By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
(Welcome to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s The Weekend Wraparound — or just The Wraparound, WW, Wrap, or whatever you care to call it. I’m not big on names. But here’s what you should know about it: It’s a new weekly column that will run every Saturday in addition to our complete coverage of the Boston Bruins, with or without ice available.)
Somehow, someway, the Boston Bruins have once again backed themselves into a corner.
In an offseason primed for B’s general manager Don Sweeney’s next big move — likely for a top-six winger (Ilya Kovalchuk) and a top-four defenseman to plug on the left side — the Bruins exited the 2018 NHL Draft with their picks and picks alone.
Not gonna lie: It certainly seems like a letdown. That’s saying something, too, as this marked the fourth offseason in a row in which the Bruins entered the draft with the ability to make a big addition and failed. Aside from their drafted players, of course. First it was the failed move-up for Noah Hanifin in 2015. Then came a ‘failed’ attempt to acquire Kevin Shattenkirk in 2016, although that turned out to be a blessing, as the Blues tried robbing the Bruins blind, demanding David Pastrnak and both of Boston’s first-round draft picks. And then last year’s thin market failed to bolster Boston’s defense via trade.
This year, it was more failures, but with some Kovalchuk disappointment peppered in for an undeniably painful weekend.
So, what’s next?
Now, the Bruins were a 112-point team last season, so maybe coming back with the same team isn’t the worst idea. They still have the structure of Jack Adams finalist Bruce Cassidy, and the majority of their roster should be better one year later.
But the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to have a full season of Ryan McDonagh on their defense next season. The Maple Leafs’ young guns are going to be a year older next season, and they are in on (potential) star free agent John Tavares. In addition to projected growth from their top competition, I also think that the Bruins have said too much about bolstering their lineup to come back with this same group, tell you everything’s fine and expect you to honestly believe them.
Bruins president Cam Neely openly identified his left side defense corps as being too small behind Zdeno Chara — where 5-foot-9 defenders Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk man the left side of the club’s second and third d-pairings — and it seemed as if he had given Sweeney the directive to improve it in some fashion. That never materialized this weekend, and Hanifin, perhaps the B’s best option for that fix and a name linked to Boston, was traded to Calgary late in Day 2.
But there’s another defenseman that the Bruins were linked to in Dallas: the Oilers’ Oscar Klefbom.
Now, it seemingly came out of nowhere, but it came from a few people. And while I don’t enjoy banking on sources (some people just plain like lying to you and seeing what they can drum up), I will say this: When you get three people — and all from different walks of life, organizations, and locations — saying the same name on the same day, your brain begins to move. And it’s worth noting that the Bruins have had an interest in Klefbom — a 24-year-old, 6-foot-3 left-shot defenseman that set career-highs across the board in 2016-17 and is signed at just over $4 million for the next five seasons — long before last night.
The other name that came up when talking about Klefbom and the Bruins was that of B’s defenseman Torey Krug. Would a one-for-one trade of Krug to the Oilers for Klefbom have worked? Or was it even on the table when push came to shove? Not sure. You get the sense that both the Bruins and Oilers would want more than the one-for-one in that kind of trade. The Bruins, of course, would have wanted to pry that No. 10 overall pick from Edmonton, while the Oilers most certainly would have liked to snag a Boston young gun (like Danton Heinen or Jake DeBrusk) in the deal. Neither was happening.
Are the Bruins and Oilers able to pick this up next week or later this summer? Maybe. But that’s the kind of deal that you think has a greater chance of getting done face-to-face at Draft Weekend than it does via phone 2,000 miles away.
So now what? Who. The. Hell. Knows. Teams cling to defensemen until they deliver or their value is completely shot. And if the Bruins instead decide to comb the free agent market for that solution, they’re likely going to be disappointed; Calvin de Haan, Jack Johnson, Ian Cole, Thomas Hickey, and Luca Sbisa are among the best options there. At that point, you’re better off simply rolling with your undersized supporting cast than devoting money to projects or diminishing returns.
The Bruins have also subtly hinted that they’re not crazy about forcing one of their natural left-wingers — namely Ryan Donato — into playing his off-wing in the top six. That made the 35-year-old Kovalchuk, who had experience playing the right side in New Jersey, a perfect candidate for the Bruins to maximize their roster while also letting players develop in a natural role. And while the Bruins were willing to shell out top dollar to bring the 417-goal scorer back to the NHL after his five-year run in the KHL, they were not willing to offer a third year in their talks, and Kovalchuk instead decided to sign with the Kings.
So, where do they go from here?
Well, it’s expected that the Bruins will indeed circle back to Rick Nash.
The 34-year-old Nash was a solid producer and offensive generator prior to his concussion suffered in Tampa Bay on Mar. 17, and from all indicators he would certainly entertain the idea of returning to Boston for another (healthier) run on the B’s second line. But Nash is now just hours away from the free agent courting period, and there will be suitors beyond the Bruins. Some with just as good a chance of winning the Stanley Cup in 2019 as the Bruins, too. And if they weren’t willing to go three years for Kovalchuk (who they internally considered to be their Plan A), it’s hard to imagine they’d be willing to enter a similar bidding war for a player whose concussion woes and postseason struggles come with red flags galore on a multi-year deal.
And as alluded to, the Bruins have competition.
Particularly from fellow Kovalchuk Losers — the Sharks and Golden Knights — when it comes to adding an impact forward.
It’s believed that the Sharks will be equally aggressive to add somebody — be it the Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner via trade or Tavares via free agency if they are granted a meeting with the Islander captain and all-world talent — and the Golden Knights have cap space galore, meaning anything’s possible for them. Speaking of the Golden Knights, James Neal and David Perron have yet to accept the offers presented to them by Vegas general manager George McPhee, and both of them could be bound to hit the open market. But rarely do those teams signing Stanley Cup Final contributors get their money’s worth, and their desired contract lengths could put them out of Boston’s desired range for optimal financial flexibility.
The Bruins, for what it’s worth, are expected to be in on Skinner to some degree.
A left-shot capable of playing both the left and right wing, Skinner is entering the final year of his current contract, and has scored the 13th-most goals in the NHL since 2015. But Sweeney has made it abundantly clear that he does not want to move another first-round pick (he said it was ‘painful’ to sit through Friday’s first round knowing that they were on the sidelines), so that may put them at a significant disadvantage in their trade talks with Carolina.
Tavares, of course, remains the pipedream. He’s reportedly going to entertain meetings with just five teams in the free agency courting period. If the Sharks and Maple Leafs are two of those five teams, and assuming the Islanders are also one, that means the Bruins would have to essentially beat out the rest of the league for one of those final spots.
That’d be… something.
But then again, that’s exactly and clearly what the Bruins need to do: Something.
Loose pucks: Were the Bruins ever close on moving back into the first round? It was something that Sweeney talked about doing earlier this offseason, but it never materialized or even seemed close on Friday. Then again, this was an incredibly quiet night for trades across the board. Seems like everybody got cold feet once draft night actually came… The Bruins’ big get of the 2018 NHL Draft seems to be third-round pick Jakub Lauko. Considered an electrifying skater, Lauko is good from in tight spaces, and can really become a legit player if he shoots more. He scored four goals in five games for the Czech Republic U-18 team at the Hlinka Memorial this past season… The Bruins are still in contact with pending unrestricted free agents Rick Nash and Anton Khudobin. It sounds like bottom-sixers like Riley Nash and Tim Schaller, however, will be hitting the open market where larger (and deserved) paydays await.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.