By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
My, oh my, maybe pigs can fly after all.
Showing a restraint that was called for in many places – including here – Bruins general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely finally got it right at the NHL trade deadline; basically, standing pat, while adding an afterthought depth piece in forward Drew Stafford for a conditional sixth-round pick from the Winnipeg Jets.
Hallelujah, here’s hoping the B’s brass has at last seen the light. Since coming together as the power couple running the Bruins franchise, Sweeney and Neely have done little right when it comes to the NHL roster. They got bullied into trading Dougie Hamilton at the draft in the spring of 2015. They traded Reilly Smith for the only skating manikin known to man, Dorchester’s own Jimmy Hayes, that same summer.
The same day they made the Hayes deal, they ponied up for five years and nearly four million dollars a year for Matt Beleskey, who then at the age of 27, had just managed to score 22 goals for the first time in his career. At last year’s deadline, they foolishly spent four draft picks for John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak; while idiotically refusing to deal the most valued forward at the time Loui Eriksson, and ended up getting nothing for their most valuable asset when he left for the Vancouver Canucks in free agency last summer.
Maybe, just maybe, things are beginning to change for the better on Causeway Street. After a colossal fall from being one of the top two or three model franchises in the NHL just a handful of years ago, they entered this season viewed as pretty much a team in a steep decline. Seemingly unable to recognize their own ineptness, they stubbornly held on to a head coach whose team had quit on him in two consecutive springs, determined to make the round peg that was Claude Julien’s vaunted defensive system fit into the speed and skill square hole that the NHL game is becoming.
While it is easy to argue that they took way too long to kick Claude to the curb, the fact of the matter is, they finally did, and they have been rewarded with a 7-1 rebirth under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. The man they call Butch seemingly has had the Midas touch with the black and gold, something that is evident in the comments of a number of his players, including center Ryan Spooner and goaltender Tuukka Rask.
“It might’ve been kind of on me not really playing to the potential that I have, but at the same time . . . I just don’t think that he really liked me as a player,” said an obviously more relaxed Spooner this week. “It looks like we’re playing pretty happy hockey,” noted Rask following the B’s win over the Kings in Los Angeles last Thursday night. “Guys are moving and skating and trying to create a lot of offense.”
Whether it is the liberation from the iron hand of Claude, or the more free-wheeling style of play that Cassidy has allowed them to introduce, there is no escaping that the Bruins as a team, both now and going forward, seemingly have a much brighter future than they did just a month ago.
Finding out what they have on their roster as far as the kids are concerned is, without a doubt, the best way to go not only for this season; but for the future of the franchise. The third line, which, until the deadline deal for Stafford, was composed of two prospects – Spooner and Frank Vatrano – and an anchor – Hayes – has been on fire since Claude was gassed.
I have NHL execs, scouts, coaches, players telling me they envy what #NHLBruins have coming in pipeline. Future is bright!
— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) March 1, 2017
Colin Miller, who despite being sat down for Liles this week for perhaps an audition for a trade, has the potential to be part of the core of the Bruins rebuilt defense, along with Brandon Carlo. And depending how deep the Boston University Terriers go in the NCAA college hockey tournament this spring, the B’s will most likely get their first look at what everyone calls a future top pairing D-man, Charlie McAvoy, in a matter of weeks.
For the first time in recent memory, the talking heads in the NHL are talking up the Bruins prospects. Fellow Terrier Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson – a forward, and another top B’s pick – is also considered a possibility to turn pro after the tournament, and theoretically could be wearing a Bruins sweater before the year is over.
Finally, it seems the light at the end of the tunnel is not a late-season collapse destine to rip the heart out of Bruins fans this spring. And while making the playoffs would be great – and should certainly be the goal of a team that is playing its best hockey right now – the end game should – and with today’s lack of panic moves by the B’s brass – looks like it is, making the team a contender down the road with the kids in the system.
Personally, I hate the inevitable “who won the trade deadline” talk that will no doubt be spoken of in the coming days and weeks. Nevertheless, by doing practically nothing on Wednesday, the future of the Bruins franchise is the real winner as a result of their patience.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.