With trade talk monopolizing a majority of the dialog surrounding this team over the past month (I’ve already made my opinion of the Loui situation abundantly clear), the importance of Adam “Lone Wolf” McQuaid’s return to the lineup has, for the most part, been overlooked. At this point we are all painfully aware of this team’s well documented defensive struggles, and with a collective defense corp still working to establish their identity McQuaid’s return to the lineup at this pivotal juncture of the season has provided an almost calming presence amidst the grit and chaos that typically defines his game.
I’ll be the first to admit that last June when the B’s elected to extend Quaider for another 4 years I was skeptical to say the least. While I’m sure some of these feelings were a carryover from a less than ideal draft week I still struggled to see the long term value in a guy like Adam McQuaid and would have preferred to see that money spread elsewhere paving the way for guys like Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow to step in as cheaper 3rd pairing options. Coming off a pair injury plagued seasons many (myself included) looked at McQuaid as a tough yet under skilled 3rd pairing defenseman running around with more aggression than a testosterone filled, sexually frustrated college guy on a Saturday night. Sure, he once sported a kick ass mullet and has long been known to possess one of the heaviest right hooks in the game, he just didn’t seem to fit within the new high speed framework we were all told the team was working towards. Fast forward 8 months and I can comfortably say that we’ve all underestimated the importance of Adam McQuaid to this team and more importantly its young and transitioning defense.
Throughout this season one of the most infuriating things about this Bruins defense has been an inability and unwillingness to police the front of the net, resulting in a plethora of soft goals surrendered on screens, tips and rebounds. That said, when Adam McQuaid is healthy and active we’ve seen a a collectively tougher and more resilient group on the backend. I’m not saying that beating the piss out of anyone who sniffs the crease is the be-all and end-all, but it is certainly important to establish a presence in front of the net and set the expectation that any foray through this area will carry a price. This is an area in which Adam McQuaid excels, and it seems to be rubbing off on the entire group with others eager to get more involved physically since his return.
While in theory it’s easy enough to flip a switch and start “getting tough” in front of the net this is a mentality which is cultivate day in and day out during games and in practice. In prior years we’ve seen at least one guy throughout each D pair step up to set this tone(Chara, Ference, McQuaid, Boychuk, Wideman, Stuart, etc.). That said, with an influx of young skillful defensemen bracketed by the aging Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg relied on more for their positional awareness and on ice leadership than brute force and intimidation, we’ve seen this team lose the intimidation factor we’ve grown accustomed to. In order for this young group to be successful and balanced going forward it is vitally important for them to to develop this side of their game at the NHL level, and for at least one or two to become adept enough to play the role for their respective pairs down the line.
When all’s said and done the success of 2015/16 Bruins certainly won’t hinge on the play of Adam McQuaid, but I can say with near certainty that this team would be worse without him. While his play may not be the prettiest thing we’ve seen, he’s beginning to establish himself as a very tough guy to play against (ask Sidney Crosby) and someone who is positionally sound and skilled enough to play big minutes against top line opponents. Additionally, his ability to establish a physical tone is something this team is desperately lacking on the backend and what will ultimately be a key component of the group’s success down the stretch and into the playoffs.
As always get in touch with us on Twitter @bruinsextra or reach me directly @mccarey18