State of the B’s
In the United States, perhaps no city is such a mix of the old and the new as Boston. A modern metropolis and the undisputed capitol of New England, Beantown’s historic relevance remains one of its strongest tourist draws. Mirroring the city in which they play hockey, the Bruins ushered out the old regime of recently deposed GM Peter Chiarelli, replacing him with longtime Bruins’ defenseman and front-office yeoman Don Sweeney, a Harvard grad who absolutely bleeds Bruins black and gold.
When recounting Chiarelli’s tenure as GM, it is important to give him due credit for leading the B’s to the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship, their first title since the bygone days of Bobby Orr. It is equivalently important to note that Chiarelli pretty much signed his own firing papers with the poorly conceived trades of Tyler Seguin and Johnny Boychuk which combined to sabotage the team’s fortunes, demoting them from perennial Eastern Conference power to the cauldron of mediocrity which missed the playoffs in 2015 for the first time since 2007.
Sweeney’s job description is simple: bring the Bruins back to dominant status and do it quickly. It is a challenging task, given the tight-salary cap crunch he inherited from Chiarelli, but not an impossible one. Sweeney is an extremely intelligent man, and inherits an elite nucleus of talent: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask. He inherits a deep prospect pool, which he knows well — he was part of the Bruins front office team which drafted and developed them. In addition, he inherits the No. 14 and No. 38 picks in a future star-laden 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Bruins Top 5 Prospects (Scale to 10)
- RW David Pastrnak (8.0) — still considered a prospect, but barely, as he has already has displayed his elite scoring and skating abilities at the NHL level; a can’t-miss future first line scoring star once he builds more strength and fills out his lanky physique.
- G Malcolm Subban (7.5) — we love his competitive drive and athleticism, but we consider him shy of an elite goaltending prospect due to his questionable technique and beatable glove hand.
- C Ryan Spooner (7.5) — quick and skilled puck-possession center is an asset on the power play and has high-scoring, second-line center upside. Terrific creativity, but needs to harness propensity for turnovers.
- G Zane McIntyre (7.5) — athletic goaltender likened to Marty Turco due to his hybrid style, has trouble with rebound control but offers big upside as possible NHL starter.
- C Ryan Donato (7.5) — extremely smart center plays responsible and skilled all-around game, may lack skating burst for first-line role but projects to an excellent second/third line center.
- The goaltending depth, at both the professional and prospect level, is phenomenal. Tuukka Rask is an elite NHL netminder, while Subban and McIntyre are both extremely intriguing prospects. It could be wise for the Bruins to trade one of the prospects with the NHL goalie market certain to be in flux this off-season.
- The prospect pool is headlined by a player we feel is a future star in Pastrnak, but it is also deep. In addition to our top five, we feel they have several other future NHL contributors including centers Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Fitzgerald along with defensemen Joe Morrow and Matt Grzelcyk.
- Patrice Bergeron rivals Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk as the best two-way center of this generation. He is simply a sensational all-around hockey player. Combined with the two-way skill-set of Krejci, the Bruins are set at center on the top two lines for many seasons to come.
- The salary cap has put the Bruins into a terrible bind. Their franchise defenseman of the future, Dougie Hamilton, is a RFA — the rumor mill has several teams considering tendering an offer sheet which will be very difficult for the Bruins to match. Once Hamilton is signed, it will leave very little available cap space for UFAs Adam McQuaid, Carl Soderberg, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell — all valuable depth players who could be lost on the open market to competing teams with more available cash flow. Further complicating this scenario is the looming possibility of next year’s free agents: Milan Lucic (UFA) and Torey Krug (RFA). This has led to myriad rumors that Lucic could be dealt this off-season to create cap relief — not ideal for the Bruins fan in that Lucic’s intimidating physical presence would be sorely missed for Boston on the ice.
