Remember the cute childhood fictional game where you are forced to choose one of two paths? Path A was one option, path B was the other.
As it stands, the Boston Bruins chose neither path and are wandering the depths of mediocrity. A season removed from being the pride of the league, the Bruins finished the 2014-15 on the outside looking inward. New General Manager Don Sweeney had the option to get crafty and make another push to be a contender or pump the brakes and start a rebuild.
Road A. Road B.
There were many obstacles interfering with Sweeney’s choice. The Bruins had virtually no wiggle room with the salary cap, lacking the necessary dollars to make a splash and acquire a top six wing or top four defenseman. Yet the Bruins also boast too much talent to rebuild and grab a top draft pick, with David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Patrice Bergeron all under contract. Stuck in between a rock and hard place, Sweeney had a tough decision to make.
Instead of choosing either of the roads in front of him, Sweeney decided to gamble by sprinting through the forest in between the two roads, blindly hoping that taking the uncharted territory would provide immense rewards.
Well, he was wrong. Sweeney was wrong. There is just no way to mince words about it.
Sweeney attempted to tear down a team that is not ready for a rebuild. Ninety-six points, the highest total in NHL history to not make the playoffs, and the team is being stripped of two of its best players. The two areas of need, which I addressed earlier, have now been widened. Who steps up to fill the void defensively? Is Seth Griffith ready to play consistent top six minutes? A gaping crater on the roster, Sweeney frayed ties that cannot possibly be sewn together again.
By trading for four draft picks, Sweeney plastered a clear message: The Bruins, in his opinion, are not ready to contend. However, why would that prompt someone to trade a future Norris trophy contender, the heir to Boston’s blueline once Zdeno Chara no longer graces the Garden ice? Dougie Hamilton was the cornerstone of the Bruins’ rebuild, a player of such caliber that 29 other teams could only wish that they had.
The chance was there for a ‘tear it down and quickly build it back up’ approach. By trading pieces with inflated cap hits (like Milan Lucic, for example), the Bruins could have freed up enough space to pursue other players and trade draft picks to acquire established talent. Boston would still have had many viable options and assets that could ensure that they can contend, lead by Bergeron, Hamilton, and Rask.
Instead, the middle of the forest rears its ugly head. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, the Bruins are no closer to a rebuild than they are to contending.
Here’s the problem: the Bruins aren’t good enough to make the playoffs. The offense is still anemic and will continually struggle to put the puck in the net, while the defense is subpar at best. Plagued by a lack of depth, there simply isn’t enough talent to succeed against the best teams in the league. Tuukka Rask will need to contend for the Vezina Trophy in order for the Bruins to be a threat.
Ty Anderson of HockeyBuzz makes an interesting point when discussing the Bruins’ potential rebuild:
You also can’t call it a rebuild ‘cause the Bruins’ older vets — Zdeno Chara, Chris Kelly, and Dennis Seidenberg just to name a few — are still donning the Spoked-B. Is this a retooling? It could be, but where are the impact pieces that get you back on track?
In the same breath, the Bruins aren’t atrocious enough to flirt with a top five pick in the draft. Armed with an elite goaltender, the reigning Selke Award winner, and many secondary pieces who aren’t stars (sorry Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, and company), there is simply too much talent to lose enough games that will guarantee an early pick in next year’s NHL draft.
The Bruins will be good enough to keep fans on the edge of their seats and screaming at their televisions. Fans will grow angry that they aren’t in the playoffs, but the team will be close enough to give fans enough hope to cling to any optimism that they might possess. But in the end, a mid-lottery pick doesn’t satisfy anyone. Who wants the tenth overall pick anyways?
The teardown has begun. The wheels of a rebuild are in motion. Staring mediocrity in the eyes, the Bruins aren’t going anywhere fast. Trapped in the middle of the woods, the Bruins made a mistake, one that could possibly haunt the franchise forever. Without a sense of direction, no one can predict what will happen next with the Black and Gold.
Road A. Road B. Refusing to choose one will prove to be a curse.
This is piece one of three in regards to the Bruins’ trades, transactions, and draft picks at the NHL Draft.
Cam Kerry is on Twitter (@camkerryPRS). He is a great GM in EA Sports NHL 15.