There are still a number of details that both the NHL / NHLPA need to hammer out before submitting the framework of a new season for approval, but one facet of an augmented NHL campaign that appears to be a no-brainer is the need for expanded rosters. While NHL clubs usually carry a maximum of 23 players, the current COVID climate — in which players could be forced to miss weeks of action due to positive testing — should necessitate the need for all 31 teams to have extra bodies ready to go if such a scenario plays out.
Last week, TSN’s Frank Seravalli noted that discussions regarding the 2021 NHL season involved the expansion of an NHL roster from 23 to 26 players — with four additional players serving as part of a “taxi squad”. The four players on the taxi squad will earn AHL salary and likely play most of their games with Providence, but will be at the ready to make their way up to Boston if need be, and will also earn NHL benefits and per diem.
So if the Bruins’ roster is set to expand to 26 players – along with four “taxi squad” representatives — for the upcoming 2021 season, what exactly does Bruce Cassidy and his staff have to work with?
With training camp potentially getting underway in as little as three weeks, let's take an early look at the revamped roster Boston might roll out if games do begin by mid-January.
After breaking down Boston's forwards on Monday, let's close things out by sizing up Boston's defense and goaltending corps — along with seeing who might be featured on the B's taxi squad in 2021.
1. Charlie McAvoy: It remains to be seen if Zdeno Chara will return for a 15th season in a black and gold sweater, but even if the future Hall of Famer is back logging shifts on Boston's blue line in 2021, it's clear that McAvoy is now the new face of Boston's D corps. The 22-year-old skater is already a defensive anchor (98th percentile in even-strength defense and expected goals against // 97th percentile in quality of competition among NHL defensemen last year, per JFreshHockey), but McAvoy could also be in line for a major spike in offensive production this season, especially if paired alongside his former college teammate in Matt Grzelcyk. For as much as some harped on McAvoy's lack of tangible scoring through the first few months of the 2019-20 season, he was on a tear just ahead of the COVID stoppage in March — tallying 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) over his final 17 outings. Expect another big step forward for Boston's top defenseman in 2021.
2. Matt Grzelcyk: With a new four-year, $14.75 million contract secured, expect Grzelcyk to take on a much larger role on Boston's defense this year — whether that be alongside McAvoy on a new, fleet-footed top pairing or as the new conductor of the B's primary power-play unit. He may not be as dynamic as Torey Krug on the man advantage, but Grzelcyk's 12.07 goals scored per 60 minutes rate alongside Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on the power play last season actually surpassed Krug's 11.72 GF/60 with that same unit. The Charlestown native also led all B’s defensemen in 5v5 goals against per 60 minutes last season at 1.63. One of the more underrated defensemen in the league over the last few seasons, Grzelcyk should excel under added minutes and responsibilities.
3. Brandon Carlo: More shutdown assignments will likely be prescribed for Carlo in 2021 — with the steady, stay-at-home defenseman in line to take fewer O-zone starts with Chara's status uncertain and Krug heading off to St. Louis. Mixing Carlo's knack for negating scoring chances with Krug's playmaking prowess was a recipe for success for Boston's blue line over the last few years, but the onus will now be on the 24-year-old skater to serve as Boston's defensive anchor on a young, dynamic D corps in 2021 and beyond. Carlo has ranked in the top 10 among NHL defensemen (min. 500 minutes of 5v5 play) in goals against per 60 minutes of play (5v5 GA/60) in each of the past two seasons.