John Tavares

Haggerty: Despite big moves by rivals, Bruins need to stick to the plan

Haggerty: Despite big moves by rivals, Bruins need to stick to the plan

The simple fact is that the Bruins' standing in their own division has worsened to this point in the summer and it might get even worse over the next weeks and months even as the B’s minimally improved as a team.

The Bruins are better than they were at the end of the playoffs by virtue of the additions of backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak and defenseman John Moore and landing a legit top-six impact winger would make it a more drastic improvement to their roster makeover.

Still, there’s no denying that the Maple Leafs have pushed closer to Stanley Cup contender status with the addition of free-agent superstar John Tavares, and could really get there if they can ever acquire, or develop, a No. 1 defenseman. Regardless of their standing league-wide, the Leafs are clearly much improved from the team that the Bruins barely eked by in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

Then there’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, who dispatched the Bruins in five games in the second round and are now getting close to landing Erik Karlsson, which would give them Victor Hedman, Karlsson, Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman to start with on their back end. That puts them far ahead of a Bruins team they already dispatched if they can pull off the improbable and get Karlsson and make them a legit contender for the term “NHL super team.”

The thought of Hedman and Karlsson in the same Tampa D-corps conjures up memories of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer dominating with the Anaheim Ducks and would immediately vault them into Cup favorites. So, there’s a realistic scenario for next season where the Bruins could be the third best team in the NHL and still wind up the third best team in the Atlantic Division with a first-round playoff date of doom against the Lightning.

So what are the Black and Gold to do about this?

Well, what they shouldn’t do is rashly try to join the arms race that Tampa and Toronto have escalated this summer.

Certainly, Bruins GM Don Sweeney should keep pushing talks forward to acquire a top-six offensive impact player whether it’s Jeff Skinner, Artemi Panarin or somebody off the beaten path that hasn’t been readily discussed. But that’s all part of the offseason plan already in place and would include trading chips that the B’s have already reconciled with giving up in the right trade whether it's Torey Krug, a prospect such as Anders Bjork or another high draft pick after dealing their first-rounder last spring.

What the Bruins should not do is alter the plan to try and hit a home run trade to match Tavares or Karlsson.

What the Bruins should not do, under any circumstances, is think about trading Charlie McAvoy or Jake DeBrusk, who could be in the Bruins organization for the next ten years. It might even mean (though it wouldn't be ideal) not landing their top-six target ahead of the season and instead getting a look at their young players before making an impact move during the season. 

The B’s don’t need a panic move or a reactionary transaction simply designed to keep up with Toronto and Tampa. Those kinds of motives behind trades or free-agent signings almost always backfire on the team that’s getting desperate.  

“You’re juggling a few things [during the offseason], but you get through. You have contingency plans. All our staff, and I’m grateful for them, everybody worked hard [at the open of free agency], and all of the plans and all of the situations we had, the ownership was certainly supportive of what we are trying to accomplish,” said Sweeney. “Hopefully we move forward as a better team.”

It’s clear that the Lightning are loading up to win this season and then GM Steve Yzerman will have to answer the difficult questions later, like “how in the hell will Tampa afford Karlsson’s next contract where he wants $11 million per year?”

The Bruins are still building and doing it the right way. They posted a 112-point season while pushing Tampa Bay in the regular season, and they got some very valuable postseason experience for their young guys while winning a Game 7. Right now, the Bruins are an intriguing mix of young (20-year-old McAvoy) and old (Zdeno Chara will be 42 this season) that should absolutely be a playoff team and should be one of the contenders in an Eastern Conference that’s going to pack some punch next season.

The structure that Cam Neely and Sweeney are building in Boston could see the B's consistently competitive for the next 10 years with McAvoy and David Pastrnak leading the way. The Bruins just need to stick to the plan rather than getting overwhelmed by Toronto/Tampa’s shock and awe show this summer. By all accounts, that’s exactly what the Bruins are doing right now even as the road has clearly grown more treacherous and difficult for the Black and Gold next season.

Sometimes sticking to the plan can grow difficult when all manner of things are happening all around you, but that’s exactly what the Bruins should do even as their closest rivals are taking big home-run swings.  

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Morning Skate: Bruins should be wary of Karlsson's price tag

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Morning Skate: Bruins should be wary of Karlsson's price tag

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while the Fourth of July fireworks might be on the menu for the NHL offseason again this year.

*Here are 10 possible destinations for Erik Karlsson as it appears he’s going to be on the move in a sign-and-trade after a lowball, sub-Drew Doughty extension offer from the Sens was summarily rejected on July 1. The Bruins aren’t mentioned on the list and with good reason.

Karlsson might be an elite D-man at the very height of his prime right now, but I don’t think he makes much sense at all for the Black and Gold. I may be in the vast minority here, but I’d pass on Karlsson if I were Don Sweeney and the Bruins. He’s going to be 29 at the end of this season, he’s had foot issues the past few years and he wants an eight-year, mega-deal. It’s a classic case of paying for past performance, in this humble hockey writer’s opinion. He’s a great player, but for how much longer?

