Deadline Day in Boston.
It was a day filled with anticipation at the outset. Pending free agent Loui Eriksson was the biggest fish in their pond and the wild card to what they would do. Contract negotiations had stalled out in recent days, leading most to believe he had certainly played in last game as a Bruin.
Well, 3pm came…and their top line winger was still here. The reaction from Bruins fans on Twitter was fierce.
What the Bruins succeeded in doing today was to throw away assets and the opportunity to cash in on Eriksson for old fringe "upgrades".
— Mike From Woburn (@MikeFromWoburn) February 29, 2016
Congratulations to the Jacobs family on another profitable season.
— dafoomie (@dafoomie) February 29, 2016
However, they did manage to make a pair of deadline day deals. It won’t sit well with much of Bruins Nation but here’s a recap of what Don Sweeney did on his first deadline day rodeo as general manager.
L and S
Boston made a late push for a defenseman and eventually acquired John-Michael Liles from Carolina in exchange for third-round pick this season and a fifth-rounder in 2017. The 35-year-old has six goals and 15 points in 64 games with the Hurricanes this season, averaging 20:34 of ice time per night.
He’s a smooth skater for his age and is a left-shot D-man, something the Bruins were in need of. Defensively, his Corsi-For of 52-percent now leads the B’s blue line in that category.
Although Liles is a defenseman, one cant help but wonder if this was a panic move by Sweeney. He knew Boston needed to shore up the blue line, especially after conceding four goals the night before to Tampa Bay. It’s possible Eriksson could have been the piece used to obtain a better, younger defenseman yet the right deal may not have come along.
Giving up two draft picks and forward prospect Anthony Camara is a bit much for an older player, making this deal reek of desperation from the front office.
In another down-to-the-wire deal, Sweeney brought in New Jersey forward Lee Stempniak for two picks (fourth-rounder in 2016, second in 2017). The 33-year-old scored 16 goals and led the Devils with 41 points in 63 games played this season. It’s his highest goal output since the 2010-11 season when he scored 19 for the-now Arizona Coyotes. The Bruins are Stempniak’s ninth team in 11 years.
Defensively, the veteran winger has a mediocre CF of 45.5-percent. That’s not a good look on a team which needs help shoring up its own end of the ice. What he does bring to the table is scoring help on the wing, which is an open admission that the Brett Connolly experiment has been a failure. Stempniak may slot right on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron to give the B’s some scoring punch up front.
Having to give up two draft picks for a guy that skated all summer with the club but was never offered a professional tryout deal stings. Sweeney could have had him on the cheap before the season but instead had to deal away assets to bring him on board. That is nothing less than a poor evaluation of talent and an admission they made a mistake.
The Eriksson Dilemma
When the deadline came and went with Eriksson still a part of the Bruins roster, the backlash on social media was noticeable.
Sweeney made an attempt to maximize the value for his biggest asset and rightfully so. In his meeting with the media Monday afternoon, the rookie GM said, in order for them to move Eriksson, “the deal had to be right. It had to be right for this organization.”
Earlier in the day, TSN Insider Darren Dreger discussed the price for the Swede as “a top player and prospect.” Considering Andrew Ladd netted Winnipeg a first-round pick and top prospect Marko Dano from Chicago, Sweeney was right to demand such a high price. Unfortunately, no team was willing to give in to his demands.
If there’s one good thing about the situation, the Bruins brass didn’t sell low on Eriksson. In the midst of his best season as a Bruin, the winger was ripe for a good haul and Sweeney didn’t budge on his demands. However, it doesn’t bode well for upcoming contract negotiations in the summer, when his name will highlight a very weak class of free-agent wingers.
Fluto Shinzawa of The Boston Globe wrote the following on the backlash this may cause right after the 3pm deadline passed.
“Unless they can come to an unlikely agreement before July 1, the Bruins will watch Eriksson walk – for nothing – to sign the long-term deal they were wary of giving him prior to today’s trade deadline.
The Bruins did not read the trade market well. They wasted a very good opportunity to reload for the future.”
Interestingly enough, the latest copy of his article omits this biting commentary. However, it’s entirely true.
Brad Marchand, Torey Krug, Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak will all need new contracts in the next 18 months. Eriksson will likely command $6 million/year for five-to-six years. Is Sweeney really willing to keep a 30-year-old over younger building blocks of the franchise? No, which makes the reason to keep Eriksson all the more puzzling.
Boston’s last-minute deals did benefit their team in the short-term but there’s too many questions that still remain.
Liles and Stempniak are unlikely to re-sign at season’s end and Eriksson may very well join them right behind the door. It makes you wonder what exactly the ambitions are of the 2015-16 Bruins. Are they simply content to get into the playoffs and take their chances there? Do they authentically believe they can make a run at the Stanley Cup with the squad they have?
There’s also no concrete answer for their long-term defensive woes. Dougie Hamilton and Johnny Boychuk aren’t walking through the door and so aren’t their replacements. That’s an organizational need going forward if they are to authentically build a Cup contender. Liles isn’t that guy.
Stempniak will give the Bruins scoring punch on the wing but that wasn’t really an area of dire need, especially with Eriksson staying around.
Overall, Boston’s deadline day actions were emblematic of their season: just average. Even though they made improvements, their long-term issues remain a big question mark as the Bruins embark on their final 19 games this season.
* Featured image was provided by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers