Why size matters on defense and what that means for the Bruins
A look as to how the Bruins should approach the offseason in regard to their defensive group with the knowledge of postseason events.
Playoff hockey is vastly different from it's companion in the regular season. Playoff hockey is closer, tougher, and a lot more difficult. It favors larger people.
The Bruins struggled in two categories last season -- physicality and depth -- which is almost primarily why they ended up falling to the New York Islanders in the second round of the playoffs. While some of it was due to key injuries on the blueline to Kevan Miller and Brandon Carlo, the team needs to add more pieces this offseason to solve those problems.
The importance of a player's size has long been a hot debate in the hockey world. In truth, for most forwards it really doesnt matter as long as they are not being pushed around. You want larger people on your third and especially fourht lines, but there is not a direct impact of size to wins among forwards. It is a completely different story for defenseman.
The average weight for Bruins defenseman this past season was 203.6lbs. Brandon Carlo greatly increases that, weighing 227lbs himself. Not one other defenseman broke 210lbs. Too be frank, that simply isn't big enough. For comparison, the average weight of the Tampa Bay Lightning's defenseman was 223lbs. Besides Jan Ruutta (at 204lbs), all of their d-men weighed at least 215.
It's not like the Tampa defenseman are much taller than Boston, they average a little over 1.5 inches taller. They are just bigger. The average weight for Montreal's defense was 215 lbs, and it was 224lbs without the bottom pair, who saw rare ice time in the playoffs. This shows how important size is to postseason success.
It's not like the Bruins got completely pushed around in the playoffs, as they did take out a very physical team in the Washington Capitals in the first round. But the collective hits they had taken in the Washington and Islanders series' eventually caught up to them. The Bruins are a tough team, but they need to be dishing out more punishment than they take, and that simply wasn't the case most nights in the playoffs even when they were winning.
All of this poses the question of how Boston should handle their defensive group this offseason. While they definitely need help on defense, should they re-sign Mike Reilly, they should be looking to target a big physical defenseman not only to replace the retired Kevan Miller, but also to add strength to last year's defense. If they don't re-sign Reilly, then they likely will need to acquire two new defenseman, giving them more opportunities to get larger guys.
Furthermore, Boston should be thinking about their current defenseman. When size is the conversation, Matt Grzelcyk is sure to come up as he stands at just 5'9", 174lbs. He is a smooth skating defenseman who thrives with the puck on his stick, but his role on this team is still up for debate.
Grzelcyk was great with Charlie McAvoy on the first pair in the regular season, but isn't made for long, grueling minutes in the postseason. It's hard enough for him to stay healthy in the regular season (he's never played 70 games in a season). Overall, he is likely better suited for a bottom four pairing, ideally with Brandon Carlo. That of course leaves the left spot open next to McAvoy, but that is a topic for another day.
Now I'm not saying the Bruins can't win the Cup with a group of smaller defenseman. They did make it to game seven of the Cup final in 2019 with both Grzelcyk and Torey Krug getting significant minutes.
They do need to get bigger though, and a significant part of that must be done this offseason.