Early projections for Bruins defense pairings with injuries, and when healthy

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The Boston Bruins blue line will be under press pressure early in the 2022-23 NHL season with a couple key players, including No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy, working their way back from offseason surgeries.

The Bruins announced in June that McAvoy underwent a left shoulder arthroscopic stabilization procedure with a recovery time of six months, which means he could be out until early December. Matt Grzelcyk underwent a right shoulder open stabilization procedure with an expected recovery time of five months, meaning he could be back some time in November. Mike Reilly underwent a right ankle tendon repair and removal of bone fragments, with a likely recovery time of three months. Therefore, Reilly should be back in time for the start of the regular season.

Not having McAvoy for the first one to two months of the season is a massive setback for Boston. He's a top five defenseman in the league and arguably the most important player on the B's roster. Grzelcyk's absence will be a significant loss, too, given his offensive talent and contributions to the power play.

What can we expect the Bruins lineup to look like as a result?

Here are our projections for the team's Opening Night defense pairings taking into account injuries, and also what these pairings could look like when the blue line is fully healthy.

Opening Night

Hampus Lindholm--Brandon Carlo

Derek Forbort--Connor Clifton

Mike Reilly--Jakub Zboril

Extras: Connor Carrick, Jack Ahcan

Lindholm is easily Boston's top defenseman with McAvoy out of the lineup, so we should expect him to play a ton of minutes and see shifts in all situations, including special teams. Lindholm has played less than 23 minutes per game in each of the last three seasons. He could be up to 23-25 per game while injuries are hurting the Bruins' blue line depth to begin the season.

Carlo and Lindholm played 20:25 together over 10 games last season, and the results were awful. The B's were consistently outshot and outscored when this duo was on the ice. However, 20:25 is way too small of a sample size to draw any real conclusions from. This pairing deserves a longer leash to develop some chemistry.

Keeping the Forbort and Clifton pairing intact makes a lot of sense. They've developed strong chemistry from playing 529:19 of 5-on-5 ice time together last season. The Bruins fared well in those minutes, too, The B's had a plus-83 advantage in shot attempts, a plus-93 edge in shots on net and a plus-61 margin in scoring chances when the Forbort-Clifton pairing was on the ice at 5-on-5.

With those kinds of results, breaking them up would be foolish.

Zboril is coming back to the lineup after tearing his ACL in a game against the Nashville Predators last November. The 2015 first-round pick was playing well when the injury happened, which made it extra frustrating. He has an enormous opportunity to carve out a regular role in the lineup while McAvoy and Grzelcyk are sidelined to begin the regular season. 

When everyone is healthy

Hampus Lindholm--Charlie McAvoy

Matt Grzelcyk--Brandon Carlo

Derek Forbort--Connor Clifton

Extras: Mike Reilly, Jakub Zboril

This lineup is pretty straightforward, and it's what former B's head coach Bruce Cassidy often used after last season's trade deadline when Lindholm entered the mix. 

Lindholm and McAvoy are a super pairing. They are both high-end talents and compliment each other very well. This duo excels in all three zones and does it against quality competition. 

Grzelcyk and Carlo played the most 5-on-5 ice time together (578:33) of any Bruins pairing last season, and the team carried the pace of play for the majority of those minutes. Grzelcyk's offensive-minded skill set balances out Carlo's stay-at-home, defense-first style. 

Forbort and Clifton are a solid duo, as explained above. You could do a lot worse for a third pairing.

One thing the Bruins need to figure out is their glut of left-shot defensemen. They currently have five signed to NHL contracts.

Reilly is too good to be a consistent healthy scratch. Trading him would free up $3 million in salary cap space and clear some of the logjam on the left side of the blue line. He's the most logical trade candidate from the group. That said, it's tough to trade him when McAvoy and Grzelcyk are out of the lineup. The Bruins will need Reilly early in the season to weather the storm until those two guys return.

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