By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Don Sweeney gambled on the Bruins’ young talent, and came up short.
Now, he’s moved on from one of those younger, greener pieces at a higher price than necessary. The Bruins GM decided to save his biggest additions for the trade deadline. And while he didn’t completely strike out, rival teams in the market added better talent.
In reality, the holes Sweeney attempted to fill existed last postseason, all the way until Monday. The value of his younger prospects was higher then, too. So it stands to reason that Sweeney’s real mistake was failing to strike months ago.
Instead of pulling the trigger on a deal for a legitimate top-six wing or third-line center in the offseason, Sweeney entrusted those roles to prospects who, while talented, had yet to really deliver on their upside. He bet on the likes of Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, Trent Frederic, and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson to fill those desperately needed roles. None were ready to seize them.
All four depreciated in value. Donato went from a hot name with nine points in his first 12 games to an unpolished prospect with a booming shot but room to improve every other area of his game. A potential centerpiece in a bigger deal over the summer, Donato transformed into a necessary chip to acquire the Bruins’ new third-line center, Charlie Coyle.
And in his search for a right wing to pair with David Krejci, Sweeney ended up in a spot where he knew he needed to add someone but wasn’t willing to pay up at the most expensive time of the season. The result is a second-round pick in 2019 and fourth-rounder in 2020 for Marcus Johansson.
Coyle and Johansson unquestionably make the Bruins better than they were a week ago. But they certainly don’t put them over the top for a Stanley Cup run, or make them realistic contenders to get past all three of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and arch nemesis Washington Capitals to make the Cup Final.
Let’s be honest: which single, realistic acquisition would have achieved that?
Maybe Mark Stone represented that kind of upgrade. He was the clear home-run move for whoever acquired him. As it turns out, Stone wanted to go to Vegas, where he immediately signed an extension with the Golden Knights after heading there on Monday afternoon. Vegas packaged elite defensive prospect Erik Brännström to get him from the Senators. Was Sweeney supposed to give up Charlie McAvoy for Stone, which may have been necessary in order to outbid the Golden Knights and convince the Sens to trade a cornerstone player within their own division?
Sweeney is worthy of your scrutiny for his apparent half-measures. Coyle and Johansson are far from “all-in” moves, and better options for top-six wing went elsewhere at reasonable prices. Wayne Simmonds would’ve cost only a fourth-line-caliber forward and a fourth-round pick. Gustav Nyquist or Mats Zuccarello would’ve cost a second and conditional third.
In his fourth season as GM, Sweeney has yet to prove he can make valuable trades with any consistency. But it’s also reasonable to question the true value of swinging for the fences in this particular situation. He clearly hesitated himself, and may know that he’d already blown his chance.
“I just think that we had different conversations on different levels with different teams as to what players represent going forward, but I do believe that we would put ourselves and this organization in a tough position [to give up a first-round pick],” Sweeney told reporters on Monday. “I’m fortunate to have the support of the ownership group to make the decisions that we need to make and try and win. That’s the balancing act that we all face in this time of the year. You feel like, at times, you’re on the cusp of making a mistake but also making a really good decision, so it’s a balancing act.”
At the end of the day, the Lightning are running away with the Presidents’ Trophy and even Stone may not have put the Bruins on par with them anyway. The B’s have to hope that Tampa simply isn’t the same team this postseason that they were last year, or fall victim to the Presidents’ Trophy “curse”. Only one of the last five winners, the Rangers in 2015, have even made their Conference Final – and only four have in the last 15 years.
Additionally, the Bruins have arguably needed to ride their superior defense and goaltending all along. They are second in the league only to the New York Islanders with 159 goals against. Tuukka Rask (.920 save percentage) is having his most efficient season in four years.
Secondary scoring still doomed them against Tampa last season, and represented the clear No. 1 need in the offseason. But even without a major addition on Krejci’s right wing, Krejci himself is playing his best hockey since perhaps 2013, when he lit up the playoffs with a league-leading 26 points in 22 games.
Krejci is on pace for 70 points, which would be three off his career-high of 73 in 2008-09. He’s elevating the wingers around him as well as any point in recent memory. There’s a chance he does the same for Johansson, or that he gets David Pastrnak when he returns while Danton Heinen stays on the top line. After he scored just two points in five playoff games against Tampa, a better Krejci with DeBrusk a year older – and a much-improved third line with Coyle and Johansson together – may yield the secondary scoring the Bruins need anyway.
Frustration with Sweeney over the lack of fireworks is understandable, especially as fans sit and wonder how much longer Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and Zdeno Chara will play at this high of a level. But it was too late to set the fireworks off. Sweeney needed to make those moves before the season even started. He didn’t, and it cost him months later. Making the kind of drastic move it would’ve taken to get Stone or someone of his caliber would’ve only further dug a hole he’d already dug for himself.
If the Bruins come up short again in the playoffs, look again at Sweeney. But not the Sweeney of the past week, but the Sweeney of June and July.
Matt Dolloff 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 Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.