December 28, 2013

Seidenberg's experience, reliability will be tough to replace

By Jesse Connolly

Dennis Seidenberg tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee late in the Bruins' 5-0 win over Ottawa on Friday night at TD Garden. (Photo: Sharon Bradley/New England Hockey Journal)

Throughout the month of December, the Bruins have repeatedly proven how immeasurably valuable organizational depth is over the course of a season.

Boston’s seen its fair share of regulars sidelined by injuries over the past four weeks, from wingers Loui Eriksson and Daniel Paille to defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Adam McQuaid. All the while, the Black and Gold have remained atop the standings in the Atlantic Division, as call-ups from Providence have held the fort down – or, in the case of Ryan Spooner, made a strong case to stick around if/when the team’s fully healthy – and helped the B’s continue to rack up points.

On Saturday, however, the Bruins learned they’d be forging ahead without Dennis Seidenberg for the remainder of the campaign, as the blueliner suffered an ACL/MCL tear in his right knee in a game against the Senators the night prior. The recovery time is slated to be 6-8 months.

GM Peter Chiarelli and Co. have stocked the pipeline effectively and enabled the club to call upon reliable stop-gaps and up-and-comers that have sufficiently filled short-term voids, but the Bruins certainly don’t have anyone down on the farm that can truly replace Seidenberg for the entire second half of the season and in the playoffs, where he’s been a perennial stud.

The 32-year-old, German-born defender sees the second-most ice time among all Bruins, clocking in at 21:50 per game. He’s led the club in blocked shots by a sizable margin every season since arriving via trade from Florida in 2010, and was tops on the Black and Gold with 66 through 34 tilts this year.

A key member of the league’s third-ranked PK, Seidenberg has been a tremendous asset throughout the Bruins' two recent Cup runs, logging over 26 minutes a night in 50 playoff tilts over the past three seasons.

For the time being, Zach Trotman has been called up to the big club, following the emergency recall of David Warsofsky (Marshfield, Mass.). Trotman will be looking to make his NHL debut. Warsofsky has appeared in three contests this month.

Here’s a look at how many games of NHL playoff experience the Bruins blueliners possess without Seidenberg, who’s appeared in 69 postseason contests:

1. Zdeno Chara (129)
2. Johnny Boychuk (67)
3. Adam McQuaid (54)
4. Torey Krug (15)
5. Dougie Hamilton (7)
6. Matt Bartkowski (7)
7. David Warsofsky (0)
8. Kevan Miller (0)
9. Zach Trotman (0)

If you’re looking for some positivity, you can take solace in the fact that the Bruins used that exact same top six early in the second round when Seidenberg and Andrew Ference were sidelined last spring – a series in which Boston swept the Rangers to move on to the conference finals.

The big question is this: Could they have made it to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final relying on that same group for the entire postseason? Could they do so in 2014?

In all likelihood, Chiarelli will waste little time sizing up the market to gauge what kind of options he might have before the NHL's trade deadline on March 5. Reliable top four defensemen – and, let’s be honest: Seidenberg is the Bruins’ clear-cut No. 2 – are extremely hard to come by, especially when so few teams are genuinely out of playoff contention when the time for dealing is done and there are still a good chunk of games left on the slate.

One name that immediately jumps to mind is Chris Phillips, who the Bruins have pursued in years past. The 35-year-old rearguard has spent all 1,112 games of his NHL career in Ottawa and said earlier this month he hopes to finish up his playing days as a Senator. Ottawa’s underachieved in the first half of 2013-14 and currently sits six points out of a Wild Card spot.

Phillips, an unrestricted free agent at year’s end, would bring experience and shot-blocking prowess to Boston, and be able to log top-four minutes on the back-end.

Then again, the same could possibly be said of Trotman, who’s leading Providence with a plus-11 rating, or the McQuaid-like Miller, should he be re-summoned to Boston. But the fact remains that the Bruins are now without a true workhorse that’s proven capable of shutting down the league’s brightest stars on the game’s biggest stage.

No matter how talented the prospect pool may be, soldiering on without a remarkably reliable rearguard like Seidenberg for the long haul is a big blow for the Black and Gold.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