- Zdeno Chara is still a terrific defenseman, but at 38 years old, he is no longer capable of single-handedly dominating the outcome of a game. He suffered with an injury-plagued 2014-15, a large reason the B’s missed the post-season, as his absence exposed the lack of blue line depth the team had after trading stalwart Johnny Boychuk prior to the season.
- The Bruins lack high-scoring wingers to surround their sublimely skilled centers, a large reason they rushed Pastrnak to the NHL last season. With no money to acquire high-priced high-scorers, they sorely need a breakthrough campaign from Pastrnak if they are going to return to the top of the conference standings.
The biggest name constantly recurring on the Boston hot stove belongs to Milan Lucic. The intimidating power forward with scoring line-worthy skills is a unique player who could clearly improve the fortunes of several teams. Taking his $6 million off the books would clearly give the Bruins cap relief, while Lucic’s impending 2016 unrestricted free agency might be impetus for the huge LW to walk away with Boston receiving absolutely zero compensation.
As painful as it would be for the Bruins to deal Lucic, his return value in terms of picks and prospects would be high, and his salary off the books could be funneled towards a multi-year deal for cornerstone defenseman Dougie Hamilton. It is a difficult decision for Don Sweeney to be forced to make so early in his general managerial tenure.
Sweeney would greatly prefer to move LW Loui Eriksson and his $4.25 million contract, also expiring into unrestricted free agency after the 2015-16 campaign. Eriksson is a skilled two-way player, but injury prone and far less marketable. Is it worth moving him for negligible return simply for the cap relief it would give the B’s?
Boston’s cap crunch has hit them so hard that even the hallowed name of team captain Zdeno Chara has been mentioned in trade rumors. Though he has slowed a bit and is approaching the age of 40, Chara was still the best defenseman the Bruins had when healthy last season. It is crucial that Sweeney make the right move to provide cap relief. Last season we lamented Chiarelli’s misguided deal of key defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders when the Bruins could have provided themselves with even more cap relief by dealing less important players like Eriksson or Brad Marchand, a super-pest with some scoring pop but often a rallying point for opposition with his incessant diving and penchant for taking ill-advised penalties. We feel if Chiarelli had dealt either Eriksson or Marchand and held onto Boychuk, the Bruins would have certainly been a playoff team, as they only missed the post-season by two points.
Another deal we would like to see the Bruins make is a trade of Malcolm Subban. We feel Tuukka Rask is far superior than Subban will ever be, while McIntyre has comparable upside to the more-heralded Subban. Now that Peter Chiarelli has taken over the reins in Edmonton (a team in need of a franchise netminder), would he be willing to make a deal for the goalie he spent a first-round draft pick on back in 2012? We believe he would. Sweeney would be wise to counter with an offer of Subban and Eriksson for the Oilers No. 16 overall pick — a deal which would offer the Bruins cap relief combined with the opportunity to draft another future Bruins’ star without even remotely affecting Boston’s chances of making the 2016 post-season.
It is these types of decisions which will make Don Sweeney’s first off-season as Bruins GM a crucial one for the future of the proud franchise.
GM Don Sweeney Draft Dossier
Though Don Sweeney has been a longtime member of the Bruins front office, the 2015 NHL draft will be his first as General Manager. Hired back into the Boston organization in 2006, Sweeney has been a part of a Bruins’ drafting team which has made such steals as Zane McIntyre (2010, 165th overall) and David Pastrnak (2014, 25th overall), but also such disastrous foibles as Zach Hamill (2007, 8th overall).
We promise we are not blaming Mr. Sweeney for Zach Hamill. We just have no draft dossier on him and had to type something to fill this space.
2015 Boston Bruins Draft Preview
Boston rarely drafts as high as No. 14 overall (unless, heh heh, Toronto trades them the pick), and they are somewhat fortunate to be doing it in a draft which pundits are calling the deepest and most talented in over a decade. They no longer possess their 44th overall pick, having dealt it to Tampa Bay in the Brett Connolly deal. They do, however, have an even better pick in the second round — having acquired Philadelphia’s No. 38 overall selection from the New York Islanders in the Boychuk trade. The Bruins will then return to the 14th slot in rounds three through seven.
