By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Almost unanimously across the hockey world, the Bruins deal with the New York Rangers to acquire aging winger Rick Nash is being hailed as a spot on move by general manager Don Sweeney. By all accounts, the Black and Gold are light years ahead of where anyone thought they would be back in October, and Sweeney has chosen to dive headfirst into the playoff pool lottery with this upstart bunch, hoping that Nash will be the piece that puts his surprising team over the top.
Nevertheless, the big-bodied winger’s post-season performances have been spotty, to say the least, posting a line of 15-26-41 in 77 games played. At the age of 33 – and in an obvious decline since he potted a career-high 42 pucks for the Blueshirts in 2014-15 – what he brings besides size is up for debate.
“We hope he’s going to be the impact player he has been,” said the Bruins GM prior to his debut against the Sabres in Buffalo on Sunday. “We’ve identified that being on that second line with David (Krejci) would be a boost to our hockey club, and we need it to be. He’s looking forward to the challenge, and hopefully, we get to where we want to here in the next little while. We’ve got a tough stretch ahead of us in March, and we’re going to need everybody in the depth side of it continue to move forward and become a team that gets to the dance.”
What Sweeney didn’t mention was the massive decline in production from his ’14-’15 peak season (see above) to his pathetic output of 15-21-36 last year, and the fact that he has spent large portions of this current campaign parading as Casper the Ghost in Gotham.
In other words, the B’s brass is betting that their, up until now, Midas touch head coach Bruce Cassidy can find a way to put a Bic lighter to the underside of the former number one pick overall in the NHL draft in ’02, and get something now that every other bench boss has during his career has yet to see, a beast in hockey’s second season.
For weeks now, it has been said in this spot that minimalist’s approach to the trade deadline would be the wisest course of action for Sweeney’s club. However, given the assumed depth throughout the Bruins system/assets under control that is the widely held belief in the hockey world, the price paid for Nash can be easily explained away.
Nonetheless – barring a Payday Pete Chiarelli-esque move to sign the rapidly aging once-superstar to an extension after this season – Sweeney has decided to engage in a high-stakes poker play on his rebuilt Bruins this spring by going after the most expensive rental on the market.
In doing so, he has cast his hopes that his craftily constructed crew can get by the likes of the deeply talented Maple Leafs squad, the highly favored Tampa Bay Lightning – who just added former Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh to their blueline – and the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins – who added 18 goal scorer this season center Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators to an already impressive offense – in order to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals come this June.
Oh, and there is the Washington Capitals and Brandon Holtby, who absolutely own you.
That is far from what anyone would call a sure bet.
It doesn’t take a hockey savant to say that whether he was right or not won’t be determined until the Bruins fate is recorded this spring. However, the history of Sweeney’s up and down tenure as the Bruins general manager has a lot riding on his faith in a fading forward who has a history of playing the role of Houdini in the NHL playoffs.
The good news for the hockey fans of Boston is that they likely have a pretty sweet seat at the NHL’s postseason table. The bad news is that they may have just been given the toughest draw to get to hockey’s promised land.
Whether or not Sweeney has morphed into one of the elite of the game’s front office string pullers, after being considered a laughing stock only three-plus years earlier, will be determined in a matter of months.
And a lot of that will be due to whether Rick Nash can pull his career out of the mothballs with the assistance of an aging David Krejci this spring.