Bruins at Coyotes
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. PST
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona/NESN
Radio: ESPN Phoenix 620 AM/98.5 The Sports Hub
It’s a safe bet that new Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney didn’t expect to hear this question one month into his tenure this summer: What the heck are you doing?
To be fair to Sweeney, the question really should stretch back two years and include his predecessor, Peter Chiarelli.
The rapid decline of the 2011 Stanley Cup champs and 2013 Stanley Cup finalists began when Chiarelli traded franchise center Tyler Seguin to Dallas along with Rich Peverley and defenseman Ryan Button for forward Loui Eriksson and prospects Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow. At the time, Chiarelli said Seguin needed to become more of a professional. Seguin’s immaturity was well documented in Boston and gave the Bruins a convenient excuse for unloading him, but the deal was short-sighted and ignored two important facts.
Seguin was 21 at the time of the deal. How many of you were acting like professionals in between cutting classes and playing beer pong at age 21? The Bruins should have let Seguin grow up a little bit with more guidance because of point No. 2: He’s a franchise center who finished seventh in the NHL in points last season (77) despite missing 11 games. Those guys don’t grow on trees. Just ask the Arizona Coyotes, who host the Bruins on Saturday night at Gila River Arena.
As it turns out, trade justification is something the Bruins (and some of their media) do well. When Sweeney traded 22-year-old defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames this summer, the national media threw up their collective hands in amazement. Zdeno Chara was rapidly aging (38) and coming off a broken fibula. The Bruins had already traded Johnny Boychuk so dealing Hamilton meant giving away another key piece of a blue line that had been so instrumental in the team’s success.
Equally baffling was the return the Bruins got: Calgary’s first-round pick (15th) along with two second-round picks (45 and 52).
“The way we looked at was this: If Hamilton was in the draft and someone asked us ‘would you select him at No. 15,’ we would,” Flames GM Brad Treliving said. “He makes us deeper, he adds a younger player to our mix, he gives us a right-handed shot and a big presence — he checks a lot of boxes for us.”
Boston didn’t get nearly enough for Hamilton, and barely more than it would have landed from an offer sheet for the restricted free agent.
Shortly after the trade, the justification surfaced. A report in the Boston Herald claimed Hamilton was viewed as an “uppity kid” who wasn’t liked by his teammates. Besides, he didn’t want to stay in Boston, so the Bruins had no choice, right? Maybe the two were related, but if Hamilton had issues, perhaps those issues reside elsewhere in the Bruins’ locker room.
Since arriving in Calgary the general consensus is that Hamilton is a quiet, unassuming kid who is very respectful of his teammates. That’s quite a switch in narrative in the span of four months, isn’t it?
The Hamilton move, and the trade of gritty forward Milan Lucic, overshadowed a reality the Bruins would rather not highlight, and that is how badly they have managed the salary cap, necessitating some uncomfortable and ultimately incorrect moves.
There was even a report this week that the Bruins are entertaining offers for some of their other key veterans like Brad Marchand or Chara or maybe Eriksson, although the veracity of that report is in question.
If the Bruins do go the rebuild mode — something Sweeney has insisted they are not doing — some of these moves might make sense. The Bruins aren’t a Stanley Cup contender any more. Teams are notoriously slow to recognize this reality, whether due to pride or fear of their fan base.
For the sake of argument, let’s say Boston does recognize its situation and is preparing for that future after a 1-3 start that includes allowing an uncharacteristic third-most goals per game in the league. If that’s the case, why in the heck do you trade the first two building blocks that every team is looking for when it begins this process: a young franchise center and a young top-pairing defenseman?
Hamilton and Seguin should have been a part of Boston’s bright future. Instead, they are indicative of the Bruins’ poorly managed demise.
Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter