Diagnosing The Disarray Of The Boston Bruins

Friday June 26, 2015 is a day that will live in infamy for the Boston Bruins.

At the start of the day, general manager Don Sweeney had around $8 million dollars of cap space to sign young defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a long-term extension. He also had Milan Lucic and a first-round pick to draft a player that could challenge for a roster spot next season.

By 7pm, Hamilton was shipped to Calgary. Lucic was traded to Los Angeles. Boston had three first-round picks. Fans believed they had the assets to trade up and draft an NHL-ready talent.

Instead, Sweeney stayed on the draft stage for ten minutes and drafted three players. It left many with a potpourri of emotions ranging from anger and frustration to confusion and a feeling of “huh?”

However, he did re-sign Adam McQuaid for four years and $11 million and retained $2.7 million of Lucic’s salary for next season.

A cap-strapped franchise shed just $550,000 completing two franchise-altering trades. Confused? You should be.

The Bruins went from a perennial playoff team to a franchise on the verge on a long-term rebuild. Sweeney definitely made his presence known on draft day but also left the club dazed and confused on the direction they are heading in.

Gaping Holes

Boston went into the offseason with a need for an elite, offensive winger to give them consistency in the goal scoring department. Lucic’s departure now leaves two openings on the top line as playmaking center David Krejci needs wingers on both sides. Loui Eriksson would be the favorite to occupy the right side but the left side is a major concern. Breaking up Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron is unthinkable. Chris Kelly should be fortunate to still have a job in Boston, never mind earn a promotion to the top line.

The options in free agency are limited to find a top-line left winger. What exactly does Sweeney plan to do to fill this need?

Dougie Hamilton Flames
Hamilton’s departure from Boston leaves a gaping hole on the Bruins blue line. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Not only that, the defense corps is in big trouble too. Hamilton’s absence leaves the Bruins blue line with two aging players past their prime (Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg), a fringe top-four guy (Torey Krug), and two bottom-pair grinders (McQuaid and Kevan Miller).

The need for a young, dynamic, top-four replacement is paramount if Boston wants to retain what fading hopes they have of contending for a championship.

Amazingly, salary cap relief is still a pressing need as well albeit not as much as it was prior to Friday. Hamilton’s contract situation is no longer in the equation but in its place comes the issue of free agency. This is another test for Sweeney as the club has the same amount of cash to throw around in a weak class of FAs as they did before the trades.

The challenge for the boss is to spend that money wisely and find players that can help his team while retaining flexibility for the future.

The Smear Campaign

A growing trend in Boston is when the club is unable to retain their young talent, people look for any source of justification to explain why the Bruins sent them packing.

We were told Phil Kessel did not get along with coach Claude Julien. We were also told Tyler Seguin partied too much.

It is no surprise that with Hamilton, history repeats itself yet again. Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald reported this interesting tidbit on Sunday in his column:

As it was, the Hamilton deal didn’t look good —but may have had a secondary cause.

“It was surprising,” said one NHL assistant GM. “It’s obvious there’s something going on that we don’t know about. From what I’ve heard behind the scenes, his teammates don’t like him. I heard he’s a loner and sort of an uppity kid, and that his teammates don’t like him and it was unanimous.”

It took less than 48 hours for the excuse-making to begin.

The truth is nothing can justify the poor return Sweeney got for a player that could very well be a franchise defenseman in the League. Hamilton is exactly what the Bruins needed: a sizeable, young defenseman who could assume the role of a number one when Chara’s time in Boston was done.

Now, there is no one on Causeway Street that fits the bill. Without a known Plan B, Sweeney is in a tough predicament trying to defend this trade.

It is not a good look for the franchise to trade three potential franchise players in the past six years. It is even worse that Kessel, Seguin, and now Hamilton have faced the same fate of having their character questioned after leaving town.

So, where do they go from here? That is a question only Sweeney himself knows at this juncture. One thing we know is this: the Boston Bruins are directionless and approaching a state of disarray similar to the post-lockout teams of 2005-06 and 06-07.

It could be a long summer and a longer winter on Causeway Street next season unless Sweeney can somehow instill confidence in the fans on his franchise.