Senators Get Defensive
More defensive additions will have to be made if the Senators are going to improve substantially from last year’s 3.35 goals allowed per game average, ranked 30th in the league, but they did take a quantum leap in that regard when the Ottawa headlines read, Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins Going to the Ottawa Senators. The Senators certainly needed goaltending and Matt Murray is a good one as evidenced by his pair of Stanley Cup rings while in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins had committed to 25-year-old, Tristan Jarry, who outplayed Murray last season and ended with a 20-12 record, a 2.43 goals-against average, and a .921 save percentage, culminating in an All-Star selection. Jarry’s reward was a $10.5 million deal to backstop the Penguins over the next three seasons.
That left Murray as trade bait and the Senators were happy to oblige by sending 20-year-old prospect and their 2018 fourth round selection, Jonathan Gruden, as well as a second-round pick to the Penguins for his services. Murray was plagued by injuries last year and it manifested in a .899 save percentage, the lowest of his career.
“We would like to thank Matt for everything he’s done in his five seasons with the Penguins,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. “He was instrumental to our back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships, and we wish him the best.”
This will be a fresh start for Murray, who played a crucial role in Pittsburgh’s most recent Stanley Cup titles, and when healthy, is amongst the top goaltenders in the league.
“He’s a proven goaltender who has considerable high-pressure experience and someone who we’re certain will serve as an exceptional mentor to our young group of upcoming goaltenders,” said Senators GM Pierre Dorion.
Bruins at a Crossroads
The return to action in the bubble did not go as planned for the Bruins. Prior to the reset, Boston led the league in points but when the three-game round robin commenced with the other top teams in the Eastern Conference, their play was sluggish and had none of the chemistry that propelled them to the top of the standings. When it was over, Boston had lost consecutive games to Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Washington.
Nevertheless, the B’s needed only five games in their opening-round series with the Carolina Hurricanes to advance to the second round against the Lightning. Despite winning Game 1, the Bruins would drop the next four to the eventual Stanely Cup champions, and bow out of the playoffs in rather meek fashion, and without their starting goalie, Tuukka Rask.
Boston will have to do the offseason housekeeping expected of every club but the first hammer dropped when diminutive defenseman Torey Krug took the money and ran to St. Louis. Although Krug had defensive lapses at times, he was a firebrand on the ice and an offensive force both on the power play and in five-on-five situations.
Another fixture on the Boston blueline over the past 14 years is captain, Zdeno Chara. The 43-year-old future Hall-of-Famer has expressed a desire to play one more year and it appears the Bruins would be willing to accommodate that request.
“No, we’ve again communicated consistently with Zdeno and (agent) Matt Keator,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Oct. 17. “We’re just waiting for him to initiate what he’d like to do moving forward. I feel very comfortable allowing that to take the necessary time and let Zdeno … make the decisions along that route.”
Sweeney has not been too active in the offseason but has signed, Craig Smith, a 31-year-old forward who tallied 18 goals and 13 assists over 69 games for the Nashville Predators last season. He is projected to be paired on Boston’s third line with center Charlie Coyle and left winger Anders Bjork.
He also locked up defenseman, Matt Grzelcyk, to a four-year, $14.75 million pact. The 26-year-old is another small yet speedy defenseman, much like Krug, and has spent his entire career in Boston since being drafted as the 85th pick overall in the 2012 NHL Draft.
“I think he’s proven he can play in really any different position on the left side,” said Sweeney. “He’s had a consistent partner in Kevan Miller over a period of time, he’s slid in and played with Brandon [Carlo], certainly with Charlie [McAvoy] in offensive situations. It might just depend on the matchup the coaches feel comfortable with moving forward. I think his ice time has been fairly consistent, even strength, over the last three years.
“And we’ll continue to look at advantageous positions that we can put Matt into to help our transition game, get him involved in the offense…. we feel comfortable in the way our right side is built now and the depth and the different personalities that we have there that Matt can play with anyone.”
Nevertheless, the Bruins will have to do more than stand pat. Don Sweeney will need to get bigger on defense and replace Krug’s firepower at the point. If things stay as they are, the Bruins will be playoff contenders but Stanley Cup pretenders.