Quick: What’s the Bruins’ biggest area of need for the regular-season stretch run and into the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Yes, there technically are areas in which they could make marginal improvements, but there is no glaring need on Boston’s league-leading team. That fact alone made Thursday night’s trade with the Washington Capitals all the more impressive for the Bruins.
Don Sweeney technically didn’t need to make a trade. However, in acquiring defenseman Dmitry Orlov and forward Garnet Hathaway from the Caps, Sweeney further solidified his group as the team to beat in the NHL this season.
Not only did Sweeney add depth (and perhaps even an upgrade) at two important positions. He also did so without sacrificing too much in return. That’s no slight at Craig Smith, either. The sharp-shooting Smith performed well for a bulk of his Boston career, but finding a fit for him on this team became difficult. And while it’s never easy to part with a first-round pick, the Bruins are in a position where they can afford to take that risk, especially if it’s a move that puts them over the top.
No one can earnestly make that declaration at this point, only time will truly tell, but adding Orlov and Hathaway to this roster does have the feel of the rich getting richer.
Both Orlov and Hathaway could make meaningful impacts in Boston, but it’s Orlov who is the prized pick-up. The Russian defenseman can handle his own at both ends of the ice. One of his biggest selling points is his ability to post. Orlov has played 82 games in a season four times and missed just six contests last season. He spent rare time on injured reserve earlier this season with a lower body injury, but he appears healthy now.
Orlov is averaging 22:43 of ice time per game, which is his second-highest usage rate in a single season for his career. He might not be called on as much in Boston, but knowing he can log top-pair minutes certainly helps. Three goals and 16 assists is a bit of a production drop-off, especially after registering a career-high 35 points last season. But Orlov can move the puck and was getting about a minute of power-play time per game with Washington.
Defensively, Orlov has at times played above his 5-foot-11, 214-pound frame. He can defend in his own zone, as evidenced by the Caps’ continued willingness to start him in the defensive zone over the last two seasons. Despite that, Orlov’s puck-possession metrics remained relatively steady, and that’s the sort of thing that should improve with a better group of forwards in front of him. That he logged 24 minutes per night while starting nearly 60% of his even-strength shifts in the defensive zone during the Cpaitals’ 2018 playoff run tells you the confidence he inspires in his own end.
As for Hathaway, he certainly gives off vibes as the sort of player you hate to play against but love having on your own team. He certainly isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty, as the Bruins can surely attest. He has been a downright pest at times during B’s-Caps games over the year. Bruins coach Jim Montgomery on Thursday credited him for his “snarl.” If there were areas for the Bruins to improve, size and toughness likely made the list. Hathaway, 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, checks both boxes.
Hathaway likely slots in as a bottom-six forward, giving the Bruins some depth in part because of his ability to play either wing. He has some offensive touch, coming off a career-high 14 goals last season, but his biggest contributions should come in his own zone. Hathaway is a defensive-minded forward, who could ultimately take some of that pressure off more offensive-minded linemates and free them up further flourish with the puck on their sticks. More than 85% of his zone starts this season have come in the defensive end, so any offense (9-7-16 totals in 59 games) is a bonus. Hathaway also kills penalties, adding even more value for Montgomery as he sets his lineup.
Ultimately, the Bruins added two players who perfectly complement a group that already has high expectations and lofty goals. To do so without having to part with any of their prospects is gravy. The move gives Boston plenty of options moving forward. The B’s could ultimately stand pat and roll with one of the deeper rosters in the league. They could also look at other ways to tailor the roster by trading some of their depth before the March 3 deadline.
Either way, the Bruins are better now, and that should be a scary thought for the rest of the NHL.