The next Bruins blue line is taking shape.
A season after they let Zdeno Chara walk, the Bruins defense corps will look different once again. Veteran Kevan Miller announced his retirement on Wednesday morning following an injury-plagued career. Hours later, they announced a six-year extension for Brandon Carlo.
Charlie McAvoy, a likely future Norris candidate, is due for a new contract after next season. Matt Grzelcyk is signed for three more seasons. Those two — with Carlo — are still their core, at least for now, and ideally in the long term.
Brandon Carlo – D
23-24: $4.7M Base + $1M Signing bonus
Years 3 & 4: 10 team no trade list
Year 5: 8 team no trade
Year 6: 3 team no tradehttps://t.co/aj1MfqNaBk
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) July 14, 2021
Sans Miller, they have a few options.
One of Jeremy Lauzon or Connor Clifton will likely be poached by the Kraken in the upcoming expansion draft. Jakub Zboril flat out didn’t work out when given a chance. Urho Vaakanainen is still a question mark.
Likely, the Bruins will have to look to the free agent market to fill the rest of their defense.
Ryan Suter just became available after the Wild bought out his contract. Especially with Miller gone, the Bruins could use help on their left side, and he’d be an affordable option for a guy who still plays 20-plus minutes.
In Carlo’s presser after his extension, he expressed a desire to play with a puck mover. The Bruins could get Suter to play with McAvoy and put Grzelcyk alongside Carlo.
Suter, though, is 36 and the Bruins have been somewhat reluctant to add age to their blue line, such as not keeping Chara a year ago for a lesser deal than they gave Miller. After Zboril and Lauzon didn’t prove ready to larger roles, though, they could have a change in philosophy.
Free agent Jani Hakanpää could be an option to replace the physical element of Miller’s game. A solid defender on a second or third pairing role, Hakanpää was traded to the Hurricanes at last season’s deadline as a part of the Hayden Fleury deal with the Ducks.
Jamie Oleksiak and Jake McCabe are other potential fill-ins to the Bruins defensive depth, depending on how much they want to shake it up. Oleksiak plus Hakanpää could make for a difficult to penetrate bottom four of the defense; however, Oleksiak might price himself out of how much the Bruins are willing to do, especially if they sign another defenseman, too. They have the cap space to do it, if they want, especially if they sign David Krejci and Tuukka Rask to team-friendly deals.
Then, of course, there’s the possibility they keep Mike Reilly. Reilly, acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline, looked like a solid fit in his regular season showings. He was an additional puck mover to Grzelcyk with an aggressive approach. The postseason, though, exposed him a bit.
Bringing Reilly back, especially on significant term, somewhat limits how much the Bruins can bulk up their defense.
The Bruins have a lot of options, and they won’t fully have an idea until the expansion draft passes next week. The flat cap won’t last forever so they have to be careful, especially with a McAvoy contract coming up, but they have the space to make something work for now.