Don Sweeney

Bruins wary of negatively impacting "very good chemistry" at trade deadline

Bruins wary of negatively impacting "very good chemistry" at trade deadline

TORONTO – It doesn’t take much searching on the Google machine to uncover noteworthy accomplishments from the Bruins this season. 

The Bruins are top-five in the NHL in offense, defense and penalty kill, and they have gone an amazing 31-6-4 since the middle of November while storming to the very top of the NHL standings. Along the way they’ve overcome injuries, tough losses bad starts, one lengthy Brad Marchand suspension and a fan base that was only half paying attention until the season ended anticlimactically for the New England Patriots a couple of weeks ago. 

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They also did all of this while introducing a lineup with five or six rookies in it every single night, and playing for a head coach in Bruce Cassidy in his first full year running the NHL team after 13 years between NHL gigs. They’ve been resilient and filled with fighting character all along, and they’ve overwhelmed opponents with their depth and quality of players on the vast majority of nights. 

They’re an entertaining and fun hockey club to watch, to be sure, and they are a group that sticks up for each other and genuinely likes one another while also sitting mere points behind the top dog Tampa Bay Lightning. That was all evident when the entire team enjoyed a night out together in Toronto on Wednesday, and wound up using the team-wide get-together as quality content for their Instagram accounts. 

Long story short, the Bruins have been extremely good this season on a consistent basis and look primed for an intriguing run into the postseason as the NHL trade deadline beckons. 

With all that in mind, it’s a delicate balance for Bruins management between making necessary roster improvements and not upsetting a tangle team chemistry that’s been notably special this season. The always candid Cassidy admitted as much when asked that question while meeting with reporters at the Bruins team hotel on Thursday morning. 

“I think it’s been factored into conversations between me and Donny [Sweeney] that we have a group with some real togetherness there this season,” said Cassidy. “At the end of the day if you can add and make your team better then you always have to look at it, and Donny is looking at that right now. 

“Adding [Nick] Holden I think he’s done that and we’ve added some more depth. But after that I do worry about if we subtract somebody from the room. If you’re adding and you’re not subtracting, i.e. future assets, then as a coach you always prefer to go that way. But Donnie will do what’s best and as a coaching staff we’ll take it from there so to speak. But there is a good chemistry with that group…a very good chemistry in that locker room.”

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Translation: There's a real concern that trading away a young NHL roster player like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Brandon Carlo could be altering the team's DNA a little too boldly. 

This is the factor to keep in mind chasing after rental wingers like Michael Grabner, Thomas Vanek and Patrick Maroon that are unlikely to cost more than a “B” prospect or reasonable draft pick in exchange for them. It’s expected that the Bruins would need to give up at least one young NHL asset, possibly two in a true blockbuster for a player with term, if they chased after bigger ticket targets like Rick Nash or Ryan McDonagh with the Rangers.

Certainly there might be some level of impatience that the Bruins should go for broke at the deadline based on the promise this group has shown this season. Perhaps some are worried the window is starting to close for some of their veteran core players, but the numbers say otherwise with players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand all enjoying vintage seasons. This isn’t a 2011 “Go for the Cup” type situation this season with the Bruins where they were primed and ready for a lengthy playoff run, and deals for Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle helped put them over the top. 

This year’s group is much more reminiscent of the 2008-09 Bruins that blew away expectations with a strong regular season, and enjoyed breakout performances from a number of younger players that saw them soar high above expectations. The youth and inexperience caught up to the Bruins that season when they were eliminated in the second round during a rugged seven game series with the Carolina Hurricanes, but the experience helped grow them into a contender on a steady trajectory over the next three seasons. 

That’s where the Bruins are this season. 

They’re a pleasant surprise team with a group of talented youngsters helping to push them to a higher level, and they’re due for a learning experience down the stretch and into the postseason. That isn’t likely to develop into an extended two-month Cup run unless a lot goes tremendously right for the Black and Gold, but the experience will pay dividends for next season and beyond. 

It might be that there’s just one more player for the Bruins to add ahead of Monday’s deadline, and that it will be more “sensible roster addition” than “take-your-breath-away blockbuster.” But that’s really okay when it comes to the Black and Gold.

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It’s okay because it means Don Sweeney hasn’t attempted pulling the roster apart at any of the seams, and will instead roll with his chemistry-filled Bruins regular season juggernaut to see exactly how good they stack up to be in the postseason. They’ve certainly earned that right after kicking the tar out of the rest of the NHL for the last three plus months, and it’s starting to feel like they’re going to get it.

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After Holden trade, what do Bruins do next?

After Holden trade, what do Bruins do next?

