Addressing Bruins' defense next on Sweeney's to-do list


BOSTON – Trader Donnie Sweeney had a very good day on Wednesday for the Bruins and both trade deadline day and free agent opening day hadn’t always been hallmark moments for the Black and Gold the past decade.

Still, the job clearly isn’t over yet for Sweeney at this point.

The Bruins added a big, strong left wing in Matt Beleskey, capable of scoring 20-plus goals to potentially step in for the departed Milan Lucic, and they upgraded big time from Reilly Smith to 6-foot-6, 221-pound Jimmy Hayes on the right wing. So, the forward group is looking a lot more Bruins-like and the B’s also appear to have their goaltending duo settled after they re-signed Jeremy Smith, the odds-on favorite to be Tuukka Rask’s backup, to a one-year, $600,000 deal.

The Bruins have roughly $8 million in cap space, but they still have to sign restricted free agents Brett Connolly and Hayes. That number also doesn’t count players such as Brian Ferlin and Colin Miller, who could very easily be on the Bruins' NHL roster when training cap breaks in October.

While the Bruins have answered some of the forward questions and replenished their stock of draft picks and prospects with sweeping, bold moves the past week, they also still need an established, puck-moving top four D-man added to the mix.

Sources confirmed to the Bruins were in the mix for Mike Green on Wednesday, but ultimately lost out on the 29-year-old PP quarterback when he signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Now, they must move on to another group of D-men available in free agency or trade and will likely have to move around some salary in order to accommodate any bigger fish like Cody Franson.

Sweeney wasn’t tipping his hand, but also made it clear he isn’t ready to say his work is all done for the summer...nor should he be.

“I don’t know if anybody picks their team, per se, in July. I think you assemble a group of guys you feel confident with, and I think now we’re taking a position where any trade that we look to make, or any player movement we look to make is one that we absolutely want to, and not have to,” said Sweeney. “We have some flexibility now to look at things completely that way going forward. No promises; a lot of balls are still in the air, a lot of players still [need] to get back to their high side of their capabilities, and be excited about being a Boston Bruin.

“That, to me, now, is what the entire focus is about. It’s about wanting to be a Boston Bruin, and hitting your high side to win. Every one of our development guys are going to hear about it, and all the way going forward with all the discussions we have, it’s about being excited to play for us.”

So what do the Bruins do on the defensive side, where Zdeno Chara, 38, and Dennis Seidenberg, 33, are on the decline,where Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid currently rate as your favorites to be top-four defensemen and where Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman and Colin Miller round out a fairly inexperienced crew?

Sweeney said he’s comfortable with what he’s got, but it’s hard to tell whether or not that’s a man bluffing at the five-card stud table.

“I think it is lost a little bit, but we have five of six defensemen returning. Kevan Miller is part of that group of returning, and we missed Kevan last year when he went down with that shoulder injury. He played for an extended period of time with a sling on, and it was admirable of him and that is the type of character and warrior mentality that he obviously brings to the table,” said Sweeney. “I think we have a blend of younger players to go compliment that group to push for the competitiveness that it takes to stay in the National Hockey League at the natural course of development. I have talked about having some patience for players to develop, and then not being impatient in terms of their integration. I think we are at that point.

“The players always identify when they are ready to play in the National Hockey League. Our coaches have to be willing to put them in roles where they are going to be successful. They need to be encouraged when they go over the boards that they can go out and bring what they bring to the table, and when they come back, they aren't going to be ridiculed for making a mistake based on a lot times on inexperience. They need to be encouraged to see the things they do well as opposed to the things they can't do. Because we all go through that, there is not a perfect player. You are always going to make mistakes, just don't make repetitive ones. As a defenseman there is probably a little steeper learning curve when it is involved in that. You look at the progression of Zach [Trotman] and Joe [Morrow] and Colin [Miller] and they are going to fit amongst our group.”

Beyond Chara, Seidenberg, Krug and McQuaid, the remaining four D-man candidates have a combined 132 games of NHL experience with Miller supplying the bulk of that number. They also don’t have another defenseman in that group to pair with Krug as a power play quarterback and D-man capable of producing an offensive season in the 40-50 point range. Maybe Miller can be that guy after featuring a bomb from the point and superior skating speed for the Manchester Monarchs last season, but the AHL is a much different place from the NHL for a young defenseman.

Green was that kind of producer for the Capitals as a right-handed shot and that made him attractive as a candidate to the Bruins staff.

Franson could be that kind of player with Dougie Hamilton-like size to boot, and is also a right-handed shot looking for a big contract. Perhaps he will be a candidate now after not finding a suitor on Day One of free agency. There are other names still kicking around: Johnny Oduya is another interesting possibility from a veteran, toughness and leadership standpoint, but he doesn’t have the kind of offense that Boston needs.

One more intriguing name to keep an eye on: former Boston University defenseman and All-Star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in St. Louis. He has two more years on his deal with the Blues at a reasonable $4.25 million cap hit, is due for a big raise after that and would be the offensive D-man moved by St. Louis for a big return far ahead of Alex Pietrangelo. He’s also just 26, is familiar with Boston from his time with the Terriers and posted eight goals and 44 points last season while topping 22 minutes of ice time per night.

Per a league source, there have been discussions over the past few weeks between the Blues and both the Rangers and Flyers about Shattenkirk, and there’s a fair chance he could be on the move this summer. There is no indication that the Bruins are in on Shattenkirk, but they certainly should be if they aren’t already.

Interestingly enough, the Bruins have shown previous interest in Shattenkirk before, according to one source, and attempted to bring him to Boston as a rookie back in 2010 as part of an expanded deal when they shipped Matt Hunwick to the Colorado Avalanche. So they like the player and he’d be an appropriately good fit for the puck-moving defenseman void left by Hamilton’s departure to Calgary.

One thing is for certain either way: they need to do something with a defensemen group that’s currently being asked to do too much stretching of its abilities to expect its highest level of performance next season.

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