When the Bruins fired Peter Chiarelli at the end of last season they preached getting the salary cap under control and becoming a harder team to play against. Chiarelli had left the Bruins with a mess. The Bruins salary cap situation was a terrible one and they had missed the playoffs for the first time under Claude Julien. New GM, Don Sweeney had his hands full and a tough job right from the start. During the 2015 summer we at BostonPucks.com praised some of new GM, Don Sweeney’s moves, but looking back some of those moves did not pan out.
It started in June at the Draft. The Bruins had a plan. They traded Milan Lucic to the Kings for a first round pick, Colin Miller, and Martin Jones. Then they traded Dougie Hamilton to the Flames for a first round pick and two 2nd round picks. I have to believe, as speculated, that “Plan A” was to package some of the newly acquired picks in a trade to move up in the draft and select Noah Hanifin. That would have been a fantastic move. But when that fell through they ended up using all three first rounders to select different players. With the Kings pick they picked defenseman, Jakub Zboril. With the picks the Bruins received from the Flames they picked right wing, Zach Senyshyn, Center, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlson, and defenseman, Jermey Lauzon.
Possibly one mistake at the draft was not taking University of Michigan stud freshman Kyle Connor who went two picks after Senyshyn. Connor went on to have a monster year at Michigan and has now opted to leave Michigan and sign his rookie deal with the Winnipeg Jets. Connor was my pick for the Hobey Baker, but lost out to Jimmy Vessey. Connor finished his freshman season with 35 goals and 36 assists. It is safe to assume that Connor will be in the Jets lineup next season. The Bruins could use a highly skilled wing/center like him in their lineup next year.
Within a week after the draft the Bruins traded Martin Jones to the Sharks for a 1st rounder in 2016 and Sean Kuraly. In fairness to management it really is too early to judge the trades made on draft day. How well a team does in a draft usually takes years to pan out and right now no one really knows what the Bruins have, even if a lot of the prospects look promising. On paper some of these trades could turn out to be highway robbery for the Bruins if those prospects end up being NHL regulars, but the key is we do not know how it will end up. Either way; Lucic and Hamilton were gone and there were no on-ice replacements with comparable ability coming back for them.
After the draft Sweeney traded a 3rd round pick to the Flyers for league dirt bag Zac Rinaldo. I see what Sweeney was trying to do here. It goes along with the “hard to play against,” but a 3rd round pick is a hefty price to pay. According to this TSN article a 3rd round pick has a 30% chance of playing 50 or more games in the NHL.
In the pre-season Rinaldo looked good. He was using his speed and making things happen. There was a poll at the beginning of the year that asked if Rinaldo would be suspended more games than goals scored. I was a believer that he would score more goals than games suspended, but boy was I wrong. Rinaldo sealed his fate when he got a 5-game suspension. The Bruins ended up putting him on waivers and sending him down to the AHL. Giving up a 3rd round pick for Rinaldo is really bad, but it might not be the biggest mistake that management did this past year.
Next we get to July 1, the first day of free agency. In my opinion the signing of Matt Beleskey was a home run. He did not reach the 20-goal mark, but he did have a career high in points this season. He is one of the only players on the Bruins that brought it every game and he is the prototypical fan favorite Bruin.
Within minutes after Beleskey signed the Bruins traded Reilly Smith and Marc Savard’s contract to the Panthers for Jimmy Hayes. At the time we here at BostonPucks.com thought this was a great trade, but as the season progressed it appeared that the Panthers were the team who got the better player. Granted it is much easier to play in Florida than in Boston and the pressure of playing in your home town can be intense. But I am sure Sweeney wants a mulligan on this one. Hayes was a healthy scratch at times toward seasons end and his big frame did little to create space for his line mates, or himself, on the ice.
The Jonas Gustavsson signing ended up being a good deal for the Bruins. Gustavsson proved to be a reliable backup and at times stood on his head when he was starting for the Bruins. Gustavsson ended up with a 11-9-1 record, with 2.72 GAA and a .908 save percentage. I do not think Gustavsson will be back next year, but hopefully he gets another NHL job.
And lastly, not moving Loui Eriksson before the trade deadline has turned into a disaster. The Bruins should have moved him for the best offer available. Now, if the Bruins can resign Loui to a team friendly deal then all is good, but that seems like a real long shot. Loui is a great fit in Boston and a great player. But if he walks, and the Bruins got nothing for him on top of missing the playoffs, that is embarrassing and inexcusable play on management’s part. You have to wonder if they’ll selfishly overpay to keep Loui just to try to save face.
Overall, Don Sweeney and the rest of the management team did not have a good year. During last summer when Sweeney was getting smashed by the hockey media I thought it was unfair and he was put in a tough situation by Chiarelli’s previous terrible contracts and decisions. Hopefully Sweeney and gang have a better offseason because if they do not next offseason there could be a major house cleaning in the front office.
Sweeney has some tough decisions again this off season. Do they fire Claude. Do they trade Chara and buy out Seidenberg. Do they try to trade Hayes. How do they acquire a true number 1 defenseman. All these questions need to be answered.
I think Sweeney and staff are smart enough to do it right. I am just not sure ownership would allow for a true push of the reset button, or if they’ll demand another half-rebuild, half-patchwork roster to try to push for the playoffs again.