By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Vegas Golden Knights stocked their roster in the expansion draft on Wednesday and the NHL trade moratorium ended Thursday morning.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney anticipates trade talks to heat up after a lull during the Golden Knights’ exclusive shopping spree.
“We were in a bit of a slowdown mode for a couple of days and I think now it’s going to accelerate again between now and throughout this weekend and then you’ve got a busy period leading into the [free agent] visitation stuff and talking period,” Sweeney told the media in Chicago on Thursday. “So I think actually it’s going to pick back up. I don’t think things are going to settle as much.”
After losing Colin Miller—an asset with value, but not enough for Sweeney to bother bribing Vegas to take someone else—the Bruins still have a talented pool of defensemen. Nonetheless, they could greatly use an upgrade on their back end, particularly on the left side, where they need someone after Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug.
Sweeney was holding his cards close to his vest Thursday morning before the pre-draft trade talks really revved up. He didn’t rule out acquiring another defenseman, but in an effort to maintain his leverage in discussions, he claimed that he’d be content standing pat.
“Again we feel very comfortable with the six guys that we have on our roster right now. We think the group itself has a lot of depth to it,” he said. “We’re excited about our younger players. But if there’s target-specific things, we’re going to continue to look at it.”
This is a unique opportunity for Sweeney and the Bruins. In Vegas, the Bruins (and 29 other teams) have the chance to trade with a team that’s not constrained by the upper limits of the salary cap because it’s starting from scratch and doesn’t figure to get anywhere near the ceiling. In addition, the Golden Knights can talk all they want about competing this season, but this is the rare team that doesn’t have to feel any shame about admitting its most important seasons are 2019 and beyond. The Golden Knights have stocked up on draft picks and the only way they’re going to improve is to add more in an effort to develop their own players and have a pool to trade from when the time comes to take a step forward as an organization.
It just so happens that the Bruins have a healthy amount of draft picks and prospects to please Vegas. And the Golden Knights already have two young left-shot defensemen that would fit the Bruins’ desired need for someone to move the puck from that side of the ice.
In a trade with Anaheim, Vegas wound up with 21-year-old Shea Theodore, who had nine points in 34 NHL games and 20 points in 26 AHL game last season. He’s still on his entry-level contract.
From the Washington Capitals the Golden Knights selected 25-year-old Nate Schmidt, who had 17 points in 60 games last season. He’s a restricted free agent who’s probably due a new contract more than double the $875,000 he was making last season. Adding Schmidt would probably require moving some other parts (perhaps sending Adam McQuaid to Vegas or elsewhere).
Either Theodore or Schmidt would come at steep price, but the Bruins have the assets and would be able to keep each player in the mix for years to come. Instead of waiting for prospects to blossom, Schmidt, and to a lesser extent Theodore, are a few steps ahead in the development process and could make a major impact now.
The bottom line is since his first summer as GM was filled with blockbusters involving Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton, Sweeney hasn’t pulled off an organization-shifting trade. His confidence in his plan and his front office, and his patience with his prospects are admirable. Making trades in the era of the salary cap and parity is difficult, but that’s why Sweeney has to strike while the Golden Knights are selling. There might not be another expansion team for a couple of years and the time to use the Golden Knights as a glorified farm team is now. Based on how slim the margins are in the NHL these days, the Bruins are closer to being a true contender right now than one would’ve predicted when Sweeney took over two years.
The Golden Knights began the sell-off phase of their organizational building by trading Trevor van Riemsdyk (a right shot, but someone who still would’ve looked good on the Bruins’ back end) to Carolina on Thursday. Sweeney should be next in line to make a trade with the Golden Knights.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.