The Bruins made a preemptive move to shore up their defensemen depth nearly a week ahead of the NHL trade deadline, but Don Sweeney isn’t done dealing yet. The B’s are still in the market for a big, experienced winger capable of potentially filling a top-six role and somebody who can also bring more of a size/strength dimension to a group of wingers that are pretty young and pretty undersized outside of David Backes.

The Bruins have expressed interest in Edmonton’s Patrick Maroon and New York’s Rick Nash, and it’s expected that Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner are on their radar as well before the Feb. 26 deadline. While the Bruins might have to give up a decent prospect for a premier rental in Nash, it's not expected that the others will cost the Bruins either an "A" prospect or a top draft pick.  

It’s also expected that the Bruins aren’t going to be very active in potential trade markets for D-men Ryan McDonagh or Nik Hjalmarsson over the next week after shipping Rob O’Gara and a 2018 third-round pick to the New York Rangers for 30-year-old defenseman Nick Holden.

Sweeney wasn’t tipping his hand much after the Holden deal, but indicated that the Bruins are still burning up the phone lines looking for the right moves to support Boston’s playoff run.  

"We’re going to continue to look at the marketplace and see where guys may fit in, who’s available, continue the calls that happen a lot more frequently this time of year and see where it goes,” Sweeney said to reporters in Edmonton. “Our club has played well, but we’ve got a long way to go."

One other thing that the Bruins are clearly trying to do: Move the Matt Beleskey contract if at all possible after burying him in the AHL earlier this season. Hockey sources have indicated to NBCSportsBoston.com that the Bruins talked with the San Jose Sharks about Beleskey and that presumably it would have been in a deal where the B’s would have taken on the rest of Paul Martin’s similarly cap-unfriendly contract.

With the Bruins doing the Holden deal, that should eliminate Martin as a potential player of interest for the Black and Gold.

The Athletic’s Craig Custance reported on Tuesday that the Bruins and Red Wings had preliminary talks about Detroit energy forward Darren Helm. Those discussions are also believed to have been about trying to move Beleskey for a similar contract around the NHL. While there is very clearly a robust market of big, experienced top-six wingers for the Bruins to choose from, it’s going to be a much stiffer challenge for Sweeney to find somebody, anybody willing to take on a Beleskey contract that still has two years at a shade under $4 million per season left on it.   

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Bruins trade for defenseman Nick Holden from Rangers

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Bruins trade for defenseman Nick Holden from Rangers

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was active and out ahead of the pack with the NHL trade deadline looming next week and he’s made his first move. The Bruins have sent defenseman prospect Robbie O’Gara and a 2018 third-round pick to the New York Rangers for left-shot defenseman Nick Holden, who fills one of the big needs that the Black and Gold had entering this month.

Holden, 30, has been a solid player for the Rangers and Avalanche the past couple of seasons with career highs of 11 goals, 24 points and a plus-13 rating last season to go along with 20:38 of ice time per game for the Blueshirts. Holden has been a little less effective this season with three goals, 12 points and a minus-3 in 55 games for the Rangers, but he’s been a solid top-four, two-way D-man for the past few seasons.

This kind of move gives the Bruins exactly the kind of depth they were looking for on the left side of their back end and adds somebody else on the left side who can play penalty kill and shutdown-type roles behind Zdeno Chara. It also would seem to preclude them from being in the mix for any potential blockbuster for Rangers D-man Ryan McDonagh, but that’s a good thing given that the Bruins didn’t give up anything from their NHL roster to make this deal.

One interesting thing about Holden is that he can play either on the left or right side as a left shot D-man, so it adds flexibility to Boston's back end while also potentially opening up some of their other, younger D-men for corresponding trades if that's the direction Sweeney wants to go. 

O’Gara, 24, is a solid, stay-at-home prospect for the Bruins who's played in 11 games in Boston the past two seasons, but wasn’t the kind of battle-hardened veteran that the B’s were looking for in a playoff run. It also gives O’Gara, from Massapequa, New York, the chance to play for one of the teams he grew up watching and rewards a prospect who has done absolutely everything the B’s have asked of him since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2011.

Presumably, this move will allow Holden to slot in on a pairing with Charlie McAvoy and gives the Bruins the possibility of reuniting Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo as a shutdown pairing that enjoyed all kinds of success holding down other team’s top offensive players. It gives Bruce Cassidy the versatility to mix and match those four D-men to find the best combos and it should drop Torey Krug down to the bottom pairing where he’s probably best suited as an undersized power play maestro.

The bottom line is this gives the Bruins some back-end depth if injuries hit them hard as they did toward the end of last season. It also addresses a big need without giving up anything from an NHL roster that’s vying for the President’s Trophy. The price was a reasonable one for a player the caliber of Holden and could actually be much less than some other GMs pay for D-men closer to the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Sweeney deserves some credit for being an early bird and a tone-setter when it came to making this deal.   

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