SUNRISE, Fla. – Well, the Bruins certainly made a statement this weekend at the NHL Draft.
They traded away their future No. 1 defenseman in Dougie Hamilton and top-line left winger/signature player in Milan Lucic, and became the first NHL team in more than 40 years to make three consecutive first-round picks while receiving back exactly zero bona fide NHL impact players in the process.
They tried to trade up in the first round to get a chance at Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski and failed miserably, while being left with a bag of mid-first-round picks as a consolation prize.
All of those talented youngster selected are a good two or three years away from contributing to the NHL club with no David Pastrnak-level phenoms among the group.
They turned away from a deal offered by Peter Chiarelli – the 16th pick, the 33rd pick and the 57th pick – for Hamilton that would have been better than the offer they ultimately agreed on with the Calgary Flames.
They had nearly everybody at the BB&T Center dumbfounded with what they were trying to do and what their plan could have possibly been.
More than once this humble hockey writer was stopped on the BB&T Center draft floor and asked, “What the heck are the Bruins doing?”
Well it’s a pretty damned good question that still hasn’t been answered fully.
Don Sweeney was adamant Friday night that he expects the Bruins to compete for the playoffs this upcoming season and that’s what he must say as the figurehead at the top of the organization’s hockey ops.
The GM’s words sounded hollow, however, when the actions screamed out about a team in rebuild mode.
“With our goaltending, with the core group of our guys, our strength up the middle of the ice [we can compete],” said Sweeney. “We had players that didn’t score to the level they were supposed to last year.
“Are we going to continue to look to improve our club? Absolutely.”
The Bruins placed themselves halfway to a rebuild with the Hamilton and Lucic trades, and one has to wonder if they’ll pursue moving Zdeno Chara, David Krejci or Tuukka Rask at some point soon as well.
They might as well with the gaping holes now staring at them on the roster, a series of holes they will be hard-pressed to fill in.
Things stabilized on Saturday as they got down to simply picking players, and came away with some pretty good ones among the seven draft choices made in rounds 2-7. But no matter how decent Saturday turned out to be for the B’s scouting staff, the opening night Black and Gold salvo was the kind of half-executed, epic fail of a plan screaming out inexperienced GM and club president running the show for the first time.
It was underscored further when Chiarelli was busy drafting the next great NHL player, Connor McDavid, and swiftly moving draft picks to secure a goaltender (Cam Talbot) and a horse defenseman (Griffin Reinhart).
There is no denying the simple fact the Bruins are now markedly worse than they were prior to the draft, and that was a lackluster hockey team not good enough to make the playoffs.
Now, they have a giant void in the middle of their defensemen corps where the 22-year-old Hamilton was supposed to do much of the heavy lifting. Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and Dennis Seidenberg is 33, and they have regressed due to age and miles logged over the years and can’t be expected to play the way they did five years ago.
Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid are the de facto middle pairing on defense as of right now, and will be expected to be top-four defensemen after both struggled at times in that role last season.
Then they have youngsters like Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow expected to pick up the slack along with the Colin Miller prospect they acquired from LA in the Lucic deal.
Reinhart, a top-four pick back in 2012, was dealt from the New York Islanders to Chiarelli and the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night in exchange for the 16th and 33rd picks in the draft. A source told CSNNE.com that the San Jose Sharks were the only other team in the running for the 22-year-old Reinhart, and that’s exactly the kind of player the Bruins should have had their radar on high alert searching for.
Instead they were too busy making picks 13-15 in the first round, and reaching for a player in Zachary Senyshyn that was, by all accounts, still going to be there for them in the second round. That was one of the final cherries on the Friday Sundae for one of the worst days for the Bruins organization in recent memory.
In many ways it actually felt like a return to the last days of Harry Sinden’s time running the team. Nobody was quite sure if it was Sinden or Mike O’Connell making the calls on trades and transactions, and anybody that played hardball with them was voted off the island. That’s what happened with Hamilton and J.P. Barry on Friday night after they spent too much time pining for a contract like that of Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5 million) or Drew Doughty ($7 million) without actually posting the performance to earn it.
Give Sweeney and Neely credit for making the steel-girded statement that the B’s will no longer be an ATM machine handing out exorbitant contracts, and tossing out no movement clauses like pieces of candy at a parade. Something about that kind of strength of conviction is admirable.
“I wasn’t necessarily afraid of the offer sheet,” said Sweeney. “I thought that we’d be able to get into a position to match.
“We extended Dougie a very significant contract offer, and it didn’t lead us to where we thought we’d be able to, with him being comfortable being a part of our group long-term. So that sort of changed the course a little bit.”
That’s interesting language from Sweeney, and makes it seem pretty plain that Hamilton might not have been all busted up about leaving Boston for Calgary.
The hard-line negotiating tactic is something that will get the attention of both the players and the agents that represent those players – and it might just be that they used Hamilton to make the strong statement that they won’t be strong-armed.
But they need to be awfully careful they don’t get too confrontational with these negotiations, or nobody will want to play for the Bruins organization anymore. The days of Sinden telling Joe Juneau to “learn how to yodel” when he threatened to play in Switzerland are long since over in the NHL, and that kind of animus is bad for business.
That was a big problem at the end of the last regime in Boston when most players had to hold out to get their money, and part of the impetus behind the sweeping changes upon the initial hiring of Chiarelli in 2006. Both Neely and Sweeney grew up as Bruins players in the Sinden system, and it’s awfully important they don’t default back to that as a preferred management style while navigating the Spoked B in the 21st century.
Friday was a really dubious start to the Neely/Sweeney team in Boston, and they need to quickly circle the wagons, regain their bearings and start making some smart, well-executed decisions before they sink deeper in the Eastern Conference.