First Round (No. 14 overall)
In our totally super-awesome two-round mock draft, we had the Boston Bruins taking Swiss-born, high-scoring Halifax power RW Timo Meier. Our reasoning was that, outside of Pastrnak and Spooner, the B’s lack young players with high-end scoring upside to surround Bergeron and Krejci with in the coming years. Whereas Pastrnak plays more of a high-skill, finesse game, Meier is a big body (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) who combines top-notch scoring skill with great hands in the goal crease and the ability to dominate in the dirty areas of the ice. We feel he would give the Bruins the young power forward they have not developed since Lucic was drafted way back in 2006.
We feel confident that Meier will be available with the No. 14 pick, though there is a chance that Dallas (No. 12 overall) will take a close look at him, as well.
The Bruins would love for LW/C Kyle Connor to fall to them, though we have the Los Angeles Kings taking him one pick prior at No. 13. Connor offers greater offensive upside and versatility than Meier, and also plays a gritty, two-way game though it would be a stretch to call him a power forward.
We do not see the Bruins trading up or down in the draft unless C/W Pavel Zacha somehow were to fall past the No. 10 overall spot. A huge (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and physical freight-train with elite speed and one of the best shots in the draft, Zacha would combine the entire skill-set the Bruins covet up front.
We have entertained the possibility that, a former defenseman himself, Sweeney could use his No. 14 pick to fortify the back end. Though the 2015 elite trio of defensemen (Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, Zachary Werenski) will certainly all be gone by the time Boston reaches the draft podium, there are a pair of QMJHL rearguards with top-pairing, star potential in Sherbrooke RD Jeremy Roy and Saint John LD Jakub Zboril.
Ultimately, like the GMs themselves, we have to make a choice and we are sticking with ours. We have no problem with saying that Timo Meier will be the next great Boston Bruins power forward.
Second Round (No. 38 overall) and beyond
As we are leaning in the direction of attaching Boston to a power forward in the first round, we feel that they will look to fortify the back end in the second round. There will be plenty of high-upside options still available early in the second round in this extraordinary draft class — as a matter of fact, some of the players we have ranked in the 40-range for 2015 we believe would be surefire first rounders in 2014 or 2013.
In our two-round mock, we had the Bruins taking Baie-Comeau banger Nicolas Meloche, a rugged crease-clearer who also offers a slick outlet pass and a high hockey IQ. In our most recent mock (to be published just prior to the draft, so just hold your horses), we have Meloche going a bit higher than the Bruins pick, but Sweeney finding another high-upside defense prospect in Niagara’s Vince Dunn, a slick skater with a seeing-eye slapshot who still manages to take care of his own end.
It is difficult to predict what Don Sweeney will be up to in the later rounds, as this is first time running an NHL draft. As Sweeney was an extremely intelligent player with a sterling character, we assume he will look for players who share such attributes. One such player whom we absolutely love fitting this description is Seattle rearguard Ethan Bear. For a forward sharing these noble characteristics, the Bruins need only to look across town to Boston University to see the selfless and unending hustle of LW A.J. Greer.
The decline of the Boston Bruins has been greatly exaggerated. This is still a team with an elite core and a deep prospect pool, armed with a relatively early pick in a talent-laden 2015 draft. New GM Don Sweeney inherits a team capable of returning to the precipice of being an Eastern Conference power with some shrewd maneuvering, but we believe that the Harvard-grad and former Bruins blue line stalwart is the perfect man to accomplish this goal.
Agree? Disagree? Zdeno Chara once broke your window with a slapshot and you want to get revenge by insulting the team he plays for? Feel free to use the comments section listed below or follow me on Twitter: @StIves72.
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