Finally, the NHL Expansion Draft is over, and analysts can now assess how teams will bounce back from the loss of some very important players. Will teams utilize the free agent market to fill the voids left by the players who were chosen by Vegas? Will some organizations opt to make blockbuster moves in the wake of the Expansion Draft in order to address certain needs? Obviously, the answers to these questions will entirely depend on the unique situations in which each individual organization finds itself. In the Boston Bruins' case, they can survey several options to choose from. The loss of right-handed defenseman Colin Miller to the Vegas Golden Knights is certainly not a devastating blow to the Bruins' overall mission to retool the roster, and return to serious contention for a long Cup run. Although Miller's presence and adept puck skills will be missed, the B's can overcome this setback by either standing pat with their roster, trade for an experienced defenseman, or utilize a developing defenseman in the farm system.
Throughout the 2016-2017 season, the Bruins found the most success with their defense with a third pairing of two right-handed defensemen, both Kevan and Colin Miller. Meanwhile, the Bruins' top four defensemen were gradually solidified: Chara and Krug on the left side, with Carlo and eventually McAvoy on the right side. This top 4 is commonly expected to be Boston's top four defensive pairings on opening night of the 2017-2018 season. That makes the third defensive pairing a wild card with the absence of Colin Miller. Boston's decision to protect Kevan Miller in the Expansion Draft would seem to imply that he has locked up a position on that third pairing. If playing a right-handed defenseman on the off hand worked last season, why not try it this season? Theoretically, the Bruins could place either Miller or Adam McQuaid on the off-hand on the third pairing. It's certainly questionable how the two players would perform together, as they play the same shutdown defensive style, and are not known for being the most skilled puck handlers in the league. However, playing these two defensemen on the same pairing could prove to be a sufficient band-aid solution to the glaring absence on the third pairing roster spot. This decision would buy the Bruins a year of time to let their surplus of young left-handed defensemen grow in their respective development leagues in the hopes that one may be ready to fill the void in 2018.
Another option for the B's is to trade for an already developed and proven NHL defenseman. Many names have been recently thrown around in the media buzz surrounding trade rumors, perhaps most notably in the Bruins' case is the Minnesota Wild's Jonas Brodin. Brodin is a 23 year old left-handed defenseman who is generally placed on the Wild's third pairing, but realistically has the potential to slot into the second pairing when necessary. The Wild are interested in selling their surplus of players because of their tight salary cap predicament, and Brodin's almost $4.2 million cap hit certainly is not helping the organization. Brodin would undoubtedly add stellar depth to the Bruins' defense, but it may not be in the Bruins' best interest to spend time dwelling on Brodin. With his young age and hefty contract, Brodin is the kind of player that is usually a long-term investment. If the B's have to surrender a number of assets to secure the Minnesota defenseman, then they may as well get Brodin's worth out of the trade by banking on him long-term. With that in mind, you have to realize that the Bruins have spent a lot of time deepening the prospect pool on their left-hand side with acquisitions such as Jakub Zboril, Rob O'Gara, Jeremy Lauzon, Matt Grzelcyk, and several others. Some of these prospects are expected to break into contention for an NHL roster spot in no time at all, and if even just two of them earn a crack at the big club, they would quickly render Jonas Brodin obsolete in the Bruins' system. Who knows if any of these prospects could really compete with Brodin in a couple of years for a roster spot? However, taking into account the significant price the Wild are asking for Brodin, I would suggest that acquiring him is an unwise decision for Bruins management given our plethora of future considerations in our prospect pool.
Finally, the Bruins could also test free agency to see if they can sign any defenseman worth giving a roster spot to for a year while the organization's prospects develop further. Honestly, I don't believe that any of the defensive free agents on the market this year are worth signing at all. None of them are really worth their (in some cases) astronomical asking price, and they would most likely not make a significant impact on the Bruins' play.
After taking that all into account, I think that it will be in the Bruins' best interest to give one of their developed left-handed defenseman a chance at the NHL level. This decision would obviously entail some downside, such as having to deal with the imminent growing pains of a young defenseman, but at the end of the day, I feel as though following through with the progressive development of young guns can have the highest reward, as the Bruins' system will become ingrained in the player's style. Also, you obviously do not have to give up any current assets to call up a prospect, as you might have to in a trade, and there's no need to overpay a prospect who will likely be on a very cheap entry level contract, unlike a free agent. Overall, if the Bruins dedicate themselves to following through with the development of their farm system, they show players that they are committing their time to developing them to one day play in the NHL, and that commitment can do wonders to drive prospects to perform to their potential.
The opinions expressed in this piece are my own. Above all, I believe the best way to learn is discussion, so please feel free to comment your own opinions, ideas, and feedback!