BRIGHTON -- The mission for Bruins general manager Don Sweeney at this season’s trade deadline became clear in the weeks leading up to March 1.
It was Sweeney’s task to improve this season’s Bruins team if he could and add a piece to Boston’s long term picture if the price was right, but under no circumstances was the B’s general manager going to fritter away draft picks or blue chip prospects unless it was a franchise-altering improvement for the better.
Mission accomplished for the Bruins. They avoided any temptation to throw first round picks and prospects at St. Louis for Kevin Shattenkirk, and didn’t buckle and trade a potential core defenseman piece like Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy for a chance to add 24-year-old Gabriel Landeskog. They didn’t even give up a higher draft pick for a rental player like Radim Vrbata, or a potential backup goaltender like Jaroslav Halak (though it seems Garth Snow decided he wasn’t going to deal the goalie to a potential playoff competitor like the B’s anyway).
Instead the Bruins shipped out a 2018 conditional sixth round pick, that could become a fourth round pick, for Drew Stafford. The 31-year-old could bolster Boston’s offense from their bottom six forwards, and potentially replace Jimmy Hayes if he goes on another month-long malaise like he did in the first 55 games of this season, or could supplant a young player like Peter Cehlarik if the pressure becomes too great for them in the final 19 games of the season.
It was the kind of low-risk/possible high reward move that’s the smart deadline approach for a rebuilding hockey club with a new playoff glint in their eye after winning seven of their last eight games under Bruce Cassidy.
“I’m very happy with how our team has responded here, and I think that adding to the group continues to send a message that the group has played well, and it’s a nice response,” said Sweeney. “It’s not a surprise that our core players are leading that charge. They want to win, and they want to feel like they’re being supported.
“So, that’s what the task was at this particular time, without taking away from or breaking down the commitment piece of what we want to do now and moving forward. [We’re] trying to commit to them and a winning approach that we’re always going to maintain here. But you always understand that striking deals [of a bigger magnitude] are pretty difficult without sacrificing some of the things that we’ve committed to.”
This trade deadline was a stark contrast to Sweeney’s first trade deadline a year ago when he shuffled off a number of valuable draft picks for pedestrian rental players in Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles, and failed to get anything for a player in Loui Eriksson that was poised to walk away in free agency just a few months later. When the Bruins imploded in the season’s final weeks and fell short of the playoffs last spring, those B’s trade deadline maneuvers went from underwhelming to downright disastrous.
Sweeney was determined not to repeat history with another hockey club that’s similarly straddling the fence as a playoff bubble team, and he proved on Wednesday that he learned a valuable lesson last spring. It can’t be easy to do precious little on trade deadline day when the pressure is on to get into the postseason. Instead it becomes ridiculously easy to get in one’s own way and commit serious long term mistakes with short term implications, and even potentially interfere with a red-hot hockey team that could actually win a playoff round or two in the Atlantic Division bracket.
Bringing in a player like Stafford with just four goals and 13 points isn’t going to energize the fan base or cause a stampede of season ticket holders ready to reserve their playoff ducats. But it was the right move at the right time for the Bruins with almost zero downside to any of it.
Perhaps Sweeney is getting the hang of this GM thing after all nearly two years into the job running the Black and Gold.