With Dougie Hamilton gone from Boston and the Bruins lacking depth on the blueline, it was evident that GM Don Sweeney needed to pick up some help on defense. Sweeney found that help Friday, inking Matt Irwin to a one-year, $800,000 deal.
The signing of Irwin won’t necessarily have Beantown and its faithful parading in the streets, but it’s a solid, savvy signing by the Bruins, one that automatically improves the defense corps and provides Boston with a solid, depth defenseman. That’s exactly what Boston needed, too.
Behind the top-four consisting of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid, the Bruins’ defense was sorely lacking. While it’s not a knock against Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman or Colin Miller, the four have a combined 132 games of NHL experience. Irwin, who has spent most of the past three seasons in San Jose, has 153 games. While experience doesn’t always win out over skill, having Irwin, who has adjusted to the NHL game and won’t have to be broken in come October, is a boon to the Bruins backend.
It also helps there’s a lot more than simply experience to Irwin’s game, too.
While his offensive totals over the past three seasons won’t blow anyone’s hair back – Irwin has 16 goals and 50 points while averaging roughly 18:30 minutes of ice time – he is coming off of a career-best eight-goal, 19-point year and was mostly jettisoned from San Jose because there was no longer a spot for him on a much deeper back end. But the Sharks’ loss can be the Bruins gain.
This past season, of the 170 defensemen to play at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5, Irwin ranked 64th with a shot attempts for percentage of 51.6 percent. That’s in a similar range to blueliners like Anaheim’s Sami Vatanen, Washington’s John Carlson and Chicago’s Johnny Oduya. While he may not have the offensive or defensive acumen of those three – there’s a reason he came to Boston on the cheap at less than $1 million for 2015-16 – he can certainly be a sound fifth or sixth defenseman for the Bruins.
The only area of concern surrounding Irwin would be his sheltered starts over his past three seasons with San Jose. For the most part, Irwin had been matched up against the weaker competition with the Sharks in the attacking zone. That was his spot, and that’s where former Sharks coach Todd McLellan utilized Irwin most. In that sense, he doesn’t give the Bruins a shutdown guy, but he’s a safe option to start in the offensive zone and maintain puck possession.
With Irwin on the books, the Bruins can still add, too. As of Friday afternoon, Boston has nearly $5 million in cap space and needs only to either round out their bottom six, add a depth forward or cheap top-six winger or score some good value in a backup netminder.
Sweeney had lost some of the faith from Bruins fans following his trades of Hamilton – a deal in which his hand appears to have been forced – and Lucic, but if he continues to make small, smart signings like Irwin’s, he could recoup some of the trust he has lost from the Boston faithful.