Should Bruins dial back the ice time of important veteran players?

Should the Bruins reduce the ice time of key experienced players? Originally featured on NBC Sports Boston.

The Boston Bruins are on a roll right now. They are one point behind the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets for the NHL’s top record.

This team has exceeded expectations in almost every way. The Boston Bruins lost many good players this offseason, including Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tyler Bertuzzi, Taylor Hall, Dmitry Orlov, and others. And, due to a lack of salary cap room this summer, they were unable to replace these players with top-tier talent.

As a result, the Bs were expected to perform below average. Make the playoffs? Yes. Be in contention for the league’s best record. No.

And yet, here we are: The Bruins, based on their record (26-8-9), are once again a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

However, there are a few areas of worry, one of which is the amount of ice time that certain veterans are playing. The Bruins are heavily reliant on their top players, and while this has been a successful plan so far, it may catch up with them in the playoffs.

Keys to the Bruins being near the top of the NHL standings - ESPN

Here’s a look at some of the Bruins’ most famous veterans, as well as how much ice time they’ll have in 2023-24 compared to last season and career highs.

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None of the time-on-ice increases displayed in the figure above are very noticeable, but they accumulate over the course of a full season.

McAvoy and Lindholm are on course to become the first Bruins defensemen to average at least 23:00 minutes of ice time per game since Zdeno Chara (24:56) and Dennis Seidenberg (23:47) in 2012-13. Last season, McAvoy appeared in 67 games, playing 26 or more minutes twice. He has reached that minute mark 12 times in 35 games this season. That represents 34% of his games. In 2021-22, he played 26 minutes in 21 out of 78 games (27%).

What’s the reason for the increase in minutes for these players? Injuries have played a part. Derek Forbort missing 23 games has resulted in defensemen like McAvoy, Lindholm and Carlo playing even more on the penalty kill. The team’s overall depth is worse than it was last season, mostly because of the offseason departures noted above. Another factor is 14 of Boston’s 43 games (or 32 percent) have ended in overtime or the shootout.

Should Bruins dial back the ice time of important veteran players?

Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery also has been leaning on his veteran players more in the third period. There have been several games when younger players such as Matthew Poitras, Georgii Merkulov, John Beecher and Mason Lohrei — all rookies, by the way — played very little in the third period.

One example came on Jan. 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Beecher, Merkulov and Oskar Steen — three rookies — all played fewer than seven minutes. Beecher and Merkulov each got one shift in the third period. Pastrnak, Machand and Zacha all played over 20 minutes. On the blue line, Lohrei played only 8:29, including just two third-period shifts.

Lohrei’s play was poor that night, but less than 10 minutes of ice time is too low. Lindholm and McAvoy played 29:13 and 26:27, respectively. It’s one thing if injuries during the game force other players to play more minutes. But when you have a full lineup and some guys barely see the ice — in an early-January regular season game, no less — that’s not ideal.


The NHL is not a developmental league. If Montgomery doesn’t think some of these young players are ready to take important shifts in crunch time, that’s fine. His job is to win games, and there’s a lot of pressure to do so. Young players have to earn the trust of the coaching staff. But it also shouldn’t result in your best players playing too many minutes and, as a result, potentially setting up a situation where they don’t have enough gas left in the tank for a lengthy playoff run. If you have too many young players who aren’t worthy of ice time in the third period, then make a trade to acquire a veteran or two.

The Bruins also need to keep the schedule in mind. They have six games over the next 10 days, and then they get a much needed break with All-Star weekend. But after the All-Star break they play 12 games in the final 23 days of February, including a long road trip out West to play the Kraken, Oilers, Flames and Canucks. Managing minutes through this stretch, and the rest of the regular season, will be important.

So, what’s the best way to decrease the ice time of these veteran players and ensure they have as much stamina as possible for the playoffs?

Well, the easiest way is to give the veterans’ minutes to the younger players. Poitras could play more at center. Trent Frederic is playing a career-high 13:36 per game and producing a career-high 2.19 points per 60 minutes. Maybe he could get bumped up to between 14:30 and 15:00 per game. Prospects such as Merkulov and Fabian Lysell could play on the wing and get some much-needed NHL experience. Lohrei could take some of McAvoy and/or Lindholm’s minutes.

Sure, a lot of these young players aren’t going to see a ton of ice time in the playoffs. Poitras and Beecher probably aren’t going to take a ton of third-period shifts come April and May. But what if they’re forced to do so because other guys are injured? These young players need enough reps to be prepared for that scenario

Another approach to alleviate the strain on some of these veterans is to add a player or two to the trade market.

Last week, ESPN’s Emily Kaplan claimed that the Bruins were scouting middle-six forwards with a “scoring punch.” This is just what the Bruins need. They can’t rely on Pastrnak, Marchand, Coyle, and Zacha to carry the majority of the offense. There is still a need for supplementary scoring, so it makes perfect sense to bring in another middle-six forward who can give depth and help the Bruins divide minutes more fairly.

Acquiring a second or third pairing defenseman capable of taking some of the tough defensive minutes (including penalty kill work) from McAvoy, Lindholm and Carlo would be great for the Bruins, too. Every contender is looking for blue line help ahead of the trade deadline, but the Bruins should be able to find a physical, veteran d-man to give this team a little more truculence in front of the net.

The Bruins are in a great position in the standings as the All-Star break approaches. They enter Wednesday with a four-point lead for first place in the Eastern Conference standings. The B’s also have a 13-point lead over the Penguins and Islanders — the first two teams below the wild card spots. Boston’s odds of making the playoffs are 99 percent, according to The Athletic writer Dom Luszczyszyn’s model.

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