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After months of scouting and downright scouring the hockey world for answers that fit their budget, it started in the middle of the night on the eve of the NHL Trade Deadline for Peter Chiarelli
and the Boston Bruins with a call from Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman
The Lightning, after wrapping up a deal to bring Braydon Coburn
to Tampa Bay, sent Brett Connolly
, the former sixth overall pick (Yzerman’s first pick as Tampa Bay general manager), to the Black and Gold in exchange for the B’s second-round picks in both 2015 and 2016.
“When you’re in this business and you’re trying to placate factions and trying to close something, you do whatever you can, and I really felt that that was the deal to make at that time and I’m very happy with that deal,” Chiarelli said of the late-night deal that brought the 22-year-old Connolly to Boston. “Sometimes you’re like ‘Oh, let’s deal with it in the morning’, but no, we had to get it done.”
Acquiring the 6-foot-2 Connolly (a restricted free agent at the end of the season) was a move that, while it helps the Bruins’ right-wing depth in the now (they’ve longed for another right-shooting winger with size since Jarome Iginla left for Colorado), involves the future of the club just as much. If not more.
“This is a high pedigree player and they have a lot of offensive players in Tampa and they have a lot of right-wingers and that’s why he was available,” said Chiarelli. “We felt it would be a good add, because there’s a future for him here. We’ve done rental players and they’ve worked and some haven’t. The fact that you’re adding to bolster your group is a positive thing and we felt this is the right way.
“I see a top-six forward and then if you look at all his goals he’s a shooter. He’s a net front guy. He’ll go and get goals at the top of the blue. He’s a rangy guy. He makes plays but he’s a shoot-first guy. I really like his release and he’s young and he’s growing. He’s going to be a top six player.”
Connolly’s a gamble, but a worthwhile one, especially for a Bruins organization without a real long-term solution on their right-side with the exception of David Pastrnak
and maybe Reilly Smith.
“He was a slow starter since his draft, but his play is starting to pick up. He’s a big kid, has a very good wrist shot, very good release, good hockey mind, starting to learn the nuances of the game, and we believe that there’s a very good upside,” Chiarelli noted. “He’s going to be with our group for a while, we will control his rights, and he’s going to grow into a good player, and he can help us now. So looking to the future, but also to the present, and that’s necessitated by the prices, and what we looked at is if we’re going to spend the picks that we spend, let’s look at all options, not just rental options.”
The Bruins then lost depth forward Craig Cunningham
to Arizona via the waiver wire, a chance that Chiarelli and company took with the hopes of another deal falling into place.
“We put him on for the reason that we were in on a couple of other deals, and our tightness to the cap necessitated putting him down or putting him in a deal or putting him on waivers, notwithstanding,” Chiarelli said of losing Cunningham, who many had slated to be Boston’s fourth-line center in 2015-16, to the Coyotes. “That’s what we decided, as a group. It’s tough, but that’s what we decided as a group.”
Cunningham’s departure opened up the door for the Black and Gold another deal, and that involved Colorado veteran bottom-sixer and 2009 Stanley Cup champion, Maxime Talbot
The 31-year-old Talbot comes to Boston with five goals and 15 points in 63 games for the Avalanche this season, and with 18 goals (including two goals in Pittsburgh’s Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final) and 39 points in 84 career postseason contests. He’s a character guy (something the Bruins have often been accused of lacking this season), and with the Avs retaining half of Talbot’s $1.8 million cap-hit through 2016, looks to be in Boston’s future plans, too.
If utilized in the right role, there’s absolutely no doubt that fans will love Talbot. On top of skating with the ability to play all three forward positions, he’s a vocal presence, and classic ‘locker room guy’, much like Shawn Thornton. His presence will inject some life into the B’s on and off the ice, and could provide some relief to the lulls and slow starts that the club has gone through too many times this season.
The return heading Colorado’s way, of course, is Jordan Caron
Caron’s story is a frustrating one for just about everybody involved. Drafted by the club with the 25th overall pick in 2009, the 6-foot-3 Caron never quite panned out as the strong two-way, top-six presence the Bruins had hoped for. In five seasons -- primarily split between Boston and Providence or as Boston’s 13th forward -- and 134 games with Boston, the Sayabec, Que. native scored just 12 goals and 28 points, and never tallied more than seven goals or 15 points in a season (both in 2011-12).
At the same time, though, I think that Caron was in a no-win situation towards the end of his tenure in Boston. As time went on, Caron evolved into a strong fourth-line presence for the Bruins. He was strong on the forecheck, and created chances when he skated a simple-yet-efficient game. But you could never give credit to Caron for those games without being met with sarcasm that could melt your laptop. Caron became the whipping boy by default on a team that, for most of his tenure with the B's, was comprised of Stanley Cup winners. And that’s understandable, to a degree, as the Bruins didn’t draft Caron to be a fourth-line mucker. Again, at the same time, Caron didn’t choose to draft himself in the first round. That’s obviously on a since-revamped scouting department that made mistakes before Caron (Zach Hamill being the most egregious error under that regime). Moving to a city where the fan expectations aren’t that of a first-round talent, top-tier prospect will be a good change of scenery for the 24-year-old.
But while the Bruins can be blamed for the Caron drafting fiasco, you have to give them credit for flipping an asset most deemed ‘worthless’ -- most people were clamoring for Caron, not Cunningham, to be placed on waivers -- into something they could use this season (and next season) in Talbot.
And that was all the Boston front office wrote on a deadline day with more questions than answers.
So, why didn’t the Bruins make a major play for a superstar?
