Disappointing is the only way we can describe our feelings towards this seasons trade deadline. Not solely based on what the Bruins did or didn’t do, but just for the league in general. We are the type of fans that really look forward to the trade deadline, the draft, and free agency. The moments where the team is born, built, and grown. It’s almost as exciting and entertaining as the actual games themselves.
However, today was a dud for the NHL. The players we all thought would be moved stayed with their respective teams and there were not any surprise trades that came out of nowhere. There are a couple distinct reasons for this:
One, NHL general managers are getting smarter. They will not trade draft picks or overpay for rentals like they used to. All the way from team owners on down there has been a progressive change in spending throughout league for any player outside “superstar” status. Everyone is cutting costs. With the potential of the salary cap not increasing, or maybe going down for next year, GM’s are not going to move important draft picks because their value is much greater in the cap era NHL. Teams today need serviceable homegrown players on cheap rookie deals to fill out rosters now more than ever.
And secondly, the salary cap itself has made trades more difficult than ever. GM’s now have to make the money work almost more than the personnel. It’s one reason why you’re seeing more and more “deadline” deals done in the three weeks leading up to the actual deadline rather than the old wild west gambler showdown in the final hours. It’s not that you can’t wait until the last minute as we saw today, but if you don’t have a “capologist” on your payroll to figure out some of the nuances of how specifically the money works the deal can’t get done. Or a bad deal could bury you for years. Just look at the deal that former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli gave to Jarome Iginla a couple season ago. Overages owed to Jarome from bonuses and poor contract structure really damaged the Bruins cap the following season. It kept Iginla from returning and kept the Bruins from retaining a player like Johnny Boychuk.
So looking at today, not moving Loui Eriksson was the disappointment. It’s not very often you’re the franchise on deadline day holding the biggest prize for other teams to buy. And to not take advantage of that stings because he’s the guy that is due one of those potentially dangerous and expensive deals this summer. He’s also the chip that could have dramatically improved the defense.
As much as we love Loui it’s going to be real hard for the Bruins to afford his contract demands this summer. Come July 1st he will be free to sign anywhere and the B’s can certainly be outbid. It doesn’t seem to be the right move to bring back a 31-year-old with a concussion history when they need to resign Torey Krug and Brad Marchand. Marchand still has a year left on his contract but the Bruins could work out an extension as early as this off-season. There are also other restricted free agents the Bruins will still need to sign too.
One solution to this dilemma is that the Bruins have decided internally that Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly are likely one-and-done players. Sweeney will then trade them this coming summer for similar 3rd, 4th, and 5th round picks they just gave up at the deadline. That’s free up more cap space and the likes of Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari, Austin Czarnik, and Seth Griffith will then step into the NHL full-time on their cheap rookie deals.
In a way we also can agree with general manager Don Sweeney in keeping Loui Eriksson. Similar players in Eriksson’s situation league wide also did not move either. The Lightning did not trade Steven Stamkos and there is a massive risk in doing so. The Islanders did not move Kyle Okposo. Even Jonathan Drouin stayed put and he would have commanded a great return. The Maple Leafs could not find a home for P.A. Parenteau and they were trading everyone. Also, the Vancouver Canucks could not make a deal for their unrestricted free agents in Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis either. It just seemed like there were not deals to be made. But the latest hot management trend that’s being talked about a lot by NHL experts in the media may actually be taking hold. Due to so much parity and tightness in the standings teams are becoming more comfortable just trying to win with what they have. For better or worse they view a player, like Loui for example, walking away in the off-season as a $6 million per year cap gain. That doesn’t happen very often in the cap era NHL.
So instead a secondary course took place at the deadline when the Bruins traded for John-Micheal Liles and Lee Stempniak. We’re not going to get into if they over paid for these players because the cost was draft picks and an AHL lifer and you never know what those picks are going to turn into. Vatrano and crew that we listed above were undrafted free agents right out of college, like Torey Krug and Kevan Miller. Good players can still be found and signed. Either way, there is real value in the Stempniak trade. Don Sweeney discussed on Sunday that he wanted to get more depth and that is exactly what this move does. It may be only 41 points on the season but they did get a teams leading scorer in Stempniak. He can slot in on the right wing on any of the top 3 lines. Then you are slotting Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly on the 3rd or 4th lines and that’s an upgrade to what their fourth line has provided lately. However, Stempniak should have been the band-aid to replace Loui who who have brought the Bruins the defense they needed.
The John-Micheal Liles trade is the one that does not make sense. He might be an upgrade to what the Bruins already had but by how much is debatable. If this was maybe 2010 or 2011 it would be worth getting excited for. Clearly his better days are behind him. Trading for Liles is also going to take quality playing time away from Joe Morrow who looked to be turning the corning in his development. To be honest, I am not sure how much of an upgrade Liles is going to be over Morrow at this point. Liles is going to need to learn Claude’s system on the fly so we will see how it looks as early as tonight’s game.
I think if everyone knew ahead of time that these were the trades the Bruins were going to make at the deadline most would have rather they just stood pat and not do anything. They would have at least held onto their draft picks. It’s just hard to see these additions right now as helping them get them further in the playoffs than with the players they already have. And if they were going to move that many picks for two average players it’s probably more disappointing that they couldn’t find a combo of those picks packaged with a piece or two in Providence to really get a defenseman that is a known upgrade. We’ve all waited sixty games to see that blue line finally receive legit top-4 help, today was the day, and it didn’t happen. Either Sweeney and crew view the Eastern Conference as still wide open (outside of Washington) or ownership is hell bent on making money from the playoffs again and standing pat like last year was not an option per the Jacobs family.
In the end, we don’t know if today will end up being a huge disappointment. In the present, it is. Eventually it all hinges on the Bruins ability to resign Loui at a fair price and term. If that can happen and not compromise the re-signing of Marchand, Krug, or the ability to acquire a top-4 defenseman then the Bruins will have actually made out well today. They will have won the deadline by landing the best free agent available, the one they already had, in Loui Eriksson. If Loui walks… well, we’re not even going to go there.