Trading for Keith Yandle when he was making $6.5 million didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Boston Bruins.
But now that he’ll be a free agent, his potential fit with the Bruins is worth revisiting.
The Panthers on Thursday bought out the veteran defenseman, who had fallen out of favor in Florida. The story with Yandle, a 34-year-old Milton, Mass. native, remains the same. He’s a gifted offensive player who can be a liability on defense.
So begins the debate about what to value most when assessing how a Yandle-to-Boston idea might work.
With Torey Krug departing last season, the Bruins didn’t generate a whole lot of offense from the blue line, especially when Matt Grzelcyk was unavailable. Yandle immediately would become either the best- or second-best offensive defenseman on the Bruins, offering sound puck moving with the occasional ability to find the back of the net.
But Bruce Cassidy plays a defense-focused system. Players that are abject liabilities on the defensive end typically have to be elite offensive players in order to hack it with the Bruins. Perhaps playing in that type of system will get more out of Yandle. Conversely, if he continues to struggle on defense, then he could sandbag his partner.
Then there’s the question of where he would fit.
Yandle is a far more effective player when he’s getting sheltered on a third pairing. The problem for the Bruins is that their third pairing with Kevan Miller retired will probably feature Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, John Moore or Connor Clifton.
Of that group, Lauzon is the best at putting out fires, but last season he was prone to mistakes. Zboril is a puck-mover who was at his best with a stay at home partner. Moore struggled last season before undergoing surgery and too often has gotten burned defensively. Clifton’s aggressive style of play might not jive well with someone like Yandle.
The Bruins could take something of a risk and put him with Charlie McAvoy, but then there’s the possibility of any offensive upside from Yandle getting torpedoed by how much slack McAvoy is picking up on defense. The Bruins should be playing to McAvoy’s strengths, not making him just bail out his partner.
Yandle could go with Brandon Carlo, who might ultimately represent the best fit, but still would have to face some first and second lines.
Point being, if the Bruins went the Yandle route, there would need to be some trial and error with figuring out where he goes and what he actually can provide on defense. He’s a horse though, playing in every game since the 2009 campaign while averaging 21:31 ice time with Florida the last five years. For a Boston team that dressed 11 different defensemen because it was getting decimated by injuries, that’s worth something.
Cam Neely readily admitted the Bruins are eyeing a two-way, left-shot, minutes-eating defenseman. Those guys don’t exactly grow on trees, and the Bruins might find themselves needing to go with somebody who checks some, but not all, the boxes. They have a collection of more defensive-minded defenseman, perhaps it’s time they go for more of a point-getter. And if he arrives on a cheap deal, that would make Yandle worth the risk.