|Rusney Castillo signs with Red Sox for 7 years, $72.5 million||Connelly’s Top Ten: All-Star Starting Pitchers, Medal for Frates, Weekend||Video: Angels’ Garret Richards Blows Out Knee vs. Red Sox||The Mishandled Career of Jackie Bradley Jr.|
While no one can deny that all of the awards and accolades Bruins goalie Tim Thomas received after last season’s historic Stanley Cup run were all very well-deserved, I’m here to tell you that hey, the guy didn’t do it all on his own.
Without the talents of the Bruins’ “blue line brigade,” the team would not have spent all summer drinking from Lord Stanley’s cup, I can tell you that much. Tim Thomas had an unbelievable season, but it was certainly with the help of some stellar defense from Big Z and the rest of the Boston defensemen.
This week, in our second positional preview heading into the season, we highlight this year’s crop of blueliners. Many of the names are the same, but with injuries a near certainty in this brutal game we all love, you know the team’s defensive depth will be tested sooner or later. Let’s now take a skate up and down the Bruins’ roster of defensemen, young and old…
The captain was intrumental in this team’s romp through the playoffs last year, both on and off the ice. Big Z’s leadership helped steer the way, and his physicality really cannot be matched. As the tallest player in the league, Chara is able to squash most opposing forwards like bugs. He is always matched up against the opponent’s top forward line, tasked with shutting down the biggest talents in the NHL, and on most nights, the captain is up to that task. Offensively, his 44 points were sixth most on the team and most among Bruin defensemen. His eight power play goals tied Michael Ryder for the team lead, and helped Chara get yet another nomination for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top blueliner. Chara wasn’t given the Norris this time around, but didn’t leave the postseason awards show in Vegas empty-handed, after receiving the Messier NHL Leadership Award. While Chara is getting up there in age now at 34, he is known around the league as one of the most well-conditioned athletes in the NHL, so we can expect much of the same top-notch play from the captain in 2011-12 and still for years to come.
What’s not to like about Dennis Seidenberg? I mean, this guy is the ultimate competitor, and he is such a work horse. Paired with Chara through much of the playoffs last season, Seidenberg and Big Z teamed up to be nearly unstoppable, protecting their own zone from offensive attack. After missing the 2010 playoffs due to injury, Seidenberg came back to tie for the team lead in games played at 81 (tied with Mark Recchi and Chara), setting a new career high with his seven goals and tying his career high for assists with 25. The German’s roster spot with Boston is safe and sound for as long as he’d like to stay here.
Ference seems to be a “love him or hate him” kind of player, and for a long time, he was right at the top of my hated Bruins list, especially after signing what seemed at the time to be a contract way above his head (3 years at $2.25 million annually). But then last season happened, and I grew to appreciate what Ference brings to the team. He isn’t going to light up the score sheet… he’s never had more than four goals in a single season… but in terms of being a true “defense-first” defenseman, that is where his true talents lie. Is he undersized? At just 5′-11″ and 189 lbs, sure he is, but you wouldn’t know it by the tenacity and grittiness he displays on the ice. Like Big Z and Seidenberg, Ference’s roster spot is etched in stone.
The 34-year-old veteran Corvo joins his fifth NHL team this season, basically swapping spots with the departed Tomas Kaberle, who signed a multi-year deal with the Hurricanes in the off-season. While Corvo may not bring to the table the same skill set on the power play that Kaberle brought (or was supposed to bring), he will bring some scoring punch with him at even strength. He was the leading scorer among Carolina defensemen in two of his last three seasons with the ‘Canes, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t give Chara a run for his money for the top blueliner spot on offense for the B’s this season. He’ll be a nice fit on this team, with good size, good talent both offensively and defensively, and just a good veteran presence overall. There’s no doubt Corvo’s got a roster spot locked up, likely among the top two defensive pairings.
McQuaid is the type of gritty player that just gets under the opponents’ skin. If he’s not on the team you’re rooting for, you probably can’t stand him. Like Ference, McQuaid won’t rack up a lot of points offensively, but in his first full season with the B’s big club last year, I challenge you to find a better physical presence on the back end than McQuaid. And of course, the youngster isn’t afraid to drop the gloves and mix it up, ranking only behind enforcer Shawn Thornton and physical winger Milan Lucic, with 96 penalty minutes. His talents were not lost on the Boston front office either, as the team liked what they saw from the 24-year-old so much, they inked him to a new three-year contract extension in the off-season, a deal that will keep McQuaid in Black and Gold through the 2014-15 season. There are only more good things to come from Adam McQuaid in the coming years. In my book, he is one of the most underrated and underappreciated Bruins on the roster.
If anyone’s roster spot is unsafe among last year’s starters, in my mind, it’s Johnny Boychuk’s. Look, we all know he can rifle a shot from the point like the best of the best. But that quick-moving shot turned into what, three goals last season? He is very average in the defensive zone, always apt to turn the puck over at inopportune times, and so if one of the “Baby B’s” youngsters rises and shines during training camp enough to warrant making the big club, it’ll likely be “bye-bye” to Boychuk. He’s got a lot to play for, this being a contract year, so maybe that will be enough incentive to elevate his game, but in my mind, the B’s may be better served with someone else filling the sixth spot in the B’s six-pack of D-men.
If you didn’t jump on the Bruins bandwagon until their playoff run, you probably have never heard of Steven Kampfer. The youngster from the University of Michigan appeared in 38 games with the big club early in the season, before being shelved with a lower body injury that kept him off the playoff roster. Kampfer, who will turn just 23 this month, likely has the best odds of ousting one of the top six guys and stealing their roster spot. I like what he can provide offensively, and he’s not a liability on the back end either. This kid has a bright future, and hopefully that future is played here in Boston.
The Pittsburgh native made a half dozen appearances for the B’s last season, starting his NHL career playing two games against the team he grew up cheering for, the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Bartkowski had nothing to show for it on the stat sheet, the little we saw of the Ohio State product was promising. At 6′-1″, he has a good amount of size, and he could battle fellow CCHA rival Wolverine, Kampfer, for a spot at the bottom of the Boston blue line depth chart.
This will be the prospect that the locals will be rooting for the most. Warsofsky grew up in Marshfield, down on the South Shore, he attended Cushing Academy for high school and Boston University for college, and now he’s trying to crack the lineup of his hometown team. It’d make for a great story no doubt, but the 21-year-old is probably headed to Providence again for at least another season or two, and rightfully so. The stars will have to align, and some of the starters will have to go down with injury, if Warsofsky is going to skate on Causeway Street this season.