On Thursday night, Tyler Seguin set career highs with four goals and five points in Dallas’ 7-3 victory over the Calgary Flames. Not surprisingly, this evoked a lot of anger from the Boston Bruins fan base. It was just over four months ago that Boston shipped the 21 year old forward, and former #2 overall pick, out of town in a blockbuster deal. In spite of that performance, this deal was the right deal for the Boston Bruins to make.
Coming off their second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in three years, the Bruins were faced with a difficult cap situation. In Nathan Horton and Jaromir Jagr, the team had two of its top six forwards from the playoff run entering free agency. Their starting goalie, Tuukka Rask, was once again a restricted free agent without a contract, while Alternate Captain Andrew Ference was becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time since arriving in Boston in 2007. In addition to their pending free agents, the new deals for Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Tyler Seguin were set to kick in for the 2013-2014 season. To complicate matters, the NHL’s salary cap was being reduced from $70.2 million to $64.3 million for the upcoming season.
When it became clear that Nathan Horton would not be returning, the Bruins decided to field offers for Tyler Seguin, and in the process, clear his $5.75 million cap hit from the books. Talks got going at the NHL Entry Draft, but really picked up in the week leading up to free agency. The Dallas Stars proved to be Boston’s best option, offering the Bruins a solid replacement for Seguin, young talent, and cap space.
While there were lots of teams willing to take on the contract of Tyler Seguin, there were fewer teams willing to take on additional salary to facilitate a deal. The Dallas Stars were willing to do just that. In addition to Seguin, the Stars were interested in acquiring Rich Peverley and his $3.25 million cap hit. Between Seguin and Peverley, that was $9 million in salary that the Bruins were sending to Dallas. After taking back the contract of Loui Eriksson, the Bruins were still able to clear $4.75 million in cap space. Furthermore, two of the prospects that the Bruins acquired, Joe Morrow and Reilly Smith, still had time remaining on their entry level deals, making less than $1 million in the NHL this year. Matt Fraser, the prospect that headed to Boston in this deal, was on a two-way deal, with a miniscule cap hit of $625,000 in the NHL. These players gave the Bruins many cost-effective options to round out their roster and/or provide depth in the event of injuries throughout the season.
With the cap savings, the Bruins were able to lockup and bolster the core that had taken them to two of the last three Stanley Cup Finals. The first order of business was finding a replacement for Nathan Horton on the first line. The Bruins went out and signed Jarome Iginla to a one-year deal worth $6 million. The Bruins followed that with an eight-year contract extension for Tuukka Rask, ensuring that the team would have their goaltending situation settled for the foreseeable future. Just days later, the Bruins agreed to an eight-year extension with Patrice Bergeron, a deal that will almost certainly keep #37 in Beantown for the remainder of his career. It appeared the Bruins were done for the offseason, but just before the first game of the season, news broke that the Bruins had re-signed Dennis Seidenberg for an additional four years. The Bruins shored up all three layers of their team with the cap space that was created by this trade.
For the Bruins, this trade was as much about helping the team now as it was about helping the team in the long run. Of the three young prospects, Joe Morrow was viewed by many as the piece with the most potential. The 2011 first round pick is a highly regarded offensive defenseman with the size and skating ability to develop into a solid two-way defenseman. He figures to be a few years away from forcing his way onto the NHL roster, but when he gets to the show, he should slot into a top 4 role and be a major factor on the power play. Forward Matt Fraser was seen as a top candidate to capture the vacant spot on the third line in Boston, after finishing second in the AHL last season with 33 goals. He possesses a huge shot and plays a physical game, making him a perfect fit for Boston’s third line, or better yet, the Bruins organization. The third prospect in the deal, is also the most well-known to Bruins fans, as he made the team out of camp. That prospect is Reilly Smith. Smith projected to be a top six forward long-term, but it was a pleasant surprise when he reached that level in his first month in Boston. Through the first 19 games, Smith has produced 11 points, two more than Rich Peverley, the player he has replaced in the Bruins top nine. That difference in production is all the more impressive when you consider that Smith makes less than a third of what Peverley is making this season.
When they sent Tyler Seguin packing, the Bruins created a hole in their top six. It was critical for Boston to receive a player that could step in immediately and replace Seguin on the second line. Enter Loui Eriksson. The former All-Star is the perfect fit for Patrice Bergeron’s wing, as he plays a strong two-way game, with a knack for finding the back of the net. In fact, prior to the lockout shortened season, he had scored 25+ goals and registered 70+ points in each of the last four seasons. He has also been extremely durable, missing only three games over the last five seasons combined.
This season, as previously noted, Tyler Seguin has gotten off to a great start. Through his first 19 games, he has 12 goals and 22 points. He is averaging just over 19 minutes per game and has a respectable +/- of 7. In comparison, Loui Eriksson has played only 14 games and has registered four goals and nine points. He missed five games after suffering a concussion on a blind-side hit from John Scott on October 23rd. When he has played, he has averaged just over 17 minutes per game, a number that is negatively impacted by missing approximately half of the game in which he was injured. Despite less ice time and fewer games, Eriksson has matched Seguin’s +/- at 7, and has seen time on the power play and the penalty kill. Tyler Seguin is a feature on Dallas’ power play, but has been a non-factor on the penalty kill, rarely being trusted in short-handed situations. Although the competition within their respective conferences is quite different, the Bruins are currently in second place in the Eastern Conference, while the Stars find themselves in a tie with the Winnipeg Jets for tenth place in the Western Conference.
For this year, the Bruins were right to make this deal. They freed up enough cap space to add pieces to win now, and then they added those pieces in Iginla and Eriksson. They are in second place in the conference and have some cap space flexibility as they move forward. In the long run, they have added three players who will contribute and be under team control for years to come. Tyler Seguin will more than likely put up gaudy numbers in Dallas, but his production means very little if the Bruins continue to win. The bottom line is that the Bruins are closer to winning a Stanley Cup than they were when they made this trade, and that, in the end, is why the Bruins made the right decision.