By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
If there’s one thing you can say about Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, it’s that he’s routinely learned from his past.
Take, for instance, his latest move, which saw Adam McQuaid traded for basically nothing that’ll impact next year’s team.
This was Sweeney realizing that it benefitted absolutely nobody to have McQuaid and his $2.75 million salary rot as a healthy scratch, and that the Bruins would be better off moving the player and giving him a fresh start before things got… messy.
Sweeney also found a way to avoid the “somebody’s definitely getting traded” vibe that hung over and haunted the team’s 2014 training camp, which ultimately ended with Johnny Boychuk traded to the New York Islanders. That move, which Peter Chiarelli put off for as long as he possibly could (that really didn’t help the situation), splintered a Boston locker room already going through undeniable changes, and marked the true end of Boston’s first Stanley Cup window of the 21st century.
That Boychuk deal was made for cap purposes alone, and while the same cannot be said for the McQuaid trade, it’s worth mentioning that the Bruins gained nearly $3 million in cap space for the 2018-19 season with the deal. The value of that cannot be stated enough, as it leaves Sweeney with over $5 million in cap space to play with entering a season that should be straight-up wire-to-wire chaos with the upgrades made by several of the Bruins’ biggest foes within the Atlantic Division.
Where Sweeney goes with that newly acquired space and flexibility, however, is anybody’s guess.
And seems absolutely fascinating.
Despite the constant need for instant gratification, as well as the obvious joy that comes with finding nearly 12 million quarters under their couch after this deal, the truth is that it makes little sense for the B’s to rush into something right now.
The market — be it the free agent or trade market — is not talented enough for such an endeavor right now.
Jeff Skinner’s a Sabre, Max Pacioretty has been traded to Las Vegas, and Artemi Panarin is already planning his escape from Columbus to a metropolis in 2019. Shockingly, I would not consider Boston to be at the top of the list for Panarin’s desires.
Rick Nash, who remains relatively quiet as teams prep for training camp, remains uncertain about his NHL future. Knowing that, it’s hard to consider investing any sort of real money in Nash a sound move. Venture beyond Nash and the free agent market does not feature a single asset worth more than league minimum, really. Veterans Lee Stempniak and Daniel Winnik are already slated to be in B’s camp on pro tryouts, which speaks to Sweeney’s limited interest in spending money there.
And the Bruins have dug their heels in on the idea of a youth movement up front, with three young prospects competing for their vacant third-line center spot, and with Ryan Donato the early favorite to skate on the right side of Boston’s top six forward group. Abandoning that before real training camp and preseason contests even start would be monumentally stupid.
One of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka will make the Bruins in that center role, while you’re talking about Donato, Anders Bjork, and Danton Heinen competing for a top-six role. One of the two runner-ups for that spot will likely find a home on Boston’s third line, while the other could very well begin their season with the P-Bruins. (I would consider Heinen, who had almost 50 points a season ago, to be the only lock for an NHL role given his impact and versatility.)
With McQuaid gone, though, the Bruins now have the ability to rotate a few of these players in and out of the lineup when the games actually start to matter if the training camp battle comes and goes without a clear victor. That’s not a long-term solution for the Bruins, though, as Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy refuses to let young players sit as scratches for prolonged stretches.
One ‘issue’ McQuaid’s exit did not resolve for the Bruins, however, is their surplus of left-side defenders.
Defenseman Torey Krug, who was rumored to be the B’s best trade chip pretty much all summer, remains in the fold after posting back-to-back seasons of at least 50 points. The 41-year-old Zdeno Chara and undersized two-way dynamo Matt Grzelcyk remain in town on new contracts, and free agent addition John Moore has yet to play a single game of his five-year, $13.75 million deal with the B’s. There’s some that believe that Krug could still be moved at some point this year, too, as the Black and Gold could certainly sell high on the d-man with two years at $5.25 million per left on his contract.
But in the wake of McQuaid’s shift to the Rangers, Krug should no longer be on the trade block. Especially if it’s for a forward.
I mean, moving McQuaid and Krug would be the quickest way to turn into a team dealing from a position of strength to a team with a potentially legitimate problem on their backend. Imagine: You trade a power-play quarterback that’s posting stat lines above his $5.25 million pay grade (that’s a fact) — after already trading a steady third-pairing defenseman — for an impact forward. That’s great, sure, but now Steve Kampfer is your real life No. 7 defenseman. Without reminding you of the organization’s recent luck with healthy defensemen come April and May, that’s bold (read as: wildly reckless).
Looking elsewhere on the roster, though, it’s tough to find a player that the Bruins would be willing to move, teams would be willing to take on, and would net you something that can actually help you beat the Maple Leafs and Lightning in the playoffs.
And that’s where things get tricky for Sweeney. This is a team that’s still far more win-now than most will give them credit for — their captain is 41 years old, and their top two centers and starting goaltender are all on the wrong side of 30 these days — so scouring for an upgrade that puts a third-round possibility on the table is of the utmost importance.
In fact, with the defensive situation as sorted as it can be right now and with the Bruins sure to hit on at least one of these prospects’ major league readiness (that’s what the odds suggest, at least), it’s the only thing on Sweeney’s plate.
Fortunately for Sweeney, though, that scouring does not come with the limitations it did when the week began.
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.