By Kevin Flanagan
It is sure to be an exciting week in the NHL as the league’s amateur draft will take place this Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by the start of free agency on Friday. And when it comes to your Boston Bruins, it could be a franchise-changing crossroads.
After being pounded into submission by the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning for the second time in the last three postseasons, there will be difficult choices to be made on what direction to take in the shortened offseason. And the aging B’s brass is fully aware that their run as contenders for the NHL’s top prize may have already reached an end.
The team’s top executive of hockey operations admitted as much during a Zoom meeting following the Bruins getting bounced from the bubble last month.
“We’ve got some guys that have played a lot of good hockey for us, a lot of years for us,” said Neely.
Their careers are somewhat winding down, and we have to really take a hard look at where we are as an organization. Can we compete for a Stanley Cup, and if we can, what do we have to do to our roster to do that?”
They might not be at the pray for a miracle point as an answer to those questions, but they are perilously close.
Sweeney’s swings and misses in his first draft calling the shots in 2015 – as Joe Haggerty described last spring – are well documented. Because of that poor start selecting prospects, the Bruins GM finds himself in quite a bind. Armed with an almost empty chest of young talent that he desperately needs to extend the run with his current core via trade, he may be better off beginning the inevitable rebuild coming to Causeway Street sooner rather than later.
Entering the strangest Stanley Cup tournament in NHL history, it seemed the most significant decision the former B’s defenseman would have to make surrounded Torey Krug. However, things got more complicated when Tuukka Rask left the bubble for personal reasons during the first-round series against the Hurricanes, and Zdeno Chara was exposed to be nothing more than a tall statue on skates with a very long stick.
Rask’s name has recently been mentioned in trade rumors, and that shouldn’t be unexpected. In a conversation with a former athlete who played a key role on a championship team in town, he expressed the opinion that it would be difficult for those he had left to welcome him back with open arms.
And even if his teammates attempted to do so, how much trust could they possibly place in someone who has a history of bizarre absences regardless of the circumstances surrounding them?
Additionally, the B’s GM has no one in their system that could replace the flighty Finn currently. So if Sweeney were to jettison the 33-year-old netminder without adding an adequate replacement, that would be the clearest sign that the rebuild has begun.
Without a first-round draft pick on Tuesday – the Harvard grad burned that to dish away David Backes to Anaheim and acquired the enigma that is Ondrej Kase in February – Sweeney has the equivalent of a cap to bring to what will likely be a shootout this coming week in the NHL.
Their most promising prospect, 21-year-old Jack Studnicka, isn’t going anywhere. And the likes of Jake DeBrusk – who disappeared in the second-round series against the Bolts – Anders Bjork, Trent Frederic, Jeremy Lauzon, and Urho Vaakanainen are likely to elicit little more than a yawn from other general managers around the league.
If the Bruins brass emerges from this week with a roster that can legitimately compete for a Stanley Cup next season – whenever that may take place – it would be just short of a miracle.
And, unfortunately, very few miracles have happened in this year we would all rather forget.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan.