The Boston Bruins recently announced the signing of 27 year-old unrestricted free agent defenseman Matt Irwin (formerly of the San Jose Sharks) to a one-year $800k deal.
Boston Bruins sign defenseman Matt Irwin to a one-year contract. Read release: http://t.co/YIkuWkLr7b ^BB
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) July 10, 2015
Irwin – who played two years with UMass-Amhearst before turning pro (and parts of four seasons with San Jose affiliate Worcester Sharks) was left adrift amongst the sea of unrestricted free agency after the Bay Area club cut ties with him following a 53-game campaign that saw him set a career-high of eight goals.
The 6’2, 210lb native of Victoria, BC, was one of several unrestricted defensemen the Bruins were reportedly in communication with. A lefthanded shot, Irwin might have trouble earning as many minutes as he garnered in San Jose, where in each season he skated upwards of 17 minutes (and saw over a minute of powerplay time) per game. If one counts the off-side playing Dennis Seidenberg as a RD; Irwin slots into the Bruins’ third pairing, probably alongside Kevan Miller.
Irwin represents a fairly average-caliber possession defender at even strength who benefited slightly from matchups and weighted zone-starts.
In terms of GF%, Irwin was, again, middle-of-the-road through his three years with the Sharks. With regards to his WOWY stats, he had a good-to-great effect on his primary linemates and minimal effect on possession-generation – either positively or negatively.
Web Sant’s VSM score had him forty-fifth among 177 blueliners with at least 50 games played in 2014-15, sitting relatively pretty in the seventy-third percentile.
This was a low-risk signing for Boston that keeps the door open for a sizable re-signing of Torey Krug sometime before next summer. Irwin keeps the Bruins’s bottom-pairing at a scant $1.6 million between them for the coming season, permitting the club to remain mobile in the trade market.
— Shawn Hutcheon (@ShawnHutcheon) July 11, 2015
In addition, because Irwin is seen as a stopgap and more along the lines of a ‘depth’ defenseman, he’ll not prevent the club from calling up rookies from its ample stock (Joe Morrow, Colin Miller, Linus Arnesson and Zach Trotman) in Providence. While acquiring a right-handed shot would have been preferable, Irwin still possesses some untapped upside and could see powerplay minutes if his performance lives up to or exceeds his time in San Jose.
While this move doesn’t take the Bruins completely out of the running for a superior talent like Cody Franson, it does provide a safety net, assuring the Bruins of a full NHL-caliber roster should they fail to add ‘over the top’ to make up for Hamilton.
In that light, Irwin could possibly be seen as the ‘player who replaces Hamilton’ (not ‘Hamilton’s replacement), dropping from an elite-caliber youngster to a slightly-above replacement-level fill-in. The downgrade is significant – and the corps hasn’t been upgraded significantly elsewhere to match – but Irwin still represents a solid pickup for a team conserving cap space.
Follow Bob Mand on Twitter at @HockeyMand