(Above Photo Credit: nhl .com )
By: Jesse Jiminez Follow Me On Twitter @Jessemedscience
It’s no secret the Boston Bruins are interested in acquiring Colorado Avalanche star center Matt Duchene. Reported asking price? A young top-4 defenseman. For Boston, that would be 20-year old Brandon Carlo, a price worth paying.
Ok — Hold the pitchforks and homemade Molotov… and let’s take an objective look at why this makes sense for the Bruins.
There are various variables when considering a trade of this magnitude. The state of the franchise, cap implications, organizational depth, core roster, and player projection.
As of today, it is safe to say the Bruins are in excellent shape moving forward on all of those fronts. Boston has one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL and has as many as six rookies with legitimate shots at making the opening night roster. It’s a testament to the dedication Don Sweeney, and the front office has shown along with the willingness to commit to the process without deviating from it. It’s been evident through recent drafts that the Bruins staff do their homework on each individual player — Going off the board with many of their picks. It’s clear they have developed a formula for evaluating and projecting talent as Zach Senyshyn and Jake DeBrusk have proven. Their philosophy is apparently working and has helped shape the future of the Bruins franchise.
( Above Photo Credit: nhl .com )
That being said, let’s be realistic here, not every prospect, as talented as they may be will be putting on a Bruins sweater. In a sense, through their careful and patient development process, the Bruins have created a prospect logjam — A luxury most teams would salivate for. This is what happens when so many players are close or ready to make the jump to the NHL. This is not a negative, of course, as it only illustrates the strength of the organizational depth that has been established. What it also brings to light is the flexibility with roster moves. Due to the plethora of talent, the Bruins have accumulated over the last three years they’re in great position to make moves to improve the club today without affecting the future.
Boston has been involved in various trade rumors, but no name has been as prominent than Matt Duchene, especially in recent weeks. The speculation has stirred up mixed reactions from the natives as Brandon Carlo’s name does not seem to go away in trade discussions. Now, I may have started a war on Twitter earlier in the week when I suggested (pretty adamant, actually) I’d trade Carlo for Duchene, no question. But Before you reach for the Louisville Slugger let me make the case…
Defensemen are notorious for their slow development, and many don’t mature until they’re 25-26 years old. There are very few players at the position that can step right in and make an impact at such a young age — “But Carlo had a great year Jesse”… Yes and no. Carlo had a tremendous start to his rookie year; through the first 30 games, the young defensemen logged an average of 22:22 TOI with a respectable plus/- of 7. Clearly, a pleasant surprise for many as he was projected to start the year in the AHL while Rob O’Gara had the inside track early in camp. However, things began to go south, and as many young players do, Carlo seemed to hit a bit of a rookie wall. For the remaining 52 games, Carlo’s ice time took a big hit due to poor play, coming down from 22:22 TOI to 19:50 TOI. As a result, Zdeno Chara’s workload increased dramatically. Chara averaged more than 24-TOI 15 different times during this stretch including 7 games of 26-TOI or more. Not ideal for a 40-year old defenseman whose season-long endurance was tested down the stretch as the Bruins looked to get back into the playoffs.
( Above Photo Credit: nhl .com )
It was evident Chara’s increased ice time illustrated some of Carlo’s flaws and deficiencies. This is not a knock on Carlo, he’s 20 years old, playing in the NHL in one of the biggest hockey markets. However, it does remind all of us that playing defensemen in the NHL is not a small task and it takes time to develop the vision, hockey sense and positioning at this level. So how long is too long? 3, 4, 5 years? Long enough to eat through the precious prime years of Bruins core players such as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Tuukka Rask. Is missing this 5-year (or so) window, with this current core group, worth the price of developing defensemen who some scouts believe won’t be more than a top-4? And who some believe there’s not a big gap between him and Rob O’Gara talent wise? To me, it’s an easy ‘NO.’
The Bruins are in a position of strength despite their lack of RHD in the system. I get the argument against trading Brandon Carlo, but Matt Duchene is a unique player with unique skills, same cannot be said for Carlo. The addition of Duchene to this current roster (assuming Bjork and McAvoy excel) will make Boston’s top-6 as dangerous as there is in the NHL. The speed, the vision, the creativity are all attributes Sweeney is looking for in a player. What else helps? Duchene’s versatility and ability to play the wing — And oh, by the way, he’s left-handed, a need given the lack of lefty-centermen on the Bruins as pointed out in a recent article by WEEI’s Ty Anderson. Despite being on horrendous Avalanche teams since starting his NHL career (except 2013-2014) Duchene has managed to average 22-goals and 53-points, including 17-goals and 43-points in just 47 games during the 2012-2013 season. His explosiveness allows him to separate himself from defenders in open ice and he’s able to make something out of a ‘nothing-play’ with his keen hockey sense. Duchene exhibits ‘game-breaking’ ability, an element the Bruins got a taste off this past season from David Pastrnak.
Players of Duchene’s caliber don’t become available often, and the Bruins have put themselves in a position to strike a deal for the former 2009 3rd-overall pick. One main fear of fans is the possibility of Carlo coming back to haunt the Bruins, developing into a top defender in the league. Valid concerns by passionate fans but highly unlikely if you consider a few things. The environment in Colorado is unstable, and the roster does not have the veteran presence to provide the support structure has currently been receiving in Boston, most importantly by Chara. In turn, his development trajectory would theoretically take a step back, suppressing his impact at the NHL level. Not saying Carlo won’t become a good player, I honestly believe he will, but his development in Boston is accelerated because he’s surrounded by the right situation from management all the way down to the players.
Another concern by the Boston faithful has been the cap situation and if the Bruins will have the flexibility to extend Duchene after his remaining two years are up. Making things a little more interesting are the contracts of both Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson whose ELC’s would be expiring at the same time. If McAvoy is anything we saw during the playoffs he could command $5-$6.5mill/yr, creating a terrible situation for the Bruins…or would it?
According to capfriendly.com the Bruins currently have $12,975,655 in cap space. Assuming David Pastrnak’s deal is around $6mill/yr the Bruins will roughly have $7million remaining with 19 players signed. Of course, there is every intention from Don Sweeney to add a couple of bodies on short money which would most likely leave the Bruins with a projected cap space of $3-$4million. There’s still some flexibility there, and rumors continue to swirl on Boston trying to unload Matt Beleskey ($3.8mill) and Adam McQuaid ($2.75mill) contracts to create even more breathing room.
Looking further down the road, the Bruins are projected to have $22mill in cap space with 13 players signed in 2018-2019. It may not sound like a lot considering you need to round out the roster but keep in mind most of the players, again assuming the kids pan out, will be on their entry-level deals. A way to provide relief would be signing players to bridge deals which will bite the Bruins some time to re-evaluate the roster and create space as needed. All in all, I am not as concerned as most, but I also admit I am naturally optimistic about things in general.
Don Sweeney and the philosophies in which the Bruins are operating in have suckered me in. I trust and believe in the process and if that means giving up Brandon Carlo for Matt Duchene, then heck, I am all in…in fact, I’m doubling down…
Jesse “The Dominican PuckHead”