Bruins should invest in this season, even if it means taking risks

File Photo

Bruins should invest in this season, even if it means taking risks

In February of 2011, then-Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli took a calculated risk. It helped the Bruins at the time. It's helped another team since.  

The risk was that the young player he was trading, fledgling third-year pro and top-five draft pick Blake Wheeler, would end up becoming a star. Wheeler did, but it was a risk Chiarelli was willing to take because he wanted Rich Peverley and the cap space to fit (whooooooops) Tomas Kaberle. 

That trade, more so than the Joe Colborne-and-a-first-for-Kaberle deal, has proven to be the type of deal Bruins fans might fear right now: trading a good young player with plenty of development left in him for an older vet who might help more in the present. 

And it worked for both sides: The Bruins got a forward who helped them win the Cup and while Atlantapeg got its future captain.  

These trades don't always work, but that doesn't mean they're never worth making. If the B's saw it through with Wheeler, they might not have gotten out of that first round vs. Montreal, let alone win it all. 

This season, for as scary as it sounds, is one in which the Bruins should consider such a risk. The Bruins are on pace to win the Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team in the NHL. They'd have a difficult second-round matchup with Tampa, but if they can win that, they've got a realistic shot at a title in a season expected to be just another step in a soft rebuild. 

It's easy to sit back and think that the Bruins are playing with house money and that any playoff run on top of the kids' development is gravy, but there's another way of looking at it: This could very well be the Bruins' last shot at a championship with a Chara-Bergeron-Rask core. 

I'd assumed those days were already gone, squandered by the trades of Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton. Yet the combination of Chara's longevity and Don Sweeney's ability to supplement the roster with youth has the Bruins in a rare situation: They'll likely never have their vets - mainly Chara, but even Bergeron -- this good again. 

Next year, maybe (probably) Chara's not as effective. Even if the young players take another step forward, that could mean a worse team. Too many people in Boston underestimate the impact of Chara. Plus, maybe one of these other teams in the Eastern Conference amounts to something. Maybe Chicago comes back to life out West. 

So, now is the time to consider pouncing, to consider trading Brandon Carlo and a first-round pick for Ryan McDonagh. To turn any of the Bruins' ELCs not named DeBrusk or McAvoy into someone who would either beef up the defense or give one of the best offenses in the league one more stud scorer. 

It would be uncharted territory for Don Sweeney, who has yet to make such a deal while he's hoarded prospects in a style Sports Vulture Adam Jones compared to Ben Cherington. Jones probably made the comparison to insult Sweeney, but it should be a compliment: Sweeney's made it so the Bruins are not only one of the best teams in the league, but the team with all the guys the sellers should want. 

It would be a risk to miss out on one of these young players' careers, but it's also a risk to assume the Bruins will have this chance again. They should go for it. 


Haggerty: NHL draft weekend a big dud for the Black and Gold

Haggerty: NHL draft weekend a big dud for the Black and Gold

DALLAS – There’s no way to sugarcoat it for the Boston Bruins, and competitive hockey guys like Don Sweeney and Cam Neely wouldn’t want that anyway.

The 2018 NHL Draft at the American Airlines Center netted the Bruins a few prospects and one in particular in Czech-born Jakub Lauko that has all the makings of a mid-round steal, but in just about every way draft weekend was a big, fat bust for the Black and Gold. 

The Bruins lost out to the Los Angeles Kings in the bidding for 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk when they understandably, and perhaps wisely, wouldn’t go to a three-year offer for a talented player that skipped town on his last NHL team. They weren’t able to engineer a package to entice the Carolina Hurricanes with defenseman Noah Hanifin and forward Elias Lindholm available in a blockbuster trade that could have answered both of Boston’s needs in one fell swoop.

Instead, Dougie Hamilton was traded from the Flames to the Hurricanes as the biggest piece in the trade, and for a second time in three years Sweeney watched Hamilton get moved while not able to land his “white whale”, a top-4 left shot D-man, in Hanifin.

With the July 1 opening of NHL free agency quickly approaching, the Bruins also don’t appear any closer to locking up backup goaltender Anton Khudobin at a key roster spot that absolutely needs to be addressed if Boston wants to be successful again next season. It’s much the same with Riley Nash, which means the Bruins could be looking at propping up a rookie third line center in the middle of their lineup next season.

