By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has come a long way since he and team president Cam Neely were largely roasted by the hockey media following their first NHL Draft together in 2015. Armed with the 13th, 14th, and 15th selections overall, Sweeney and his boss Neely failed in their attempts to move up in the first round to select either Noah Hanifin, Zach Werenski, or Ivan Provorov.
Instead, the two former teammates used the B’s three slots to add Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn. Of the three whom Sweeney selected with those prime picks, only DeBrusk has proven worthy of B’s brass belief in them at the time, while Zboril and Senyshyn have yet to prove that they are NHL caliber talent some four years later.
Nevertheless, despite their initial stumble out of the box back in June of 2015, Sweeney and Neely have taken a team that was in salary cap jail – due to former GM Peter Chiarelli’s exorbitant spending habits and inability to add young talent through the draft for the lion’s share of his time in Boston – and have them knocking on the door of Stanley Cup contention as the NHL’s trade deadline approaches on Monday for the second straight season.
The move to acquire Weymouth native Charlie Coyle to add much-needed depth to what has been an extremely top-heavy forward group all season long for what seems to be a petulant Ryan Donato and a fifth-round pick is a good start by Sweeney. However, if this is all the former Bruins defenseman does to give his aging core of Zdeno Chara (41), Patrice Bergeron (33), David Krejci (32), Tuukka Rask (31), and Brad Marchand (30) a chance at going deep in the playoffs this year, he is simply burning another season of the only active members of the Black and Gold that won it all in 2011.
When asked during his conference call with the media on Thursday whether or not the Bruins have any other moves that may take place before Monday’s afternoon’s 3 p.m. deadline, Sweeney was coy.
“I don’t know if we’re going to necessarily do anything else. We’re going to continue to make calls and receive calls. We will continue to look at the marketplace and see what may or may not fit with our club. We’re going to cross our fingers that we stay healthy, and I think our club has deserved, a little bit like last year, put themselves in a position to try and challenge for a playoff spot and improve positioning, if possible, as we get down to the last 21 games,” said the Bruins GM.
After mentioning youngster Karson Kuhlman’s surprising start with the big club after superstar sniper David Pastrnak fell victim of a bizarre – and highly questionable – thumb injury earlier this month and Peter Cehlarik’s pending return, Sweeney added, “We have to stay healthy. That’s one of the paramount things as you go down the stretch, and you know the compression of the schedule. Will we look at adding more depth? Possibly. But we feel good about where we’re at. But you’re never comfortable.”
Nor should he be.
Yet, with his team on a season-high seven game winning streak and hopeful to get the best young scoring threat in the league in Pastrnak likely returning to the lineup at some point in March, it might be much easier for Sweeney to justify not spending some of his high-end assets for a player that he might not have for more than a couple of months this spring.
Assuming that there isn’t another trade made before the Bruins take the ice against the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday afternoon, whether Coyle is centering head coach Bruce Cassidy’s third line or if he is playing wing alongside Krejci, may go a long way in spelling out what Sweeney is thinking.
The team that Sweeney has rebuilt thus far is a good one, but they are not true Stanley Cup contenders as currently constituted. In order to become one of the teams that has a legit chance at a championship this June, they need a proven scoring threat added to their second line.
Otherwise, the trade for Coyle will be a classic case of taking one step forward and two steps back.