Left-shot defensemen who play 20-plus minutes a night don’t exactly grow on trees. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Boston Bruins are in need of another one.
Matt Grzelcyk has proven he can be that guy, forming a nice combo with Charlie McAvoy on the top defensive pairing. Beyond that, it thins out. Mike Reilly did a good enough job on the second pairing (more so in the regular season), but he’s better off on a third pairing and is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. That leaves the Bruins with John Moore and a number of promising but largely unproven youngsters under contract for next season.
Team president Cam Neely admitted the Bruins will explore the southpaw blueliner market.
“You said, the elusive left D we?ve been looking for that can chew up a lot of minutes,” Neely said Tuesday over Zoom. “Maybe play on the second pairing with Carlo. That?d be more of a shutdown or some puck movement. Some offensive blue line acumen. As we saw, you can never have enough D and we never seem to have enough. For some reason or another, we get banged up. I think our D this year had maybe eight concussions, which is something I don?t know how to combat. But that position is something that we?ve been looking for, for a while. And hopefully we can do something to grab someone that?s going to help maybe play 20 minutes a game for us.”
So, who falls under that umbrella? Let’s look at the potential options.
Vince Dunn, St. Louis Blues
It feels like his name has been in trade talks since he broke into the NHL, but Dunn is a real nice two-way defenseman who is being misused by Craig Berube. And with the Blues at a franchise crossroads, this might be the offseason he actually gets moved.
The 24-year-old averaged a career-high 19:15 ice time per game this season, posting six goals with 14 assists in 43 games. At 6-foot, 203 pounds, he doesn’t add much size, but he’s gifted with the puck on his stick and a solid defensive player despite being undersized.
Dunn made $1.875 last season and is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent. He’ll get a raise this offseason.
Alex Goligoski, Arizona Coyotes (UFA)
Goligoski’s best days as an offensive player probably are behind him, but he was a reliable player for all five years of his deal with the Coyotes. He averaged at least 23 minutes of ice time in all but one season with Arizona, played in every game this season and at least 70 in all the others.
He will be 36 by the time next season starts, and also is on the smaller side (5-foot-11, 185 pounds). However, he probably won’t get a $5.475 cap hit on his next deal, and his game hasn’t shown many signs of decline.
Goligoski isn’t the most proficient goal-scoring blueliner, but he does a fine job getting pucks through traffic and has proven to be good for at least 30 points most seasons. Getting him on a short, cheaper deal could be a nice move for a team trying to keep its championship window open.
Alec Martinez, Vegas Golden Knights (UFA)
His stellar performance in the postseason might price him out of a lot of teams’ plans, including the Bruins. He’s been that good, outshining perhaps all of his defensive teammates on a Vegas team loaded with talent on the back end.
But he has everything the Bruins would want. Not only is he a left shot that plays a ton, but he comes with a bunch of playoff experience and is adept in all areas of the ice.
Again, his postseason showing might earn him getting a raise — possibly a substantial one, at that — from his $4 million salary now. Depending on how high the price goes, Martinez, who will be 34 at the start of next season, could be exactly what the Bruins have in mind.
Jamie Oleksiak, Dallas Stars (UFA)
Now that his career has been revived in turn No. 2 through Dallas, Oleksiak might be an under-the-radar guy who checks a lot of boxes for the Bruins.
He became a 20-minute blueliner this season for the first time in his career, and he held up well enough. Oleksiak played in all 56 games, recording six goals with eight assists across 20:15 ice time per game. The defense is good, not great, but certainly suitable, especially if he was on a pairing with, say Carlo.
The Bruins seem to value size, and Oleksiak at 6-foot-7, 255 pounds offers that. His cap hit with Dallas on his now-concluded three-year deal was just over $2.1 million, and he could be a lower-cost option for the Bruins who still gives them what they need, even if he does get a raise.
And, just imagine the size on an Oleksiak-Carlo pairing.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes)
This was a road the Bruins went down last offseason, but nothing came to fruition. Ekman-Larsson has a huge contract with trade protection, and he only wanted to go to the Bruins or Vancouver Canucks last year. It’s unclear if his desires have changed, or if the Coyotes, who have a ton of cash coming off the books this offseason, even want to trade OEL.
But if they do, and the price has gone down at all over the last year, there might be some sense in at least revisiting the conversation. Though never a true shutdown guy, Ekman-Larsson has proven to be a great skater that knows how to score.
Ekman-Larsson historically has had to shoulder a heavy load on his pairing, which obviously should go with the territory when your salary is $8.25 million, but putting him with a Carlo or Charlie McAvoy could free him up. That approach worked when the Bruins added Taylor Hall and told him he didn’t need to do it all, and it potentially could work with OEL.
The problem becomes money, and if the Bruins — now awash with cap space but with a number of noteworthy guys to sign — don’t want to bring such a huge deal on the books, then Ekman-Larsson quickly is out of the picture.