That doesn’t even mention that it feels fairly obvious that the Senators would be asking the Bruins for Charlie McAvoy in any trade for Karlsson, so they would have a ready-made replacement for the No. 1 D-man in Ottawa. Check please…hard pass!

The Bruins should be focused on bringing more offensive punch to their forwards and continuing to develop their young players rather than chase after every shiny, expensive object that comes across their path.

*Interesting piece from Tyler Bozak on the Players Tribune where he talks about how tough it’s going to be to leave Toronto. He was a good Leafs player throughout his career, so that makes sense that he’s got some roots there.

*The John Tavares jersey burning stuff is absolutely ridiculous on Long Island, where all that anger should be directed at management and ownership on Long Island.

*Tim Schaller talks about what he’s going to bring to the table with the Vancouver Canucks, where he should be a good fit on their fourth line.

*Boy, it sure feels like Nail Yakupov is the biggest bust taken at the No. 1 overall pick in NHL history, right? Even more so than Rick DiPietro, who at least was an All-Star before injuries ended up derailing his career.

*For something completely different: Yeah, I kind of dig the X-Men costumes for the "Dark Phoenix" movie. They’re sort of a throwback.

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Haggerty: B's got better in NHL free agency, but still short one big move

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Haggerty: B's got better in NHL free agency, but still short one big move

The good news for the Boston Bruins is that the July 1 open of NHL free agency wasn’t the yawn-inducing dud that NHL draft weekend was just a week ago. 

But it wasn’t exactly energizing either as the Bruins didn’t wind up anywhere close to the finish line in the John Tavares sweepstakes as he signed a seven-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. One of the teams in the Atlantic Division (Tampa Bay) proved they were better than the Bruins as is in a second-round playoff series this spring, and another Atlantic Division team (Toronto) took a quantum leap forward to legit Stanley Cup contender with the seismic Tavares signing.

So clearly the Bruins didn’t crush NHL free agency and instead seemed to be cornering the market on fourth liners. 

The Bruins took care of many of their NHL roster holes by signing Chris Wagner, Jaroslav Halak and Joakim Nordstrom to modest contracts, and added the left shot D-man they were looking for with a five-year, $13.75 million contract for former first-round pick John Moore. Moore played 20 plus minutes per game as a top-4 defenseman for the New Jersey Devils last season, and the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder put up respectable numbers with seven goals and 18 points given that he wasn’t a regular power play guy for Jersey. 

Wagner and Nordstrom address the free agent departures of solid bottom-6 players like Tim Schaller and Riley Nash, and Halak will step in for Anton Khudobin after the affable Russian backstop signed a two-year contract with the Dallas Stars. 

The Moore deal is an interesting one in that it gives the Bruins four left-side defenseman with Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Moore and Matt Grzelcyk, and begs the question as to whether the ultra-productive Krug will be used as the prime asset to bring in an impact top-6 winger like Jeff Skinner, Wayne Simmonds or Artemi Panarin. The Panarin talks, in particular, should pick up steam with Columbus this week among teams still looking for a high impact forward, and with the Bruins having the geographical advantage of an East Coast location where the Russian is said to want to settle down. 

There were even some hockey sources wondering if the Bruins could revisit Krug-Klefbom trade talks with the Edmonton Oilers if it meant Milan Lucic (with the Oilers picking up a good chunk of his contract) making a triumphant return to Boston, but that feels like a pretty remote possibility at this point.

At this point, the Bruins are open to any possibilities that will land them another offensive impact player on their second line, and make up for the stinging reality that currently Don Sweeney has taken two home run swings with Kovalchuk and Tavares, and missed on both of them.  

That’s essentially where the Bruins are right now as they fell short in the free agent chase for Ilya Kovalchuk and for Tavares, and now will have to execute a hockey trade in order to find that goal-scoring answer on the second line. 

The good news is that only four D-men (Brent Burns, Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson and John Klingberg) have scored more than the 110 points produced by Krug over the last two seasons, so the power play quarterback is going to hold significant value on the trade market with teams starving for offense, or simply for a better man advantage. The equally good news is that the Bruins have an over-abundance of forward prospects as well, and would be able to spare a talented young player like Anders Bjork with Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk and Ryan Donato all ready to contribute heavily at the NHL level next season. 

So clearly Sweeney and the Bruins still have more work to do as the dust settles on the July 1 opening of free agency, and the roster we see right now might not be the one that opens up the regular season in early October. But it could be much, much worse right now after the Bruins spent only $7.5 million of next season’s cap space in order to fill most of the holes on next season’s NHL roster. They could be the New York Islanders, who just basically watched their generational franchise player say “peace out” to them with no advanced notice and no way to recoup any value whatsoever for the massive void he’ll be leaving on Long Island. 

At least the Bruins got a little bit better during the July 1 open of free agency without burning through crazy money, and they’re now in a position to get much better if they can pull off one good hockey trade between now and the start of the regular season.  

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