Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney has been an NHL GM for less than a year. His inexperience shined through on deadline day. Sweeney took over the reigns over the summer after Boston relieved Peter Chiarelli of his duties following a disappointing 2015 campaign. A large part of the criticism surrounding the now-Edmonton GM’s Boston tenure was that he’d made some very questionable trades in recent years. Chiarelli helped guide Boston to the 2011 Stanley Cup but had also let Blake Wheeler, Tyler Seguin and Johnny Boychuk escape Boston without a commensurate return. He also had a knack for signing depth players to dubious contracts, including a 4 year, $12M deal for Chris Kelly and a 4 year, $16M extension for a then-32-year-old Dennis Seidenberg, which looks worse by the day in Boston. Chiarelli’s final deadline day in Boston was rather uneventful, as he traded two 2nd round picks to Tampa Bay for Brett Connolly in his only move of the day.
Prior to being the Bruins’ GM, Sweeney served as an assistant GM to Chiarelli for five seasons. Given what we’ve seen from Sweeney so far, he learned plenty from his former boss in how to mismanage your assets and make questionable trades. His first days on the job this summer were eventful – Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic both departed Boston after several seasons with the team, and the Bruins picked three consecutive times in the first round. While the jury is still out on these moves, moving on from two established NHL players left a sizable hole in the Boston lineup.
Fast forward to the NHL deadline and the Bruins were a much talked about team. With Loui Eriksson’s contract set to expire in the offseason, many expected the Bruins to deal the winger, who’s having a career year, to a top Western Conference team looking to bolster their Top 6 at the deadline.
3 PM on Monday came and went. Loui was still a Bruin. While the retaining Eriksson allows the Bruins a chance to negotiate an extension with him, the last word on negotiations had the two sides as far as $15M apart on their expectations. Reports, and the market, suggest Eriksson wants a deal somewhere around 6 years, $36M. The Bruins last offer was reportedly in the ballpark of 4 years, $21M. This is a large gap. By this fact alone, it would have been sensible to move on from Loui Eriksson.
Instead, Sweeney retained Eriksson. The market “wasn’t there” according to Sweeney despite Andrew Ladd fetching a 1st round pick and then some from Chicago and Eric Staal nabbing two 2nd rounders and a highly rated prospect from the Rangers. It seems far more likely that Sweeney missed his opportunity by waiting on Eriksson, as both Staal and Ladd moved days prior to Monday’s deadline. It’s also possible Sweeney’s asking price was far too high for Eriksson, as it’s rumored he expected an NHL player, prospect and pick in return for the remaining 20 games of Loui’s tenure.
Considering, though, that Boston currently sits in a playoff spot with a healthy lead on the bubble teams who are chasing them, retaining a Top 6 winger isn’t necessarily a bad move. Sure, the team could have filled an enormous need if they’d accomplished the right move, but it is tough to acquire Top 4 defenseman at the deadline. You rarely see them move this time of year. Instead, Sweeney’s biggest faults on deadline day weren’t the moves he didn’t make, but the ones he did.
By Monday’s end, Boston had acquired Lee Stempniak from New Jersey for a 2nd and a 4th rounders. They had acquired Jean Michel Liles from Carolina in exchange for a 3rd, a 5th, and 22 year old Anthony Camara. Boston added two pieces with an average age of 34 between them. In total, they surrendered a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and a player in exchange for two rentals well on their careers’ back nine. Stempniak made New Jersey on a PTO this offseason for crying out loud. The moves made the Bruins marginally better, as Liles and Stempniak will play more effective minutes than Kevan Miller and Zac Rinaldo, respectively, but it’s hardly the type of move which brings the Bruins up to par with the East’s heavy hitters like Washington and Tampa Bay.
The worst part, however, was what was given up by Sweeney in the deals, especially compared to some other moves made around the league. The 2nd/4th combo which secured Stempniak from New Jersey could have acquired the younger, more effective Jiri Hudler from Calgary. Hudler was a point-per-game player last season, won a Stanley Cup in 2008 with Detroit and was sent to Florida for an identical price as the Bruins surrendered for Stempniak. Surrendering a 3rd/5th AND a player for JM Liles is even worse. Liles spent time in the AHL last season, and has been pedestrian for the ‘Canes this season. Comparatively, the 3rd/5th/player combo used to acquire could have fetched far more bang-for-the-buck. Eric Gelinas, a 24-year-old defenseman, was traded from New Jersey to Colorado for a 3rd rounder. Similarly, Jamie McGinn was traded from Buffalo to Anaheim also for a 3rd rounder. Both guys would have had a more sizable impact on the Boston roster than Liles will. Further, the 5th/player combo was the same price the LA Kings paid for Kris Versteeg. Anaheim surrendered only a 6th rounder for Brandon Pirri. Obviously, not every move can be analyzed in a vacuum. For instance, it’s unlikely the Panthers would have surrendered Pirri to a division rival at such a low cost. However, the moves illustrate what the market looked like. It doesn’t look a thing like the four picks and a player surrendered for a 33 year old journeyman winger playing for his ninth team and a 35 year old offensive defenseman with very little offense left in the tank.
While Sweeney improved his team, it appears the rookie GM whiffed on a few opportunities to make a meaningful impact to his roster. He gave away a multitude of assets to make very modest improvements to the roster. With one deadline under his belt, Don Sweeney is 0-for-1. Optimistically, he will improve with time into a serviceable NHL GM, but his deadline execution was a far cry from perfect in Boston. He missed a great chance to really improve his team at a fair price. It feels like not even Don Sweeney knows what direction his team is heading. The Bruins have been a Jekyll and Hyde team all year, playing especially weak at home. The moves signal that he thinks they needed to add veteran pieces to make a run, but even with the additions of Stempniak and Liles, it’s doubtful that Boston can match up with Washington, Tampa Bay, or other elite teams in a seven game playoff series. The moves look a bit like Sweeney panicked late Monday afternoon and added pieces without care for the cost in an effort to save face on deadline day. Now, from a big picture context, he looked like the rookie GM which he is.