The Boston Bruins have been one of the most interesting teams to follow this off-season. After finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference, one spot outside the playoffs, a position nobody expected the Bruins to end up in, it really didn’t surprise many when General Manager Peter Chiarelli was fired by the hockey club. Change was needed, change happened.
Instead of delving into the small but worthy pot of assistant GM’s available, Cam Neely and Charlie Jacobs wanted to find a replacement from inside the Organisation. The chosen one, Providence Bruins’ GM Don Sweeney. A predictable choice to some, he knows the team from top to bottom. Like his buddy Cam Neely he played for the Bruins and then went on to continue a role within the hockey club, so perhaps a sensible, safe choice. Rather than a predictable one.
Big moves were made almost instantly by Sweeney. At the 2015 NHL Draft, the newly appointed GM traded away longtime Bruin Milan Lucic to the L.A Kings, in return for their 1st round pick (13th), Goaltender Martin Jones and defensive prospect Colin Miller. In parting ways with Lucic, the Bruins cleaned up valuable cap space, as the ex Vancouver Giant was set to make $6 million this up-coming season. The team from Beantown just weren’t getting the value for money with Lucic, who was coming off a disappointing 2014-15 season, and felt it was time to say goodbye.
Next came perhaps the biggest shock so far this off-season, as the Bruins traded Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames in exchange for their 1st round pick (15th) and two 2nd round picks. Hamilton, who appeared to be the Bruins next big thing, following in the footsteps of Ray Bourque and Zdeno Chara, reportedly wanted out of Boston, after he accepted a six-year, $36.5 million extension with the Flames, which was around the same type of deal Boston offered the youngster prior to the trade.
Hamilton supposedly didn’t like the way he was handled by coach Claude Julien, and was reported as an outcast in the locker-room. Well, Dougie, make friends, bud. You know after that first week of school, where you may make an acquaintance or two, but no friends. Yeah, well you don’t kick up a fuss and ask to move schools straight away do you? If a players going to be that way, then sure, ship him elsewhere. He’s bad for team morale. But when that player is a possible future star, you do all you can to work something out. Make things right. Hard not to think that if Claude Julien didn’t return, Hamilton would still be in black and gold. But it is what it is, and all in all the Bruins were able to restock their prospect pool after this trade, and seem healthy going forward. But whilst they restocked prospects, they’re now left very weak on the defensive end.
At this point, Bruins fans all over felt their lives fading away. That was until Sweeney and the Bruins announced the signing of winger Matt Beleskey, along with a trade that brought Boston native Jimmy Hayes back home from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Reilly Smith. Both bring the mixture of skill and grit, that the fans of the Bruins love so much. Everyone, the Boston Bruins are starting to look like a hockey team again.
It’s going to take the entire off-season, and even beyond to see where these two players fit in to the system, but it’s a nice problem to have. The biggest worry doesn’t lie with the forward unit, but the backend.
An ageing Zdeno Chara and a seemingly forever hobbling Dennis Seidenberg. That there is now the Bruins top D pairing. Yep, be worried. Chara on his day is still one of the NHL’s best defensmen. However, he’s slowing down rapidly, and when he played alongside Dougie Hamilton, there was a perfect combination of veteran savvy and youthful energy. Now there’s just… Well, now theres just too much veteran savvy.
Accompanied by Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller and Zach Trotman. Those are the defensemen the Bruins currently have at the NHL level. Defensively, in their farm system (AHL/Juniors), the Bruins look relatively strong. But how many of those young D-men are capable of making the jump to the big time? If so how long will it be. If the B’s intend on getting straight back to the playoffs, they need the defense badly. Especially with a team like the Bruins, who have always prided themselves on their strong D game.
One prospect who may complete the climb is recently acquired D-man Colin Miller, who had a breakout season in the AHL last year, being one of the Manchester Monarchs key contributors tallying 52 points (19 goals, 33 assists) in 72 games. Along with that, something else to boost your hopes, Miller produced 10 points in 19 playoff games en-route to a championship last year. So the fact he has playoff experience at the AHL level, could help his transition to the NHL. GM Don Sweeney was quoted saying he is probably the closest NHL-ready defenseman, along with Zach Trotman, in the B’s system right now. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see Colin Miller adorn the famous black and gold this season.
Despite the possibility of players being called up, the Bruins resigned Brett Connolly and Jimmy Hayes to relatively decent contracts, keeping around $4/5 millions or so in cap space available. This cap space could be used to go after a defensive free agent like Cody Franson or Johnny Oduya, who appear to be available around that price. This is a must for the Bruins, if they expect to be contending for something again other than the 8th seed, they’ll need to pick up a ‘Dougie Hamilton’ replacement so to speak, otherwise it could be tough old season for the Big Bad Bruins.
Stay tuned for part two, where we discuss what else the Bruins need to do this off-season.