The Bruins lead the Atlantic Division by 4 points. The trade deadline is more than three months away. The Providence-to-Boston shuttle — or, in the case of David Warsofsky and Nick Johnson, a trip from Glens Falls, N.Y., to Ottawa via Providence — is filling in the holes that riddle the varsity lineup.
Time and depth are on the Bruins’ side. They are in no rush to make a deal.
But at least one will be coming.
The Bruins, internally and via the trade market, will not find a replacement for Dennis Seidenberg. The No. 2 defenseman, ruled out for the year Saturday because of a demolished right knee (torn ACL and MCL), touches the game in every situation.
In the playoffs, Seidenberg plays against top-line forwards. The left-shot defenseman switches to the right side. Seidenberg is paired with Zdeno Chara. Before their tanks ran dry in the Stanley Cup Final last season, they were the shutdown defensemen nobody wanted to face. But it is management’s imperative to acquire a veteran defenseman who can provide at least some of Seidenberg’s qualities.
Assuming the Bruins’ run of ill health stops short by the playoffs, they should have another roster ready for a run at more rings.
Tuukka Rask is a Vezina Trophy candidate. Chara is the NHL’s most feared shutdown defenseman. Their top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Jarome Iginla is the kind of heavy-duty, playoff-hockey unit that should be sponsored by Caterpillar. The Western Conference is loaded with Cup-worthy teams in Chicago, Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. The Bruins and Penguins, both racked by injuries, appear to be the only legitimate troublemakers in the East.
But the current crew will need help. Matt Bartkowski, the left-shot defenseman most similar to Seidenberg, doesn’t have his mentor’s pedigree of consistency. Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid are right-shot defensemen. Torey Krug is a lefty, but is a puck-moving, power-play specialist.
The trade market, especially among Eastern teams, has yet to develop. Ottawa’s Chris Phillips would be a trade target for the Bruins. Phillips will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Phillips is a stay-at-home left-shot defenseman. General manager Peter Chiarelli knows Phillips well from his days as Ottawa’s assistant GM. Chiarelli acquired Chris Kelly, Phillips’s former teammate. This past summer, Chiarelli took a run at former Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson.
But Ottawa, which claimed a 4-3 win over the Bruins Saturday night, isn’t ready to swing a sledgehammer at the roster. As of Sunday, the 10th-place Senators were just 1 point out of the East’s top eight.
Andrej Meszaros, also UFA at the end of the year, also could be a trade possibility. Meszaros was Chara’s partner in Ottawa. But the Flyers, who couldn’t get their engine to turn over at the start of the season, are back in the playoff race.
The Bruins have assets they can put in play. Their more valuable prospects — youngsters with top-six, top-four, or No. 1 potential — include Alexander Khokhlachev, Jared Knight, Zach Trotman, and Niklas Svedberg.
Only three days earlier, the Bruins wanted to see how Svedberg fit in their plans. The team recalled the Swedish goalie from Providence Friday. An audition would help determine how the Bruins would address their goaltending situation.
The Bruins would not have added a third goalie if they were satisfied with Chad Johnson as Rask’s backup. Johnson is 6-3-0 with 2.34 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. They are respectable numbers. But Johnson’s untimely goals against, most recently a backbreaker in Buffalo Dec. 19, have not inspired confidence.
So Saturday morning, before Seidenberg’s status was finalized, Johnson was planning to be a healthy scratch for the second straight game. Johnson and Shawn Thornton remained on the Canadian Tire Centre ice long after their teammates hit the showers.
“It’s a young guy coming in and getting an opportunity,” Johnson said of Svedberg following Saturday’s morning skate. “They haven’t seen him play at this level. It doesn’t really affect me. I’m just going to go do my usual thing and take care of myself to get ready if there’s an opportunity to get in and help the team win. That’s where my mind’s at. I’ve been in every situation, it seems like, in my career from going up and down. The biggest thing is to worry about yourself.”
The Bruins will need their backup, whether it’s Johnson, Svedberg, or an acquisition, to play important minutes. It’s possible that Rask could be Finland’s ace in the Olympics. If so, Rask will return with an Olympic workload and travel to and from Sochi on his odometer.
Following the Olympics, the Bruins and their opponents will compete in a season-ending sprint that could create more carnage than the last lap at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Bruins play 17 times in March, including six sets of back-to-back games. They will close out the regular season with seven games in 13 days in April. They’ll need to ease Rask into the playoffs.
“They’re going to be compressed,” said coach Claude Julien, Saturday morning, of the post-Olympic schedule. “You always have a better idea, when you see a goaltender play, how much confidence you have in giving Tuukka more breaks. We’ve seen Chad play. Now we want to see Sveddy play. We’re going to have to manage some stuff here in the second half with some of those guys going to the Olympics.”
The catastrophe would be if Rask broke down. Like most teams, the Bruins are not prepared to be without their No. 1 goalie in the playoffs. They already will be down their second-best defenseman. It’s why help on defense and in goal is required.
. . .
The Bruins assigned Trotman, Warsofsky, and Nick Johnson to Providence Sunday. Trotman and Johnson played in Providence’s 5-4 win over Springfield Sunday following their assignments. The Bruins’ next game is Tuesday against the Islanders. They are likely to recall reinforcements before then.