BOSTON – There is no gray area when it comes to this: it’s been a challenging first year for Don Sweeney at the controls of hockey ops for the Boston Bruins.

He came under fire almost immediately for trading away Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic in exchange for future assets, and failed in his attempts to move up in the first round and secure a young future No. 1 defenseman in Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski.

Fast forward through the first five months of the season, and the Bruins are 23rd in the NHL in defense allowing 2.8 goals per game after giving up six goals, 74 shot attempts and four posts to the dreadful Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-4 loss at TD Garden. Things are getting worse rather than better in the defensive zone for the Black and Gold, and both Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are predictably playing like haggard, proud warriors that can’t do close to what they did five years ago.

Torey Krug is playing well, but it’s also apparent his top-4 responsibilities have sapped some of the explosive offense out of his game. Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow are limited young players prone to mistakes in high pressure situations, and Colin Miller is a skilled, puck-mover that was among the NHL’s top rookie D-men in scoring until he was dropped back to the AHL.

Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller are rugged blueliners that make opponents pay the price, but are also badly exposed in top-4 roles forced upon them by the Bruins. It’s been clear all season that Boston need at least one top-3 defenseman in the prime of his career, or a young player like Hamilton they can groom into an heir to Chara’s throne.

Instead they’ve allowed more goals than any other playoff team aside from the fringe Colorado Avalanche, and they hold the worst home ice record (12-15-3) of any club currently in postseason position. The Bruins have managed to exceed expectations to this point by building up to 70 points in 60 games, and currently hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

But Monday night’s loss to the Blue Jackets wasn’t just there for the Bruins to roll out the excuse they got in from the road at 4 a.m., but also another reminder their shoddy defense will destroy them quickly in a playoff series.

“Defensively we failed [against Columbus] to do a good job there. When you give up five goals – whether you’re counting the empty-netter – two of them four-on-threes, I thought we weren’t really good in our own end tonight . . . losing some battles and that kind of stuff,” said Claude Julien. “Defensively we need to be better and we scored enough to win, but we didn’t do a good job there. I think that was probably the thing that cost us the most tonight because I think deep down the guys are trying. There’s the element of fatigue that sets in. We tried to overcome that, and I thought they tried to work hard. But I think mentally some of the decision-making tonight defensively was not good enough.”

So all this leads up to this week’s trade discussions, and the high stakes poker game between the 30 NHL general managers looking to make deals, and take advantage of each other.

Sweeney is under a great deal of pressure to make the right decision on Loui Eriksson, who is the biggest trade chip the Bruins have headed into the Feb. 29 deadline. The Bruins will get a bare minimum of a first round pick and a prospect for Eriksson should they move him, and they are working intently on packaging him with a first round pick and a prospect (Alex Khokhlachev, perhaps?) as the main pieces to net that elusive young defenseman. Minnesota, Anaheim and St. Louis are all clamoring for more offense while ranking in the bottom third of NHL team in scoring, and boast young D-men like Matthew Dumba, Sami Vatanen and Kevan Shattenkirk that would instantly upgrade Boston’s defensive situation.

Those are the places where Sweeney holds the best chance of parlaying an Eriksson-led package into their biggest need, and the trigger needs to be pulled on a quality young D-man if it becomes a viable option.

While the belief at this address is that Sweeney and the Bruins can post the .500 record needed to hang onto a playoff spot for the remaining 22 games without or without Eriksson, there is a risk for the Black and Gold in trading a player on pace for 31 goals and 66 points.

Not a big one, of course, because Eriksson will walk for nothing at the end of the year, and will sign a big money, 5-6 year deal elsewhere that the Bruins wisely aren’t willing to pony up.

The word around Causeway Street is that Sweeney is working on multiple deals all leading up to the deadline, and it wouldn’t just be selling on Eriksson. It would be bringing in a defenseman, perhaps dealing for an Eriksson-esque replacement in the short term and upgrading a fourth line that could use a little more size, strength and snarl.

But Sweeney could risk demoralizing his group of players if he can’t execute on all those potential moves, and the B’s instead simply sell off Eriksson for whatever the highest bidder is willing to send back. The Black and Gold should make the playoffs either way, but we all saw the kind of sagging late season collapse this hockey club is capable of when they missed the playoffs by a point last season.

Does it even matter as this team has shown little evidence they will be capable of making an extended run in the playoffs, even if the Eastern Conference is full of flawed teams?

That will no doubt be in the back of the minds of Sweeney and Cam Neely as they finalize their decisions for this week, and look for a better signature moment than last summer’s NHL Draft missteps. It would be much easier for the Bruins front office if they could get a strong read on their team’s ultimate ceiling this season, but the consecutive games against Dallas and Columbus reveal the maddening inconsistency.

There are no easy answers for Sweeney as he continues to try and reshape the Bruins on the fly while still competing for the playoffs, and there will be instant judging no matter what does, or doesn’t, happen by Monday afternoon. Let’s just hope it’s not a repeat of the exercise in inactivity that the Boston Celtics practiced at their trade own deadline last week, and the best deals don’t turn out to be the ones they came “this close” to making.

The Bruins organization needs some very clear direction at this pivotal point in the season, and Sweeney’s actions at the NHL trade deadline will speak volumes.