By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
For many, it didn't take long for the post-deadline panic to set in.
It checked in at about 3:01 p.m., actually.
How could the Bruins -- the best team in the league and led by two centers in their mid-30s, a 32-year-old goaltender playing the best hockey of his career, and a soon-to-be 43-year-old captain -- not go all in and grab the best player available at the deadline? What was the point of clearing money off the books if you weren't going to use it on a move that would elevate you to Cup favorite status? How could they let everybody around them get better while you made 'safe' and 'lateral' moves?
Such panic insinuates that the Bruins are not who their record says they are, and that this is a team in dire need of help.
It's also not the reality of their situation.
I mean, how many truly impactful talents moved to legitimate threats of the Bruins? The list is pretty short.
It's headlined by Devil-turned-Lightning Blake Coleman and then it becomes a who's who of maybes and moves you're already built to match. Seriously, who's the second-best player traded within the East? Ilya Kovalchuk? Listen, I'll wear my Atlanta Thrashers shirt until it no longer resembles a shirt (getting close), but I have a hard time thinking it's anything more than the 2020 version of Washington's 2008 deadline move for Sergei Fedorov. Patrick Marleau to the Pens scare anybody? What about Zach Bogosian? You can worry about Carolina's deadline load-up with Vinny Trocheck, Brady Skjei, and Sami Vatanen when they're in a playoff spot and when you find out whether or not they have an upright goalie.
If you want to get real, the second-best player picked up in the Eastern Conference arms race was Ondrej Kase.
(Yes, the same injury-plagued Ondrej Kase arriving to the Bruins with just seven goals and 23 points in 49 games this year. The same Kase who got hit by Jake Muzzin so hard it gave him some flu-like symptoms that still haven't subsided.)
It all comes back to one major point: None of the deadline's big fish -- Chris Kreider, Kyle Palmieri, Josh Anderson, Joe Thornton, and or even second-tier big fish like the Wild's Zach Parise or the Canadiens' Tomas Tatar -- moved to your competition. Or moved at all. Kreider actually signed an extension with the New York Rangers on deadline day.
"I can only tell you what’s happened in the last few years: it just hasn’t been a lot of trades," B's general manager Don Sweeney said. "You’ve got competitive balance throughout the league, and bunching up — you’ve got a few teams that may be out by this time of the year, that they’re clear sellers. And a lot of people that are either holding their assets tight to their vest and planning going forward or nope, they’re fully in the marketplace. Supply and demand dictates it, but that’s where things have trended is to having things transpire more around a timeframe of the trade deadline."
This was your classic seller's market, and not many teams were biting on such insane prices. To complicate things, the sellers refused to even entertain the idea of losing a trade for their equivalent of a $20 gallon of gasoline. But buyers grabbed a map and found the nearest bus. Now, that's not to say that the Bruins weren't in line at the pump. Because they were.
The Bruins entered the weekend in on Palmieri, and that they were comfortable with the cap space created in the Backes deal and its ability to let them do that. They were ready to go, and at one point it seemed somewhat promising, according to a source. But the Bruins' lack of a 2020 first-round pick complicated things, and trading consecutive first-round selections was not something that seemed to be of great interest to Sweeney, who has only traded a first-round pick on two occasions during his Boston run, including last weekend's deal for Kase.
Devils interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald, meanwhile, made it known that he wasn't going to be "bullied" into trading Palmieri just because it made the most sense given the team's nosedive back towards a rebuild. Fitzgerald repeatedly told insiders (and then the assembled media) that he wanted an offer that would "knock his socks off." Deals centered around kids and conditional picks (non-firsts) didn't do that for New Jersey.
So where do you go when that happens?
Do you force yourself into a swing that wrenches your back just to say you did it? Sweeney, now in his fifth season on the job, has graduated beyond a need for the bravado and chest-thumping that comes with winning deadline day.
I mean, just think about this roster: They're atop the NHL and slated to have home-ice throughout the postseason at their current pace, and they've scored the sixth-most goals in the league while surrendering the fewest. Their power play is currently clicking at a second-best 25.2 percent (only McDavid and Co. have been better), and their penalty kill ranks third in the NHL with an 84.0 percent success rate. They have two legitimate Hart Trophy candidates in Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and Tuukka Rask seems in line for the second Vezina of his career. If they get anything from their (limited-by-injuries) first line in the final three games of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, there's a seventh gold banner hanging from the TD Garden rafters.
But they do/did have problems.
The Bruins' biggest problems this year have been the revolving door on David Krejci's right side (Kase is here to fix that), thei right side of their third pairing (Jeremy Lauzon has stepped up and they're still hoping to get both Connor Clifton and Kevan Miller back at some point), the lack of chemistry from the typically-effective fourth line, and a lack of extra oomph up front.
Nick Ritchie, the rare big-bodied analytics darling, will help them address some of their issues. So will Kase. I mean, Kase finally gives this team another cost-controlled, right-shot right wing who isn't afraid to shoot the puck at ridiculous rates.
If they're your Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, you're happy. You won't even need the comfort of the 'star' Tomas Kaberle.
"Ultimately you’re just trying to get the best players to give yourself a chance to win," said Sweeney. "That’ll be determined in what success we have between now and the end of the year."
And not by deadline day victory laps.