By Matt Dillane
Amid the humdrum trades that was largely Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline, the Bruins snuck two questionable moves in right at the closing bell. The team made two additions, acquiring right winger Lee Stempniak from the New Jersey Devils and defenseman John-Michael Liles from the Carolina Hurricanes.
Not only did the team fail to make headlines by keeping the highly-valued Loui Eriksson in black and gold, but the team made two deals that has left many fans scratching their heads. Somehow, the Bruins found a way to become marginally better and much worse at the same time.
Loui Eriksson is still a Bruin. Well, he’s a Bruin at least until this summer when his contract expires. The fact that the forward is still here is the most troubling takeaway from deadline day. Bruins GM Don Sweeney hinted at the fact he wanted to keep Eriksson during his press conference on Sunday evening, however, many speculated the talented forward would be dealt if contract talks did not improve. They didn’t, and Eriksson is still in Boston. Now, the Bruins are left with two options: Sign the 30-year-old to the contract he wants, as he now has all the leverage with the ability to test the market, or let the player go for nothing in return, effectively losing all return on the Tyler Seguin trade.
The Bruins failure to trade Eriksson to help the ailing blue line speaks volumes to the organization’s lack of closing ability. In the hours leading up to the trade deadline, TSN insider Bob McKenzie reported the Bruins were making a major push for Canucks defender Dan Hamhuis. Minutes later, McKenzie reported Dan Hamhuis would most likely not waive his no-trade clause because he did not believe the Bruins were a contender. The Bruins. No longer contenders. Five seasons removed from winning the Stanley Cup and three seasons after reaching the Stanley Cup final, and players no longer want to join the team. What happened?
The problem lies with the management’s unwillingness to address the defensive issue with this team. Eriksson could have been dealt for picks to be packaged for a deal to bring in a franchise defenseman who can become an appropriate successor to Zdeno Chara. But wait, the Bruins acquired John-Michael Liles the other day. He’ll help the blue-line, right? Liles is 35 years old. One year older than the declining Dennis Seidenberg.
Wade Redden. Greg Zanon. Joe Corvo. Now, John-Michael Liles. We’ve seen this year after year each deadline day with the Bruins bringing in an aging defender to patch up holes on the back end. The Bruins are doing just enough to make the playoffs, but not enough to make a run and compete. If the Bruins aren’t willing to compete this year, why trade for a player on the back-end of his career who will not make a huge difference? Liles takes away a roster spot that could be given to a prospect like Colin Miller for experience in his formative years as a pro.
Having a hot year but at 33 years old, right wing Lee Stempniak will not help the Bruins with a deep run either. Stempniak has been on nine NHL teams in his 11-year pro career, with the Bruins becoming his sixth team in the last six seasons. While he played on the top line with the Devils before being moved to the Bruins, the winger is not a legitimate first line player. New Jersey sold high, and Boston took the bait.
With another trade deadline come and gone, and with the Bruins making familiar types of moves despite a new GM, the blame should start to fall on team president Cam Neely. No longer can the former Bruins enforcer be overlooked for his role in these trades during his tenure in management. Since winning the Cup in 2011, the Bruins have been thinking in the short term with acquisitions, believing the additions of older veterans will be enough to bring another championship to Boston. However, that window is closed shut. Meanwhile, teams like Chicago continue to add and subtract when necessary and are the midst of producing a dynasty. Boston has not been close to the model franchise for decades now.
Last night, the Bruins enjoyed a 4-2 victory over the western conference-leading Blackhawks. This was a good win, however, the playoffs are not one and done. If the Bruins played teams like the Blackhawks 10 times, Boston might win three of those games. The Bruins have been blessed with relatively good health going down the stretch save for Chris Kelly, but, this team is not built for a deep run. One major injury would be devastating.
This year, the Bruins essentially gave up draft picks for veterans on the back nines of their careers. The team solidified their chances of getting into the playoffs, but also cemented the team as a lock for a first or second round out. There is no way this team can get past Washington or Tampa Bay. So now what? Are we back to the Harry Sinden days when the main objective was to get into the postseason and when profit margins were the driving force? I thought the team was past that. This city had reason to believe a new era of hockey had begun in Boston in the last decade or so. Perhaps we were all wrong.