With Craig Smith returning Saturday, the Boston Bruins finally are getting healthy for the first time this season.
But with that comes increasingly difficult lineup decisions — and one that will have to be tackled in the not-too-distant future is where Trent Frederic fits into the equation. Frederic still seems like he’s a little ways off from returning after getting leveled last Tuesday on a Josh Brown hit.
It has taken Frederic a little bit to get going this season, and unfortunately for him, it was in the games leading up to the one he got hurt in that he was starting to find his mojo.
With everyone healthy, it seems like Tomas Nosek will center the fourth line, with Curtis Lazar to his right. That basically leaves Anton Blidh, Karson Kuhlman and Frederic to vie for the final spot in the lineup. Due to all the injuries, Blidh has gotten opportunities on the third and fourth lines recently, although the slew of absences had basically made the bottom six interchangeable.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy seemed to like what he’s seen from the 2013 sixth-rounder.
“Anton’s always going to give you what he has, every time,” Cassidy said Tuesday. “Had some good forechecks situations the other day, plays a straight line game. Anton’s a good player when you have the lead, or early on when you’re trying to establish a forecheck or where you have to maybe have to double up guys.
“The offensive part isn’t there yet, he shoots the puck very well, he just doesn’t have the confidence yet to handle traffic, I guess, or shooting, a little bit of that goes into it. That wasn’t his strength anyway in the American League , he can add secondary offense, but that’s where we’d like to see his game grow. … He’s been an edgy guy for us, and when he goes in you know what you’re going to get.”
Then, Cassidy delivered what has become apparent about Blidh.
“He likes to annoy people.”
All things being equal, that ability to annoy might give Blidh the edge over Frederic right now. Perhaps the book isn’t out on Blidh yet, so teams don’t yet know how to handle him, but it seems opponents are having a better time not being goaded into letting Frederic get under their skin. Last season, whether it was P.K. Subban or Alex Ovechkin, even Tom Wilson, Frederic could annoy anybody and everybody. It made him a lineup mainstay, even with limited offense.
He hasn’t been able to do that as much this season, while Blidh has. Last Thursday, you could tell he was really agitating the typically easygoing Darnell Nurse in Boston’s loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
In many ways, the numbers (which we got from Natural Stat Trick) support Frederic over Blidh.
— Frederic has a 49.41% Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 this season, while Blidh’s is 36.07%.
— In terms of expected goals percentage, Frederic is 42.87%, while Blidh is 37.06%.
— The caveat in this is Blidh has been buried with defensive zone face-offs this season, with 16.67% of his zone starts coming in the offensive end to Frederic’s 28%.
— Lastly, Blidh has 43:13 5-on-5 time on ice this season, and in that time has been on the ice for one goal, with zero conceded. Frederic has 100:13 TOI, on the ice for three goals against with one for.
So, what does all the mumbo jumbo mean? Basically, the Bruins have controlled play more often when Frederic is on the ice than Blidh, however Blidh has far more often been used in situations where he’s starting his shift in the defensive zone. What should be weighed more is an eye of the beholder situation.
What that seems to hint at is Cassidy trusts Blidh in the heavy-defensive role. If that’s the identity they’re looking to establish on the fourth line, then Blidh helps set it.
If the Bruins know they aren’t going to get a ton of offense from their fourth line left wing, Blidh has proven he can hold his own in the NHL. He’s not much of a fighter, which in the eyes of some is a deterrent, but he’s a plenty physical player (as we always say, ask Roman Josi) and might presently present an upgrade over Frederic.
The overall take is this: Frederic has a higher ceiling but lower floor. Blidh has a higher floor but lower ceiling. If the Bruins aren’t expecting a ton of offense from that spot, but rather want the fourth unit to be a responsible, hard to play against checking line, then Blidh should be the guy for now, even when Frederic is healthy. That said, you couldn’t blame Cassidy for wanting to take his chances on Frederic knowing how impactful he can be, especially with a better offensive angle to his game.