Wednesday October 29th, 2014

Back in the summer, Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli insisted repeatedly that he had too many NHL-caliber players on his blueline. His plan, he said at the time, was to shed a body or two because “we can't go into the year with nine NHL defensemen.”

Funny how things work out, isn't it?

Heading into 2014-15, his group included Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, and David Warsofsky.

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Today? Boychuk is a member of the New York Islanders, a victim of the team's brush with the salary cap ceiling. Chara is out six weeks (and maybe longer) after suffering a knee injury in a collision with John Tavares. Miller is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. And on Wednesday afternoon it was confirmed that Krug would be sidelined for 2-3 weeks after having his finger all but amputated by a Zach Parise slash late in Boston's 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night.

And if that Final Destination-esque rash of injuries hasn't quite whittled away at the hubris of Chiarelli, then the sub-par play of Seidenberg and Bartkowski has likely done the trick.

May as well say it: the Bruins are in trouble of the deep, deep variety. All of a sudden Hamilton, with his 117 games of NHL service, is the team's No. 1 defenseman. More concerning? McQuaid, a game but limited athlete, is essentially their No. 2.

Both players are key members of the corps. Hamilton plays a ton at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill and is firmly established as one of the best young blueliners in the game. McQuaid is a blunt object, expert at inflicting punishment in the corners and clearing the crease. But when they're asked to handle four-five minutes of extra work against tougher opposition, they might be in over their heads.

But what choice do the Bruins have? Behind them are kids like Warsofsky, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow , untested players who will be asked to prove they're up to the challenge after struggling in the AHL.

Trotman, the final pick in the 2010 draft, has size (6'3", 225), a decent shot and has learned to keep things simple. There's not a lot of upside to his game, but he's the safest of the bunch.

Morrow likely steps in for Bartkowski, whose waning confidence was on full display against the Wild. He was benched for much of the third, but not before he picked up a minus-2 thanks to some soft coverage and poor decision making. One of the pieces acquired in the Tyler Seguin deal, the B's are hoping Morrow's offense will overshadow the occasional defensive lapse.

Warsofsky should pick up Krug's minutes. The two are remarkably similar -- undersized, offensive-minded blueliners -- but there's a reason Krug made the cut and he didn't. Warsofsky has the tools but he has yet to prove he can think at an NHL pace. If he struggles, Boston's power play, one of the few things clicking for the team this season, could be shut down.

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Any of these players could easily slide into the group on his own and contribute serviceable minutes. Put them in together though and it's easy to see this thing turning ugly in a hurry.

If there's one bright side to dressing the league's least experienced blueline it's that the timing couldn't be better. While there are no easy games for this team, the schedule over the next few weeks is about as forgiving as it gets. The B's face six straight opponents who failed to make the playoffs last season -- including four at the Boston Garden -- before running into the Canadiens on Nov. 13.

We'll know then how many NHL defensemen this team really has.

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