To top it all off, the Bruins also didn’t have a pick in the opening night first round of the NHL Draft on Friday, a scenario that Sweeney himself called “excruciating” after watching the top 31 players get selected while his face was pressed up against the proverbial glass. 

So it wasn’t a very productive weekend for the Bruins, who certainly didn’t get any better at the NHL level as several other teams very clearly accomplished that goal. Certainly the Bruins seemed to feel pretty good about their chances for Kovalchuk at the start of this weekend, but they weren’t willing to go to a third year for a 35-year-old player that’s been stowed away in Russia for the last five seasons. Time will tell if that was the right call, but it’s always good business not to overpay for aging free agents in a salary cap world.  

“We put ourselves in a position to be considered,” said Sweeney, when asked about missing out on Kovalchuk after he’d agreed to a three-year, $18.75 million deal with the Kings. “West coast-East coast, you’d have to ask Ilya what ultimately swung things into LA’s favor. We thought it was a good fit and it didn’t work out. Ultimately, you move on to the next one.”

Now, the Bruins will move on as well to this week’s interview period ahead of NHL free agency and the July 1 open to the market where they may once again have a few balls up in the air. James van Riemsdyk may be a possibility on the free agent side as a power forward winger with size, net-front presence and plenty of productivity, but he’s clearly not going to come cheap after scoring a lot of goals with the Maple Leafs.

There is still a chance to swing a deal with the Hurricanes as well with winger Jeff Skinner potentially on the trade block as well for Carolina. The 26-year-old put up 24 goals and 49 points last season in Carolina, and has averaged 28 goals per season over the last five years with the Hurricanes. There are also the ongoing talks with Rick Nash about returning to the Bruins after last spring’s deadline deal, of course. But it’s also pretty clear the Bruins viewed Nash as a second tier option to Kovalchuk as a goal-scoring answer on their second line, and that doesn’t exactly ignite the excitement levels thinking about a possible return.

The one that could really come back to haunt the Bruins is the Hanifin/Lindholm package to the Flames that dropped midway through Saturday’s Day 2 of the draft in Dallas. It didn’t sound like the Bruins were heavily in the mix on that deal, but they certainly could have been competitive for it if they’d tailored a package around young NHL players like Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen. Instead, Sweeney cautioned on Friday night that the Bruins were going to be very reluctant to move young NHL players that are still determining just how high their ceiling can be as Bruins. 

“We realize that we have some young players that have played just a year in the National Hockey League with some success. I’d like to continue to see how that unfolds. But [other GMs asking about B’s young players] is a good opportunity to see how other teams around the league view those players as well, and what maybe their market value is,” said Sweeney. “Yeah, there have been a lot of guys that have been intrigued. And I think we are as well. We’ve peeked under the covers a bit and we just want to make sure that if we make a move it’s for the absolute right reasons. 

“I want to make a good hockey trade if we go down that road. We’ve got good players and we’ve got good young players that have assumed roles, and hopefully, they just continue to grow.”

The Bruins certainly do have good, young players and they’ve got a pretty darn good hockey club that amassed 112 points in the regular season as well. But they also showed some pretty well-chronicled weaknesses that cropped up in the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the bottom line is they got nothing accomplished in terms of addressing those at NHL Draft weekend.

The good news is that the Bruins have $12 million in cap space headed into free agency week, and there will be other opportunities both in trades and free agency.

But any way you slice it NHL draft weekend in Dallas was an acrid, empty dud for the Black and Gold, and that’s far from a good thing.


Bruins trade target Hanifin traded to Calgary

File photo

Bruins trade target Hanifin traded to Calgary

Former Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin, a Bruins trade target who they once tried to trade up to get in the 2015 draft, has been traded from the Carolina Hurricanes to the Calgary Flames in a deal that includes former B's defenseman Dougie Hamilton going to Carolina.

The 'Canes sent center Eric Lindholm and Hanifin, both restricted free agents who rejected Carolina's most recent contract offers, to Calgary for Hamilton, winger Micheal Ferland and prospect defenseman Adam Fox, who was a third-round pick in 2016 now playing at Harvard,

The Bruins have a longstanding interest in Hanifin that goes back to their efforts to trade up for him in when he was the fifth overall pick three years ago. The Canes likely sought Bruins left winger Jake DeBrusk in the hefty package they were seeking for Hanifin.