BOSTON (CBS) – Up on the dais during the press conference to announce Don Sweeney as the replacement general manager for Peter Chiarelli last month, CEO Charlie Jacobs declared a new era in the Bruins’ history.
When asked to expand upon how firing the GM who seven months earlier was declared the “best in the business” by his father Jeremy Jacobs and replacing him with his assistant created a new era, the younger Jacobs was hard-pressed to come up with an answer other than – to paraphrase – it’s a new era because he said it’s a new era.
Just when it seemed nothing to be more incoherent than Jacobs’ press-conference answer about the new era, Sweeney’s maneuvering at the NHL Draft in Sunrise, Fla., on Friday muddied the waters the Bruins are supposedly swimming toward a return to prominence in the NHL.
The moves the Bruins made Friday might make them contenders again … in 2017-18. But for the here and now, for a team that spends to the salary-cap ceiling and raises ticket prices nearly every season, the Bruins seriously handicapped themselves just months after missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
Although Sweeney still has the second day of the draft on Saturday, the free agent period and the rest of the summer to assemble a roster, here’s how his first day to make a big splash went in the Sunshine State. Faced with a precarious position near the salary-cap ceiling, Sweeney came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth drawing out negotiations with restricted free agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton or even making an extension offer to forward Milan Lucic, whose contract doesn’t expire until next summer.
So Sweeney swapped Hamilton to Calgary for the 15th pick in the first round and two second-round picks (45 and 52). If the haul Sweeney received seemed a little light, especially since it lacked a player for the here and now, it looked even worse when the Islanders dealt Griffin Reinhart, with a lot lesser pedigree than Hamilton, for picks 16 and 33. Sweeney feared that Hamilton wasn’t committed to staying in Boston for the long haul once the player turned down a “very significant” offer. Still, when you draft, develop and control a defenseman of Hamilton’s caliber, you should probably do everything in your power to retain his services for as long as you can, especially when you like to talk about the Stanley Cup as a reasonable goal. Restricted free agency exists to give the team leverage over young plyers. Instead Sweeney pulled the trigger on a trade.
Then Sweeney sent Lucic packing in exchange for pick 13, backup goaltender Martin Jones (a restricted free agent) and prospect Colin Miller. This was a decent return for a veteran coming off subpar seasons in two of the past three years and entering the last year of a contract that already pays him way too much at $6 million. Still a team that was in the bottom of the third of the League in scoring all season has now stripped away Lucic’s 18 goals in addition to Carl Soderberg’s 13 goals.
There was hope that would change during the draft. With three straight picks in the middle of the first round of an extremely deep draft, the Bruins were expected to parlay their assets and move up in the draft or take advantage of their lofty position to trade down and acquire some bodies to make up for the loss of the top-six left wing and top-four defenseman that they shipped out.
However, they stood pat and used the picks. They plucked Czech defenseman Jakub Zboril at 13. They probably could’ve had him at 14 and although he might have a bright future, Pierre McGuire’s instant comparison to thuggish Philadelphia defenseman Radko Gudas didn’t inspire dreams of Zboril making up for Hamilton’s loss.
The Bruins used their own pick at 14 to select forward Jake DeBrusk. At 15, they went off the board, passed over highly touted forwards Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor, and went for forward Zach Sanyshyn. How off the board did they go? ESPN ranked Sanyshyn at 88, McKeen’s had him ranked 52 and most experts tabbed him as a second-rounder. Remember the Bruins will pick at 37 and then twice more in the second round on Saturday.
Before the draft, Sweeney publicly explained the Hamilton and Lucic trades to the media on hand. He didn’t promise more moves, but made it seem that the farm system is going to save the Bruins.
“Clearly we have to integrate our younger players in our lineup and do a better, as I’ve mentioned, been on record, be patient with them while they continue to develop at the National Hockey League level,” Sweeney said. “And I think every team faces that.”
Based on what we saw last season, replacing Soderberg with Ryan Spooner, who also needs a new contract, will probably work out. There are plenty of candidates to fill in in Boston’s bottom six among prospects that were at Providence and who were signed as free agents or drafted on Friday. But now the Bruins have shed a powerful winger from their lineup for the second straight year. Without Jarome Iginla, and David Krejci because of injury for most of the 2014-15 season, Lucic’s production tailed off. There’s no doubt he underachieved for much of his tenure in Boston. But what he gave the Bruins, both in production and intangible, was at least something. Right now, unless you’re expecting David Pastrnak’s 40-goal sophomore season or Seth Griffith’s transformation into prime-years Martin St. Louis, the Bruins have bupkis.
While we wait for the proverbial other shoe to drop and Sweeney to fill in the holes in his roster, this is how we define the new era in Bruins hockey. The GM is the longtime assistant to the guy who was considered the best in the business by the owner less than a year ago. The coach and his entire staff are the same. The defenseman who was considered the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara wasn’t worth negotiating with longer than a few weeks. The power forward who personified “Bruins hockey” wasn’t worth riding out the contract year to see if the production could come back and something could work out contract-wise next summer. Oh, and Adam McQuaid, a loyal soldier, but someone who’s typically hurt and is easily replaceable by a cheaper Kevan Miller or other players from the farm system or free agency, is worth a raise that takes us a bulk of the savings that Boston could have gotten from trading Lucic.
Yes, it’s definitely a new era. Where once there was a plan to be a perennial Stanley Cup contender that paid off in one championship and one six-game dalliance in the finals, there is now a commitment to youth and a drop-off in talent that will guarantee another game-less May in 2016.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.