By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
As the Bruins approached the break in their schedule prior to the NHL All-Star game and beyond, it was obvious by the lineup changes instituted by head coach Bruce Cassidy that the B’s brass recognized that the lack of focus and physical fortitude displayed by his club needed to be addressed.
After jettisoning both Brett Ritchie and David Backes – both of whom never played to even close to the level that general manager Don Sweeney mistakenly thought they would when he signed both busts – John Moore and Joakim Nordstrom joined Par Lindholm in the press box for the Bruins 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at the TD Garden last Tuesday night.
In their place on the Garden ice were Karson Kuhlman – who was returning from a broken bone in his right leg – Jeremy Lauzon and Anton Blidh as Cassidy looks to add a little more energy and physicality – not to mention adding a little heat to the undercarriages of the underperforming veterans – as the sprint to the playoffs is set to begin when they resume play Friday night in Winnipeg against the Jets.
“I’ll be very open – we decided a couple of weeks ago or whatever it was that we needed a little more internal competition. Usually, that starts from the bottom up,” said the Bruins bench boss following the victory before the break.
“We identified some guys in Providence that were playing well. [Blidh] was one of that was hurt at the start of the year that we were going to look at in training camp.”
What Cassidy didn’t say – but has intimated several times during his team’s malaise that began just prior to Thanksgiving – is that his club needs more toughness or the likelihood of making back to back trips to the Final this spring is highly unlikely.
For as much energy and enthusiasm that the Baby B’s may interject short-term, neither Blidh or Lauzon are the missing physical presence that could propel the Stanley Cup runner-ups to a sustained playoff run this spring.
What Sweeney’s team desperately needs is a proven player that demands respect of members of the other team simply by strapping on his skates and hitting the ice. No current NHL skater fits the bill better than the Knights’ Ryan Reaves.
For the past couple of weeks, Jesse Granger of the Athletic who covers the Vegas club has been calling for the addition of a puck-moving defenseman to help transition the offense from the defensive end, something that the team has greatly lacked this season.
It just so happens that the Bruins might have a perfect match in Matt Grzelcyk at their disposal.
For lack of a better term, the 26-year-old Charlestown native is a Torey Krug-lite type of blueliner. A smooth skater who can make accurate passes or skate the puck out of his own zone, he has also shown the potential to become a powerplay quarterback if given the opportunity.
While undersized – 5’ 9” and 175 pounds – the Boston University product is more than adequate in his own zone and carries a cap hit of $1.4 million this season. The offensive orientated D-man will become a restricted free agent at the end of the year, and therefore he will remain under the Knights’ control next summer.
The 33-year-old Reaves – who is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season – comes directly from central casting when it comes to the Black and Gold’s needs. At 6’ 2” and 225 pounds, the hulking forward would provide the deterrent that Cassidy’s club is sorely lacking when it comes to opposing teams taking previously unopposed liberties against his top offensive talent.
And if the addition of someone like Blidh – whose ceiling appears to be a physical fourth line scrapper, at best – coupled with his $700,000 salary for this year and next, the 24-year-old would be a throw-in that would be a piece the Vegas brass would have to consider to send Reaves to Boston.
The NHL’s silly season heading up to the February 14th trade deadline is about to begin in earnest. That being said, there is little that frivolous about Sweeney and the Bruins brass pursuing an asset like Reaves if they are truly intent on making a real run for a Cup this spring.