No team learned more about the importance of blue line depth last season than the Boston Bruins. The team used a dozen different defensemen during the 2018-19 campaign, ten of whom played at least 16 games but none more than 72 games. Injuries kept the Bruins in a constant state of flux on the back end, even throughout their long playoff run.
Well, they’re not out of the woods yet. With a new season about to begin, a pair of Boston defenders are still struggling to make their way back to full health. The Boston Sports Journal’s Conor Ryan has learned from GM Don Sweeney that John Moore will not be ready for the start of the season and Kevan Miller still does not have a set timeline for a return. Moore underwent shoulder surgery earlier this summer after playing through the injury late in the regular season and through the playoffs. Miller suffered through a slew of injuries last season, skating in just 39 regular season games, but missed the stretch run and postseason with a lower-body injury that apparently still ails him. Miller will resume skating soon, but it would not be a surprise if he remains limited through training camp and possibly beyond.
Fortunately, having learned their lesson, the Bruins have maintained impressive defensive depth heading into the 2019-20 season. All twelve defenseman who played last season remain under team control, including Steven Kampfer, whose surprise two-year extension earlier this off-season now looks like an important move by Sweeney and company. The team was also impressed by young rearguard Connor Clifton, who proved he can be a regular contributor with strong late season and postseason play. Promising prospects like Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jakub Zboril also got a taste of NHL action last season and should be ready to play a larger role if necessary. On the off chance that the younger players don’t look ready in camp, the Bruins also enlisted capable veteran Alex Petrovic to join the team on a PTO.
Of course, the bigger depth concern than Moore and Miller remains the unsigned status of elite young defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. Both restricted free agents are waiting for new contracts, along with numerous other young players this off-season. While the Bruins have acknowledged that talks are moving slower than they’d like with the duo, the team remains confident that McAvoy and Carlo will be Bruins for a long time. Maneuvering a tight salary cap window is the reason behind the stalled negotiations, but if Moore and possibly Miller land on injured reserve to begin the year, it would open up some more cap space to sign McAvoy and Carlo without making a trade. Nevertheless, a trade is still a strong possibility and Miller, if healthy, continues to be one of the more talked-about candidates.
Assuming McAvoy and Carlo are signed to begin the season, the Bruins would still have a stout unit even without Moore and Miller, with Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, Clifton and Kampfer ready to go. However, given the team’s injury luck of late, particularly on the blue line, the Bruins will be happy to have Moore and Miller back as soon as possible to further reinforce that depth.