By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
If the Bruins offseason moves – or more precisely, lack thereof – were a dessert dish, it would be a bowl of vanilla ice cream that had been left for too long in the summer sun. Boring, bland, and far from satisfying.
After playing the role of a bridesmaid in both of their attempts to sign the top two free agents available in early July – superstar center John Tavares and former star Ilya Kovalchuk, a cone of silence has fallen upon the B’s Causeway Street offices as September quickly approaches. And while it is difficult to fault Bruins general manager Don Sweeney in both cases – Kovalchuk’s three-year term demands at age 35, five years removed from his last NHL game, and Tavares choosing to chase his childhood dream to play in Toronto – there is no escaping that the Maple Leafs – whom the B’s barely squeaked by in seven games in the first round of the playoffs – got considerably better, while his club has stuck to the status quo.
Sweeney’s squad faced the stark reality that – although they may have been further ahead on their rebuild than many anticipated entering the season last year – they still had much work to do to complete with the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning, that dismissed the Black and Gold in a five-game second round series that wasn’t as close as the line score indicated this past spring.
Now with Toronto adding to an already impressive forward group and the Lightning returning with a roster that many believed was the best in the Eastern Conference last season – not to mention both clubs still being mentioned as being in the sweepstakes for the Ottawa Senators’ two-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson – the fact that the Bruins brass has seemingly chosen to tread water this summer could be a big blow to their hopes of becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender anytime soon.
While the Bruins were rumored to be in the mix for three-time 30-goal-scorer, and the NHL’s 2011 rookie of the year Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes – he was dealt the Sabres for a prospect (2016 third-round pick forward Cliff Pu) along with a ‘19 second-round draft pick and Buffalo’s third and sixth-round picks in the ‘20 draft – nothing ever materialized, even though the price paid by the Sabres seemed like a bargain for the 26-year-old Toronto native.
Although there still remains a faint amount of smoke involving Sweeney’s interest in Columbus’ Artemi Panarin – who has told the Blue Jackets he is not interested in talking about a contract extension, and is rumored to be looking to play in a bigger market going forward – there has been a scant amount of evidence that the clubs have even spoken about such a deal to date.
As for those who are holding out hope for the Bruins much ballyhooed plethora of prospects to deliver another David Pastrnak or Jake DeBrusk, recent articles focusing on the farm systems of teams around the league aren’t quite as favorable as they were just 12 months ago.
Earlier this month, sportingnews.com had only one B’s prospect in the top 50 across the NHL – forward Ryan Donato at 12 – and the Athletic.com had the Black and Gold ranked 27th out of 31 farm systems in the game.
That’s not exactly encouraging news for a team that seemed to have a boatload of assets at their disposal to address the holes that exist – a second line scoring right wing, and a legitimate top two pairing left shot defenseman – just a year ago, but now seems to have more projects than prospects.
Sweeney and the Bruins brass has done a remarkable job of rebuilding from within over the last couple of years. That being said, one has to wonder if maybe they overvalued the level of talent they actually have in their system, and whether sticking to their guns for so long will backfire on them going forward.