By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I have no idea if Tuesday’s meeting between the Bruins and John Tavares will land him in Boston.
With Tavares’ three-day festival of meetings with six different teams officially concluded, I’m not even sure if he himself knows. He knows that he’ll begin letting teams he’s no longer considering know exactly that later today. And if we apply the idea that the six teams he met with all have an equal chance, the Bruins have an 84 percent chance of being told that they are not a winner and that their money will have to be spent elsewhere. But Tavares’ decision doesn’t seem likely to come before the weekend, at least if he’s smart about this. And if it bleeds into Monday and he’s still unsigned, it’s really anybody’s game.
And given how tightlipped everybody has been about this, it’s impossible for me to tell you the reality of Boston’s chances.
But I do know this: With or without Tavares, the Bruins are in an infinitely better spot than they were just two years ago.
No disrespect to Jimmy Vesey, but I cannot remember a more pathetic feeling than when the Bruins swung and missed on him as a college free agent in 2016. Here was Vesey — a player born and raised in Boston and a player they watched grow up in their backyard as a member of the Harvard Crimson (a team coached by ex-Bruin Ted Donato and featuring then-prospect Ryan Donato) — saying no to joining your team. This happened despite the fact that the Bruins brought in almost everybody they could for their face-to-face with Vesey. He didn’t even play in the top division that college hockey had to offer and he still thought he had better options than coming to your franchise and playing in front of his friends and family every night.
Again, imagine a more pathetic feeling if you’re in that Black and Gold front office, watching yourself failing to successfully pitch a college free agent on playing for the team he grew up watching and (likely) rooting for. It’s impossible.
When Vesey instead joined the Rangers, the disappointed Bruins handled it as expected and said nothing. Matt Beleskey, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s first big signing, responded by telling Vesey that he ‘made a mistake’ and picked the wrong team. Oh, and speaking of mistakes and disappointment, after those comments, Beleskey would score just three goals in his next 63 games with the B’s. His story as a Boston Bruin ended with him going unclaimed on waivers, and ultimately traded to New York with the Bruins having to retain half of his $3.9 million per year salary through 2020.
Beleskey initially fit their bill of an appropriate signing as a ‘culture fit,’ but he was never quite a star addition. Nor did the Bruins expect him to be. Same thing for the gritty David Backes, who was paid (beyond) handsomely for what he would bring to the locker room after back-to-back Game 82 choke-jobs from the Bruins, a year later.
It was the best they could do given where they were as a fringe contender with a seemingly limited and/or closing window.
Now, two years later, the Bruins are among six finalists for John bleepin’ Tavares. You know, just one of the top 20 players in the NHL, and one of those unique talents that can make every single player around him substantially better. No big deal.
And before Tavares, that they were the runner-up for Ilya Kovalchuk, whose desire to win a Stanley Cup after a five-year break from the National Hockey League helped identify Boston as a potential landing spot. They were even one of his final four before he decided to ink an unmatchable three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Kings. Ask around and people will tell you that they were the runner-up supreme, as they offered similar money, but were unwilling to go three years.
The counter to all of this, of course, is that second place is meaningless. You need to close and truly acquire the talent to gloat.
But make no mistake about it, the Bruins are back to being a destination. For real, legitimately great players, mind you.
This. Is. Huge.
Once a laughing stock — trading a third-round pick for Zac Rinaldo, likely whiffing on at least one one of his back-to-back-to-back first-round picks in 2015, and getting had in contract negotiations with Dougie Hamilton and then Loui Eriksson — Sweeney has reshaped the Bruins into legitimacy. His contract negotiation prowess has put the Bruins in an enviable spot throughout the league and allowed the Bruins the chance to talk with (and even sign) high-end free agents.
Outside talents now recognize the way that the Bruins have restocked their pipeline. And they obviously notice that this mix of win-now pieces and building blocks of the future — the Bruins have two top-line wingers signed at under market value for half a decade and a No. 1 defenseman in training in Charlie McAvoy — presents an incredible window if maximized properly.
And once considered a team coaching an outdated style under Claude Julien, Bruce Cassidy has been a jolt of life to Boston.
Under Cassidy, the Bruins play an up-tempo style that positively encourages from Forward 1 to Defenseman 6, as players are encouraged to channel the style of play that got them to this point. His effectiveness as a direct communicator — you’re seeing the NHL slowly move away from disciplinarian-style coaches towards more player-friendly coaches that focus on teaching as much as they do anything else — has helped, too. Players genuinely seem to enjoy playing for him. And most of all, it’s been effective in the win column. That is a gigantic plus for players looking for fresh starts and new adventures.
It’s a longwinded way of saying that what the B’s have done to this point (and are working towards) has not gone unnoticed.
Now, will a franchise-altering piece like Tavares hit the market every year? Probably not.
But when you look ahead to some future free agent classes, it’s impossible to sit here and try to honestly say that the Bruins don’t have a chance. In fact, their financial flexibility and on-ice results have by all means guaranteed that they will indeed have a chance with any and everybody that follows the Tavares Route and holds a week of meetings at a designated location.
Factor this in with Sweeney’s fairly obvious and newfound aggressiveness to dramatically upgrade his roster and it’s clear: A superstar is coming. A lot sooner than you — and probably Jimmy Vesey — would have ever thought, too.
Hell, it could even come this weekend.
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.