It would be a natural instinct for anybody that’s tempted into thinking one or two quick fix moves could put an improving Bruins hockey club on the fast track to being a true contender next season.
Cam Neely and Don Sweeney both already identified top-6 left wing and a top-4 defenseman on the left side as ideal shopping list items, and have surmised that young, established NHL players might be a better choice for either one of those spots rather than simply hoping another prospect is ready to pop in training camp. Guys like Gabriel Landeskog and Jacob Trouba would fit into that kind of “young pro” category, and explains why they’ve been linked to the Black and Gold in the past.
It will be easier said than done for the Bruins front office to swing deals for that class of potential players, however, and the price will be considerable given how high impact those spots are on an NHL roster.
“You see the way that the game’s going. There’s a lot of speed in the games. We added some of that when we saw some [young] players that brought some speed, and we played a faster game actually. We practiced faster and played faster,” said Neely, during the end-of-the-year press conference with the B’s President and ownership group. “I think there are opportunities for guys that are in our system to maybe push and have some speed. I still like to play hard and go to the net, and those are areas where it’s difficult to score in this league and you’ve got to get there to score those goals.
“Whether we have someone on the left side on the back end that can push for a job, or we go out and find that player. But, I think our right side on the back end is pretty well-covered. Maybe a little bit of help on the left side on the wing that can maybe contribute offensively. We’re hoping we maybe had a couple players in our system that are maybe able to push and show that they’re ready to play in the NHL and contribute.”
So given all of those factors, let’s back to our original thought.
It would be pretty natural to see a flaming dumpster of a playoff train wreck like the Washington Capitals and feel like that might be the kind of situation where the Bruins could reap some sort of opportunistic benefit. The sense is major changes are coming to the Capitals organization after once again failing to advance past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the biggest change could be Russian sniper Alex Ovechkin getting shipped out of the nation’s capital.
Without taking into account cap hits, trade costs or anything else in the real world of the NHL, a big, sharp-shooting left wing like Ovechkin could be amazing paired with a playmaking center like David Krejci that’s always thrived with a goal-scoring power forward.
The Bruins will also have the cap space and the ideal geographic location to attract another Washington refugee in defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who sounds like he wants to be a No. 1 defenseman wherever he signs a deal this summer for an expectedly massive seven-year, $49 million plus contract. That’s the going rate for qualifying as the premier D-man on the free agent market.
Ovechkin scored the second-lowest goals and point totals of his career with the 33 goals and 69 points in 82 games this season for the Caps, and finished with just five goals and eight points in Washington’s 13 playoff games this spring. That included a total crap-out in Game 7 while Ovechkin played through knee and hamstring injuries that were no doubt painful, but also weren’t injuries serious enough to require surgery after the season.
Ovechkin is signed for four more years at a whopping $9.5 million on the wrong side of 30 years old, and is clearly showing signs of slowing down while poised to play in his 1,000th NHL game next season. Still, this is a premier scoring left wing with 6-foot-3, 239-pound size that potted 50 plus goals in each of the previous three seasons prior to a 2016-17 campaign that clearly wasn’t his best.
The 28-year-old Shattenkirk finished with 13 goals and 56 points in 80 games for St. Louis and Washington after being the biggest fish landed at the NHL trade deadline. The former BU standout is hitting free agency at a time where he’s going to get both term and massive, ridiculous money similar to the deal Florida handed out to fellow elite puck-mover Keith Yandle last summer. Shattenkirk was a dud in the playoffs for Washington, however, with a goal and six points in 13 postseason games, and a subpar effort in Game 7 that was on pair with Ovechkin’s disappearing act. Shattenkirk is now a rough minus-15 in 60 playoff games throughout his career, and looks more like a second-pairing/power play guy to most clear-eyed talent evaluators around the league.
So should the Bruins take a swing at either of these talented players after watching the Capitals fall to the Penguins again in the “history keeps repeating itself” Stanley Cup playoff storyline for the last decade? Or even double up on them to deliver an instant roster upgrade for the next couple of seasons in a perilous quick fix?
The answer is a resounding “No.”
The Bruins organization is on the rise because they’ve invested heavily in drafting and development, and are now introducing a slew of talented young prospects into the fold. The coaches love them because they’re skilled, coachable and full of energy, and the GM loves them because they’re super cheap in an NHL world dominated by the salary cap.
When you have an established veteran group like the Bruins that boasts both veteran Cup-winning experience and good people at their core, it’s the perfect complement for several waves of young players breaking into the league.
The worst thing a team like the Bruins could do right now is wrongly deduce that they need to massively overpay for veteran players, and bring on NHL players that have shown a track record of choking during the big moments in their career. It’s a scathing indictment of Ovechkin’s competitiveness and makeup in crunch time that he’s never really won anything of significance from a team perspective in his pro hockey career. Shattenkirk is about to become a massively overpaid defenseman approaching 30 years old, and there are enough warning signs that his game will begin to deteriorate well before his next contract ends.
The Bruins already made the mistake of overpaying for an aging, slower veteran when they inked David Backes to a five-year contract last summer. At least they did so knowing that Backes would add necessary qualities like toughness, leadership and accountability into the Boston dressing room. There isn’t the same kind of argument to be made with Ovechkin and Shattenkirk, who would amount to hired guns brought on by the Bruins to fill organizational roles that they wouldn’t be able to fill internally.
The quickest way for the Bruins to ruin the slow, patient building process that is finally getting some traction? It would be to go for the quick fix and chase short-term solutions, and that’s exactly what Ovechkin and Shattenkirk represent as they gain some distance from the Capitals carnage from earlier this week.
It should be a giant pass from the Bruins on both Ovechkin and Shattenkirk, and the guess here is that it will be from a B’s management group that wants to do this the right way.