By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
For the better part of the last 20 years, the saying “In Bill We Trust,” has reached biblical status with Patriots’ fans. And with good reason, since 2001 under the watch of the Holier Than Thou Hooded One – Bill Belichick – they have been in seven Super Bowls – and won five – and appeared in an obscene 11 Conference Championship games – including their current steak of six straight – and have the greatest coach and quarterback pairing in the history of the game.
The Tom Brady/Bill Belichick duo is in the twilight years – or, at least one would think they are – of a stretch of excellence that will never be duplicated if professional sports last another thousand years. If Belichick picked a mailman with his first selection in any NFL draft, fans of New England would nary raise eyebrow. “It is what it is,” they would say, snorting like their hoodie wearing hero who has brought them to the promised land so many times before.
Leading up to the NHL draft, beginning this Friday night in Chicago, third year Bruins’ general manager Don Sweeney, does not elicit anywhere close to that kind of confidence from B’s fans who have seen their perennial Stanley Cup Contender torn asunder over the last four years.
Under Sweeney, the Bruins farm system has seemingly been rebuilt, after it was neglected for years under his predecessor, current Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli. The former Bruins defenseman inherited mess when he took over as the man calling the shots for the personnel in Black and Gold, and his player development background, has started to look like it could pay dividends for the club.
And while the jury is still out over whether the rebuilding of the prospect pool for the team had more to do with the changing of the general manager, or the performance of Chiarelli’s now assistant GM Keith Gretzky – who ran Boston’s draft board the last three years, prior to this year – that will likely not be known for a couple of years. All of which, makes this weekend all the intriguing.
At the beginning of the month, at the annual NHL Combine in Buffalo, Sweeney told reporters that he would consider dealing his first-round pick, 18th overall. He said to the assembled scribes, “I owe it to our players and the organization to continue to do that. Whether or not it happens, I don’t know. Some people have looked at me sideways at times when holding three first rounders (in 2015) and not being able to do something at that point in time. The right deal didn’t take place. I can’t say that it’s going to at this time as well, but it’s certainly an area I’ve looked at that if we can improve, then we would move it.“
That would seem like a rational point of view, if you didn’t know Dealin’ Don’s record as a GM. In his time in the big chair for the Bruins, Sweeney has been, more time than not, swindled in trades and free-agent signings.
From being strong-armed by the player and agent into dealing Dougie Hamilton the night of his first draft into 2015, to wasting a third-round pick on the dreg that is Zac Rinaldo, his history is littered with god-awful failures. He swung and missed on Jimmy Hayes, and then again, on Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles. And the free-agent signings of Matt Beleskey – and to a lesser extent – David Backes.
At some point, one has to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, no?
To trust in Sweeney to make a trade that will benefit the Bruins in the short-term when it comes to this year’s first-round pick, is akin to trusting your former girlfriend/boyfriend that has promised they wouldn’t sleep with your friends, but bedded every last one. Sometime – as coach Bill has often said – it is what it is.
What he would be better off doing is to continue to stick to the system of draft and development. Just as when a fresh-faced, 28-year-old Theo Epstein vowed to, “turn the Red Sox into a scouting and player development machine,” in 2002, so should Sweeney continue to try to do so with the Bruins.
In the salary cap era, there are very few “hockey” trades that happen in the league; and even fewer than that work out. And although there is no professional sport where any team that makes the playoffs has a real fighting chance to win a championship like hockey does – hello, the 8th seeded Nashville Predators – Sweeney’s focus should be on a slow and steady rebuild of the Bruins into a perennial Cup contender.
Instead of making a deal at the draft that will grab headlines, the B’s GM should be focused on finding a legitimate backup goaltender that can play 25-plus games a year, and continue to stockpile prospects that can either be used at the trading deadline to supplement his club, or create a reliable pipeline of players that they can incorporate into their club when the salary cap demands that they let guys go to free agency.
By the looks of things at the end of the season, the Bruins have enough to once again be a playoff team next spring. The worst thing Sweeney could do this weekend is to jeopardize the future for a feel-good move for now.
Although Foxboro might just be a 40-minute ride or so from Causeway Street, the distance between the level at which the Patriots front office operates at, and the Bruins brass has, is light years apart. Team president Cam Neely should insist – at least for now – that his handpicked general manager proves he can walk with the team’s assets, before he tries to run.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at email@example.com