BOSTON (CBS) – Sometimes Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is difficult to understand.
Partly that’s because he’s trying to be secretive about his plans or opinions, and sometimes it just seems he has too many words that all have to come out.
But this weekend Sweeney was quite clear about his intentions heading into the NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday. And no one can accuse him of hiding the fact that there probably won’t be a big trade coming down the pipe with the Bruins battling for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“You never say never,” Sweeney told the Boston Herald on Friday. “We have some depth from a prospects standpoint. I’m pretty consistent that we’re not giving up [those guys]. We committed to the draft and [are] developing the newer guys. When they’re ready to play, they’re going to impact our lineup.
“That being said, if there is a deal or opportunity to improve this club with somebody who will probably be with us, rather than on the pure rental side, then I’d definitely explore it.”
Sweeney, in his chat with the Herald, also mentioned the faint possibility that prospects Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson could join the Bruins when Boston University’s season is over. In that case, Sweeney would be wise to leave open a roster spot or two for a rookie who could make a late-season impact and help the Bruins avoid a third straight spring without playoffs.
Avoiding the rental market is also wise. We’ve already witnessed Patrick Eaves, having a career year at 32, garner a second-round pick (which could become a first-round pick) in a trade from Dallas to Anaheim. That set the market value for rentals just as high as one would expect. Next to July 1, the trade deadline is the “silly season” and only teams with a real shot at the Stanley Cup should be mortgaging the future for just a couple months of service from a veteran with little time to integrate into a new team. Eric Staal has had a renaissance with Minnesota this season but at this time last season he was lost on an island after getting traded to the New York Rangers.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has been categorized by some as an attractive target for the Bruins, either as a deadline-day rental or as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Reports surfaced this week that Shattenkirk already spiked one trade because he wouldn’t agree to a long-term contract, as is his right. And frankly he’d be nuts to do anything other than become a free agent in the summer in order to maximize his earning potential. Even if he’d be willing to sign long-term with the Bruins, the price in terms of a trade would be too great and would get the Bruins’ plan off track. As a free agent, Shattenkirk figures to be asking for at least $6 million over six years. The Bruins have worked so hard to stock their coffers with legitimate defense prospects, and Shattenkirk — even if you think he’s more than a second-pair defender — would just be in the way of those prospects. And he would ruin the flexibility under the salary-cap ceiling Sweeney has worked hard to create and will have more of next season when Zdeno Chara’s cap hit drops to $4 million.
Adding a veteran with term on his contract would also screw up what’s a pretty strong Bruins roster to combat being raided by the expansion draft in June. As it stands right now, the Bruins could expose Jimmy Hayes, Riley Nash, Anton Khudobin and one of Kevan Miller or Adam McQuaid and be in compliance. They might lose someone like Colin Miller but at least they wouldn’t have to expose a true core player.
With the expansion draft in mind, Sweeney should definitely be looking to unload players as much as he’s looking for someone to come to Boston to help. Matt Beleskey, who has two goals in 35 games, has had a disastrous season. At 28 years old, he may just be having an off year, especially coming off a serious leg injury. He might be valuable to another organization, including Vegas. As a fourth-liner who has been in and out of the Bruins’ lineup the past couple weeks, Beleskey is just a burden on the salary cap and the roster. If a team could at least make him into a serviceable third-liner and power-play performer, he might be worth the $3.8 million cap charge over the next three seasons. If Sweeney could get a fourth- or fifth-round pick for Beleskey, he should take it rather than risk losing the forward for nothing to the Golden Knights. If the Bruins need help down the stretch, they have plenty in Providence with Anton Blidh and Sean Kuraly ready to contribute in the role Beleskey’s currently filling at a ridiculous price tag.
Defenseman Joe Morrow is younger (24) than Beleskey, but in a similar situation. Currently on a conditioning stint with Providence, Morrow serves little purpose to the Bruins right now. He hasn’t played an NHL game since Jan. 22 and has one assist in 17 games this season. He’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer and could be someone the Golden Knights select as a project. Someone right now, either a contender or a team lacking in defense depth, might be willing to part with a midlevel pick for Morrow and it’s worth it because the Bruins already have John-Michael Liles as a seventh defenseman, Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk in Providence waiting their turn, and possibly McAvoy coming on board in March or April.
If Sweeney has full support of president Cam Neely and ownership to continue to execute this plan, standing pat is fine. But being a seller won’t mean giving up on this season, just maximizing assets.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.