By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Headed into this weekend’s NHL draft; rumors ran rampant regarding the Bruins desire to deal their first-round pick – the 18th overall selection – for a right shot defenseman that they so desperately need. On several occasions, general manager Don Sweeney expressed the willingness to package that asset in order to bolster his blue line for the upcoming season.
However, what should come as no surprise to Bruins’ fans, Sweeney was unable to swing a deal and instead, used the pick on a defenseman many scouting services had ranked much lower than where the B’s picked him. Urho Vaakanainen is an 18-year-old defenseman from Finland, who the draftanalyst.com calls, “A wonderful skater with a fluid stride, he is calm and steady with the puck, and will peel back in the face pressure rather than force things.
“Vaakanaienen has a hard shot and is being groomed to quarterback a powerplay, but we were more impressed with his play anchoring Finland’s top penalty killing unit and refusing to float away from his slot responsibilities,” the report states. Adding, “He seems to have the puck on a string, and playing in Finland’s top circuit reveals a young man who is clearly who is one of the most mature of any first-year draft eligible.”
That seems like fairly high praise for a player that the Red Line Report’s Kirk Luedeke called, “Kind of vanilla.”
Even team president Cam Neely seemed to concede that the team kind of reached with their first selection on Friday night. On the second day of the draft, the Bruins big boss had this to say about the B’s draft strategy, “We have got to trust in our staff and scouts. In any draft, unless you are picking one or two or three, there are always going to be some questions – ‘Did you pick the right guy? Should he have gone higher or lower?’ – all the reports I read from our scouts, and being at all the scouting meetings, our guys were really high on this player.”
B’s fans may be disappointed that the Bruins’ brass couldn’t bring home from Chicago the shiny bauble of a defenseman that they so desperately wanted, but they shouldn’t be. The path the organization is seemingly on right now may not be the most direct path to becoming a Stanley Cup contender in the near future, but it is the right one if being a long-term candidate to fight for Lord Stanley’s challis for many springs to come.
The most likely reason that Sweeney was unable to get something done, is his short history as a GM. Because he is viewed as losing more deals than he has won thus far in his three-year tenure at the helm of the Bruins, the other general managers across the league are going to ask for the moon and stars from the relatively fresh-faced executive.
It shows his growth in the position that he didn’t budge, and if his scouting staff continues to hit more times that they miss in the draft; he will look all the wiser down the road.
However, the true test of his growth as a GM will come when free agency opens on July 1st. It will be then that he, and Neely will have to face the temptation of backing up the Brinks truck for the likes of a Kevin Shattenkirk, who will get paid like a top pairing defenseman; when, in fact, he isn’t.
The Bruins already have their share of bad contracts on the books (David Krejci $7.25 M, 4 yrs; David Backes $6M, 4 yrs; Matt Beleskey $3.8M, 3 yrs) and they certainly don’t need to add to the relatively dead money against the cap on their roster.
Stanley Cups aren’t won in July, but the ability to compete for them long-term can be. The B’s are just starting to emerge from the dust of the blow up that had to take place due to their poor cap management decisions under Peter Chiarelli. The addition of Shattenkirk – or any of his soon-to-be overpaid ilk – is not going to win you a championship next season. In fact, it is easy to argue – as I am doing here – that it could likely be a hindrance to hoisting a Cup in the future.
The old saying, “slow and steady wins the race” might be boring, but it is often true. If the Bruins believe in their scouting like they say they do, and the kids the currently have in their system are developing like the team says; then staying the course is the right choice for the organization to take.
Free agency and trades are flashy, but if the goal is to build a perennial contender, Bruins’ fans should look forward to enjoying a boring summer.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.