Well, simply put, that deal wasn’t there. Yandle was already off the market and the Bruins could and would not match the offer the Rangers put forth. They weren’t budging on the Coyotes’ demand for a first-round pick for Antoine Vermette, Cam Atkinson
signed an extension with Columbus, and a player like Erik Cole or Michael Ryder was not anywhere close to the answer for the club. The Bruins explored the idea of making a bigger deal involving some of their core pieces, though, according to Chiarelli, who noted that the Evander Kane trade really opened up the idea of bigger trades across the league. But according to one source, the market didn’t necessarily welcome it today.
(There was a report that the Bruins were making yet another pitch for Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle, but that the Oil quickly denied the alleged pursuit, stating that Eberle was not in play.)
“They’re hard deals to make. It’s just the reality of the economics, it’s the reality of the cap, it’s the reality of the parity and they’re hard deals to make,” Chiarelli said of ‘bigger hockey trades’ at the deadline. “You want to try and leverage the timings, if you’re going to go that route, if you’re going to explore and this is a leverage moment because it’s the deadline, but those are hard deals to make.”
As always, Chiarelli didn’t get into the specifics of what he would move out of town, but did once again lay out the idea that he was in on some discussions that the club could revisit this summer.
“You always end up getting into an area where, ‘Hey what about this in the summer? Would we talk about this? And this is what I’m going to try and do in the summer’. That’s where you start building on notions and ideas and concepts for I wouldn’t call it an overhaul but at least a different look.”
In essence, if there’s an Kane-esque trade to be made, it’ll happen in the summertime if anything.
So, why didn’t the Bruins at the very least add a defenseman?
The Bruins -- without Johnny Boychuk (traded in Oct.) and Kevan Miller (shoulder surgery, done for the year) -- could have benefited from the acquisition of a second-pairing defender with a right shot, you’d think. And they had options. But Jeff Petry
landed in Montreal, Marek Zidlicky
went to Detroit, Zbynek Michalek
found his way to St. Louis, and Massachusetts native Keith Yandle
(though a left shot) was sent to the New York Rangers on Sunday night. Even then, the Black and Gold were in on some smaller depth defenders, but weighed the pros and cons of a rental before coming to the conclusion that they were better off actually
trusting their youth.
“When you look at what Joe Morrow’s done for us, when you look at what David Warsofsky’s done for us, when you look at what Zach Trotman’s done for us, and even Chris Breen — he hasn’t been up, but we signed these guys for depth,” Chiarelli said. “We tell them, You guys are depth guys. We didn’t sign Joe for depth, but when you sign back, they want a chance. So part of it is owing [it] to them.”
Chiarelli giving the proverbial keys to the organization’s depth on the point in the event of an injury was a surprise, and was just the second trade deadline since 2008 that came and went without the Bruins adding a defenseman (and even then, the Bruins added Shane Hnidy from Anaheim a month or so before the deadline in ‘08). It also snapped a six-year stretch of deadline defenders coming to the Hub.
“I was going through the D that we’ve acquired before on a rental basis, and as a manager, it’s like a comfort level to have that core of surplus D, I’ll be honest with you,” Chiarelli said. “That’s how it feels and it’s instinctive to try and say, ‘I got to get a D, I got to get a D, I got to get a D’ but this year, we’ve tried younger guys up front, we’ve used younger guys on the back end, and you know what? I know I added on the front end, but we’ve also got the younger guys up front, so I felt that these guys [defensemen] – we’ve got them for depth, so let’s use them for depth.”
It's a major leap for the Bruins, especially when almost all the teams around Boston made upgrades to their defenses, and one that could prove costly if the B's thin NHL blue line gets hit with multiple injuries (which has already happened once this season).
So, what happened to the idea of Chris Stewart
coming to town?
I’ll admit this one: I was wrong about Chris Stewart and the Bruins. I was 100 percent convinced that Stewart would be a Bruin by the end of the day. I figured that the Bruins had spent way too much time and energy on determining whether or not Stewart fit in for nothing to come of it.
And though Chiarelli wouldn’t say any one specific thing on Stewart, there was one quote you could find telling when it came to the prices being asked for Stewart (who went to Minnesota for a second-round pick), a constant battle between Chiarelli and Sabres general manager Tim Murray
“The perception is that we’re under the gun, but this is my ninth year here, and we talked to other managers, and if they want to gouge you, you just don’t do it,” Chiarelli said.
Make no mistake about it, the Sabres wanted to gouge the Bruins on a Stewart deal.
So, why didn’t the Bruins decide to sell pieces off in an outrageous seller’s market?
Given the return for third-line forwards and second-pairing defensemen, the Bruins could have pulled in a massive haul for pending unrestricted free agents Carl Soderberg
, or maybe depth pieces like Matt Bartkowski
, Adam McQuaid
, and Danny Paille
But that was never a serious consideration from the Black and Gold, really. Deep down, the Bruins know that they’re an incomplete team this season, but at the same time, they know that if they’re healthy and get strong goaltending, that anything is possible in a relatively weak Eastern Conference.
“Not really,” Chiarelli said when asked if he considered selling. “I feel that we have a team that will make the playoffs, and if you can get in, when you get in, anything goes. So we talked about it, but I didn’t — we didn’t — really go down that route. In fact, we never went down that route.
“I feel that we’ve improved the team, and as I said, I think this is a good group, and some years, you don’t win the Presidents’ Trophy; some years, you finish sixth or seventh; some years, you don’t make the playoffs. Incumbent that we make the playoffs — and you have down years for reasons that I won’t get into, but you all know why, sometimes, you don’t, and sometimes, you do. We’ve tried to improve the team; we feel we’ve improved the team, and we hope for a good run coming up.”
And with the deadline passed, hope is all Chiarelli can add to his club’s chances in 2015.
Ty Anderson has been covering the Boston Bruins for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, is a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter, and can be contacted on Twitter, or emailed at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com