bright and exciting future.

Blueline prospects who will compete for a position this fall:

Nick Boynton: Memorial Cup MVP in 1999. Boynton, 21, is one of the more likely candidates to join the Bruins this season. Boynton’s development hit a couple of
bumps last year when he was diagnosed with diabetes. Boynton also ran into a number of other injuries and had to deal with family issues as well. In his first pro season,
Boynton notched 5 goals and 14 assists in 53 games in the AHL; not spectacular numbers, but he is still an offensive specialist bound to quarterback the Bruins power play someday.
Boynton also knows his own end very well and many scouts were impressed by his sound defensive play. He possesses a hard, accurate shot and knows how to move the puck quickly
and efficiently. Boynton made his NHL debut last season when Boston was hit by injuries. In his first game, Boynton seemed a little confused and out of synch, but did
not make any terrible mistakes. Coach Pat Burns then increased his ice time to a little over 20 minutes and he became more confident and steady. As Boynton becomes more
accustomed to the pace of an NHL game, he will learn to use his offensive skills more effectively and become a dangerous defenseman, comparable to Scott Niedermayer or a
defensively sound Sandis Ozolinsh.

Jonathan Girard: Selected 48th overall in 1998. Girard has been with the Bruins organization for 2 years and has been a final cut in each year. Because of his age,
he was allowed to be returned to the Junior Leagues. But Girard quickly proved that he did not belong there as he dominated in every game he played. Last year, Girard saw
action in three different uniforms. He stayed with Boston for 25 games, scoring his first goal and assisting on two others, before being sent down to Providence on a 5-game conditioning stint.
Girard was then returned to his Junior club, the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. With Moncton, he recorded an eye-popping 10 goals and 25 assists in 26 games. Girard has played his
last game in the juniors and if he does not crack the Bruins lineup this fall, he will be sent to Providence to hone his skills. Girard is pencilled in as Boston’s top
offensive defenseman.

Brandon Smith: Smith has been a minor pro player since 1994 when he joined AHL’s Adirondack team (Detroit Red Wings minor league affiliate). Smith signed with the Bruins in ’98 hoping
for a chance to prove himself. Smith got that chance at the end of this season, when the Bruins were hit by injuries. Smith showed great poise and played a smart two-way game,
proving that he does indeed belong in the NHL. Nevertheless, he may have a difficult time earning a regular spot on the Bruins lineup with the acquisition of Popovic.

Martin Grenier: The only defenseman acquired for Ray Bourque. A virtually unknown giant defenseman until he was part of the blockbuster deal that sent Bourque to the
Colorado Avalanche. Grenier’s size is his most valuable asset and the fact that he knows how to use every inch of his 6-5, 235 pound frame makes him good prospect. Grenier also
possesses a hard shot and his long reach could help make him into a decent offensive player as well. At 20 years of age, it is likely Grenier will spend some time on the farm before
moving into a permanent spot with the Bruins.

Jarno Kultanen: Selected 174th overall in the 2000 Entry Draft. Kultanen, 27, is a late-bloomer whom the Bruins hope can follow the footsteps of Mikko Eloranta. Kultanen just
finished his 4th year with Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League. Kultanen has good size, 6-2, 198 and is a defensive defenseman who also has a little flair for offense. Kultanen has put up
pretty good numbers for a defenseman in the Finnish Elite League. Kultanen has a good shot and passes the puck well. If he is kept on the roster he will likely be a 6th or 7th defenseman.
If not, he’ll see plenty of ice time on the farm in either Providence or Greenville(ECHL).

Pavel Kolarik: Taken 268th overall in the 2000 Entry Draft. Kolarik, 27, is another European veteran the Bruins feel can compete for a position in the fall. Kolarik played for
Slavia Praha of the Czech Republic Elite League last season and recorded 5 goals, 3 assists and 38 penalty minutes in 52 games. Kolarik is a strong skater and a steady defender. He has
good size, 6-2, 207, and handles the puck quite well. Kolarik played with former Bruin Vladimir “Rosie” Ruzicka, who spoke very highly of him. Kolarik adds depth to the organization’s defense.