It can be hard to determine what exactly inaction from a general manager means. The easy attribute to ascribe is incompetence.
That will likely be the discussion if Don Sweeney lets tomorrow’s trade deadline pass without a major upgrade. The Bruins need help in order to become a Cup threat. Not getting that help would prevent the team from making a deep run. If you're looking to point fingers, it wouldn't be hard.
But what’s the help the Bruins need? How close are they to being a Cup contender? The answers to those questions tell you why Sweeney would be wise to keep his discussions Monday to low-cost rentals and, should they be available, hockey trades that will help the team beyond this season.
If you were still on the fence Sunday about what the B’s should do (I wasn’t), Sunday night’s game against the Capitals provided an extreme reminder of this team’s issues. In addition to not being able to score — a season-long issue regardless of health — the blue line was in tatters. That doesn’t even take into consideration that fringe-NHLer Dan Vladar was in net due to Tuukka Rask’s upper-body injury, Jaroslav Halak’s bout with COVID-19 and first-year pro Jeremy Swayman having played the day before. The B's got smoked by the Capitals, 8-1.
The questions in net are legitimate, but even if Rask gets healthy or the team rallies around Swayman, certainty in goal is not a solution to what ails this team. The bigger issues are the ones that were there before Rask went down, which was quality play on the right wing and dependability on defense.
That’s not a one-or-the-other thing. If the Bruins are going to be a threat, they need at least one scorer and a top-four veteran defenseman. Is it plausible for them to get both? Maybe, but even if they got two stars, the questions in goal would remain.
And what would it cost? Let’s give a reminder that when The Athletic ranked every prospect group in the NHL, Boston was dead last. That means the B's don’t have a lot that teams would want and that they haven’t drafted well enough to frivolously trade away first-round picks.
Should they sell? Maybe, but I can’t see it happening. The Bruins will enter Monday holding the final playoff spot in the East division, so it’s hard to imagine ownership letting management throw in the towel.
If they did, David Krejci would be a shiny piece, assuming his modified no-trade clause wouldn’t get in the way. Sean Kuraly is also in the final year of his deal. He’s had a down year, but has been a dependable fourth-liner in postseasons past.
Here’s a darkhorse candidate if the B’s were to sell: Nick Ritchie. Last year’s deadline acquisition is a restricted free agent at season’s end. He has just two goals over his last 18 games, but has 10 on the season. The B’s could have bought him out last offseason, but they showed faith by keeping him. As such, I’d imagine the team would like their relationship to continue beyond, but I’d be nervous about paying him anything of consequence.
Assuming the Bruins don’t sell, they should come to grips with the fact that this isn’t a Cup year. Grab some depth pieces, get to the postseason and hope for the best.
Or, if they can, make a hockey trade. See if you can turn Jake DeBrusk into a wing you like better. Ditto for Ritchie — maybe even especially for Ritchie. Be willing to package your young, not very good defensemen. As long as the moves don’t screw you over for the expansion draft, get creative and start working on next year while ideally getting an immediate jolt.
Other than that? No big swings. No first-rounders for rentals. This just isn’t the year.