The Bruins identity has always been built around a strong defence. This identity is about to have a youthful overhaul. Gone is an ageing Ference, partly because of his age, but also because of the lowering salary cap. But any fan could have seen this coming. Chiarelli likes to re-up his core players before they reach their UFA date. Not re-signing Ference early was the writing on the wall for Ference. Is there a message currently being sent regarding Chiarelli's intentions regarding Seidenberg, on the last year of his contract?
The Bruins currently have four veterans returning...Chara, Seidenberg, Boychuk and McQuaid...each ensured of a rear guard position. That leaves three youthful candidates...Hamilton, Bartkowski and Krug...for the remaining three spots. That was simple. Not quite. Do you really want a young defenseman still learning his trade to be sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch for more than half the games next year. In 2013 the 7th D was used in 28 games of the 48 game schedule. In 2011-2012 the 7th D played 37 games in the full 82 game schedule. Now I did write an article in 2012 suggesting Hamilton and Krug split the 6th and 7th D position for the coming season but I think both have moved past that point.
One solution may be to use one of the youngsters or maybe a veteran D in a trade to solidify the much discussed 3rd line wing position. But this will probably not happen until after training camp when clubs assess their needs going into the season. After all Bartkowski was a part of the ill-fated Iginla non-trade. But Bartkowski is a "Seidenberg" type D and with Seidenberg an UFA after this year the team may best be served in the long run letting Bartkowski develop with the big club as an eventual replacement for Seidenberg who will turn 33 next off season. Bartkowski paired well with Boychuk in the playoffs this past season and only got better with playing time, gaining Julien's confidence.
The answer may become very clear throughout training camp. Was Krug just a flash-in-the-pan? Will his undersize trump his skating ability in the grind of a regular season. Krug's greatest contribution has been his puck moving mobility on the power play. This is a dimension the Bruins have been sorely missing and just in itself may cement Krug's position with the big club. He pairs very well with McQuaid. Any opposing player taking a run at Krug to try to intimidate him will quickly be challenged by his defence partner. This will give Krug the time and space he requires for his game to be effective. As a third D pairing, Krug and McQuaid works well. However, since this is only words on paper let's indulge in some out-of-the-box thinking. Krug, has demonstrated his excellent skating, an ability to put the puck in the net, and a strong defensive ethic. That sounds like the ideal candidate for a third line winger. I could see Krug playing the wing with Soderberg and Kelly. At 22 he is young enough to make the adjustment. He would still be available to play the point on the power play. And if during a game a defenseman was lost due to injury or penalty, Krug could fall back to play defence. It is much easier to juggle 11 forwards than to have to play with 5 D. I like the idea. Hey Claude...
Not withstanding the aforementioned position change for Krug, that seems to leave Hamilton as the 7th D, spending the majority of his time in the press box as he did during the playoffs when Krug and Bartkowski earned the playing time from Julien. Hamilton did play 42 regular season games last year (out of 48) and as a 19-year-old rookie played well enough. Hamilton is seen as the defenseman with the most upside and the future franchise defenseman. A year in the press box will not do him any good. So the dilemma. Hamilton had to play with Boston last year or return to his junior club. Hamilton may benefit from a year with Providence on the top D pairing. Thus he would get maximum playing time and be the first call-up in case of injury.
So who is the 7th D? Don't be surprised if you see a couple unsigned veterans invited to camp for a try-out, such as Wade Redden. Or perhaps a veteran AHL D, such as Kevan Miller (25 years old) or Mike Moore (28 years old) from Providence (both with credible AHL careers), given the chance to show his worth as a possible trade piece with an occasional start. But don't doubt that if there is a long term injury Hamilton will be quickly returned to the big club.