The Matt Bartkowski story is simple, yet complicated: The Bruins somehow got him in the process of ripping off the Panthers in a trade for Dennis Seidenberg, he was the last cut on the team that won the Stanley Cup and since then he’s developed into a serviceable NHL defenseman.
And nobody ever knows whether he’s in or out, traded or kept.
As Bartkowski’s new one-year, $1.25 million deal was announced by the team Tuesday, those things still aren’t certain. The Bruins believe they have nine NHL defensemen right now. Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Seidenberg, Dougie Hamilton and Johnny Boychuk are locks for the lineup as long as they aren’t moved. From there, it’s Bartkowski, Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid and David Warsofsky battling for one lineup spot and the extra D spot.
All of those guys can’t be here by the time the season starts. They simply can’t.
Training camp competition is one thing, but having a boatload of NHL-ready defensemen – especially when there are guys getting closer to ready at the AHL level in Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow – is impractical when some of them can be moved to fill other needs in the organization.
The fact that it’s public knowledge that the Bruins tried to trade him two seasons ago for Jarome Iginla makes Bartkowski a logical candidate to be moved in the right deal. Then again, if they move one of their pricier blueliners, Bartkowski is a pretty good bargain to keep for a million and a quarter.
“I think it’s only just a hindrance to worry about where you’re going to end up and all that,” Bartkowski said Tuesday. ‘You just prepare for what you can, and the team you’re on, and if something happens, it happens. It’s out of our hands, so like I said, there’s really no reason for me to worry about it. I just try to focus on my summer workouts and being as ready as I can for next season.”
If Bartkowski stays and the five aforementioned locks are in Boston and healthy, playing time will be tough to come by. Depending on whether lefties Seidenberg or Krug are tried on the right side, there might not be a spot in the lineup for the left-shooting Bartkowski.
That would be a tough blow for Bartkowski for multiple reasons. For one, he played 64 NHL games last season, so a big cutback in playing time would hurt his progression. He’ll also be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, so being an extra defenseman would hardly translate into a pay day.
Of course, things happen. Remember, a season ago, the Bruins were only occasionally rotating him into the lineup before an injury to Seidenberg catapulted him not only into the lineup, but onto the second pairing.
“When I say I expect to play, that’s what I expect out of myself,” Bartkowski said. “It starts from having a good summer and being in shape coming into camp. You have to expect it out of yourself. Otherwise, what’s your motivation? What are you playing for? You want to be able to help the team every way you can, and I think expecting that of yourself to be able to play and be able to play well, night in, night out, is the best thing you can do.”
So many times, Bartkowski has looked destined to be the odd man out. Yet he keeps finding a way to see the ice, making him both a valuable trade chip or a player they might want to keep around.