Dennis Seidenberg had little more than a cameo appearance in Boston last season, but he made enough of an impression for the Bruins to want to keep him around for another four years.
Seidenberg came to Boston at the trade deadline and made an immediate impact on the Bruins' defense, but his season was cut short — literally — by an errant skate blade in Toronto after just 17 games.
The tendon damage in his forearm has been repaired and Seidenberg is now eager to show the Boston faithful just what he can do in a full season.
"I definitely like it here," said Seidenberg after the season. "I enjoyed playing here when I played, which wasn't too long. But it was fun playing here. Just playing in front of a full house every day, [with] knowledgeable fans and playing for a good team. Playing in Florida is different. You don't have all these people, a full crowd like you have here."
Seidenberg clicked immediately with Zdeno Chara on the Bruins' top defensive pairing, and Seidenberg was quick to credit Chara for much of the pair's success.
"I was paired with one of the best D's in the league," said Seidenberg of playing with Chara. "The whole experience was pretty fun."
Seidenberg no doubt benefited from playing with Chara, as most defensemen are helped by playing alongside the former Norris Trophy winner. But it shouldn't be ignored that Chara's play also improved dramatically upon Seidenberg's arrival. Chara was a minus-3 in the 23 games before the trade, but posted a plus-11 rating and played some of his best all-around hockey of the season in the 16 games he was paired with Seidenberg.
Seidenberg's addition helped fix the failed Derek Morris experiment. Morris wasn't horrible after he was signed as a free agent last summer, but he never quite meshed with Chara the way the Bruins had hoped. Seidenberg, however, proved a near-perfect fit, providing some of the same attributes that Aaron Ward brought to the pairing during Chara's Norris campaign the previous year.
Like Ward, Seidenberg is a fearless shot blocker and an effective hitter, playing sound positionally in a shutdown role. But unlike Ward, Seidenberg showed more of an offensive upside that can help fill the void of a true puck-mover on the Bruins' blue line. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli noted that Seidenberg is in "the category of shutdown defenseman," but went on to add that he shouldn't be pigeonholed in such a role.
"Dennis is more than that," said Chiarelli after re-signing Seidenberg to a four-year, $13-million deal ($3.25 million cap hit). "He has the ability to do that and more, which is what made him attractive to us. [He] is strong, defensively sound, moves the puck well from a good defensive position, but I think you've also seen his ability to make a very good pass. He's got a very good one-timer. He sees the ice well. He pinches in the offensive zone. So he has the ability to play that [shutdown] role and that's first and foremost why we got him, but we knew there were other facets of his game."
In his brief run in Boston, Seidenberg did show some offensive abilities that had been largely untapped in his previous NHL stops. He posted 2-7-9 totals in the 17 games, which would put him on a 43-point pace for a full 82-game season. His career high is just 32 points, which he collected in 79 games split between Florida and Boston last season.
Seidenberg added that offensive element without sacrificing anything defensively. He led the NHL with 215 blocked shots, including 36 with Boston, while finishing with 166 hits (33 with Boston). He was also a plus-9 with the Bruins, finishing a plus or even in 16 of the 17 games he played for Boston. Still, he's not satisfied with his performance.
"I think there's always room for improvement," said Seidenberg. "Everybody strives for perfection and it's no different with me. I want to be a better, [more] consistent player, to work well every game. I think that's the hardest thing to do as a player."
The Bruins want to see what having Seidenberg around for every game will mean for the club as well. They already got a look at life without him after his injury, and while Johnny Boychuk played well filling in alongside Chara in the playoffs, the Bruins are obviously a better team with Seidenberg logging big minutes on the blue line.
"I think we missed Dennis," said Chiarelli. "Dennis, I think was a very solid defender who could move the puck well. Strong, strong player. Having Dennis in the mix pushes down other defenders and allows them to have better matchups, so we missed him."
The good news is that Seidenberg's wrist checked out fine before the Bruins finalized the new deal in June. In fact, Seidenberg said after the Philadelphia series that he was within 7-10 days of returning and would likely have been available in the conference finals if the Bruins had advanced.
Seidenberg hopes he'll still have the chance to show what he can do in the playoffs in the coming years, and having him around for a full season should help the Bruins give him that opportunity.
"I'm excited to be part of this organization and I think Boston is a great town, a great hockey town," said Seidenberg. "The guys are great, and the future for our organization looks really good with all these young guys coming in and us being pretty young and having a good mix between younger and older guys. We ought to be really competitive the next couple of years. I can't wait to start next season and the next four years to be part of all that."