Boston Bruins

Wednesday’s Erik Haula-for-Pavel Zacha trade makes no sense.

I know how that sounds. But when I say that it makes no sense, let it be known that that’s absolutely great news for general manager Don Sweeney and the Bruins.

When word of Zacha’s trade to Boston first broke, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop because surely there had to be one. Haula, an admirable midseason fill-in on the Black and Gold’s second line, was on his way to New Jersey, but there had to be more on the way to Jersey. There’s no way the Bruins were making that one-for-one swap without suffering an additional blow. Right? Nope! The Bruins were indeed able to get six years younger and bigger at a key position (and with similar versatility) — and acquire a player with a higher ceiling — in a one-for-one.

“We just felt that Pavel Zacha was a player that we had targeted in the middle of the ice in a multi-positional type player,” Sweeney, who will need to sign Zacha to a new contract as an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent this summer, said. “I feel there’s growth and potential there moving forward. Just felt like it was an opportunity for now and potentially moving forward. We identified a player that fit into our organization that we’re excited about.”

The No. 6 overall pick from the 2015 NHL Draft, Zacha hasn’t exactly delivered like many of his contemporaries from that loaded class, but he’s also coming to the Bruins as someone who has shown signs of finding his NHL fit. He scored a career-high 17 goals in 50 games during the pandemic-delayed 2021 season, and is coming off a career-high 36 points last season. Zacha also finished last year fifth among all N.J. skaters in individual scoring chances at even strength, and finished last year as the Devils’ second-best performer in terms of on-ice Corsi-For percentage and shots-for percentage.

“I think there’s big room for improvement for me,” Zacha admitted. “I think this is gonna be a great opportunity and a restart for me being on this team and having a lot of other players who can help me reach where I want to be as a player.

“The last couple of years, I’ve played better than before, but it also wasn’t even close to where I can be. I’m excited to have a restart in my career and be better than I was last year.”

That’s clearly the hope from the B’s point of view, too, as Zacha will have an opportunity to be more. That could come in the middle of Boston’s second line with David Pastrnak and Taylor Hall should David Krejci opt not to return. Or it could come riding to the left of Charlie Coyle on Boston’s third line. Perhaps Zacha could even get a shot riding to the left of Patrice Bergeron while the Bruins await Brad Marchand’s return from offseason hip surgery.

“That’s what you hope for when you make a trade of this nature and a player that was drafted and has the skillset that he has. He’s had opportunity in situations, playing with better players for periods of time — albeit in a younger environment,” Sweeney said. “So, he’ll have a chance to hopefully play in a top-nine scenario with us and with March being out, a significant opportunity early on with power play and situational play that he can benefit from.”

One thing the Bruins like about Zacha: His ability to finish from around the net. This has been a focus for the Bruins in terms of what needs to improve, and they’ll be pleased to know that 30 percent of Zacha’s shots in 2021-22 came from that homeplate area (and 27 percent of his goals came from there), according to Icy Data’s map. Now, whether or not that successfully translates is always a dangerous game — especially with this front office’s repeated runs at finding players who can excel in this aspect of the offensive zone — but the Bruins clearly believe there’s more to be discovered here.

“We do believe there’s more potential there,” Sweeney, who let the Zacha move stand as his big Day 1 move, admitted. “And that’s up to Pavel to take advantage of the opportunities he’s presented with.”

But whether or not Zacha proves to be more than what he’s been in New Jersey, this is a move that you have to love to see Sweeney and the Bruins make from a pure trade value standpoint.

As previously noted, Zacha’s younger, has a bigger frame, and has more to be explored when it comes to his ceiling as a player. But the Bruins also did what can only be described as a wicked pump-and-dump of the 31-year-old Haula. Signed to the Bruins as a free agent after bouncing around four different teams over two years, the Bruins put Haula in a situation where he produced at a clip that he was probably unlikely to repeat (injuries and inconsistencies have disrupted his past successes) and got out ahead of having him sit in limbo without a designated lineup fit should the Bruins successfully lure David Krejci back to the NHL after a season in the Czech League.

This is by definition selling high, and something that the Bruins have always needed to do more of under this front office.

And the best part: They did while finding a player who should very well be an upgraded version of the player sold.

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Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has been covering the Bruins since 2010, and has been a member of the Boston chapter of the PHWA since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.