The Bruins need to add, not subtract, to their defense.

Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

Anderson: Closer than they think, Bruins must resist trading Brandon Carlo

Ty Anderson
June 13, 2017 - 2:51 pm

The NHL season has come to an end with the Penguins capturing their second Stanley Cup in as many years, and it won’t be long before the league’s yearly tradition of copying the Cup finalists gets underway.

For teams vying to be like the Penguins, all you need are two all-world centers. But if you don’t have an extra Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin hanging around your organization, perhaps the Predators’ blueprint -- with two straight-up incredible defensive pairings and strong three-zone play expected from all four lines -- is more your speed. The latter, despite the effectiveness of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci as the club’s one-two punch down the middle for close to a decade now and with two Stanley Cup Final appearances (including a win in 2011) to their name, is most definitely where the Black and Gold find themselves. And though the Bruins are not yet at the level of a Nashville -- a team with Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis all seemingly in the prime of their professional careers and without breaking the bank beyond repair -- they’d be straight-up dumb to mess with the long-build that’s pushed them closer to a Nashville than the Penguins model they’ll simply never be able to match.

In other words, any deal the Bruins make between now and the start of next season should focus on building around that strength, not moving it out of town to instead address weaknesses elsewhere.

For years, the Bruins fought to identify and develop the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara.

And then when they got it, or at the very least thought they got it in Dougie Hamilton, Hamilton’s unrest and displeasure with the organization sent that plan down the toilet (and Hamilton to Calgary), and with Chara three years older. Left to salvage the remaining years of a Good to Great Chara, and at the same time find that next guy to hand the torch off to before No. 33 officially hung his skates up, it was perhaps the worst situation for the Bruins to find themselves in. Jakub Zboril was the immediate response to the Hamilton fallout, but he’s yet to even skate in a pro game (not that that’s something you can realistically hold against the Czech defender), and his ceiling remains relatively unknown. At the NHL level, longshot projects like Zach Trotman fizzled with greater exposure, and the revolving door only made things worse.

But the B’s did find something in Brandon Carlo.

The teams that the Bruins attempted to trade with knew that, too.

This was really the crux of the matter when it came to non-deals the Bruins made with both the Jets (for the once-disgruntled Jacob Trouba) and Avalanche (for Gabriel Landeskog or Matt Duchene) last year, as each team seemed hellbent on Bruins general manager Don Sweeney sending the first-year pro Carlo out of town. I mean, it was as a 19-year-old that Carlo chipped in with six goals, 16 points, and averaged over 20 minutes per game (20:48 to be exact, sixth-most among rookies) while going up against the top competition the game had to offer, as he was the right-side complement to the still-effective Chara.

Brandon Carlo was a fit next to Zdeno Chara last season.
Stan Stezo/USA Today Sports

Trading Carlo was always a no-go for Sweeney given how valuable he already was as a teenager on the B’s first pairing, and that value and importance to the B’s will only grow as the 6-foot-5 defender does.

Carlo is not yet a face-of-the-franchise type of defenseman, and for all we know, he may never be. But in a game that’s become so predicated on having defensemen with size and a strong skating game, Carlo’s early promise is worth further building upon. And in Boston, Carlo is already an integral part of a defense that’s increased in value, with the ever-improving Kevan Miller, Torey Krug (a career-high 51 points a year ago), and the high-ceiling of Charlie McAvoy -- the 19-year-old stepped into the fire of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and proved capable -- already on the roster. And there’s also the fact that Chara, who has expressed in interest in playing beyond his current contract (he’s not sure if 42 or 45 is his age ceiling as a player), which ends next summer, becomes a value for the B’s beginning next season, at just $4 million.

Having a cost-controlled defense (Krug is the most expensive d-man the B’s have beginning next season, at $5.25 million) is just as important as having an elite defense. They almost have to go together, actually.

So, to move an affordable piece for a high-priced gamble seems like the last thing the Bruins should do.

But! But! The Penguins -- y’know… the team that beat the Preds to win the Stanley Cup -- took a gamble on Phil Kessel and it’s more than paid off. Kessel, who counts for $6.8 million against the cap, came to the Penguins from a straight-up disaster in Toronto. The Penguins have probably gotten their money’s worth from the Kessel trade, as No. 81 has only scored the most goals among playoff skaters in the last two seasons, with 18 goals and 45 points in 49 playoff games for the Penguins. Only Crosby and Malkin have more points over that span, and nobody has more goals. Oh, and the Pens have won two Stanley Cups in as many seasons with Kessel on their roster. That ‘revival’ could happen with the acquisition of a Duchene or Landeskog, sure. Or they could continue to fall flat on their face.

What’s often lost is the Kessel the Champion discussion, is that he’s always been an elite talent. Even in Toronto, when he didn’t have a premier playmaker feeding him pucks, Kessel produced, with at least 25 goals in every full season in Toronto. And in Kessel’s lone playoff year during his six-year tenure with the Maple Leafs, Kessel was a machine, with 20 goals and 52 points in 48 regular-season games, and then four goals and six points in the club’s seven-game, round one series loss to the Bruins.

The same cannot be said for either player the B’s would move Carlo for in a possible trade with Colorado.

Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog remain on the trade block.
Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports

Landeskog has seen his production straight-up plunge in three straight seasons. He went from a career-high 65 points in 2013-14 down to 59 points the next season. He then went from 59 points down to 53 points. And then came a 20-point drop this past season, with a career-low 33 points. And it’s not as if he went from logging top-line minutes to skating as the 13th forward. The salary has not dropped with the production, either, as Landeskog counts for $5.571 million against the Avalanche cap through 2021.

Duchene, meanwhile, has been among the most unpredictable talents in the league, with an average of an eight-goal increase or decrease from season to season, with his most extreme variables coming in the last three years, with a nine-goal uptick one year and then a sharp 12-goal decrease this past season. Again, the pay does not vary, as Duchene is locked up at $6 million for another two years.

Kessel, they are not. Worth shifting your organizational slow-build for, they are not.

In fact, it would be tough to justify almost any deal that strictly subtracts from the defense while adding a forward. If a deal comes, be it because of expansion or otherwise, it seems like one that needs to be based on upgrading or building around this strength, not taking away from it to help a spot that could by all means solve itself if and when the club’s deep pool of offensive prospects have their say come camp. And it will always be easier to find an impact forward. even in a fill-in situation, than it would be to acquire an impact defenseman, as the B's former frustrations can attest to.

So, given the choice on banking on a future title through revival hopes like the Pens did with Kessel (and others), or through a bolstering of a defense like the Preds, the Bruins simply must pick the latter.

It is, after all, without a doubt their quickest path to ‘copying’ the success of either finalist.

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